Why do big brands change their name?

I get why big brands change their names.

In a global environment you want a neutral yet distinctive name that enables global manufacture and global advertising campaigns. As an advisor to a number of exporters, we are always nervous about how we are received in our new market. (And this applies as much at a regional level as it does at a global level.)

And I guess that is why we saw those big brand changes including:

  • Opal Fruits to Starburst
  • Jif to Cif
  • Marathon bars to Snickers
  • Oil of Ulay to Olay
  • BT Cellnet to O2

But brand gaffs happen so often (and by such big brands with such big marketing departments) that we must be aware of what we do ourselves.

A few of the classic gaffs:

  • Vicks – in Germany sounds like the word for ‘sexual penetration’
  • Coca Cola – in China gets translated to the words ‘bite the wax tadpole’
  • Gerber – in Africa they put pictures of babies on the milk cartons not knowing that in Africa you only put pictures of what is inside the package on to the label
  • Colgate’s Cue – a toothpaste introduced in France is the name of a porno magazine
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken – in China their strapline ‘finger lickin’ good’ was translated as ‘eat your fingers off’ – Tweet this!
  • Parker Pens – in Mexico their strapline ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ was translated to ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’
  • Coors – in Spain their logo ‘Turn it loose’ became ‘Suffer from diarrhoea’ in local parlance.

So what is the learning point?

Culture affects everything we do. At a global level but also at a regional and a local level. We cannot assume that what we understand and ‘get’ will work for other audiences. Talk to and listen to all your target audiences. At a local level. Trust no-one! You need to be talking at the sharp, pointy end and not simply designing campaigns from head office.

PS – On a lighter note, we mustn’t forget some of the celebrity name changes:

  • Farrokh Bulsara to Freddie Mercury
  • Natalie Hershlag to Natalie Portman
  • Stefani Germanotta to Lady Gaga
  • Jennifer Anastassakis to Jennifer Aniston
  • Ilynea Lydia Mironoff to Helen Mirren