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Localization practices?

September 27, 2009

So what do you think about these localization practices of these global corporations?

“Microsoft Apologizes for Racially Charged Image Alteration: http://www.pcworld.com/article/170820/microsoft_apologizes_for_racially_charged_image_alteration.html

The Localization of McDonald’s web presence: http://www.aboutmcdonalds.com/mcd/select_your_country_market.html

Do you notice the different strategies that McDonald’s uses to localize its website for the German market (http://www.mcdonalds.de/) vs. Guatemala (http://www.mcdonalds.com.gt/) vs. “Asian Pacific American Culture” (http://www.myinspirasian.com/)? The differences in visual rhetorics and linguistic interfaces alone are astounding!

So what do you think of these localization practices?

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One comment

  1. That Microsoft debacle was clearly ridiculous! As the PC World article suggested, the people involved with the ad should have searched for a more appropriate stock photograph, or simply shot the scene locally themselves (what an audacious idea!). Imagine them just leaving the photograph alone… the riots and Armageddon that would ensue.

    Essentially, they put a white mask on the head of a black man… not a diplomatic gesture to be sure. The fact that they did it so poorly got them caught. Ultimately, it was an attempt to localize a generic image to a specific market; it could be deduced that not as many black people live in Poland and so having a black man present would be out of line with what you are likely to find in that area. This reveals to us that companies are constantly thinking of race as a playing card (a tactical maneuver), deciding when, where, and how that card should be manipulated.

    Stepping away from this specific example, the fact of the matter is, however, that race is very much a strategy in image branding of this nature. Whether or not it should be reduced to a “strategy” is a slippery slope. On one hand, it’s damaging to cultures because it risks stripping away diversity and it does not promote ethnic colorblindness. On the other hand, you risk alienating audiences and confusing the message (i.e. if you were branding something in Japan, it would not make a lot of sense to use a photograph employing mostly white-European Americans and African Americans; if you are promoting an activity on a Native American reservation using an image employing mostly people of Asian ethnicity, you confuse the audience and the purpose; if you are promoting an inner-city school program and exclude anyone of color, you are not accurately representing the many ethnicities involved in that culture). So, if you replace a white child’s head with that of a black child, you are participating actively in the strategy of race as a branding tool, even though your motivations are to make the image more realistic, more representative.

    I’ve been in the position of using stock photography for design jobs and I’ve also been in the position where the client has requested a change of photographs to include a less ethnically diverse lot. My initial reaction was that of shock, but I ultimately had to comply with their wishes. I hadn’t noticed that the image was composed of 90% people of color and only 10% could be considered white-European. I began trying to justify the image change in my own mind… I deduced that if we had gone ahead with a photograph including 90% people of color, the image would have changed the tenor of its purpose (it may have branded this company as one interested almost exclusively with minorities when it was really interested in every American). In this client’s mind, using the very ethnically diverse image was out of whack with the minority percentages in the U.S. and so, therefore, the image was not practical. The need to “normalize” promotional imagery to more clearly represent the population numbers of a given geographical area is at once a reason for wanting to strategize race, but it is also a narrow minded and disingenuous gesture that adds validity to the “othering” of different ethnicities. The end motivation of most for-profit companies is financial gain; it isn’t a surprise that diplomacy suffers, buckles, and cracks under that kind of pressure.



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