31 October 2011

Product naming in Europe, a scenario

R&D (aka RTD) develops a concept. Engineering builds and tests the prototypes. Management give the project the green light. Marketing dreams up a product name, typically with a heavy cultural and linguistic bias determined by where the team is based and the nationalities of the key members. Marketing asks Legal Affairs to register the tradenames.

Marketing fails to think through how the product name will work in the languages of key markets. Legal Affairs registers tradenames in ‘all caps’ format without accents, partly out of habit, partly as a result of insufficient dialogue with Marketing. No one thinks to ask sales staff in target markets or a language consultant what they think, possibly because this higher duty is thought to be above anyone closer to the company’s customers or more familiar with their languages and cultures.

Results. In some countries or languages, a name may be funny, offensive, unfortunate or a missed opportunity.

Example: English-language readers often react very positively to French accents; a point which is often lost on the French themselves since they don’t actually see the accents the way others do. Internationally, ‘France Télécom’ presents itself as ‘France Telecom’, whereas many outside France would have found the original form both stronger and more distinctive.

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