A few years ago, I started getting more business from companies that were looking for multilingual specialists to work on their taglines. Having worked as a tagline copy tester for a communications and translation agency in London that was a pioneer in this budding field, I felt empowered!
At the turn of this century, companies as diverse as Aer Lingus and Ray Ban but with an international outlook started pondering on how to best curate their brand mottos and slogans as they were jostling for positions to be voted as favourites by a demanding international audience.
Today, tagline adapting or transcreation is ubiquitous and has gone to the next level. A new area of specialism is born —Disaster check and Name testing. For me, that was love at first sight and they still are my favourite assignments!
Disaster checks. How does it work?
|A company comes up with a new product name, motto or a tagline|
|It is going to market with it|
|Before going ahead with this step, the marketing department wants to check how it would be received in each foreign market it operates in|
|So a disaster check or, better, name testing has to be performed|
Disaster or not a disaster?
|The name is a disaster||Not a disaster|
|The name means something offensive or silly in the language of the target market||The name could be improved upon or translated to be more appealing in the target market|
|The name is too difficult to pronounce for most native persons of the target market or when pronounced in the target language and/or it will sound like something else||The name’s appeal feels neutral but this is not necessarily a perfect fit. it is not negative either|
|The name is culturally and or politically inappropriate||the name would remind a native speaker of something else|
Disaster checks are designed to ascertain whether a name can be transferred from one language and culture to another. Let’s say that a brand of orthopaedic chairs manufactured in France is called Nova. Before the company goes down the export route and expands into Catalonia and Spain, they want to make sure that its product name is language and culture-proof. They had better not refrain from performing a thorough disaster check.
This process will help them find out that, if “Nova” means “novel” and more precisely “innovative” or “groundbreaking” in English, it will be perceived as to mean “not functioning” in Spanish, because this is what “no va” says in the local language. Recently, I worked on a wellness brand looking to go to market with a product named “Ourselves”. We researched it and found out, among other things, that the French equivalent “Nous” or “Nous-mêmes” would not appeal to the French customer base as much as the English version original (VO) name in the English-speaking countries. For obvious reasons: it has no appeal in the French language. The rest of the rationale remains confidential for the time being!
In the same vein, the name for Rolls Royce’s Silver Mist model was coined for the British and world markets. However, this was changed to “Silver Shadow” when the legendary British carmakers became aware that the car would not have the same reception in Germany as in the rest of the world because “mist” conveyed rather negative imagery. Indeed, “mist” means “manure” or, to put it simply, “shit” in German.
Needless to say, iconic brands such as Rolls Royce clearly cannot be caught out making multicultural blunders of that magnitude. But that was back in the mid-60s and things have changed radically since then. Sixty years on, the marketing world has taken on board the cultural dimension. Or has it?
I was convinced that this was the case until recently when I came across Audi’s new range of electric cars and was quite taken aback to see that the name was “e-tron”. I spotted this name back in 2018 when Audi’s first all-electric car was launched. But little did I know that they would name their whole range in the same fashion in 2022!
Indeed, Audi. has gone to market with “la gamme e-tron” in France too! Exactly how much thought have they put into language-proof naming and branding before hitting the French market? Is France ready for what is a linguistic shitstorm?!
However, glitches do occur! This one is a case in point. True gold dust for people like me because it provides specialists with a great case study!
In this particular case, it is the sheer meaning of “e-tron” that poses a cultural issue with a huge potential impact on the brand’s reputation. Granted, e-tron is spelt with a hyphen. Nevertheless, “etron” means “turd” in French.
What considerations go into naming a product exactly?
According to SmartCompany, there are 5 considerations a brand needs to bear in mind before naming a business, a product or a service:
- The target markets and what they want
- Research keywords (SEO)
- Be mindful of spelling and phrasing
- Use or create a verb
- Incorporate the problem you solve or benefit you provide
The 3rd consideration, “Be mindful of spelling and phrasing”, sounds like an interesting premise. It explains that ‘While it can be fun, and advantageous for trademarking to invent new words and phrases, or change the spelling of existing words, be mindful of how your potential customers may spell it or search for it if they were to only hear your name (…) it is wise to make the spelling clear while it becomes established and also take precautionary methods (if possible) with domain names for instance in order to pick up potential searches and enquiries that may spell it incorrectly. Also, think about your name in terms of a hashtag. If you have multiple words in your name could they be interpreted as something else if you were to run them all together as a #hashtag on social media?”
Sadly, this rationale is incomplete. It doesn’t make room for the language barrier at any step. And a product will never be truly ready for today’s global markets if the company does not reflect on the sociolinguistic make-up of each market it operates in.
Name testing is the solution.
How name testing works
|The marketing department of an international or a household brand has created a new product and needs a name|
|They call on a transcreator, a multilingual copywriter with translation and creation experiences|
|The transcreator is a cultural consultant who provides feedback on how product or brand names will resonate in global target markets|
|There is a research phase online, in print publications, in the community, among colleagues, or from other resources that may be relevant to the project|
|The transcreator writes a thorough and detailed report on findings|
So does Audi's e-tron campaign show that the green transition may prove more painful and protracted for some car industry leaders after all?! Well, what to do? Marketers and language specialists should meet more often! Transcreation and multilingual copywriting have become a given in international premium brands' approach to their audience and in the process of going to market includes disaster and name testing across all geographies. In any case, copywriters and translators know their stuff and this is where they come into the proces. They can bring about huge added value and help curate snappy and thoroughly researched content. Kudos!