American brands abroad

When looking at a world ranking of the most successful brands regarding their value in US$ then all brands in the Top 10 are American. The names of these companies, their products and services originate in the English language. But brands expand and explore new territories and become global brands. It is a strategic decision for brands to rather standardize or localize their business and communications. In other words, some companies choose to stay the same around the world without changing their brand name or tone of communication. However, there are brands which do and have to localize to every country’s local condition. It would take translations into 83 languages to reach 80 per cent of all people around the globe, and more than 7,000 languages to reach everyone.

One way of adapting to the country’s language and culture is to decide whether to keep or change the name of the brand. There are too many examples where the brand names have been taken abroad but the awaited success hasn’t occurred. One example is a car named “Nova” launched by General Motors in the Spanish speaking countries of Central and South America. “No va” means “It Doesn’t Go” which does not really resemble the intention of the company. Another example describes Coca Cola’s expansion to China. There the Coca-Cola name was first read as “Kekoukela” which means “Female Horse Stuffed with Wax”. After a research through 40,000 characters they found a phonetic equivalent “kokoukole”, translating into “Happiness in the Mouth”. Lastly Clairol launched a curling iron called “Mist Stick” in Germany. “Mist” in German is slang for “crap” or “manure”. I doubt that any girl would have purchased a product with this name.

Compared with brand names firms do not always change their catch phrases. Famous examples are slogans of German automobile brands Volkswagen and Audi. VW’s catch phrase is “Das Auto” which has not been translated in most countries. Audi advertises with “Vorsprung durch Technik” which has also not changed in other languages. Here is the Audi web presence that shows the German phrase underneath the logo on the UK interface.

Why don’t you check websites of a few brands and see if you find other examples.


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