Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Archive for the tag “marketing”

When brands meet grammar

We are all well aware of top brand names: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Nike, or Apple.  Love a brand or hate it, it is a way of giving identity to a product, service or line of either. A brand is also a way to differentiate a product/service from its competitors, which is defined as its (brand) “positioning”.   Both Motel 6 and Hilton for example are in the same business and are recognized names, however, they do not compete with one another as they are in different classes and have different product “positioning.”

According to the annual study by Forbes, in 2017 Apple tops the list as the most valuable brand in the world for the seventh consecutive year, worth $170 billion.  Google is the second most valuable brand, followed by Microsoft, Facebook and then Coca-Cola.  Global brand recognition is a true success for a company, but what about when a brand meets grammar and becomes so well recognized that it surpasses language barriers or even becomes part of common everyday language?  Apple for example is used by millions of people who have little to no knowledge of English at all and yet they still say and recognize the name.  Google is a great modern example that takes it beyond solely recognition.  It started as a simple search engine and today is a common verb meaning to search for something online!  Although Merriam-Webster tells us that “to google” is to use Google specifically to find something online, who uses anything other than Google really?  …. Ok, some of you, but most of us wouldn’t consider using anything else when believe it or not there are 140+ options out there!  Yahoo is the second most used option, but somehow “yahoo it” just doesn’t sound as good as “google it” … and who can deny that “googlealo” (Google it) just rolls off the tongue so well!

Googlealo

*Translation: “When you don’t know something, Google it.”

Other marketing success stories are products like Bandaid, Kleenex, Q-tip or Gillette in Spanish speaking countries where it’s the common name for a standard razor.  These are the everyday terms for the products themselves when they actually come from merely a brand name.  Due to the dominance of American brands and recognition in movies, many cultures and languages adopt a brand name for a product.  It happens often but still, few brands will reach this level of recognition.  How it happens is something for another blog post, but starting with children, during their learning and formative years is definitely one example.

A friend of mine is a teacher for young kids in Barcelona, Spain and upon doing a grammar exercise of word opposites, a young student showed the influence of a brand.  In the final example, when “DIA” (day) was really asking for NOCHE (night) as the answer, he responded with Carrefour, (a French) supermarket competitor of another (Spanish) chain called Dia.

Is this:

a.) a comical example of a young learner b.) a case of marketing101  c.) both

I say BOTH!

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Translation marketing blunders oh my! Part 1

I have a favorite class with students where we talk about cross cultural communication and share stories about language and/or cultural mishaps.  Something will inevitably happen when you are learning another language.  Working as a waitress once I remember telling a Spanish speaking table that I was pregnant instead of embarrassed.  It`s a common error to make and in the end just reason to laugh.  Don`t let the possibility of saying something wrong stop you from trying!

The stakes are higher in business, however, and translation and cultural awareness must be considered.  In international marketing, one of the most well-known translation blunders comes from car maker Chevy and their car the “Nova.”  In Spanish it literally translates to “It doesn`t go.”  It was obviously not the message Chevy wanted to portray for its car that is suppose to go, and go fast for that matter!  (See below for more clarification on this case.)

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Mistakes with cultural awareness without a doubt have happened and continue to happen, especially as the world becomes more global everyday.  Examples of that for another post!  Today`s post is a compilation of translation mistakes (in writing, not speaking) that led to unfavorable results in international markets.

1. The Chevy Nova isn`t the only English to Spanish (or vice versa) mistake that has occurred with cars.  In fact there have been many.  Here are three examples of model names that were unfit for the Spanish and Portuguese markets.

  • The Mazda Laputa literally translates in Spanish to the Mazda “whore” (la puta).
  • The Nissan Moco literally translates to the Nissan “bugger” (el moco).
  • The Mitsubishi Pajero is the Mitsubishi “wanker.”   The car was renamed as “Montero.”

2. Honda introduced their car the “Fitta” in Nordic countries in 2001, only to later to learn that it referred to a woman’s genitals in Swedish and Norwegian. In the end, they renamed it the “Honda Jazz.”

3. Gerber is America’s best-known baby food maker, but “gerber” can be translated as “to vomit” of all things in French. Evidently the name was not marketed in France.

4. In Germany, Clairol launched a curling iron called the “Mist Stick” and mist in German is slang for manure: the “manure stick.” Uh oh…

5. Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces only later to receive calls from numerous Punjabi speakers indicating that “bundh” sounded just like the Punjabi word for “arse”. Oops!

6. The Japanese company Matsushita Electric (now Panasonic) was promoting a new PC for internet users. They had created the new web browser and received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as the interactive internet guide.  The day before launch, they realized the mistake and saved themselves a lot of embarrassment. The ads for the new product featured the following slogan: “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.”  “Woody” and “pecker” are both references to male genitals in English.

7. In the 1970`s, Wang Computers was an American computer company with the motto: “Wang Cares.”  Sounding a lot like “wankers,” British branches refused to use the motto.

8. “Traficante” is an Italian mineral water, but in Spanish translates to “drug dealer” or “trafficker.”  In 2006, it was purchased by Coca-Cola.

9. When Pope John Paul II visited Miami in 1987, a local T-shirt maker produced commemorative T-shirts for the Hispanic market “Vi la papa” without realizing that a simple article change in Spanish changed the meaning. The shirts literally read: “I saw the Potato” (“la Papa”), instead of “I saw the Pope” (“el Papa”).

10. The toothpaste and toothbrush company “Colgate” literally means “hang yourself” in the voseo form of Argentinian Spanish.

More on Chevy`s Nova: Despite being perhaps the most common example given in international marketing, the story of the Nova is actually a myth.  The car was sold with this name in Venezuela and Mexico, having quite successful sales in Venezuela in fact.

For a similar post but related to cultural blunders, go here!

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When Grammar Speaks

English speakers and English students will tell you that you use the Simple Present verb tense to express routine and habitual activities, or to express known facts or permanent states, where you use the Present Continuous to express temporary actions in the moment they are happening (I’m writing this blog post now, for example.)

It’s a fairly simple lesson and a boring one at that for an English student well-beyond the present tense, but there is something a bit tricky about this topic: stative verbs.  These are verbs that express just that, a state of being that stays the same rather than an action that changes.

To like and to love were included in the list of stative verbs that only can be used in the present tense.  I like McDonald’s, or I don’t like McDonald’s, depending on where you stand, for example.  Although it’s not as common, there are occasions when we use to like in the Present Continuous.

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  • How’s your new car Bill?
  • “I’m loving it.”

You see Bill can say “I’m loving it,” because it’s still a new experience.  Eventually, as time goes by and the new-car-smell fades away, he will have to decide if he likes his car or not and will then use the present tense.

But listen, this post isn’t intended to be a grammar lesson, and is instead to write about something interesting related to grammar and marketing.  McDonald’s current slogan (first launched in September of 2003) is “I’m lovin’ it,” which is technically the Present Continuous.

Based on the hopefully not too boring grammar description above of the Present Continuous, what the slogan is really telling you is that you’re loving it only as you’re eating it, because like all actions in the Present Continuous, it will pass.

Now of course this wasn’t McDonald’s intention.  Any marketer wants to instill a lasting message in its customers, perhaps more like the Spanish version, in the present tense, “Me encanta” (I love it.)

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Without a doubt the temporary nature of this grammar is true for Morgan Spurlock, Director and Star of the documentary Super Size Me.  He loved what he was doing for a short time, and made his point in the end about the diet.

Oh did he ever…

So in short, McDonald’s grammar choice really doesn’t give the message it wants, although many would argue it gives a more honest message.

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482103587/

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A Case of Marketing or Merely Different Taste?

To any American these are cough drops, and perhaps the most recognized brand of all.  Coming to Argentina, it struck me that they were recognized as “caramelos” (candy).  They are in fact used as a kind of candy to soothe the throat, or even as a mouth freshener.

So, is this simply a marketing case study where the same product was marketed in different ways and now is used for different purposes, or is it a matter of difference in tastes (gustos)?  And thinking medically, are the products different enough to merit one being a candy and the other used for medical reasons?

Since I work at a pharmaceutical company as an English teacher and coach, I was in the midst of perfect people to answer the question!  Students did some investigating and we learned that the active ingredient is indeed the same in both countries: menthol, and the Halls website confirmed that the products are used differently in the United States versus South American countries.

It turns out that the active ingredient is the same, but we now suspect that the quantity of menthol is different enough to allow the product to be used in such different ways.  Unfortunately this is where the story stops.  Road block: the quantity of menthol in Argentina isn’t available as it’s considered a candy and not medicine.  So, perhaps the question of merely a marketing mystery or a difference in tastes cannot be answered…or perhaps it’s a little bit of both.

Whatever it is, this is a discovery that I find fascinating.  I don’t think the products are different enough in each country, different enough to warrant a completely different perspective of the product.  I think it’s simply a reflexion in society of how societies can be different, and this is but yet a metaphor for that.

Supporting quotes after asking Facebook friends to describe the picture above:

  •  If you’re over the age of seven, they’re cough drops. If you’re seven or younger, they’re one of the lower-ranked tiers of candy.
  • Halls Cough drops, NOT candy!!! Por Dios…jajaja 
  • Until we moved to South America, I would say they are cough drops. That is the ONLY time I would ever want to consume them still, although I now know the alternative. :))
  • Candy in Argentina.
  • In the UK they are meant to be for when you have a cough or a sore throat but I think they taste yucky!

http://pinterest.com/pin/250653535482103354/

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