The ‘Untranslated Ad’ Strikes a Chord with new Pop Song, Leveraging Japanese Pop and Culture to Boost McDonald’s Sales

Leo Burnett Indonesia harnessed the country’s affinity for Japanese pop culture to spearhead a viral sensation, capturing the hearts of Gen Z and driving McDonald’s ‘Taste of Japan’ menu to record-breaking success.

For new campaign, McDonalds and Leo Burnett Indonesia partnered with Indonesian singer and J-Pop artist, Ica Zahra, to craft a Japanese jingle for the relaunch of the brand’s ‘Taste of Japan’ menu in Indonesia. Leveraging the insight that Indonesians love Japanese culture, the team worked with the pop star to release new J-pop song, about the items that made up the special menu, titled “Nihon No Fureeba’ (Taste of Japan). Even in the absence of linguistic comprehension, the song surged to prominence as the most searched track on Shazam, amassing an astounding 3 million YouTube views within a single week.

Beyond burgers, this campaign resonates with the shared thrill of a collective experience, groove, or in this case, a jingle. It exemplifies how creativity and music together can weave connections that surpass the boundaries of language as covered by Campaign Asia, The Drum and Little Black Book.

We spoke with the creatives behind the campaign, Ravi Shanker, CCO, and Nilakshi Medhi, Head of Strategic Planning from our Leo Burnett Indonesia office to learn more about the strategy and success:

What was the strategy and rationale behind The Untranslated Ad? 

Nilakshi: Our re-launch approach for revisiting the Limited Edition “Taste of Japan” menu was to insert ourselves in the world of Japanese culture. McDonald’s wanted to bring a Japanese experience to Indonesia albeit with a McDonald’s ‘feel good’ twist.

The objective was not only to increase sales but to also drive trial for the recurring limited offer menu. McDonald’s was facing strong brand competition, especially in attracting a younger Gen Z audience, which are often characterized as being increasingly finicky and choosy. To stay ahead, McDonald’s needed shift perception to be known as an innovative brand with exciting flavors amongst this audience to maintain its lead in a competitive market.

With its previous appearances, the menu had already garnered significant attention, as people eagerly requested its return on social media. We wanted to attract newer Japanese enthusiasts, beyond old loyalists, to our repertoire. We also wanted to capture the attention and love of everyone who fell on the spectrum of wanting to try innovative Japanese food – from the Weeboo community to the anime lovers and dabblers. McDonald’s sought out to bring the Japanese experience to Indonesia with the classic “feel good” moments that McDonald’s is known for.

Were there any unexpected challenges or surprises encountered during the development or execution of this campaign? 

Ravi: One of the biggest challenges was the probability of lyrics getting translated by the Japanese and Anime fan base in the country. We would have been in trouble. So, we intentionally made sure the music video looked and sounded like a typical (expected) video of the singer, Ica Zahra. We managed to keep the trojan horse safe in the J-pop universe!

Another challenge was to bring back the conversation home to the McDonald’s channels and to keep interest alive even after the revelation. Since the song was a huge hit and the traction was phenomenal, we wanted the same impact after the reveal phase. So, we made sure that the singer herself announced that it was a McDonald’s ad, and we planned a phase where fans could enjoy and share the translated version which was a hard-selling product song.

How did the campaign continue to engage with the audience even after they realized it was an ad? Were there other elements of the campaign to drive engagement?

Ravi: Mainly, the planting of the translated lyrics in the form of video and social posts did the job. Audiences found it more amusing and humorous when they realized the translated lyrics said, ‘Taste the Yakiniku Sauce, Nori-flavored fries, Try McD Taste of Japan Menu’.

No one ever imagined that they were singing and dancing to those lyrics. It gained traction on social media and podcasts, and on the singer’s channels too. Not only that, but people also performed karaoke and shared the hilarious lyrics on social media. The campaign got a second life and allowed it to build on its own success.

How does the non-traditional approach compare to more traditional advertising methods? Does it resonate with consumers in a more impactful way? 

Nilakshi: Traditional methods tend to become a blind spot for young Gen Z audiences now. We have to find ways to disrupt or insert ourselves in their experiences seamlessly. Non-traditional approaches are nothing but ways to play with the new methods audiences engage with culture. Through this, we were saw a rise in sales and perception for McDonald’s post the campaign including a 126% sales increase against project for Yakiniku McSpicy Chicken Burger and 111% in overall sales against projection.

How did the campaign successfully shift the audience’s attention from the song to the actual product?

Nilakshi: While we wanted to ensure that people were able to relate to McDonald’s through a cultural and entertaining experience, it was important that we led them to our menu. After a week of launching the campaign, we revealed the song to be an ad about the “Taste of Japan” menu.

We then deployed a simple message through OOH, digital, and in-store advertisements – they didn’t need to understand our menu or the burgers to enjoy it, just like the song. We gave them a J-pop song to be excited about and on top of that, gave them the news that their beloved menu was returning. This led to a significant uptick in overall sales of the menu and burgers within two weeks of the campaign launch.

How does this campaign exemplify the role of creativity and music in advertising in bridging language barriers and creating connections?

Nilakshi: The love for everything Japanese has only grown in Indonesia in the past few years – there has been a surge of Gen Z cosplayers, Anime lovers and J-pop enthusiasts gravitating towards this subculture.

We wanted to capture the attention of every Japanese enthusiast (the Weeaboo community, anime lovers and culture dabblers) on the spectrum that wanted to try innovative Japanese food. To engage this diverse audience with varying degrees of cultural connection to Japan, we needed a universal language to get there. What could be better than music?!

What lessons or insights can other advertisers and marketers learn from the success of this campaign?

Nilakshi: Sometimes a product campaign can also serve as a brand affinity campaign if done in an impactful and innovative way. It is important to have fun with it, and if successful, more often than not, the consumers will feel this and appreciate it, too.

Ravi: If an ad becomes a part of the wider culture, there is a high likelihood that people will gravitate towards it and enjoy it more.

Though there are many forms of advertising like digital, video, and branded and social content, it is important to tap into as many forms as possible. A lesson we learned was that knowing the rules and then breaking them could end up being a fun and brave thing to do.