When Apple Transcreates Headlines, and When it Doesn’t

As a translator and localization specialist, my candy is a well-translated headline. While most people will find that geeky or crazy, the few of you reading this likely know exactly what I mean. Headlines, by their nature, should not be literally translated. Instead, they require transcreation, the process of translating a text creatively for its expression and tone, rather than its literal meaning.

Last week I came across this clever headline for Apple Pay coming to Mexico in 2021:

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Literally, it says “The most effective form of payment is cashless.” But this simple reading omits the transcreation play-on-words the Spanish translator employed with the words “efectiva” — effective, and “efectivo” — cash. It’s brilliant. Immediately, I wondered what the original English was, so I checked it out:

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Cashless made effortless. I don’t know about you, but I like the Spanish transcreation better. A lot better. I further looked at the British, Canadian, and Australian versions of this Apple Pay headline and they were all identical. If I were the Head of Localization at Apple, I would push for the English to be changed to something more along the lines of the Spanish. Maybe “More bang. Less bucks.“? I don’t know, but the whole English-speaking world was given this uninteresting headline and heads should definitely roll. (I don’t blame the copywriter, by the way, as having been there myself, I know the copywriter definitely didn’t have the final word on this choice and likely provided various more edgy options.)

Imagine my surprise, though, when I checked the Spanish (Spain) version of the headline, where Apple Pay has been available for some time.

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Pagar te costará menos. Paying will cost you less. Am I missing an idiomatic phrase in Spain here? Either way, I still really like the Mexican advertisement’s transcreation better. Isn’t it interesting how Apple marketing chose separate translations/transcreations for Spain and Mexico, but not for the US, UK, Canada, and Australia? All French-speaking countries also used identical headlines (see below). I wonder what the reasoning for this is. Swiss German got its own translation, but Swiss French and Italian did not. Go figure!

Now, my interest piqued, I had to check out a few more languages where Apple Pay is available. In Russia you have a rather mundane translation:

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Бесконтактные платежи. Без усилий. That is, Contactless payment. Effortless. Now compare that to the more considered Polish translation:

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Bezgotówk­owo, bezproblem­owo. Literally: Cashless, Problem-less. Wow! Warsaw did much better than their Slavic transcreation brethren in Moscow for this round. I’m even a fan of the comma between the words rather than the harsher full-stop in the Russian. Again, kudos to the transcreationist here.

Transcreation lessons

At Babble-on, our translators are always putting in the effort to make the language sound natural in their own languages. Literal translations are not what we specialize in because software has to be concise, and that doesn’t always leave enough room for literal even if we wanted it. I’m always amazed and heartened by the headlines they come up with as well. Studying these headline transcreations for Apple Pay, it’s clear that some of the translators given this assignment had more time or inspiration than others. Or, perhaps, they benefited from more relaxed project managers that allowed them to go with their creativity.

You’re probably wondering about a lot of other languages so here is what I could find, along with my best interpretation of the literal translation. (Please feel free to offer corrections if you speak the language and disagree, or notice any language-specific play-on-words!):

French (all countries): Le paiement dématérialisé. Encore simplifié.

Contactless payment. Even simpler.

Portuguese: Pagar nunca foi tão fácil.

Paying was never this easy.

Brazilian Portuguese: Pague sem esforço.

Pay effortlessly.

Italian: La semplicità paga.

Simplicity pays.

German: Einfach. Sicher. Bezahlen.

Easy. Secure. Pay.

Swiss German: Mühelos bargeldlos.

Cashless effortlessly.

Dutch: Betaal zonder cash. Betaal met gemak.

Pay without cash. Pay with ease.

Flemish: Geen cash. Geen moeite.

Cashless. Effortless, or No cash. No effort.

Norwegian: Betal fort. Uten kort.

Pay fast, cardless. (It rhymes in Norwegian)

Swedish: Kontantlöst. Bekymmers­löst.

Cashless. Carefree. (Rhymes)

Danish: Så nemt som et bip.

As easy as a beep.

Finnish: Vaivatonta valuuttaa.

Effortless currency.

Hungarian: Készpénz nélkül könnyedén.

Cashless effortlessly.

Japanese: キャッシュレスを、ここまで簡単に。

Cashless made easy.

Chinese: 免现支付,就该如此便捷。

Cashless payment should be so convenient.

Taiwanese: 無現金支付,無限輕鬆。

Cashless payment, unlimited ease.

Hong Kong: 零現金付款,零難度。

Zero cash payment, zero difficulty.

Bulgarian: Без кеш и без усилие.

Cashless and effortless.

Czech: Bezkontaktně. Bezstarostně.

Contactless. Carefree. (Rhymes in Czech!)

Slovak: Bez hotovosti. Bez starostí.

No cash. No worries. (Rhymes in Slovak!)

Greek: Πληρώνεις χωρίς μετρητά. Πληρώνεις με ευκολία.

Pay without cash. Pay with ease.

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