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24 February 2024

Local brand names lost in global translations

By Naseem Javed


What are customers around the world saying about the new booming Middle Eastern brands? What are they reading in the brand names? Which ones are they talking about? Which ones can they pronounce and remember easily? Are these local brands leading the charge for global mindshare or are they lost in global translation?


Currently, many of the mega Middle Eastern project developers are being branded under Arabic names such as Nakheel, Aldar and Emaar. These are mostly foreign to international audiences while some project mixed messages due to translation. They also impose serious limitations to brand name appreciation, leading to high costs in obtaining global mindshare.


To appreciate this dilemma, unless you are fluent in Japanese, try to make sense out of a fancy Japanese name with some deeply rooted cultural message with rich heritage. For this reason, more than half a century ago global image-savvy corporate Japan developed all major brand names based on international rules of translations, negative connotations and pronunciations that fitted mass global appeal, making them easy to talk about, spell and remember.


It was the Japanese who truly laid the systematic foundation of what makes globally accepted and universal name-identities fit enough for a global image. Japan was on the forefront of creating global brands such as Toyota, Minolta, Sony, Pentax, Sharp, Panasonic, Canon and hundreds of other five-star names. This was because names originating from the Japanese language would have never garnered global acceptance.


Today, China is caught in too many local language-based name brands that seriously inhibit internationalisation of the name-identity. This has proved bad for a country that is recognised as the world’s largest factory and by now could have easily claimed hundreds of globally popular names.


India currently sits in the middle. Being more open to non-local-language naming, it is now on its way to becoming the next global powerhouse of domestic brands.


In order to truly benefit from these global intricacies and have the vision to acquire universal name identities, one must bite the bullet first and be open to candid boardroom level discussions in micro detail. This process demands a commanding knowledge of global business naming procedures, corporate nomenclature and many other different skills unheard of in the traditional logo-centric-slogan-happy branding process.


In the Middle East the traditional long branding process ends in an Arabic name, often starting with the letter ‘A’ and a most intricate logo with colourful schemes – something extremely difficult to appreciate or decipher in the global markets.


Any assembly of the top 50 names and their logos would spell out the global challenges facing this process.


Does this mean we should abandon Arabic words or start discussing prospects of depending on the letters ‘B’ or ‘C’? Not at all. It means we should be aware that the alphabet of each language has hidden characters, strengths, weaknesses and related trends; it is not a simple question of the cut-and-paste solution of inserting letters into famous or already existing name brands.


Naming from the dictionary was common in the West decades ago. At one time, there were hundreds of companies in the United States called Dynamic, Quantum, Prism or Rainbow, as they sounded so powerful and fresh, but eventually died out due to worldwide name confusions. Furthermore, global e-commerce and the use of digital branding for domain names clearly point to a serious need for highly specialised skills.


It is also very important to note that despite the seeming dominance of English, there are about 2,700 different languages with 8,000 dialects in the world. Altogether, there are 12 important language families with 50 lesser ones. Indo-European is the largest of which English is the eminent category.


Based on usage by population, the following are the major languages in descending order: Chinese, English, Hindustani, Russian, Spanish, Indonesian, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Bengali, Mali and Italian.


‘Nay’ is yes to Greeks. The American ‘yeah’ means ‘no’ to the Japanese. A simple laugh – ‘ha, ha, ha’ – means ‘mother’ in Japanese, while ‘Ohio’ means good morning. In Russia, ‘looks’ means ‘opinion’ and ‘socks’ means ‘juice’. In France, a simple sign of ‘sale’ means ‘dirty’. To the British, a sidewalk is a ‘pavement’, sister a ‘nurse’ and elevator a ‘lift’. The Chinese word ‘mai’ said in a certain style means to ‘buy’ and in another style to ‘sell’. When enunciated together, ‘mai mai’ means ‘business’.


So simplicity turns into complex marketing challenges. Understandings of these issues are pre-requisite in achieving a globally acceptable name-identity.


Recommendations: We all better be wary of language issues; customers are no longer simply local to your streets; they are scattered all over the globe, local to their own streets, yet still somehow connected together.


The next big branding challenge for the Middle East is to acquire a deeper understanding of universal image and identity management.


New brand managers for LG

South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc said yesterday it had selected three new global agencies to help it consolidate its branding efforts.


The three agencies are Mindshare of the WPP Communications Group, Y&R Worldwide –  also from WPP – and Publicis Modem of French advertising group Publicis.

Earlier this month, LG awarded its $350 million (Dh1.28 billion) creative account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.


“All four agencies will work closely with each other to help LG globally align its consolidated marketing communications across business units and regions where the company operates,” LG said in a statement. The first campaigns are expected in spring 2008.