International Business: Wannabe exotic brand names can fail when returning to their country of origin

Published: Friday, July 29 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

When a word is simply foreign and exotic, its meaning may not matter to the customer, particularly when it is used simply for the sake of style. Even within the country of origin, sometimes true definitions do not matter and the name can take on entirely new meanings.

Another clothing label, Hollister California by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, has decided to present an image far different from that of the actual city of Hollister, Calif. The company claims to sell “SoCal-inspired clothing” often plastered with the “SoCal” abbreviation and allusions to surfing underneath its prominently displayed brand name. However, the city of Hollister, Calif., is actually a small farm town, with no beach, established in Northern California (NorCal) in 1868.

Personally, I would prefer to wear a T-shirt supporting the real town’s local high school sports teams, the Hollister Haybalers, but the clothing company’s large international customer base apparently prefers a more “exotic,” beach-themed image of California, even if that is not true to the city’s image.

Some companies like Pret and Hollister will succeed when borrowing words from other languages and locations, even when they repackage these “exotic” brands with completely different meanings. However, unless adapted, sometimes such names like Lucky GoldStar risk sounding ridiculous in the moniker’s native tongue.

The wannabe exotic brands that have the greatest chance of avoiding blunders – a la PPPhone – will be those that are crafted with a complete knowledge of their original and potential meanings.

As always, when dealing with branding in foreign languages, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.

Adam Wooten is director of translation services at Lingotek. He also teaches a course on translation technology at BYU. E-mail: awooten@lingotek.com . Follow him on Twitter at AdamWooten..

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