The Crucial Role of Linguistic Appropriateness in Branding

The challenges of developing a new brand or nonproprietary name are relatively well known. Whether it be a pharmaceutical product, medical device, or consumer product, the legal, marketing, and regulatory hurdles (if applicable) can be daunting. An often-underappreciated aspect of global brand name development is linguistic appropriateness. When developing a new or “coined” word, there is a risk that it may be offensive, confusing, or hard to pronounce in the many languages and dialects around the world.

The classic business school example of a product launch linguistic mishap is Chevy launching the Nova in 1962. “Nova” in Spanish means “no go,” which is far from ideal for a new car launch for Spanish speakers. While the branding blunder had a negligible impact on sales, the misstep permanently affected brand perception.

Brand Institute’s comprehensive approach to developing brand names includes linguistic screening that is performed parallel to Market Research. This helps ensure that the name candidates under consideration do not have any inappropriate, offensive, or misleading connotations or associations in potential launch markets.

Identified linguistic issues must be viewed with the appropriate context. Linguistic concerns are sometimes subjective, as many aspects of name development are. When considering a concern, the entire word and pronunciation must be taken into account. For example, “Dump” may be off-base or offensive to a target audience, but when used in the word “Dumpling”, the previously stated concern is hardly noticed. We also take past learnings into account. If a word fragment/letter string was identified in a previous project, we can provide greater context and guidance as to the significance of the potential concern and whether it should be grounds for excluding a name candidate from consideration.

By Jack Stohlquist