Creating a brand name has its problems
Fado, fado, a small Irish company decided to launch a new perfume on the US market. The perfume was aimed at the Irish diaspora, so it was given an Irish name which seemed like a clever marketing ploy. It wasn't. The name translated as "fairy wind" and not surprisingly the perfume failed to become a sweet-smelling success on the US market.
Corporate history is littered with nomenclature disasters. One Japanese car company nearly ended up with a sports car called a "Starion" instead of a "Stallion" because of language difficulties between Japanese executives and their counterparts in a European advertising agency.
Another car company had to change a model's name for Spanish speaking markets because it translated as "no go" which is hardly the label a manufacturer wants attached to a new car. There have also been examples of food and drink products which sound appealing in their own languages but most unappetising in translation.
One of the problems facing companies today is finding a name - for a product or a corporate entity - which is both available and capable of being protected by a trademark.
Mr Damian O'Malley is a director of the international brand architects, O'Malley & Hogan, which created the name for the British Telecom/ESB joint venture telecommunications company, Ocean. It also came up with the moniker for Bank of Ireland's new off-shore, on-line bank aimed at ex-pats - fsharpbank.com.
"The idea behind Ocean was to create a name which emphasised the international connectivity between Ireland and the rest of the world," says Mr O'Malley. "We wanted it to be different to the usual `tel' and `comm' company names because it was offering a new service for corporate customers.
"Our research among senior executives shows that we have achieved this with the Ocean name. There are `oceans' in other markets but naming has reached a point where companies often have to take a calculated risk as to whether someone will pursue them over a name or not.
"With fsharp we were aiming to position the bank upmarket and were playing on the connotations of classical music and fsharp as meaning financially sharp," he continues. "The real difficulty now is finding a name that no one else has already thought of.
"This is especially true in the dot com world where it is virtually impossible to find a name that someone somewhere hasn't already registered in the hope of selling it for a lot of money. For example, when the name 2000.com was auctioned it made millions of dollars."
Having gone through the cost and labour pains of creating a name and the corporate or product identity that goes with it, it might seem foolish to change it, but there are occasions when name changes are deemed necessary. One of the more high profile and most ambitious name changes of recent times was the transformation of Telecom Eireann to Eircom. This identity change cost the company £6.5 million (€8.25 million).
When a name strikes a chord with consumers it can be used to sell far more than a single product. Mr Richard Branson's Virgin has spread its wings far beyond the airline industry and the Virgin label is attached to a range of consumer goods from soft drinks to cosmetics.
Cadbury's is spending £500,000 to launch its new Snowflake chocolate bar currently familiar to most chocoholics as a little piece of heaven in a distinctive yellow and purple wrapper.
Traditionally, the Flake was one of Cadbury's biggest selling lines, but it was coming under pressure from other products and Cadbury's decided to give it a makeover. The change to Snowflake is designed to create a new image for the product, to extend the Flake range and to give flagging sales a boost.
In 1984, the powers that be in Nissan Japan decided to drop the Datsun name - by which its cars were then known - in favour of Nissan. "It was a particular challenge for us in Ireland because we had worked really hard to establish the Datsun name," says Mr Brian Wallace who created the advertising campaign which accompanied the name change.
"We faced two problems. Firstly, there was the name change itself. Secondly, it was happening at a time when the Irish market was being opened up to the Japanese car manufacturers and we had to establish ourselves among a fleet of about 12 new marques.
"We had a two year transition period and ran a sustained campaign on radio, TV and in the print media. But what really cemented the name change in people's minds was the Nissan Classic cycle race which brought the Nissan name into everyday usage. It was also fortuitous for us that Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche were at the height of their success during this time and interest in the sport among the general public was very high.
"Name changing is a fraught business, not least because it's so incredibly expensive. However, the positive side is that it gives a freshness to a company or to a brand and affords the opportunity to do new things," Mr Wallace says.
"We spend most of our time helping clients both to develop and reposition brands. For example, working with the VHI on how it should be post deregulation," says Mr O'Malley. "As regards developing names, the task is simple enough. The aim is to come up with something that is memorable and appropriate, and increasingly, that has a global significance. It can just take a lot of time and brainstorming to achieve it.
"People often attach great significance to the intrinsic meaning of words but very often the meaning quickly disappears once the name is out there. For example, parents agonise over naming a child but once the decision is reached, that child couldn't be called anything else. So names are not always important for the reasons we think they are.
"It is also true that the totality of any brand is much more than its name. Apart from the product, it includes issues such as how well the company performs, how it treats its customers and how it is perceived in the marketplace."