By Alan Graner
I’m sure you’ve heard the classic tale of General Motors selling its Nova automobile in South America and the miserable sales it suffered because in Spanish no va means “doesn’t go.”
It’s a great story. Too bad it’s an urban myth. Actually the Nova sold quite well in Latin America. And while no va means “doesn’t go,” it’s pronounced differently from Nova.
True or not, the story illustrates a crucial point: If you plan on selling your product in foreign lands, you better know what the brand name means in every country you enter. (Which is one reason some brand names are different in different countries.)
Name blunders foreign and domestic
Many of the following are true; some may be myths. But the lesson remains the same: seller beware!
Brown & Michaels, PC, an intellectual properties firm reminds us that Brits and other English speakers pronounce the final letter of the alphabet zed, so any product with the term “EZ,” meaning simple to use, is pronounced “ee-zed,” which makes no sense at all. http://www.bpmlegal.com/tmdodont.html
You also do not want to sell fanny packs in Great Britain, where they call them body bags. It seems British lads don’t have fannies; the word refers to female genitals, not buttocks.
Readers commenting on i18n Guy website’s “Marketing Translation Mistakes” offer the follow brand name errors: http://www.i18nguy.com/translations.html
- General Electric Company and Plessey created a new telecommunications giant branded as GPT (GEC-Plessey Telecommunications.) Very straightforward, what? Except in France GPT is pronounced j’ai pété, meaning “I’ve farted.”
- “Waterpik”? Pik is a common Danish word for male genitals.
- “Gerber”, of baby food fame, is French for “vomiting.”
- “Latte” is a well-known German word for an erection.
- Traficante Mineral Water is an Italian brand. In Spanish traficante it means “drug dealer.”
- When Clairol introduced their “Mist Stick” curling iron in Germany, they didn’t realize mist in German means “manure.” Ditto the Rolls Royce Silver Mist.
Finally, Listverse, which focuses on lists that include the bizarre and lesser known trivia, published “Top 10 Unfortunate Product Names. Among them are: http://listverse.com/2007/10/27/top-10-unfortunate-product-names/
- SARS, a canned drink made by Golden Circle, shares the same name as the deadly SARS virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
- Jussipussi is a bread product from Primula, a Finnish company.
- Kagome, the largest producer of Japanese tomato products and other foods, means “I s**t myself” in Portuguese.
- Trekstor, a German company, named its mp3 player “I.beat Blaxx.”
And, of course, who could ever forget that wonderful diet candy in the 1980s: Ayds.
There are lessons to be learned here. The question is, will we learn them?
What examples do you have of unfortunate brand names?
Image: CC0 Public Domain license via Pixabay
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA business public relations and marketing content firm. For content that makes you stand out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.