This is a billboard supposedly written in the Hmong language that McDonald’s placed in St. Paul, Minnesota. It went up last month to reach the sizeable local Hmong population. (Their language uses a Romanized alphabet.)
Unfortunately, as I learned from AdFreak’s David Gianatasio, the agency (Arnold, Bloomington) failed to accurately translate the headline. It was supposed to read, “Coffee gets you up, breakfast gets you going.” But Thai Lee, a local doctor, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press “as it stands right now, it doesn’t make sense at all.”
Apparently, the wording of the ad was awkward and is a run-on sentence, missing key word breaks.
Dr. Lee added, “Chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and obesity are already a major health concern in the Hmong community. Most of this is attributed to the changing Westernized eating behaviors that Hmong people have adapted to.” He also mentioned that coffee is not really part of Hmong culture.
In the same article, Kelli Bovin, vice president of management for Arnold Advertising in Bloomington told Pioneer Press, “This is the first time that McDonald’s anywhere in the country has advertised in Hmong. We looked at all of the ethnic groups in the Twin Cities and talked about the Hmong consumer and wanted to make sure we were communicating effectively with them.”
Really? This kind of embarrassment in targeted “ethnic marketing” is easy to avoid. Or perhaps it seems that way because, as an agency that works with the Government of Canada and many other national associations, organizations and brands, we don’t take linguistic and cultural adaptation for granted. After all, much of our work appears in at least Canada’s two official languages.
To maintain quality control, we have in-house francophone copywriting, editing, proofreading — even client service. This ensures that all of our bilingual work not only reads equally and effectively in French and English, but also that cultural differences are respected throughout the creative process.
When we create multilingual and multicultural campaigns, such as for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or Citizenship and Immigration Canada, we employ the services of professional adaptation partners who create foreign language versions, and assist with quality control throughout the production process to ensure that everything comes out right. We also have a longtime partner specializing in Aboriginal marketing to help keep First Nations, Inuit and Metis versions on-message and relevant to Canada’s first peoples.
Operating in Canada’s capital, we are also fortunate to have a multicultural staff with first-generation knowledge of Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi, Punjabi, Spanish, Italian, Slovenian, and other international languages. While we trust the professionals for adaptation, our cosmopolitan nature gives us an extra edge in cultural awareness and sensitivity.
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