The Art Of Transliteration Whilst Keeping Your Brand’s Good Name

The Art Of Transliteration Whilst Keeping Your Brand’s Good Name

When the film ‘The Hangover’ was released, as with many other films, some territories around the world changed the film’s title slightly to better suit local audiences – a practice which is widely used and accepted by film-makers.  In this instance, however, the studio were horrified to discover that France had changed the name of the movie to ‘Very Bad Trip,’ thus completely changing the meaning of the name and, possibly misleading customers.

What’s in a name

When marketing a product or service, branding is everything – walk down any high street in any country and you’ll immediately see five or six stores or products which you’ll recognize instantly from the logos and colour schemes without even having to read the name of the product. 

When using transliteration for brand marketing, it is imperative that the brand’s original message is not “lost in translation” as was the case with France’s marketing of The Hangover.  When looking at using transliteration, begin by asking the following questions:

  • What is the original brand name and, what does it mean?  It may be that, in the originating country, the name is a ‘pun’ or play on words and this is something you may need to take into account.
  • Will the audience in the new country understand the name?  If so, you might consider using the adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ and keep the name as it is.
  • Is there a possibility that the original name could cause offence in the receiving country?  If so, it is, of course, important that the name be changed. In 1990, electronic pop band Depeche Mode released an album worldwide with the title ‘Violator’.  This was, unfortunately, not thoroughly checked by the label who were, subsequently, horrified to discover that, in French, the title translated directly to ‘Rapist’.  Needless to say, this could have been a serious error resulting in the band losing fans and the record being banned.

Can the new name be successfully integrated with the brand’s logo and packaging?  Most logos are designed to incorporate a name of a certain length and may look odd or ‘empty’ with a much longer or shorter name.  

Unlike transcription which deals primarily with replicating sounds in the new host language, transliteration aims to faithfully replace letters with the new language’s closest counterpart. A very effective way of renaming your brand for other territories is ‘culturally aware transliteration’ whereby a new name is chosen which evokes an emotion or end result.  This was successfully used by Coca Cola in China with a name which translates as ‘Happiness in the mouth.’

 Chances are that you’ve worked hard to establish your brand and it is of utmost importance that, even with a name change, your brand is consistent and that the name, in each territory, explains the product or service – confused customers rarely become loyal customers!

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