Product names and globalisation

A further difficulty results from the fact that, in a globalised, multilingual world, product names are often supposed to fulfil their advertising function across languages. An alternative to the strategy of standardising the name for cross-national, universal use, is country-specific advertising, as Zilg (2006: 63-65) mentions. In principle, three strategies can be identified in the case of differentiation:

  • 1) the transposition strategy, which gives a literal translation of the name, provided the lexical material constituting the name allows for such a solution (La vache qui rit - The laughing cow);
  • 2) the adaptation strategy, where a name “expresses the same concept” in different languages (Zilg 2006: 65; France: Cajoline vs. Italy: Coccolino);
  • 3) the true differentiation strategy, where a completely different name is used for every country or group of countries: Eskimo (Austria, Croatia, Slovenia) vs. Langnese (Germany) vs. Algida (Italy, Hungary) vs. Frigo (Spain), etc.

If a company adopts the standardisation strategy, using the same product name in various markets, it is possible that the name has negative associations in one or more of these due to partial or total homography or homophony with lexemes which have a negative meaning or which touch on taboos. As a result, undesired collisions, so-called “big business blunders”, may occur. Thus Puff as a name for snacks in South Tyrol (Italy) is problematic as Puff means ‘brothel’ in colloquial German; Hypercon for an optical product in France can be linked with hypercon, colloquial for ‘bloody stupid’. Platen (1997:155-159) and Gabriel (2003: 66) list some such big business blunders. In order to avoid the undesired and sales-reducing effects associated with them, potential product names are checked for their international suitability when they are created, often by professional naming agencies. However, this undertaking can never be entirely successful given the multitude of languages worldwide and the number of existing product names. On the other hand, a product name which evokes undesired associations need not be ineffective: Omo (homophony to Colloquial French homo ‘gay’), Persil (French persil ‘parsley’) and products from the company Bosch (homophony to French boche, pejorative for ‘German’) sell well in France.

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