Naming problems

The ultimate symbol of successful globalization is the ability to use the same name worldwide. However, a brand name often poses problems for globalisation. The main ones are outlined below:

  • First of all, there is the problem of prior registration by a local company. For example, the name Eurostar had already been registered by a service company and had to be bought from that company, a solution that is not always possible. Less straightforward was the problem of the Crocodile brand, registered by a Chinese company and rapidly reinforced by a vast network of stores known as The Crocodile Shop, just as the global brand Lacoste accessed the Asian market. Lacoste’s logo is a crocodile.
  • Second, the name can be a problem in terms of its meaning in a specific language.
  • There is no shortage of anecdotes about brand names that have sexual connotations in other countries.
  • A less common problem is the translation of descriptive names.

Traditionally, the Americans do not translate their descriptive brand names – Pampers are Pampers the world over, as is Head & Shoulders. But for an international brand of cheese such as La Vache Qui Rit (The Laughing Cow), the name is important because it conveys a message and permits the correct interpretation of the brand symbol (a cow’s head). Without it, the cow could appear stupid, smiling or mad.

In this case, there is a link between the brand name and brand symbol. The question therefore arises as to whether or not to translate this descriptive brand name for each country, and if so, whether to keep a reference to the brand name in French. If this is done, should this reference be above or below the local translation? Finally, should the answers to these questions be different for each region, since the answers depend on the added value desired?

In certain areas, there is a real problem of counterfeited goods and therefore a need to reassure consumers that the product is in fact the real thing. In some areas (such as Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and Germany), the added value comes from the reference to France, while in others, the ‘made in France’ label can be a negative factor due to changing economic circumstances, for example in the United States in 2003.

Finally China poses a specific problem because of its very different regional dialects.

Naming in China

Naming in China often forces managers to face a choice: should they name semantically or phonetically? (Schmitt and Zhang, 2001). The dilemma is as follows: should one respect the sound of the name even if it has no local meaning and is therefore difficult to pronounce and to memorise, or should one respect the concept even if it means parting from the international sound of the brand name? Ideally of course, one would say both.

The Chinese sound should resemble the international pronunciation, but the meaning should also be appropriate. Microsoft’s semantic name would be Wei Jua, which means micro flexible and soft. In addition it is a pleasant sound to a Chinese ear. Coca-Cola and Carrefour found both a semantic and phonetic appropriate translation: Keu Ko Keu Leu means ‘good to drink and makes happy’, Tia-leu-Fu means something close to ‘the house of happiness’. The leading worldwide brand of insecticide, Decis from Aventis, is pronounced Di-Cha-Seu which luckily means ‘at them until death’.

Others are less lucky. Peugeot is said as ‘Piao Je’, but in Cantonese, it evokes a prostitute. Orangina starts with an O: in Chinese there are no nice words starting with an O. There is a danger however in localising the name too much in China. Foreign brands are now valued much more than local brands. All signs which accentuate the perception of being a local brand may erode brand equity in the long term. The size of this market requires that all due precautions be taken.

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