How to Avoid a Branding Blunder

Following the decision of a Judge in France to prevent parents from naming their baby girl ‘Nutella’, this has sparked debate over words that should be deemed suitable, and indeed unsuitable, to be used as a name. In this case, the French courts deemed that the name would ‘lead to teasing or disparaging thoughts’ (BBC News) due to its association with the popular hazelnut spread.

This certainly isn’t the first case of its kind, but brings to mind an interesting point regarding our word associations and the power held within language. There are few instances where this becomes more apparent than in the translation world.

There have been endless humorous examples over the years of brand names that just don’t work in foreign markets. You only need to take a trip to a supermarket in Spain to find a loaf of ‘Bimbo’ bread, or a box of ‘Barf’ detergent in Iran, to realise that there are a number of foreign brand names which wouldn’t be marketable on our shores. The problems don’t end here, as translating the brand names and taglines can also result in a number of cultural and linguistic faux pas.

So, what is the key to avoiding any costly errors?

Research, Research and More Research

A quick Google search should flag up any obvious issues regarding word meanings, and there is a wealth of foreign dictionaries freely available online. After checking any dubious definitions, the next step is to rule out any soundalike words or those which combine multiple phrases, for which it would help to consult a native speaker or translation expert for advice.

Look Out for Tongue Twisters

A word may look fine when written down, but could pose a number of pronunciation issues once spoken aloud. Coca-Cola famously researched their brand name to prepare for their launch in the Chinese market by settling on a combination of Chinese characters which produce the phonetic effect ‘Kekou-Kele’ and have the rough meaning of ‘happiness in the mouth’. It has been well documented that any of the other 200 characters that could have produced the same pronunciation would have resulted in such random meanings as ‘bite the wax tadpole’ and ‘mare fastened with wax’, so Coca Cola’s brand research team did a good job in avoiding any potential pitfalls.

Test your Target Audience

Source a sample audience in your target market and collect their feedback. Social media and online forums have made global market research easily attainable and affordable.

You’ll still have a few things left to do after you’ve settled on the perfect brand name (whether or not it is translated) and strapline. In the internet age, your next consideration will also be your domain name. It’s important to bear in mind that the loss of spacing can create a whole new dilemma, as previously discovered by those poor folks at ‘’ and ‘’ who inadvertedly advertised something much more sinister than intended! It’s a good idea to check this out in all of your target markets before making a costly error.

Just remember – once it’s done, it’s hard to go back!

Need help with your international branding? See how we can help you.