Go Back Up

back to blog

Three transcreation lessons from the movies

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Nov 7, 2022 12:00:00 AM

What does it take to make a message really speak to international audiences? A recent Buzzfeed list of movie details that were changed for different countries or regions is an interesting and entertaining read - and also gives us some helpful tips about what it really takes to communicate with target markets around the world.

For entertainment or advertising, here are a few key takeaways about creating more impactful messaging:

● dietary details are important.

In the article, journalist Benjamin Dzialdowski reveals that while Riley, a character in Pixar’s Inside Out, hates broccoli in most versions of the film, this was changed to green peppers for Japanese audiences. It turns out those are the veggie most commonly detested by Japanese children.

If you’re thinking about transcreation - that is, adapting not only language but also content for a target culture - diet is a major part of many people’s lives, including patients and medical trial participants. Understanding a culture or locale’s typical diet could make it easier to do things like create adapted menus for conditions like diabetes, or take them into account when it comes to health-related information and instructions.

● don’t sacrifice significance.

The article includes an example from notoriously detail-oriented director Stanley Kubrick. When it came to the big reveal of what Jack is writing on his typewriter in The Shining, Kubrick didn’t think the original English lines with subtitles would pack the same punch as showing a typed page in the language spoken where the film was playing. And so he recorded several versions of the typed paper reveal, each with a rough equivalent of the famous saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Audiences are certainly used to subtitles, dubbing, and other cultural differences in the media they consume, especially in recent years, when streaming services have made it much easier to watch shows and movies from around the world. But advertising - especially medical advertising and awareness campaigns is an exception, at least if you want your ad or campaign to be effective.

Audiences today want to feel a connection with the message, and making them read subtitles or watch ads that are clearly made for another market isn’t likely to be as appreciated as adapting content to their language and culture.

● be careful with country-specific patriotic imagery.

Another example on Dzialdowski’s list is a scene from Toy Story 2 in which the heroic Buzz Lightyear motivates his fellow toys with a stirring speech in front of an American flag. This was changed for international audiences, with a globe and some sparklers taking the place of the stars and bars.

Even if a target culture and country has no particular problem with your native country, you shouldn’t make it seem as though you think it’s the only one that matters, or the one that matters most.

This may make you wonder why Pixar didn’t choose to localize the scene by having Buzz appear in front of a market’s flag. A major part of the reason is likely budgetary. But there is also the advantage of potentially avoiding controversy of another kind.

In some markets, there may be issues with displaying national symbols in particular contexts. For instance, in an article about translation and transcreation mistakes, we shared an ad fail from BMW. The car company ran a commercial where the United Arab Emirates’ Al Ain Football Club is interrupted in singing the national anthem because they hear the sound of a BMW engine. The ad caused outrage among many consumers because it seemed that BMW considered its cars more important than their country.

There are exceptions - for instance, if your transcreation team is sure it will be all right or if your campaign involves something like a national holiday. But its a good general rule to try for neutral inspirational or patriotic symbols instead of relying on specific flags.

Plus, by using generic symbols, it will be easier to take your marketing or awareness campaign to OTHER overseas markets without needing to make any major graphic changes!

Whether it’s movies or medical marketing, deeply understanding your target audience is vital in order to have a true impact. The fact that all of these movies are beloved in many parts of the world shows the power of transcreation done right.


At aiaTranslations, we know that language and culture go hand in hand. Our extensive team of international experts lets us offer transcreation services for any market. Get in touch to see how we can help you spread your message around the globe.

Original image source

Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg

Ready to Transform your Business with Little Effort Using Vertical?

Alysa Salzberg