Painful Brand Naming Lessons

Steve RivkinMay 9, 20093 min

How important is research in Brand Naming? You be the judge…

1. Reebok had to backpedal after it blundered with the launch of a running shoe for women named the INCUBUS. The dictionary says an incubus is “an evil spirit believed to descend upon and have sex with women while they sleep.”

2. British shoemaker Umbro must not have been paying attention. Umbro was denounced in August 2002 as “appallingly insensitive” for using the name ZYKLON for a running shoe. That’s the same name as the lethal gas used in Nazi extermination camps during the Second World War.

3. A food company named its giant burrito a BURRADA. Big mistake. The colloquial meaning of that word is “big mistake.”

4. General Motors named a new Chevrolet the BERETTA without getting permission from the Italian arms manufacturer. It cost GM $500,000 to settle the lawsuit.

5. Ford had a problem in Brazil when the PINTO flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.” Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted the name Corcel, which means “horse.”

6. The Thailand office of the ad agency Leo Burnett alerted a client that their proposed name for a motor oil, phonetically, read as TIGHT VIRGIN. The name was altered.

7. In Asia, Mitsubishi’s sports utility vehicle named the PAJERO drew laughter from Spanish-speaking consumers. In Spanish, pajero means “one who masturbates.”

8. Estee Lauder was set to export its COUNTRY MIST makeup line when German managers pointed out that in their language “mist” is slang for “manure.” The name became Country Moist in Germany.

9. Apparently undaunted, another cosmetics firm introduced the MIST STICK, a curling iron, in Germany. We wonder how many fräuleins were prepared to use a “manure stick?”

10. Gulf Oil wanted to use its NO-NOX name to brand its gasoline in Indonesia. However, after Gulf started using the name in Indonesia, it found to its chagrin that No-Nox sounded like the Bahasa word “nonok,” which is a slang term for female genitals.

11. Japan’s second-largest tourist office was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. The owners of KINKI Nippon Tourist promptly changed their name.

12. A leading brand of car de-icer in Finland will never make it in America. The brand name: SUPER PISS.

13. Ditto for Japan’s leading brand of coffee creamer. The brand name: CREAP.

14. We alerted a client that a proposed name for a power tool with the word GAGE in it (DynaGage, PowerGage) would likely be pronounced like the Spanish word gajes, which has the connotation of an occupational hazard.

What Are The Lessons Here?

First, if you’re tempted to use an obscure or unusual word (like Incubus), be absolutely, positively certain you know what the word means. Look it up. In a good dictionary. On Google.

When you cross language borders, use these multilingual checkpoints:

  • Is it acceptable? Your name should be evaluated by a native-born person fluent in the language and slang of each country where you expect to do business.
  • What about existing meanings? Ask whether your name has any similar or different meanings to what you intend.
  • What about negative connotations? Ask what your name could be confused with.

For more on cultural differences that led to marketing mishaps click here.

Change the trajectory of your future with a Mini MBA in Marketing and Brand Management delivered by renowned professor Mark Ritson.

The Blake Project Can Help: Accelerate B2C and B2B Brand Growth Through Powerful Emotional Connections

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

FREE Publications And Resources For Marketers

Steve Rivkin

One comment

  • joão

    May 9, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Pinto is not a slang for “tiny male genitals” in Brazil. This is a myth that’s often repeated in similar lists. It just means “penis”. (“small make genitals” would be “pintinho”). But yes, the sales flop did occur and they did rename the car after they found out what went wrong. It was pretty successful after being rebranded, btw.

Comments are closed.

Connect With Us