International Business: Global expansion can force odd changes in brand name pronunciation
Some brand names could actually benefit from popular mispronunciation. When people first view the word “PPPhone,” the name of a VOIP softphone application, I have heard attempted pronunciations like “Fuh-fuh-phone” or “pah-pah-phone.” None of these pronunciations are great, but all of them are arguably preferable to the “correct” pronunciation of “pee pee phone.”
Other companies have also adapted to accommodate popular pronunciation or to circumvent pronunciation problems as Hyundai did.
“Wrigley, for example, merely altered the spelling of its “Spearmint” chewing gum to “Speermint” to aid in the German pronunciation of the flavor,” said David A. Ricks in his book "Blunders in International Business." “'Maxwell House' proved slightly more difficult. The name was changed to ‘Maxwell Kaffee’ in Germany, ‘Legal’ in France and ‘Monky’ in Spain.”
Is having a difficult-to-pronounce product name always bad? No. The Association for Psychological Science notes that people often associate such names with increased risk. So, although pharmaceutical sales may perform better when drug names are easy to pronounce, other products such as fashions and expensive alcoholic beverages may appeal more to their target audiences when they suggest something edgier.
In general, if companies really want to insist they are “right” about pronunciation and all their customers are wrong, these companies run the risk of being a little lonely. When it comes to pronunciation, sometimes it is better to be “wrong” and have many customers than it is to be “right” and have none.
Adam Wooten is director of translation services at Lingotek. He also teaches a course on translation technology at Brigham Young University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at AdamWooten.
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