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How brand name disasters can cost millions

Choosing the perfect name for a new product is never easy. Global companies pour millions of pounds into marketing campaigns to launch products around the world. But surprisingly, many still make the mistake of choosing a name that fails to work across borders.

The South Korean car manufacturer Kia hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons last month, when it launched its new Provo model. While this might sound innocent to many ears, this isn’t the case in Northern Ireland. The name has connotations of the Provisional IRA, a terrorist group.

Politicians were outraged by the choice, calling on Kia to choose a less offensive name. The car manufacturer responded to pressure by agreeing not to market the car in the province.

This isn’t an isolated case – and it’s not hard to find examples of similar brand name blunders. Many companies fail to check the local meanings or connotations of a name before launching in a new market. Some famously poor choices by car manufacturers include Chevy’s Nova (which means “doesn’t go” in Spanish), and Ford’s Caliente model, which met with little success in Mexico, as the name is slang for “streetwalker”.

“Vista” might sound like an attractive view to most European users, but not Latvians – the name of Microsoft’s operating system means “frumpy woman” in the language! The company took the wise step of renaming its Bing search engine in China. Instead of the original name, which means “illness” in some dialects, they chose the much more positive and appropriate “Bi-ying” – meaning “must respond”.

These mistakes can be costly when a company has to withdraw a marketing campaign at the last minute. Starbucks had planned a German campaign urging coffee lovers to enjoy a “morning latte” . But they scrapped it after realising that “latte” means erection in the language. And it was only after spending millions on European advertising that Bacardi realised that its new drink, Pavian, translates as “baboon” in German.

Anyone who’s shopped at Ikea will be familiar with its quirky (sometimes hard to pronounce) Swedish product names. The Fartfull workbench is just one example that sounds amusing to English speakers. However the company decided not to take any chances when it launched in Thailand in 2012. Language experts scrutinised thousands of names, changing ones such as the Jättebra plant pot, which sounds like a crude term for a sexual act.

Of course, it’s not all bad news when brands cross the language barrier. A little research can help find a name that’s a perfect fit for the target market. Nike is known as Nai Ke in China – two characters that mean “endurance conquer”. And Nestle had a stroke of luck with its Kitkat biscuits in Japan. The name sounds like a term for “good luck” – Kitto Katsu, turning them into a popular gift for students taking exams.

Thinking about launching your brand in a foreign market? Don’t take a chance – our brand name checking service can ensure your product makes a splash for the right reasons. And find out more about our translation and other internet marketing services.

Christian Arno, Founder and President, Lingo24

Christian Arno is Founder and President of Lingo24. He started the company in 2001 after graduating from Oxford University with a degree in languages. He has won numerous awards including HSBC Business Thinking and International Trade Awards (2010), and TAUS Excellence Award (2012) for innovative technology. He contributes to leading industry publications and has been featured on the BBC, in the Financial Times and other media around the world.

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