It started with a billboard.

Prominently placed in the heavily Hmong-populated metropolitan area of St. Paul, Minnesota, the McDonald’s advertisement spoke to the Hmong inhabitants in their native language. It was the first time, in fact, that McDonald’s had localized creative content in an advertisement expressly for Hmong customers.

But there was one big problem as tough to ignore as the fast food restaurant’s towering ad itself: the text made no sense to the intended audience. An unfortunate marketing translation and localization fail.

The agency that created it had apparently neglected to perform a final proof or review after the design was performed, resulting in controversy, rework and brand-harming embarrassment. And for all we know, it caused annoyed people to fling delicious fries up at the offensive ad.

So, what’s the important step you don’t ever want to leave out? Every single creative content localization initiative should include a final proof—and sometimes, if it suits your business needs, a final post-formatted review by a native speaker and marketing expert is a good idea as well.

Research is only the beginning

You always need to do your homework on global branding and your target market, which the chain restaurant did in this case. They clearly knew that the St. Paul-Minneapolis metropolitan area has more Hmong residents than any other city in the United States, and to advertise there would be a smart move.

Except that it wasn’t—at least not when it came to how they implemented marketing translation, anyway.

Doing due diligence shouldn’t end with simply telling your archer where to aim the arrow, assuming it will hit the right target. A solid creative content localization effort requires follow through.

More specifically, your language service provider should perform linguistic quality checks using the appropriate expert resources.

A final quality check by editors and reviewers

What would have happened if, before spending thousands on producing the billboard, the agency had shown the marketing translation design to a native Hmong-speaking reviewer? Well, this extra quality assurance step would have ensured a resulting ad that was worthy of the famous tagline, I’m lovin’ it.

Even if your copy is perfectly translated, the subsequent design phase could alter it such that the final ad becomes unreadable. Who else but native speakers would know whether your localized creative content was sailing past “indecipherable” and landing squarely on “indelible”?

Here at YBD, we love McDonald’s. But our love for a thorough localization quality process is, shall we say, supersized. As part of our standard process of translate-edit-proof, we always make sure that the linguists working on your marketing translation and localization project are marketing experts and native speakers of the target language.

We also encourage our clients to seek third-party reviews if they make sense for their business needs, whether performed by their own internal reviewer or an independent reviewer that we arrange for them. So, even if the translated copy is correct after the translate-edit-proof process, the reviewer will catch even the slightest error or inconsistency at the final design format stage—well before the creative content reaches the target audience.

Protect your global brand image

Of course, in this story the important lesson of damaged brand reputation is as obvious and hard to ignore as a smelly, rotting hamburger in your living room.

To protect your global brand, keep in mind the possibility of a final proof or review completed by an in-country native speaker when your project requires it. Working together in this way with your language service provider, you can be sure that your dearly bought marketing message doesn’t sound strange to your target audience’s ears.

This McDonald’s localization tale makes a solid case for taking measures to ensure accuracy at every step, including the final post-design phase. After all, the error led to embarrassing publicity and a pulled ad—a waste of advertising dollars.

Unfortunately it’s a story that’s all too common, with several hundred other creative content and brand localization blunders happening every year around the world. By being aware of your business requirements and whether it makes sense to incorporate a third-party review—and consulting with your provider throughout the process—you can get ahead of the game.

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What’s your experience with marketing translation and branding localization? Got any tips of your own to add to the menu? Let us know.