Listen to the brand

I do a lot ot work with companies introducing their brands and products into international markets. Their are a lot of potential problems, but today most marketers are aware of the obvious ones and check, for example, that their brand name does not mean something risible or obscene in the language of their target markets, or that the colours and images will not cause offence. But we should also consider the auditory communication of the brand – does it depend upon colloquial pronunciation for example?

My parents were brought up in the pre-commercial television days. In many cases, particularly for brands and products of foreign origin, they had never heard the names pronounced. Products produced by Nestlé for example, they called ‘Nestles’.  They came from a generation with little exposure to foreign languages and in what seemed like a closed market it made little difference.

The world has moved on now and few English people will have problems with Peugeot or Stella Artois. But as much as anything this is because these are well established brands for whom broadcast advertising means we are familiar with hearing the names pronounced. For lesser brands we may still struggle with difficult names. So, when we are looking to take brands into international markets it is worth thinking about whether the brand name depends upon what may be irregular pronunciations from the English. The English ‘ough’s are obvious enough, but also look out for the final modifier ‘e’ – the one that changes the vowel sound from ‘can’ to ‘cane’ for example. In most European languages it does not modify the vowel, and is often pronounced at the end of a word.

Acronyms also fall foul of pronunciation: If your company is known as, say, HBW in England, in French it is pronounced ‘ahsh,bay,doobleuh-vay’; in German, ‘hah,bay’vay’. Having worked for many years in advertising where we love acronyms, I quickly learned the problems when announcing myself to clients’ receptionists in France and Germany.

These may seem like niceties, but for small to medium companies who are now exposing themselves to global markets without the budgets to indulge in broadcast media a moment’s thought may ease market acceptance. Would you feel comfortable asking for a product that you were unsure how to pronounce?

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