Product promotion can be a very tricky business. Corporations can spend hefty budgets on advertising and public relations for their latest creation, but it is possible that all this can still be overshadowed by other matters. If what the product is dubbed infers something that is not in keeping with the image that the manufacturer wants to convey, then its success could be at serious risk. This of course is not helped by the fact that increased globalization, though opening up opportunities to generate new revenue, leaves the name of the product exposed to interpretation in a larger number of languages and cultures. There is an old saying ‘what’s in a name’ – in the modern world, the answer is quite simple – everything.

USB specialist FTDI was to fall foul of this just recently, when it originally brought out the Vinco development platform. This furnishes all the hardware and software needed for electronics engineers to quickly instigative cost-effective and imaginative USB 2.0 connected embedded systems. Inspired by the highly popular open-source Arduino concept, the Vinco platform integrates an 8-channel, 10-bit analogue-to-digital converter in order to simplify communication with various analogue systems (sensors, actuators, etc). It employs a Vinculum II high performance dual-channel USB Host/Device controller with a 16-bit/48MHz processor, plus 256 KBytes of Flash and 16 KBytes of SRAM memory.

The initial name for this product was Vinculo, which is a Spanish term for ‘binding’, in line with FTDI’s Vinculum product offering (which has this definition in Latin). Though Vinculo has no direct equivalent in Italian, the words ‘vi’ and ‘culo’ when in close proximity describe something very different (I think we can leave you to look this up on Google Translate).

“This was unfortunate, but we were quick to react” states Fred Dart, FTDI’s founder and CEO, “when we received feedback from our Italian customers and some journalists informing us that this choice of name had been ill advised, we decided that it was best to make some rapid alterations.”

“It was clearly important that the value proposition of the development platform was not detracted from by any unwanted attention over what it was called” Dart continues, “hence the new name of Vinco was applied to it.” This is not an isolated incident, there is in fact a long history of similar occurrences. Here are just a few examples.

Japanese car manufacturer Mazda unveiled the Laputa hatchback in the late 1990s, its name being derived from the island inhabited by mad scientists in Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. The joke was on the Mazda though, proving far from favourable in Iberian/South American markets as ‘puta’ basically means ‘prostitute’ in both Spanish and Portuguese (the mother tongues of approximately 600 million people). Swift had purposely used the word, as a way to poke fun at the scientific endeavours of the Royal Society, but Mazda’s marketing people had sadly failed to pick up on this.

Leading European mobile operator Orange was heavily criticised as its famous ‘..the future’s Orange’ tagline had rather unfortunate connotations when applied to Northern Ireland, in the context of Protestant/Catholic relations. 

Honda was forced to revise the name of its Fitta hatchback, using Jazz instead for the European market. This was prompted by fear that the car might not be embraced by consumers in Scandinavia, as in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish languages ‘fitta’ refers to a part of the female anatomy.

Another multinational guilty of poor name choice is IKEA. The Swedish firm brought the Fartfull workbench on to market some six years ago. I guess this one doesn’t take too much explaining really.[email protected]/3838901817

Reebook’s showed that it had carried out a distinct lack of research when it introduced the women’s running shoe Incubus, as this was the name given to a mythic figure in the occult – a demon that took advantage of young ladies while they slept. In this particular case there wasn’t even a translation issue involved.

Rolls Royce famously had to do some rapid back peddling prior to the release of its planned Silver Mist in the 1960s, when its marketing team realised that its success in Germany might be somewhat effected by ‘mist’ meaning ‘manure’ there – hardly fitting name for such a high end vehicle.   

Automotive giant General Motors hasn’t escaped from such errors of judgment either, the release of the Chevrolet Nova being a case in point. On paper it sounded like a great name, taken from the Latin word for ‘new’, but things were not that simple. Despite the fact that ‘no va’ in Spanish implied the car ‘doesn’t go’ the name was still used for many years in South America as well as North America. When the model debuted in the European market the mid 1980s, it was known as the Vauxhall Nova in the UK only and wisely branded the Opel Corsa on the continent.

Clearly even the largest of corporations can be caught out. The problem is that while trying to meet the demands of the many potential markets to be found around the world, they have to be aware of the variety of languages that can be spoken. Finding a suitable word with which to denote a new product will only get more difficult as enterprises continue to expand their reach into new geographies. As a result they must be ever more aware of the linguistic nuances and cultural differences of the places they are looking to trade in.