Branding and internationalization: the importance of translating a brand in the foreign market

Business insights
Posted by Athena Parthenos

Catchy images, seductive slogans, jingles repeated ad nauseum until they turn into unforgettable (sometimes unbearable) torment—an endless bombardment with a single goal: to carve the name of a brand or a product into people’s minds.
Welcome to the world of naming, a marketing strand that deals with creating the most suitable names for companies and marketing products and services.

The translation of the brand, in fact, is one of the key elements that allows companies to expand into the global market, making the product reach the minds of new consumers. Moreover, in today's globalized world, the international market creates new life for expanding companies, and global branding has been one of the most important developments in the marketing industry over the last 50 years.

A brand name is crucial, as it can positively (or not) influence the consumers’ perception. But it’s not only that. In the long run, the name has an effect on placement, which is the ultimate goal of marketing.

If the name is effective in its target market, its translation determines success or failure in foreign markets. In China and other markets far away, due to the obvious language differences, translating your name is even more complicated.

For this reason, the translation of a brand name cannot be random or entrusted to machine translation channels. On the contrary—it needs the work of an experienced translator who carefully evaluates the various nuances of translation while also collaborating with the marketing department; the brand, in fact, must be localized for the market you want to conquer. Today, more than ever, knowledge of not only the language, but also of the culture that permeates every single market is necessary. A specific sequence of sounds that, for example, an American simply attributes to the name of a given company could convey meanings completely different to a Spaniard.

In choosing the name to use in a foreign market, you can go three ways: transliteration, phonetic transcription, and transcreation. All assume knowledge of the language and culture of arrival and therefore require the work of an expert.

Transliteration consists of transposing graphemes from one writing system to another using the alphabet of the arrival language. In practice, transliteration tries to reproduce the original spelling of the word instead of the sound or meaning.

In the phonetic transcription—that is, the written transposition of the sounds of a language—the name of the brand is spoken in a very similar way to the original, but in the foreign market, it may lose its meaning, risking causing real accidents in communication. For example, it seems that in approaching the Chinese market for the first time, Mercedes-Benz had turned its name into Bensi, but in Chinese, this means "run to die"—a decidedly uninviting name for a car.
In the case of languages that use non-Latin-based writing systems, such as Chinese, an additional level of difficulty is involved in the choice of characters. When Pepsi made its debut in China, the slogan "Back to life with the Pepsi Generation" was rendered as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back to life from the grave." I don't think there's any need for further explanation.

Therefore, the choice of a name is essential for the company. The process by which you decide the name and the way to present yourself to a foreign market is the result of work, study, and creativity. We have learned that it is important to evaluate from time to time the market that you want to reach. Often, simple translation is not enough; it takes a process of real transcreation that considers the brand name, its meaning, its values, and its uniqueness. Some brands, for example, have decided to change their name completely: an example of an interesting branding is that of the brand nicknamed "Heartbrand", the "brand of the heart."

The company, in fact, changes its name from country to country. In Italy it can be traced back to the name Algida, but globally it varies greatly: in Spain, for example, it is called Frigo, while in Brazil it’s Kibon and in Germany it’s Langnese, and so on for all the countries of the world where its products are marketed.
Same logo, same visual code, but it is read differently depending on the country in which you are located. Globally, the symbol of the heart remains unchanged, drawn as a spiral, first red with a yellow gradient background (the colors of the sun, heat, and summer) and then chromatically modified in 2003 using white on a red background (or red on a white background) and a typeface with which to compose the brand's names all over the world.

Whatever path you decide to take, there must still be a marketing study, a prediction of how and how much the brand will be able to sell. Not only that, but it is also essential to understand how well the brand name is suitable to make inroads among foreign consumers, making sure that its sound in the language does not have negative meanings. In Germany, Clairol, a US hairdressing company, realized too late that the name of a new product, MistStick, did not consider the fact that in German, mist means manure. On the contrary, Saugella, an Italian company of intimate hygiene products, has chosen to enter the German market as Sagella, aware that in German, sau means sow.

A wrong name, in essence, can have a huge impact on the perception of the brand and especially of the product that inevitably spills into the turnover of a company, up to millions of euros. It can even compromise its exportability to the country that it intends to reach.
That is why the choice of the brand name and its translation — or its adaptation — must be carefully studied. To this end, there are translators specialized in marketing and transcreation who follow companies in the internationalization process, evaluating from time to time the best strategy to approach the foreign market starting with the launch of a resonant and highly communicative brand.

If you need an ad hoc translation or transcreation service, Athena Parthenos can be your partner, with targeted advice for each country where you intend to expand your business.
Check out all of our marketing translation services here or contact us without obligation at quotes@athena-parthenos.com.

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