McDonald's Slips on Communicating with the Hmong

Known for adapting its marketing campaigns to different cultures and countries, McDonald's has missed on at least one advertisement to the Hmong people in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Although the billboard translates roughly to "Coffee gets you up. Breakfast gets you going," locals say the grammar is incorrect, and "It sounds weird in Hmong because we don't really talk like that." A doctor at a St. Paul hospital said, "The text is also wrong, missing key breaks in the language" and "As it stands right now, it doesn't make sense at all."

The doctor also expressed concerns about McDonald's food:

"I think it's great that more mainstream businesses are realizing the buying (and) consumer power of the Hmong community. [But] 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. McDonald's should instead focus more on healthy eating."

A representative from Arnold Advertising, which works with McDonald's restaurants in the area, said, "This is the first time that McDonald's anywhere in the country has advertised in Hmong." McDonald's targeted the Hmong people as one consumer group and "wanted to make sure we were communicating effectively with them." With tens of thousands of Hmong living in St. Paul, the area has more Hmong people than any other U.S. city.

In a statement by McDonald's regional marketing director, the company acknowledged that it fell short:

"We strive to reach our guests in relevant ways including the use of in-language messaging. While it was our intention to create a special message for our Hmong population in Minnesota, we now realize that an error was made in the translation of 'Coffee Gets You Up, Breakfast Gets You Going.' It was not our intention to offend anyone, and we apologize for the error. We are working with our local advertising agency to correct these billboards and will re-post next week."

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • How could McDonald's have avoided this embarrassing situation?
  • The company chose not to respond to the doctor's point about health concerns within the Hmong community. Should McDonald's have included a statement regarding this issue? Why or why not?