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Guest Blog: “Language and legal follies”

Rapport is a B2B marketing company with design and strategy expertise, but we recruit experts from our community to help us with specific needs. If a client calls us looking for a bullet-proof naming strategy, we call Andris Pone, co-author of Brand: It Ain’t the Logo* (*It’s what people think of you). Below is the final installment of three excerpts – have fun!

Job 9:  Pass Linguistics

It may seem obvious that being free from offensive or inappropriate meanings is a vital job. Yet there are many missteps. Just one example is the Lumia cellphone (by Nokia), which in Spanish slang means “prostitute.”

It is always a challenge to develop a Brand name that won’t offend or annoy at least one human being somewhere on this planet. But your first linguistics checks should be done against your native language. Not only is there an infinite and growing amount of slang you probably don’t know about, you simply never know how someone might interpret your potential name.

Or abuse it. Pretty much any Brand name can be distorted into a derogatory (and often accurate and funny) nickname. Jet Blue, for example, became Jet FU (“eff you”) when a flight attendant told off a passenger and then went down the emergency slide with a brewskie in each hand. Then there is Calpice for a beverage sold in Japan, which has been distorted to “cow piss.”

When it’s all said and done, the best way to protect your name from abuse is to live up to its promise every day.

Shortlisted names that survive the native language check should then be checked, by a qualified linguistics firm, against other languages relevant to your target market. There is a good chance that one or more names will be disqualified at this stage, as was Truis in our process with Revera – Truis found to sound like the insulting “female pig” in French.

Job 10:  Pass Legal

As we know, there is an excellent chance that one or more names on your shortlist are in use somewhere else in the world. So it can be a question of which names are least likely to attract a legal challenge from parties already using it.

Research in Motion, for example, named a new BlackBerry operating system BBX (incidentally, a meaningless name and a lost opportunity to say something about the Brand). They were sued by a company already using that name for a piece of software. RIM was forced to rename its operating system BlackBerry 10 (another lost opportunity), and received a lot of negative press – a debacle they could have avoided with a simple Google search.

Any name on your shortlist should pass this standard: it should be distinct from all Brands within its competitive set, and distinct from well-known Brands outside its competitive set. If a Google search found BBX to be the name of a bicycle instead of a piece of software, the next step would be a formal legal check done by a trademark lawyer.

A Wise Investment

Invest the time and effort in developing a great name for your company, product, service or program. Carefully crafted, your name can be a big boost to your bottom line – by conveying the essence of your brand story, thereby decreasing your reliance on other forms of marketing communication.

Read the previous installments: Bootylicious and BlackBerry Jam here and How Many Billions Have You Spent? here

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