Piers Dillon-Scott


Localisation: a local job for local people

What can we learn about localisation (or localization) from a Chinese spammer writing in Irish (or as Gaeilge)?

It takes a lot to catch my attention at 7am, but last week a spam email from a Chinese domain did just that.

Why? Because it was written in Irish (albeit stilted Irish). Unfortunately for this enterprising Chinese spammer, my Irish is about as good as my Mandarin. But the email did get me thinking about localisation.

When done properly, localisation (or localization, depending on where you’re reading this) gives companies the opportunity to reach customers they may have otherwise missed. But brands often fall short on delivering a truly local version of their apps, sites and services.

Some localisation errors are forgiveable, such as using American (flavor/flavour, localization/localisation) spelling for U.K. and Irish offerings. My own pet peeve is U.K. and American companies that place the € symbol after the price (12.99 €), rather than before.

But some errors in localisation are more troublesome. American and British English date formats can cause serious problems for customers and developers either side of the Atlantic. 6-7-2014, is either July 6, or June 7, depending on where you live. It’s a small difference that can have a drastic impact.

The challenges with localisation aren’t just grammatical, but social and cultural. Coca Cola found itself in trouble in Ireland when it removed a gay marriage scene from the Irish version of its Europe-wide “Reasons to Believe” campaign. Speaking to The Journal, Coke said, “We wanted each ad to be relevant and valid for its own market”. Unfortunately Coke's reading of the market was off. The company's attempt at localisation reveals a simple point: if you want localisation done right, ask a local.

Oreo Cookies’ first Irish campaign is a more successful example of localisation. Created by DraftFCB London, this is a local version of a wider European campaign, which shows local events and symbols etched into the biscuit's filling. It’s simple, it’s clever, and it successfully places the all-American cookie in an Irish context.

Localisation, when done properly, can deliver great results for brands. But in the digital sphere we need to move beyond differences in grammar and spelling, and start creating experiences that consider the bigger cultural picture.

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