McDonald’s Hmong ad gets mixed reviews in St. Paul

Published 8:51 am Tuesday, September 4, 2012

ST. PAUL — Members of St. Paul’s Hmong community say they have mixed feelings about a new McDonald’s billboard in their language.

While they appreciate the recognition of their community’s influence, they say the wording is careless and a messy run-on sentence.

The sign says, “Yuavtxhawbpabraukojsawv yuavntxivzograukoj mus,” which loosely translates to, “Coffee gets you up, breakfast gets you going.”

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But some Hmong speakers say the language is too literal and the words have been mashed together without proper spacing.

“It sounds weird in Hmong because we don’t really talk like that,” said Bruce Thao, 28, of St. Paul. “Either way, there should definitely be spaces in between those words.”

The billboard is the second in the area in the Hmong language. Another Hmong-language McDonald’s ad went up last week on the city’s east side. With more than 64,000 people of Hmong descent, the Twin Cities metro area has the highest concentration of Hmong-Americans in the U.S.

Dr. Thai Lee, a former chief resident at a St. Paul hospital, said he was ambivalent about the ad. He liked that mainstream businesses were recognizing the consumer power of Hmongs, but worried about a fast-food restaurant targeting a Hmong community that is already starting to see more cases of obesity and hypertension.

Health issues aside, he too said the wording of the ad was awkward and is a run-on sentence.

“As it stands right now, it doesn’t make sense at all,” he said.

Louis Henry, who runs eight McDonald’s restaurants in St. Paul and Maplewood, said he hopes the ads will attract Hmong customers by showing them their patronage is valued. He’d like to see the Hmong-language billboards cycle through different ads, starting with coffee and progressing to other menu items.

Henry said the idea of advertising in Hmong came from a number of sources, including Arnold MPG, the ad agency that represents a cooperative of McDonald’s restaurant owner-operators in the Twin Cities.

Kelli Bovin, the vice president of management for Arnold Advertising in Bloomington, said her team wanted to make sure the agency was communicating effectively with that population.

“It was an easy decision,” she said of the billboards.

The ad for McDonald’s coffee is also printed with the Hmong words “$1, large or small,” as part of a promotional campaign to sell all McDonald’s beverages for $1 in the Twin Cities market.

It’s unclear if the ads will be effective once the language is fixed. Thai Lee says that while Hmong often drink hot teas and cold “bubble tea,” they generally don’t drink coffee.

But Henry sees the trend catching on among younger customers.

“If you notice, the younger generation, a lot of the young people do drink coffee,” he said.