Five Creative Attempts at Transcreation

When it comes to daily staples, people can be resistant to change, for the most part opting for the familiar over the new and exotic. In a world of globalised business, the oft-repeated adage is to “think global, act local,” thus, for international businesses to establish products within foreign markets, a softly-softly approach works best, introducing their brand with a few tweaks, to (in theory) seamlessly blend with the tastes of the target market.

his process, known as transcreation, can be quite hit and miss (McPizza in epicurian elitist Italy is a prime example of a product that was always doomed to fail). At the other end of the scale, Starbucks Japan does a roaring trade in green tea and cream blended Frappuccinos, and there can’t be a little girl under six in the UK who doesn’t want to study with Harper Collin’s new line of Hello Kitty dictionaries. Sometimes transcreation can be subtle, as simple as swapping an animated character’s lunch of rice balls to hamburgers for western markets. Sometimes it can mean entire new product lines. Localised products can be quirky, crazy, and sometimes bizarre, but always tell an interesting story about foreign markets.

Here’s AGI’s rundown of our top five creative examples of transcreation:

1)       Dubious delicacies

  • Japan, with its love of the avant-garde and thirst for innovative products is a prime market for international businesses to test drive new ideas. Which is how you end up with creations like the Burger King ‘Black Burger,’ complete with a bamboo charcoal infused bun and squid ink ketchup. A delicate blend of local gourmet flavours meets American grease, and the result is…interesting.
  •  Mercifully, novelty innovations like the Black Burger tend to run for a limited time. Other concepts, grounded in fitting in national niches, can have more staying power. McDonalds India already eschews the use of beef in its restaurants, in deference to the traditional  belief that cows are sacred. However, it’s taken this one step further, and is launching an entirely vegetarian restaurant near the Golden Temple in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in northern India, where the consumption of meat is forbidden.


2)       Slogan slip-ups:

  • Pepsi ran into a few potholes exporting their brand slogan to the East. When the cola behemoth entered the Chinese market, they made the rather gruesome discovery that their strapline, “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation,” literally translated into Chinese as “Come out of the grave with Pepsi,” and, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”


3)       App icons meet Chinese Holiday fun:

  • Rovio, the company behind the worldwide super smash app, “Angry Birds,” (as played by Barak Obama), went all out for China’s mooncake festival. Rovio released a specially themed edition of the game, where players can, “Help the Angry Birds as they chase the pigs through 30 brand new levels filled with pagodas, rabbits, and red lanterns, lit by a dazzling harvest moon” as well as a line of mooncakes, which have been eaten for around 300 years as part of the Chinese harvest festival, emblazoned with the titular characters of the game.


4)       Pop-culture Heros Re-imagined:

  • Adjusting a product like a digital game or hamburger is fairly simple. The transcreation of intellectual property such as books or movies to appeal to a new market is trickier. Move over Peter Parker, this is a job for…Pavitr Prabhakar, the incredible Indian Spiderman! Spiderman: India was the first ever ethnic adaptation of a major comic book character. Flanked by a supporting cast analogous to the original US characters (for example, Mary Jane becomes Meera Jain, and Uncle Ben is updated to Uncle Bhim), Spiderman shifts from a western allegorical hero representing the dangers of scientific experimentation, into a character trying to negotiate Hindu mysticism in modern India.


5)       Sartorial Staples the old West get an Eastern Makeover:

  • The semiotic connotations of denim go back to America’s Wild West. Although worn all over the world, everyone is familiar with the gun toting, trail blazing image of the first jean wearers. So when Levi’s sought to set up shop in Asia, they went back to branding drawing board, and emerged with dENiZEN, which was aimed to be a “global brand.” dENiZEN has a unique label and styles, and is primarily aimed at China, Singapore and South Korea. Annoying use of capitals aside, the name is intended to evoke ideas of being an “inhabitant…living in a place, living on earth, just being.”

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