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.

Writing iTunes App Store Descriptions

Diary of an iKamaSutra Copywriter

When Naim Cesur, developer of the iKamasutra app, contacted me about doing some copywriting I was thrilled. It’s not every day that I am able to involve my girlfriend in “copywriting research.” After a good stretch, however, it was clear that Naim had an issue typical of all mobile developers: how do you write App Store descriptions?

Today’s App Store descriptions are not only the marketplace version of an eHarmony profile, they serve as the basis of user reviews and press articles; often they serve as the only user manual a customer will ever read.

Your App Store Descriptions shouldn't read like creepy online dating profiles.

App store descriptions might be the first words a person reads about your app and—if you do it wrong—it could be the last. They are very, very important.

For iKamasutra, the stakes were even higher. Because of the content, iKamasutra is age-restricted to 17+ in the App Store, which puts its app store descriptions under added scrutiny. Then there are the words. By Apple’s definition, extremely potty-mouth and racy words like “sexy” and “sexual,” which you might only hear in a shady underground sex dungeon or PG-rated movie, may be used solely at their discretion.

Triggers an automated Apple warning:

A very sexy app!

Won’t trigger an automated warning:

I wanna sex up your mom, pal!

Apple’s views on word choice make for insanely great reading.

App Store Copywriting Deconstructed

Since Apple has had *reasonable* success with their storefront, let’s agree they know a thing or two about selling these apps. Take a look at how they construct their App Store descriptions and you quickly see a common pattern:

Introduction about being the best at what it does.

Short, clever title about what it can do.
• Key feature detail one.
 Key feature detail two.

Second, clever title about what else it does.
 Key feature detail one.
 Key feature detail two.

That’s it. And it is true whether you look at Pages, iMovie or their simplest app, Remote. (If you look at Apple’s website product pages, ultimately it is an identical pattern with better design and photos.) Now have a look at other Top Grossing apps, like Angry Birds for instance, and you’ll see a similar structure. “It just works.”

Many third-party developers have put forth additional app description ideas that are worth considering, too. These include: Twitter and Facebook links, quotes from major press outlets, and awards (Best of 2011, Top Grossing, etc.). While Apple doesn’t do this, these are great inclusions for most app developers.

An App store description for iKamasutra

Let’s apply some of those lessons to iKamasutra.

iKamasutra App Store DescriptionsClick to read full description at iTunes

App Store Descriptions checklist

Here’s what works in this App Store description for iKamasutra. Bring some of these ideas to your own app description and see how many more satisfied buyers you can get.

  • The first line sells. 5 million users, great press, and a sense a humor. Of course you want this app! Don’t forget that you see just these first couple of lines above the “More…” button when viewing an app description in the iTunes store on your computer.
  • Stand-out features really stand out. Our second paragraph tells us all the best stuff we have to know about iKamasutra, including a highlight reel of key features and advantages over the competition, including exclusive Kama Sutra descriptions and Apple-approved sex images.
  • Intriguing titles describe and delight. Just by glancing at titles like “There’s a position for that” and “Email just got exciting again” you have an idea of what the app does with enough appeal to make you read the details. Just don’t call it “sexy,” because that word is an Apple no-no.
  • Details do sell. You’re interested by titles like “Shake it, baby” but when you learn the details of what it does, you’re really ready to hit BUY. Each essential feature is listed in precise and succinct detail. It’s part marketing and part Quick Start guide for the app, ensuring users take advantage of everything iKamasutra offers, so that they are fully satisfied with the purchase. Remember, no one reads help texts until they are already disgruntled.
  • Honesty pays—handsomely. iKamasutra offers an excellent feature set built in, with extra positions available for purchase if that’s what you want. If your app relies on in-app purchases for revenue, it is in your favor to be upfront with buyers. Tell them what is free and what isn’t. This avoids disappointment, angry reviews, and entices shoppers to become loyal customers.
  • Don’t take my word for it. Reviews, both from your users and from online and print sources, are incredible sales tools. iKamasutra has glowing reviews and we highlight them for potential buyers to see.
  • Show them how to push your buttons. Unfortunately, App Store reviews are anonymous and you can’t follow up with individual users. We give them Twitter and Facebook links where we can take the conversation to a personal level.

Your app descriptions need some love too

It has paid off to get the “positioning” of iKamasutra just right. But every app is different, and should be treated that way. The App Store descriptions you write shouldn’t be afterthoughts. They should be front and center in importance, since that is exactly how your customers are going to view them.

* Benjamin Zadik is a copywriting expert and iKamasutra novice. He wishes it were the other way around.

Copywriter in San Francisco

You’re looking for a copywriter in San Francisco. After all, there are lots of those creative types here, not just “homosexuals and hipsters” as your previous boss told you when you moved West.


It turns out Google isn’t much help in finding a copywriter in San Francisco. Neither is Yelp for some reason, even though it would make a whole lot of sense for people to write reviews about copywriters. Nobody does, though, so you check YouTube instead. There aren’t any copywriters there, but you are distracted and watching videos of a baby falling out of his highchair. You sort of chuckle, but it feels somehow wrong, even though the baby seems perfectly fine. You are afraid you will have to flip through the Yellow Pages to locate a copywriter in San Francisco, but you have some dignity left. Anyway, that would make your fingers dirty.

You find a copywriter in San Francisco the old-fashioned way: you asked someone else in the company and she gave you the email address “of a real pro.” Just imagine discussing your copywriting needs over an informal lunch and a glass of the only wine on the menu you are confident in pronouncing. Copywriters are all tremendous conversationalists; on this point you are certain. This one might prove to be an adequate after-work buddy or happy hour companion, and would definitely know a darling of a pickup line you could try out on that cashier from Whole Foods. This is going to be fantastic.

Excitedly, you’ve sent your first email to the fog-city wordsmith. Don’t be modest—your message is pretty awesome, and you spent an inordinate amount of time preparing its four short sentences. (Wisely, you deleted the words “fog-city wordsmith” at the last minute.) It is imperative for the copywriter to understand immediately that you “get it”—you get it good, in fact—so much so, you could probably write this advertising copy yourself. But you’re a busy man and, hey, it’s not your job. Actually, your life right now would make a mildly thrilling short story, or at least a post on a blog, if you had one. Do copywriters write short stories? You might want to ask that during your first lunch meeting.

Continue reading “Copywriter in San Francisco”

In which I unveil the ancient secrets as to what a copywriter is and is not

“A copywriter is the butcher that makes your meat look like filet mignon.”

Copywriters are all reverse psychologists

When you hire a copywriter you may think that it is his or her job to amiably accept your project. Well, let’s be honest: you’ll be lucky if the copywriter looks you in the eye on your first encounter. All the best copywriters are masters of reverse psychology: “You shouldn’t hire me as your copywriter unless you have complete faith in my wizard-like abilities.” They do this because they have an inflated sense of ego and a deep-rooted fear of rejection. Most successful copywriters aren’t people you want to invite over for tea. (Bonus tip: if you are cornered by a copywriter at a cocktail party, spill your martini on his shirt and run away.)

There are so many copywriters out there, you should be able to find one you truly enjoy working with. Still, convincing the copywriter of your own worth is the first step in finding a great one. At the very least, you’ll both feel better about yourselves.


Continue reading “In which I unveil the ancient secrets as to what a copywriter is and is not”

Writers like it 3 ways

This is a great talk from SXSW from writers about writing:

15 Slides, Three Writers, Three Ways — One Hour.

Great perspectives that show you how each writer approaches the challenges of writing differently. A lot of this is stuff you may have heard but told before, but this format is truly a compelling way to leran. How do you confront the blank page? Walk away and come back is one way, but I prefer the idea of giving the article a title right away, even if it has nothing to do with the content and won’t make it into the final draft.

Best quote: “You guys sound like you don’t even like writing.”

Linkbait, fishing for clicks

5 things I hate about articles with lists of 5 things

Linkbait, fishing for clicks
Call me Linkbait!

We all know the only reason they do it is to entice a reader into an article that otherwise has no substance, to get our hopes up about a topic we love but which they know nothing more about, because it takes no time to write, requires precious little brain power, and can be written while still in your underwear.

Just like this article.

Stop doing it. The Internet thanks you.
(All of us—I counted.)