Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Why Localization Matters: what Apple, Samsung, KFC, and Nintendo got right

A few weeks ago, we documented several examples of localization mishaps. To follow up, this week at T for Translation we’re providing a few success stories of companies that properly employed localization strategies and benefited immensely as a result.

KFC

Having gained mention in the previous post for the near-catastrophic mistranslation of its slogan, KFC has in point of fact done a rather impressive job of infiltrating the Chinese market. KFC’s most famous product is, of course, its fried chicken. Coming to China, the famous blend of 11 different herbs and spices remained largely unchanged; however, KFC introduced a range of China-specific food options to accompany the standard western fare. Pots of Chinese porridge, traditional Chinese breakfast breads, and a variety of rice-paired dishes all helped establish KFC’s image and popularity in China. The more adventurous young folks came to try out the American food they’d seen advertised, while those more set in their culinary ways enjoyed traditional dishes served with American fast-food flair. Chinese consumers were quickly won over by KFC’s speedy service and range of meal options.

Samsung

Despite gaining a later entry into the French market than competitors such as Sony, Philips, and Nokia, Samsung has outperformed the rest, owing to deliberate localization efforts from the beginning. While Samsung may be a Korean company, they have not marketed themselves as such, at least not in France. Appealing to the local desire for artistic design, in 2010 Samsung hosted an art exhibition, displaying works of art in high definition on their 3D TV sets. Held at the Petit Palais, the exhibition saw 600,000 visitors in its first month. In addition to public campaigns such as this, Samsung paid special attention to the French mobile phone market when launching its own operating system, ‘bada.’ By determining the most downloaded apps for the local market, like the Yellow Pages and applications for navigating art museums, Samsung released localized ‘bada’ optimizations, which were hugely successful. In a matter of six months the operating system went from practically zero to 2,000 local apps. Rounding out a comprehensive localization initiative, Samsung has not only marketed and produced locally, they have hired locally as well, giving the brand that much more authenticity and even a sense of French ownership.

image of successfully localized products in different countries around the world

Apple

Several years ago, Apple created a successful advertising campaign in America, designed to highlight the differences between Macs and PCs. The adverts featured a cool, laid-back hipster-type representing the Mac, and a staid, nerdy-looking actor to represent PCs. The two bickered over features in a series of commercials that emphasized how much “cooler” Macs were than PCs. When it came time to expand this campaign to Japan, Apple sensibly examined the cultural mores of Japanese society and correctly concluded that these ads repeated verbatim would not attract customers to Apple. In Japan, directly criticizing ones rivals/competitors is seen as decidedly low class, which was certainly not the message Apple wanted to convey. The Japanese version of these ads employed a duo from the established Japanese comedy troupe, Rahmens, who focused on the idea that Macs were more for personal, weekend use, while PCs were primarily for office use. The message took, and Apple reaped in the rewards with its localized advertising strategy in the Japanese market.

Nintendo

Many remember the video game industry of the 80s and 90s particularly in terms of well-known localization failures. While “All your base are belong to us” became one of the most celebrated memes to ever grace the Internet, people too often cite this as an example of localization-gone-wrong-gone-right (that is, the popularity of this phrase is directly linked to the fact that it was poorly localized) instead of focusing on the controversial steps Nintendo of America took to ensure their success.

Nintendo was the home console superstar of the 1980s, and the issue Nintendo of America faced in localizing its video game was that of censorship. America in the 1980s was a relatively conservative place when compared to the more socially free, progressive society of Japan at the time. Nintendo of America aimed to make their systems appeal to American families by censoring the original Japanese games and removing all references to sexuality, bad language, and emotional scenes of death and loss. The gratuitous violence aspect of many video games still remained untouched, but Nintendo of America was able to appeal to more conservative American parents by eradicating all traces of those elements which were viewed as “unwholesome.” Nintendo of America stuck to this strategy and undeniably dominated the home video game entertainment market in the late 80s and early 90s.

No one wants to be the next Internet-viral-embarrassment du jour. Whether you’re attempting to localize food stuffs, appliances, computers, or games, localization is a key ingredient to success.

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2 Responses

May 17, 2013

Nintendo of America, or NOA, is the american division of Nintendo . It is located in Redmond, Washington, which is right next to Seattle. Their first location was in New York City, New York, and they still have offices located at 445 Park Avenue.


May 19, 2013

When it comes to voice acting, I actually prefer Japanese voices with English subtitles, so I don’t really care too much about the localization.