How not to name your product/company in a global market

A good friend of mine is a French translator who also does voice overs for French language TV commercials, training videos, etc. At lunch this weekend, he told me a story about a client that made me think about how overly US-centric most companies still are. Most companies these days do business in every market worldwide, so why is this still an issue? The story:

My friend was recording a voice over for this company – let’s call it “4tel” – and he ran into the issue of how to pronounce the name of the company when it is spoken aloud. He chose to pronounce the way his audience would upon seeing the logo: “quatre – tel”. This company chose to name itself with a numeral and surely they must have thought that the numeral would be pronounced appropriately in each language (vier-tel, cuatro-tel, quattro-tel, etc). Wouldn’t you think?

Well, of course not. “4tel” made him re-record the entire spot and say “Four-Tel”. Do they expect that non-english speakers will just instantly make the connection between a written “4tel” and a spoken “Four”? What if they person hearing it doesn’t know english numbers? That’s still a possibility in many markets.

It shows either a lot of arrogance on the part of a US based company or just complete ignorance when they named their company. Either way, this isn’t a good way to globalize your brand or your products.

So what is the right thing to do? Personally, I’d prefer to either take the ambiguity out (avoid numerals), or let the locals say it how they want. MSFT has the new XBOX 360 and YHOO has its own 360. I wonder how those will be spoken aloud “trois cent soixante” anyone?

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