The famous saying goes “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” For many international products and services that first impression begins with the company or brand name. All cultures tout the importance of “protecting your good name.” Yet there are many anecdotes of famous, established brands that tanked in foreign markets due to the unfortunate translation of their brand names into the languages of other countries.

In a recent mental_floss! article, “11 Product Names That Mean Unfortunate Things in Other Languages,” Haley Sweetland Edwards compiles a list of products whose names range from risqué to just wrong in English. A few of these include such unfortunate names as Pee cola, Barf detergent and Nokia’s Lumina and Peugeot, both of which translate to prostitute in Spanish and Chinese respectively.

How can you be sure that your company or brand name does not translate into something offensive or ineffective in any of the many languages and countries of the world?

International Branding Beyond Translation

When expanding into international markets, brand translation must go beyond the literal meaning of the words and also consider the cultural nuances, perceptions and underlying values of the terms.

Much of what goes into a name is a matter of perspective. I can remember enjoying a refreshing glass of peach-flavored Coolpis each morning when I lived in Korea and thought nothing of it until my boyfriend visited and pointed out the unfortunate name in English. Such brand names are perfectly respected in their native cultures.

It is not until companies expand beyond their cultural and linguistic borders that brand names may become an issue.

The importance of global branding consultation

There are far too many examples of product launches gone awry because the product name was not properly researched in the target country. To prepare for international brand expansion, wise companies set up a global branding strategy consultation.

A global branding consultant provides consulting services that enable you to define, plan and implement your global strategies into foreign markets. A good consultant will evaluate your name, products, supporting materials and services within a target market to identify any potential cultural barriers that may hinder your success.

Qualified branding consultants use research and analysis to provide you with detailed plans and recommendations for marketing to specific target audiences. These recommendations should consider cultural heritage, language and ethnicity.

4 Keys to Cultural Relevancy

To be certain your product names convey the right image in the foreign locales you market to, messaging must be evaluated beyond the domestic market to include foreign buyers with different languages and cultures.

Before making your brand name international, you must assess the impact your messaging will have based on tone, content, format, design and other creative elements in worldwide markets and cultures. This will ensure that unexpected reactions are avoided and corporate branding and market presence is projected in the most appropriate way for that specific market.

4 key cultural relevancy considerations include:

  • Pronunciation
  • Visual implications
  • Similarity to other words in that language
  • Possible offensive connotations


When testing your brand for cultural relevancy, be sure to work with teams of multicultural experts who not only have experience in specific industries, but also live in these target cultures, making sure they are always current with cultural nuances and preferences.

A global branding consultation can be the key difference between international success and embarrassment with your brand or company’s good name.

What about you? What are some of the unfortunate international brand translations that you have encountered? How have you managed cultural relevancy when expanding into international markets? Please share your thoughts in our comments section.


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