The recent news of Kraft naming its global foods company “Mondel?z International” has sparked controversy in the business world, with Forbes describing the move as one that raises a “huge red flag”.
The new name, meant to call to mind the image of a “delicious world”, is actually supposed to be pronounced “Mohn-dah-LEEZ”, hence the accent on the second ‘e’. This has incited mockery in the media, with CNN jokingly titling its article on the news of Kraft’s recent decision “Monde-what?”.
On top of it being difficult to pronounce, Mondel?z sounds very similar to what was described as a “very dirty” word in Russian slang. As a result of all this, many have called for yet another rebrand, emphasizing the detrimental impact that the wrong name can have on brand equity and positioning.
What we find particularly perplexing about the decision to opt for the name Mondel?z, though, is the fact that Kraft, a corporation based in the United States, had the option of choosing a name from the English language, universally spoken in today’s globalized business world. Yet it chose a name inspired by the Romance languages and complicated matters even further with the addition of an accent that many do not recognize. This naturally brings to mind the very different reality faced by many Arab companies, whose names often contain letters that do not exist in other languages (and could not be pronounced by non-Arabs if they tried). These companies go to great lengths to make their names easily pronounceable to a Western audience, as has been the case with Almarai, Saudi Arabia’s leading food producer, and Emaar, the Dubai-based property developer.
This is not the first instance of a less than ideal brand name. There are many such examples that mark the annals of branding history. One instance was the embarrassment Mitsubishi caused itself in Spain when it named one of its new models “Pajero”, a local slang term that is, to put it mildly, sexually explicit (a quick Google search will suffice to reveal the meaning of the word to more curious readers). Another equally comical yet serious misnomer that caused an entire advertising campaign to fail in Italy occurred when Schweppes Tonic Water translated its name as “Schweppes Toilet Water”. These examples are extreme cases featuring linguistic missteps, when in reality brand naming mistakes can occur for reasons much less blatantly obvious. The point, however, is this: brand naming is not a matter to be taken lightly. Brand names are the first step in establishing a successful business and creating a story around your brand. A strong name can set the brand apart in an overly saturated market, communicate a company’s culture, describe what it does in a word or two, or even automatically bring to mind desired associations.
Conversely, the wrong brand name can limit opportunities for expansion and diversification or take away from the equity created by a company’s actual work. In light of all this, if brand names are not carefully selected, businesses run the risk of being “branded” by the marketplace, forfeiting the right they have to shaping how the public perceives them.
A key regional concern
The issue of brand naming is of key relevance to the Middle East. Historically, many major Arab companies have not had to struggle with the issue as they were government-owned utility corporations (e.g. Saudi Telecom, The Emirates Telecommunication Corporation) or family businesses (e.g. Majid Al Futtaim Holding, Al Khorafi Group). Nowadays, the brand naming process is less straightforward, with most businesses operating in a highly competitive globalized economy. Add to this the fact that it is estimated that the youth bubble in the Middle East will require 8 million jobs to be created every year until 2020.
Private and public sector actors alike realize that sufficient job opportunities do not currently exist in the region; they will have to be created. Practically speaking, this means that entrepreneurial youth will be establishing startups that will naturally need to be named. Brand naming thus becomes highly relevant, and getting it right can seriously increase an up-and-coming business’s chances of gaining visibility and establishing desired strategic positioning.
The right way to name a brand
The brand naming process can follow several routes, some of which are self-explanatory and include Latin and Greek-inspired names, initials and family names. Other less self-evident routes include:
Onomatopoeic and Invented: Onomatopoeic names use a word that sounds like the entity or idea it signifies. It creates names that are both catchy and musical. Examples include Zippo and Bing. Invented names are either based on an already existing word to create a new sound or a completely unheard of name that is phonetically appealing. Such brand names are memorable and distinctive due to their uniqueness. Examples include Oreo, Kleenex, and Du. Both invented and onomatopoeic names have become increasingly popular recently, as they allow for the creation of fresh, new names that simultaneously avert the problem of the widespread trade marking of most existing words.
Cultural and Linguistic: This involves using a term or phrase specific to the particular culture or dialect of the target market, appealing directly to local consumers. One such example would be Zaatar W Zeit.
Functional: Such names depict the company’s line of business. This approach holds the possibility of creating strong brand equity for the company or product, centered on the name. Examples include Ford Motor Company and Saudi Telecom.
Lifestyle: This approach evokes a particular lifestyle and calls on consumers to partake in the experience of the brand. Examples include Free People and Marlboro.
Each of these proposed routes offers a brand name something unique. Once companies have decided what route they would like to follow, basing their choice on the nature, positioning, and market of their brand, they must also ensure that final selection abides by certain important criteria.
The name must be in line with the brand promise and positioning and should serve to bolster brand strategy and equity. For instance, Abbott Laboratories recently decided to brand its pharmaceutical spinoff as Abbvie, a name derived from that of its parent company combined with the Latin word for “life”. Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that the name is contradictory with the desired positioning for the brand, as the pharmaceutical company was seeking to position itself as being cutting edge, yet selected a name whose Latin root evokes the antiquated past.
A brand name needs to constitute a good cultural and linguistic fit. In the Middle East, this means taking into account the different realities defining the market, from the youth majority demanding “edgier” communication to the nonetheless prevailing culture of traditionalism.
A brand name ought to have cultural relevance yet remain capable of transcending cultural boundaries. Though this may seem like an impossibly tricky feat, it has been achieved with such brands as “Zain” and “Yamli” – Arabic names possessing universal appeal thanks to ease of pronunciation and the fact that they simply “roll off the tongue”.
The nature of today’s globalized economy dictates that a name also be in line with worldwide consumer trends. A look at today’s international trends reveals a certain move away from what many perceive as “stuffy” Latin and Greek-inspired names, accompanied by increasing demand for distinctive brand names that are functional and relatable. One example is JCrew’s “Madewell” women’s clothing line.
The final and essential point is a simple one: due diligence. Once a company has decided upon a given brand name, it can never be too sure of its effectiveness or marketability. The brand name ought thus to be validated with several different stakeholders and experts before it is officially rolled out.
Though it may pain some to learn this, readers should be cautioned that the real work starts after a brand name has been selected.
Building the verbal identity of a brand permeates every activity carried out by a business and ought to manifest itself in the construction of overall brand personality and identity. Indeed, a name is the first chapter in the telling of a compelling brand story that captivates the public through the strategic use of communication — but those are matters for another article.