What’s in a name? Getting your brand on the road to success in a foreign market

traffic conesThe road to getting your brand established in a foreign market often requires you to steer your way past the pitfalls posed by linguistic and cultural differences. Failing to take these factors into account when marketing a product internationally can harm your brand’s credibility among consumers. So, when moving your brand across the language border, it’s definitely worth giving some thought to how your brand or product names might be received by consumers in your target market. After all, as many companies have found out the hard way, a name that has a delightfully evocative ring to it in one language may – when introduced to speakers of another language – mean something else entirely.

Take the example of American Motors, which – in light of the social unrest in early 1970s America – decided to abandon the name “Rebel” for its mid-size car in favour of the name “Matador”, which was meant to suggest virility and excitement. This appeared to make sense – at least as far as English-speaking consumers were concerned. But when the company introduced the car to the Puerto Rican market, it seems the name was less well received among the country’s Spanish-speaking consumers. Why? Turns out that, in Puerto Rico, the word “matador” can be taken to mean “killer” – a rather unfortunate connotation for Puerto Ricans concerned about safety on the roads.

Another example – also from the car industry – is that of the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. This luxury car was originally supposed to be named “Silver Mist”, but when the company realised that the word “Mist” in German means “manure”, it was concerned that this name might not appeal to consumers in the lucrative German market. Ultimately, Rolls Royce chose the name “Silver Shadow”. A wise move, as it turns out: the Silver Shadow went on to be one of the most successful models ever produced by the company.

As these automotive anecdotes show, it pays to do some research into the language and culture of the country where you plan to do business. If your brand or product name would cause confusion, embarrassment or offence in the foreign market, you’ll need to consider adapting it.

Have you encountered any odd-sounding brand or product names that really ought to have been more suitably adapted for the target market? Let us know!

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