Branding in Multiple Languages and Cultures

The following blog was contributed to Buzzworthy Branding by Christian Arno, founder of professional translation services provider Lingo24, Inc. If you’re planning to market in multiple countries, this advice will serve you well

Creating & Adapting Brands across Cultures

Just because a brand is big, doesn’t mean it always does things right – as South Korean car manufacturer, Kia, recently proved when they unveiled their latest model. The Kia Provo model caused outcry from Northern Irish politicians who linked its name to the street name for the Provisional IRA during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Yet, Kia isn’t alone in misjudging the cultural and linguistic importance of a brand name, with many big companies narrowly dodging brand disasters. Here are a few reasons and examples why branding can sometimes go wrong across countries, cultures and languages, and how companies looking to take their branding global can avoid some major pitfalls.


Know Your Market…

…and their culture and language. One issue that continues to crop up is a lack of market research. Big brands undoubtedly plow big budgets into their marketing campaigns, so there’s no excuse not to do some simple cultural research before steaming ahead with a brand idea. Knowing what language or dialect the target market uses is really important, something that car manufacturers, Buick, realized when expanding in North America. For several years they branded their LaCrosse model in Canada as Allure, given that “la crosse” means “self-love” in Quebec slang. A simple meaning check in French or English wouldn’t have necessarily flagged this dialectical variant, but good market research made sure the company didn’t embarrass themselves.

Design for Your Market

Knowing your market can also give you an insight into what best suits future consumers, what encourages them to like or love a brand. This can be something as simple as the shape, design or color of your company’s branding. Take US food-processing company H. J. Heinz Company, for example.

Available in various countries across the world, the Heinz branding team chose to vary their logo across each market – and in some countries, quite considerably. In Germany, Poland and Australia, for example, they use their corporate Heinz logo to lead their consumer pages. In the UK they’ve opted for a straight-lined, very angular logo. Whilst in the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland they opt for the dark green sweet pickle – an image that harks back to their history. Each shows how best that target market reacts to a brand; preferring the traditionalism of the brand (the sweet pickle), the seriousness of a company (the corporate logo) or just the simplicity of a brand (angular logo).

Translate and Adapt Everything: Names and Taglines

Taglines are another issue that often causes concern when crossing cultures. Probably one of the biggest and most powerful brands, McDonalds, is a good example of how to broach this issue. “I’m Lovin’ It!” was the company’s first international advertising campaign, created by McDonald’s brand agency in Germany, where it launched in September 2003. With wave launches that month in Australia, UK and also the US, where it was made famous by the vocal work of Justin Timberlake, it’s interesting to note that the tagline did actually start out in German: ‘Ich liebe es’.

Yet, the brand was selective as to where and how the simple tagline was translated, using it only in German, Chinese, Arabic, French (including Québec), Taglish, Azerbaijani, Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Latvian. English was used in all 85 remaining countries. But did it work? Well, as their first ever global marketing campaign it certainly took McDonald’s some guts to try, and given that almost a decade later the “I’m lovin’ it” line still graces their logo in the US and UK, I would say it was a pretty good try…

Market diversity in many forms

Check Each Market for Word Usage

What’s quite common across bigger brands, in particular companies that have large lines of products, is the strategy to retain the ‘original’ name of an item when going global. Ikea is a perfect example of this and although consumers outside of Sweden (and the Nordic countries) struggle to pronounce nearly all of the words, this strategy works to strengthen the brand’s Swedish image. Some silly sounding ones have caused amusement – for example their ‘Fartfull’ workbench – but a few have caused slightly wider concern. Before expanding into Thailand, for example, a few product names needed to be changed. Their Jättebra plant pot sounded like a crude term for a sexual act and the Redalen bed translates roughly as “getting to third base”. Both were naturally removed. Yet, for some brands, how they sound can be a real winner in the target market. Nestle’s KitKat sounds like the Japanese term for “good luck” – Kitto Katsu – which has made their chocolate biscuits very popular gifts for students taking exams.

Though it seems obvious these are the types of mistakes that brands can easily avoid with the help of a translator. Knowing a culture and language inside out, translators are a company’s ticket to understanding their target audience. Their insight is invaluable and shouldn’t be underestimated by companies planning global market campaigns. It might be tempting to cut corners, but this runs the risk of very expensive mistakes in the long-run.

About the author

Christian Arno is the founder of professional translation services provider Lingo24, Inc. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 180 employees spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over forty million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV and World Bank. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.

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