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A McDonald’s billboard targeting Hmong customers omitted the correct spacing between the words, resulting in gibberish. The company is correcting the error.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Do you want a translator with that? McDonald's muffs Hmong signs

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH
  • Star Tribune
  • September 4, 2012 - 11:23 PM

History, it turns out, will have to be rewritten in St. Paul.

That's because a pair of McDonald's billboard ads erected last week and aimed at Hmong customers has left many people confused.

"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,'" Gregg Miskiel, marketing director of McDonald's Midwest Region, said in a written statement Tuesday. "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 repost next week."

The Hmong language ads are believed to be a first for McDonald's in the nation. But the words run together -- "yuavtxhawbpabraukojsawv yuavntxivzograukoj mus" -- resulting in gibberish.

They are located at Payne and Bush Avenues, and at University and Lexington Avenues.

Reaction to the gaffe was mixed among the Twin Cities Hmong, the second-largest Hmong-American population in the country at roughly 64,000 people.

Lee Pao Xiong, director of the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University, said the problem is that the translation is written in an old-fashioned, poetic style. "It's poetic words being used, and perhaps the elders will understand better because they talk in poetry," he explained.

The solution is to add spaces between the words so that it will make sense to all Hmong readers, he said.

That a large U.S. company would reach out to the Hmong in an advertising campaign is laudable, Xiong said.

"We appreciate the fact that they made an effort to our community and saw that we have buying power. Obviously, it's an honest mistake. They didn't know," he said.

On the other hand, he said, "At least they should check with more people."

McDonald's officials said they're still investigating where the communication breakdown occurred.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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