One of my photos

Gazprom with attitude

July 2nd, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 3 Comments · Life

The  catalogue of brand-naming disasters got a new entry this week, when Russia’s Gazprom entered into a joint venture with Nigeria’s state-run gas company and decided to call the new entity… Nigaz.  What could possibly go wrong?

I was halfway through reading the story and was speculating that maybe a load of oil people with English as a second or third language got together without any professional help and came up with the name unaware of potential unsavoury connotations elsewhere.  And then I read the end of it and thought again.

There is a long history of such branding cock-ups because something that is meaning less in one language, or has a positive meaning, can turn out to be a problem in some overseas market.  The most famous case is probably Toyota’s MR2 car, where in French it sounds very like ‘merde’ when you say it, and the runner up is probably another car, the Nova, which translates as “doesn’t go” in some languages.

More obscure examples are the mobile phone company Orange, who were unable to use their famous slogan in Northern Ireland – and then Ben & Jerry came along with a flavour called “Black & Tan”.    In the 1970s the American computer company tried to use the marketing slogan “Wang cares” in Britain and found some resistance from the UK office.

So anyway, when the story introduced a ‘top branding consultant’ I was expecting some comments about how this could have been avoided by employing a specialist like him, and how much the brand has been poisoned by taking a name deemed to be extremely offensive in much of the world.

To be fair, he does say that such mistakes are more common in government ventures where they do not have marketing experience – although I find that hard to believe: government bodies seem to spend half their budgets on marketing and branding consultants to choose a name and logo.  But he  also says that when companies make such faux pas they very rarely change the brand name when they discover their mistake, that it is usually harmless, and in this case the fuss will soon die down as people will soon forget that the name sonuds bad.

There is some truth in that.  Coca Cola brought out a drink called Fresca, which apparently means ‘Lesbian’ in Mexico, but it didn’t hurt sales.  Hoover managed to markey a vacuum cleaner called the Zyklon in Germany without too much trouble – though Bosch re-considered when they were going to use Zyklon as a trademark for, among other things, gas ovens.

Bearing that in mind, why bother with expensive marketing ‘experts’ when even that admit that if you get it wrong it doesn’t do any harm?  And why bother with them when even someone regarded as one of the top experts can’t see anything offensive about a company called Nigaz?  If it turns out that Gazprom and NNPC actually paid somebody thousands of dollars to come up with the name I wouldn’t be at all surprised.  As I type this, they are probably engaged on their next commission – finding a snappy name for Welsh Oil and Gas…

Brand consultants… prime candidates for the B-Ark!

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Gordon Seekings

    Back in the early 1980’s BT marketed a laptop PC based on the Sinclair QL called “Tonto” for selling in Europe. I can’t remember what the name means in Italian but they decided that it had to have a change of name there ‘cos of it!

  • Skuds

    It was not a laptop. It was a desktop which came with either a 12″ B&W screen or a larger colour one. It was basically a QL motherboard with a 2nd board on top of it and a telephony module.

    I used to have one – but I had the ICL OPD (one-per-desk) version because I worked for ICL. It was brilliant for use as a home terminal to dial into the work mainframes.

    See here for some details. To thnk that it cost £1500 in 1985…

    Still crops up on TV a lot. I think the BBC bought a few to use as props.

  • Gordon Seekings

    Thanks for the link. Brought back memories as it was the first Word Processor I used. :-))