Translating Brand Names: Pushing Brands Across Cultural Borders
Haley Sweetland Edwards compiled a fantastic collection of broken product names for a mental_floss! article recently. The questionable or downright tacky results of insensitive brand translation are horror stories for marketers: The cases of Pee cola and Barf detergent are cautionary tales. Nokia came out of the article as a notable victim; the company has two different brands (Lumina and Peugeot) which sound like the word “prostitute” when translated too literally. (The first name offends in Spanish, the second in Chinese.)
Want to avoid this sort of embarrassing mixup with your own brands?
Translating Brand Names Effectively
Translating brand names for use in international markets requires a lot more thought and care than simply throwing an untranslated name across a border or subjecting it to a too-speedy, too-literal translation. The terminology involved in names and brands deserves to be subjected to careful analysis to consider all of the cultural nuances and values at play in taking a brand out of its native culture and projecting it into a new one.
Deciding how to translate a brand is largely a matter of perspective. One popular drink in Korea is the unfortunately named Coolpis. While many have made a habit of enjoying a tasty, refreshing glass of Coolpis on a daily basis, the drink’s name understandably draws laughter and skepticism from English-speaking visitors to the country. Attempting to market that product in America would require some careful brand translation!
The Four Touchstones Of Cultural Relevancy
1) How is it pronounced?
2) What, if any, are the visual implications of the name?
3) What native words is the name similar to?
4) Are there any possibly offensive connotations to the name?
Testing for cultural relevancy can be a complex business. You need to present the matter to multiple experts – linguists, translators, and others – who have an up-to-date insider’s view of the culture you’re attempting to translate your brand into. They need to have current insight into how a foreign brand is likely to be received. This is why ASAPTranslate employs veteran translators all over the world who have considerable cultural expertise in their native markets.
Have you run into cultural relevancy problems when crossing national borders? Have you encountered some memorably unfortunate experiences on translating brand names? Please feel free to use the comments section to share your thoughts and examples.