Writing for an international audience: Don’t upset your users’ sensibilities

Example

When McDonald’s reprinted sacred words from the Koran on 2 million paper bags and 270 million cans (as part of its 1994 Olympics advertising campaign), Muslims worldwide boycotted their products.

Reward

Your customers’ loyalty to your brand and organization.

Penalty

Your customers may not ever forgive you.

Checklist
  • Check pictures or icons that use hand gestures with someone who understands your target culture.

What might seem innocuous to you might be extremely offensive to someone from another culture.

  • Avoid colors that have emotionally charged meanings for some cultures.
  • Avoid using pictures or symbols that are meaningful only in a narrow cultural or geographic context.

For example, cowboys, dollar signs, and geographic references to “the Bay Area” or “the Twin Cities.”

  • Avoid anything that might offend people’s deeply held values.

This implies that you need to take the time to find out what their deeply held values are.