Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Brand Names Lost in Translation

International branding and marketing is very important and crucial to the expansion of a company. Given such importance, companies must take it very seriously and an aspect which has to be thoroughly studied is culture and language. Today I met another classic case of a company creating a brand without actually paying too much attention to this concept. If a brand decides to go international it must also make sure that the brand carries the same message all around and that there are no negative connotations to a brand name.

The latter example related to gas giant Gazprom's new joint venture with Nigerian firm NNPC. The two firms decided to call the joint venture Nigaz. While tit's quite easy to deduce from where the name originates; a conjunction of the words "Nigeria" and "gaz", English speakers seeing the word written down find that the brand name has a strange resemblance to a slang racist word..

Incredulous Twitter users quickly spread the story around, dubbing it a branding fail and prompting a number to suggest Nigaz should adopt a strap line along the lines of "gas with attitude".
As I said previously this is not the first failure at creating an international brand. The most classic example is the Vauxhall Nova, however other examples exist... Mitsubishi was forced to change the name of its SUV model the Pajero in Spain, where the term means 'wanker'. Starbucks opted to stick with the term 'latte' when it launched it's coffee shop brand in Germany, to the amusement of locals. While the word "latte", which translated in English means means 'milk', is translated to German Slang it actually means 'erection'.

A simple translation error meant that a Parker Pen ad run in Mexico ended up promising consumers that it would not "leak in your pocket and make you pregnant", which is at least a more honest promise than Pepsi's "come alive with the Pepsi generation" slogan, which famously ended up meaning "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead" when it was translated to Taiwanese and marketed in Taiwan.

Chinese translations are difficult too and in fact are fraught with difficulties - Kentucky Fried Chicken's "finger lickin' good" managed to come out as "eat your fingers off".

No matter how much we stress the importance of having a brand name or strap line which carries no bad connotations in any language you intend to market in, companies still continue to make this newbie mistake. It's vital to take care of these things although some companies might be tempted to make the mistake on purpose to get some free PR.

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