By Barrett Ishida

Photo: Taco Bell Japan (Facebook)

Photo: Taco Bell Japan (Facebook)

We have low-quality chips! At least that’s what Taco Bell was telling Japan.

Despite the 2 hour line that snaked through Shibuya when Taco Bell opened last week, the chain is being criticized for not caring enough about Japan to localize in the country correctly. This is a blunder that every company thinking about entering Japan should learn from.

International PR consultant and natural language advocate Tomo Akiyama told Campaign Asia-Pacific, “The way Taco Bell Japan communicated online made us feel Japanese locals are unimportant to them…The default language of the website was English, and there was a small Japanese flag at the top.”

Their social media was almost all in English as well, especially their Twitter. Akiyama noted, “Intended or not, their Twitter account is also sending out a message that locals don’t matter to them. They respond in English to American expats’ nostalgic tweets but ignore Japanese tweets except ones with photos and ‘@TacoBellJP’.” When tweeted to about being at the forefront of waking Taco Bell up, Akiyama responded, “They wouldn’t have needed me if they had listened to the numerous tweets in Japanese.” Fire level burn.

The Taco Bell website (just now revised and relaunched) was the primary subject of criticism. Some of the items on their menu were head scratchers. Their "low-quality chips" (instead of cheesy chips) seemed unappetizing, the "Supreme Court beef" (instead of Crunchywrap Supreme - beef) was a bit politically tense and their "low-quality fleece" (instead of cheesy fries) gave the impression that Taco Bell wanted to diversify their business a bit.

via Tomo Akiyama

As for being transparent about their ingredients, instead of “We’ve got nothing to hide,” they wrote “What did we bring here to hide.” Quite the opposite.

via Tomo Akiyama

Their company history? They translated “A legacy is born” into Japanese katakana form, but writing “legacy” that way doesn’t carry the various meanings and nuances. The outcome: “California 1962. An outdated technology is born.”

via Tomo Akiyama

While Taco Bell will most likely be able to recover from these mishaps, other companies may not be. Many entering Japan misjudge the country and think they can simply fill in the blanks on some global business template, but it’s necessary for them to “think outside the bun” in order to localize. Connect with someone who knows the market, the culture, English and native Japanese not only for the business side of things, but for website, social media and community management as well. If not, you could come off as not caring about Japan and, well, cheaper than your chips. 


Comment