A name can make or brake a product, causing problems linked to the interpretation of such name outside national borders.
Ikea has learned this the tough way when in 2011 it opened its first sales point in Thailand and had to face a small emergency: part of the names of its products pronounced in Thai evoked embarrassing sexual references.
Let’s take a step back. Since the very beginning, the founder of the Swedish company, Ingvar Kamprad, knew how important it was to give products names that would be easy to remember. This is why he decided to use names of Scandinavian people and cities. As the years passed by, and products in the catalogue multiplied, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish names were also used, each for a specific category. As the market share grew bigger, a number of problems aroused linked to the appropriateness of the names based on the new cultural context. The risk of creating unwanted double entendre became a reality in Thailand. An example: “Redalen”, the name for an IKEA bed, in Thai is used to indicate intimate relationships.
To avoid any misunderstanding, the company put a team of local employees in charge of reviewing all the names of over 9000 products in the catalogue and change them where necessary. The whole task took four years.
Historically, this phenomenon has interested also other multinational corporations (such as Coca-Cola) and many products failed on foreign markets because their names had ambiguous or inappropriate meanings.
Being aware of language and cultural differences across countries will avoid you sorry figures and blunders which may turn out to be very costly, also for the strongest companies.
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