Global Product Names Are Challenging – They Always Have Alternative Meanings in Some Languages

Like you probably know, Nokia introduced its new Windows Phone a few days ago. While the phone itself got some positive feedback right away, the name of the platform caused some confusion – especially in the Spanish speaking world.

Lumia can be found in the Spanish slang and it basically refers to prostitutes. From the Nokia’s point of view, it is fortunately somewhat rare slang expression. Generally this kind of unintentional meaning could be potentially quite harmful for the brand. Today, having a global brand is challenging because the illusion of the power of English can give a false feeling of security. Yes, the majority understands English but simultaneously there are thousands of languages spoken all over the Globe. Situation like this makes it hard to find a balance between local and global strategies.

Product name localization used to be easier when the people were traveling and communicating less outside the country or continental boarders. Today there is no right strategy for product name localization. Some of the global mega brands have been localizing their brand names in some markets and others use one name everywhere. It is basically a strategic decision.

Some of these global brand names have been more successful than others. Nokia isn’t the only brand which have used a name with multiple meanings. Here are a couple of famous examples of not-so-great brand or product names:

  • Car manufacturer Mitsubishi changed the name of its “Pajero” SUV into “Montero” in Spanish speaking markets when they realized that the original name means a person who masturbates.
  • Another car manufacturer Chevrolet had similar situation when its model called “Nova” was saying “not going” in Spanish.
  • Swedish mineral water company didn’t manage to get any success in the Finnish markets with its popular “Loka” brand. It is not a surprise if you know that “Loka” means the same as mud or dirt in Finnish.
  • A Finnish food company tried to launch its cookie brand into international markets. The name of the cookie brand didn’t mean anything in Finnish, but the Englishmen did see the problem. Understandably, “Rape” is not a good name for a cookie in English speaking countries.

Although these examples are more fun than shocking now, they prove that there is no difference between entering new markets with existing product or existing markets with new product. Product name is the first thing that a potential buyer will see. It is important to remember that localization is always important to think about, and that there are many aspects to consider when making a localization plan.

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