McDonald's Under Fire Over English Language Misstep. | Textappeal
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McDonald's Under Fire Over English Language Misstep.

  |   CultureShocks Blog


The lead story in a major media outlet in the UK, Skynews, features citizen outrage against McDonald’s.Skynews reports that a single word in a McDonald’s ad has provoked incensed debate and outcry. It is not an insulting or offensive word, and looks like a perfectly innocent choice by McDonald’s. But online chat rooms are buzzing with indignation.

The TV commercial promotes the Pound Saver Menu, and begins with the phrase “the pound, also known as a bob”.

A bob is slang for a shilling (one twentieth of a pound), which was eliminated from the British monetary system in 1971 (a pound is a little more than a dollar or a euro).

As someone ironically posted:

“I suspect the nearest it (the commercial) got to the UK before transmission was when it was dreamed up in an English themed pub in Hollywood.”

Others have demanded that McDonald’s serve them twenty burgers for one pound.

But language does evolve, and it can be argued that today a few people actually do call a pound a bob.

McDonald’s spokesperson swiftly responded to the outcry: “Although a ‘bob’ was formerly used as a slang term for the shilling until the introduction of decimalisation in 1971, research has shown it is now more commonly used as slang for a pound or money in general.”


What’s the big deal? With vegetarian burgers in India and locally farmed meat in France, McDonald’s has worked hard to be a culturally sensitive company and a good local citizen. But don’t worry — the brand is unlikely to be damaged, and the debate provides valuable free media space for the “one pound” offer. Perhaps Skynews didn’t have any other headline news that day.

Still, this is a good reminder of three important cross-cultural facts:

1.People DO NOT like it when their language is misused, even slightly, by big foreign companies. It can be felt as insulting to their sense of national pride. After all, we spent years at school struggling to master our language’s unlikely grammar and vocabulary. And now some giant from abroad tells us how to speak! Never mind that local brands mix up their words and grammar all the time.

2.We tend to be most sensitive when the one making the mistake is our neighbour or shares a common language. An Austrian Marketing Director once said to me, tongue-in-cheek: “the Germans speak the same language as us, minus the humour”. And we all know the saying “America and Britain are divided by a common language.”

3.Would “Consider Different” have had the same impact as Apple’s “Think Different”? Would the BMW campaign work as well by promising “Happiness” rather than “Joy”? As every advertising copywriter knows, a single word CAN make a world of difference – whatever the language.