The Most Important Step In The Brand Development Process

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It’s 5:56 am when the CEO of a manufacturing firm opens his email. His attention is immediately drawn to the “Urgent” message from the President of his advertising agency, time-stamped at 5:03 am, to call ASAP.

When the CEO calls the President’s cell phone, it’s answered before the first ring is heard, and the President of the agency tells the CEO in an anxious, nervous voice that all advertising and marketing must cease immediately as the manufacturer’s brand tagline launched just nineteen hours prior has been interpreted as a vulgar and offensive statement in France – the new market the CEO has been working so hard to penetrate based on its infinite sales and growth opportunities. In that instant, the CEO, in a state of emotional shock, becomes light-headed, starts breathing heavily and breaks into a sweat as he frantically thinks about what he needs to do minimize the potential devastation to his company’s brand.

This scenario is not unfamiliar to any CEO who needed to quickly reverse thrust on his or her marketing campaign because s/he neglected to consider how their brand would be interpreted by different cultures around the globe.

Validation: The vital step in the brand development process that should never be skipped!

Tony Wilson, a franchising, licensing and intellectual property lawyer authored a compelling article about taglines, Brand Slogans Gone Horribly Wrong. After reading it, I was reminded about how critical it is to place new brands through appropriate filters and tests to ensure nothing about the brand could potentially offend any particular person or culture. Sure, there is a cost associated with the validation process, but that cost is negligible when compared to the embarrassment and lost opportunities a company would face if its slogan or tagline alienated a culture of people it was trying to influence. (Note: If you think using Google Translation would be a sufficient way to ensure your brand is clear of potentially offensive misinterpretations by other cultures, just keep in mind that you get what you pay for.)

Below are a few examples of companies that failed to validate their brand taglines:

  • Coors’ brand slogan, “turn it loose” meant “suffer from diarrhea” in Spanish
  • When Colgate launched a toothpaste in France called Cue, it was also the name of a well-known pornographic magazine
  • A Ford campaign in Belgium used a slogan that translated to “every car contains a high-quality corpse”
  • When Pepsi had the slogan, “Pepsi brings you back to life,” in Mandarin, it meant, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead”
  • “Fly in Leather,” a slogan by Braniff Airways, meant “fly naked” in Spanish
  • One of IKEA’s products, Jattebra, was slang for sex in Thai
  • The famous “Got Milk?” campaign in Mexico translated to “Are you lactating?”

When entering new markets, your best defense is to have a lawyer or trademark agent check for the colloquial meaning of your brand in other languages. Or, at the very least, ask someone who speaks the language of the land you’re going into if your brand could come off as rude or offensive. If your brand clears this test, you may wish to consider going a step further by getting feedback on how your brand is perceived in the different markets you serve to make sure its message is as strong and as relevant as it can be. The reason is because when doing business abroad, the value propositions you promote in one market may not be as relevant or unique in another, as every market has different competitive landscapes and cultural values. This is another one of the many reasons I believe an ongoing brand management program is critical to the success of an organization.