Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Localization and Transcreation of McDonald’s in China

Zachary OverlineFor as much emphasis as people put on the translation side of localization, it’s refreshing to come across some real-life examples of localization in the true sense of the word, where localized products aren’t just carbon copies of their source products, but truly redesigned and re-marketed for their target locales.

While I was sweating my [censored] off in Beijing’s subway the other day, I noticed a really cool shirt that only the nerdiest of localization nerds could appreciate. So I thought I’d share it with you ‘cause, hey… it’s localicious. (That’s right, I said “localicious.” It’s a new adjective that means awesomely localized. Use it, translate it. Make it viral, folks, ‘cause we need some more lively terms in this industry. In fact, I’m going to go add it to TermWiki right now.)

Anyway, before I talk about the T-shirt, you’re going to need some background information on Chinese eye exams. You’ve probably never even thought about this before—I know I didn’t until I lost a pair of glasses on an unruly jet-ski in Sanya—but eye charts in China don’t start with a giant capital E followed by a bunch of other letters in the Latin alphabet.

A Chinese eye chartWhen you go to the optometrist in China, they sit you 10 feet (or 3.048 meters, that is. A-hem.) away from a mirror that reflects a different chart altogether. They only use a single character—the Chinese character for “mountain” (“山”—come to think of it, actually, it could be an E… just on its back) repeated over and over, but facing in different directions. So instead of belting out, “E, F, P, Q, T, Z,” etc., until the optometrist realizes just how blind you actually are, in China, you say “left, right, up, down” to indicate which direction the character is facing. Cool, right? Even illiterate people could pass this exam, given the right pair of specs.

Now for two of the most localicious feats you’ve ever seen.

The most localicious feat ever

So while I was in the subway station, I saw the following on the back of some kid’s shirt:

T-shirt featuring an eye chart with the McDonald's logo

Isn’t that the coolest thing since multilingual terminology management?! Seriously, with all this talk about transcreation VS translation, and how transcreation can help you to reach new markets, this is one of the finer examples of quality transcreation work I’ve seen. The creative director behind this T-shirt design took a logo recognized around the world and made it fit the Chinese market, because it applies to a personal experience undergone by a large part of the population (getting an eye exam).

Granted, I’m fairly certain that this T-shirt wasn’t created by McDonald’s themselves, because it was nearly impossible to find any reproductions of it online. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s just another example of rampant Chinese brand piracy. But nevertheless, the idea behind it is what the spirit of transcreation is all about. If they slapped the Chinese equivalent of “Love at first sight” at the bottom of that chart, they’d have themselves a very memorable advertisement that appeals to the local Chinese population.

Go do it, McDonald’s. Go steal this intellectual pirate’s intellectual property and reap the financial benefits for yourselves—and tell them Zach sent ya’.

The second most localicious feat ever

This one actually was accomplished by the good ol’ folks at Micky D’s. I don’t know about you, but where I’m from, a lot of people sit on the ground and, likewise, throw their stuff on the ground. Now this may be saying more about people from Arizona than anything else, but I’ve seen a lot of Americans and other Westerners do it as well. So I’m pretty sure it’s not just me.

It’s not like you just walk into someone’s house and chuck your purse on their floor. But I think it is common, for example, when you first get home, to throw your backpack in the corner and let it fester there until you leave the house again. Or, if you’re in a restaurant and there’s no room on the table, I don’t think it’s all that uncommon for an American to put their briefcase, bag, or manpurse between their feet on the ground, right?

Not in China, though. People here will never, ever put their bags on the ground, nor will they sit on the ground without a piece of newspaper between their tuckus and the asphalt. More often than not, you’ll see people squatting in situations where we might normally sit. I used to think it was silly when I first came here, until I realized precisely what manner of bodily fluids (and solids!) that Beijing folks tend to, erm… release liberally onto our mother earth.

That being said, McDonald’s did a really good job of localizing their eating areas by designing bag hooks into their chairs. It’s nothing fancy, really—just a hunk of wood cut out of the back of each seat—but it works, and it’s certainly something that their Chinese clientele use.

I didn’t have my camera with me last time I indulged in superiorly greasy American fast food, but here is a graphical representation of how chair hooks work at McDonald’s in China:

Diagram of a chair in a Chinese McDonald's -- complete with bag hooks for your sanitary convenience.

It’s smart, really, and it goes to show you that good localization goes beyond just quality translation. Good localization touches on culture, local habits, local sensitivities, and language. It’s not easy to do, but when a project is well thought-out, why, it’s purely localicious.

Oh my Lady Gaga!

To conclude this entry, I wanted to share another fun Chinese tidbit with you. It’s not necessarily localization-related, but it is related to language, and it is disturbingly hilarious.

For quite a while now, the phrase “Oh my God” (omg!) has been a popular meme among internet users in China. They use it in the same manner that we do in the West, though they pronounce it more like “O mai Gah!” because there’s no homophonic equivalent of the word “God” in Chinese.

But now it’s old hat. Recently, it’s become intensely more popular to double up that “Gah” and say, “Oh my Lady Gaga!” to express surprise or shock in online forums. I’m completely serious. In fact, it’s a phenomenon that caught the attention of the folks over at the New York Times.

You just enjoy that one for what it’s worth. I have nothing else to add, other than an apology to any Lady Gaga fans out there for having used her name in vain.

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4 Responses

August 10, 2010

Zach, this is so interesting to read. I never thought about the eye exam comparison even though I went to check my eyes millions of times when in China. I’m gonna to send this piece over to my friends in the ad field as well. I bet they will love it.


August 13, 2010

I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jasmine :) I love getting new glasses in China — they’re so unbelievably cheap!!


August 18, 2010

It’s awesome indeed!!

I can tell you, never let your bag on the floor in China but I really push everybody to experience the bag hooking stuff. Especially since China is quite safe, so you will not need to worry that much about it~