Another car brand makes a linguistic faux pas? It seems too extraordinary to be true, and yet Audi has just released its newest electric car called “e-tron.” Inconveniently, étron means “excrement” in French.
Whether or not Chevy’s car name “No Va” was really what led to its abysmal sales in both Mexico and Spain, it’s easy to argue that a name, literally translated, that means “no go” is a no-no for a car. Now Audi is dishing us up “excrement?”
Doing due diligence before running with a name in international markets seems like a no-brainer to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I do international trademark screenings on a regular basis that makes this point particularly salient, but it just seems too obvious that names with negative translations should be properly vetted before appearing on an international stage.
That being said, what about unbranded names, or names that try to be too novel or ironic? Take the latest release of Urban Outfitters jeans, for example. They’re literally called “Unbranded” denim. The irony behind this approach is that a lack of a brand name by default defines the brand. The lack of a logo, label, embroidery, or celebrity endorsement speaks to the rise of this brand’s target market: the modern-day beatnik, or more popularly known “hipster.” So, by allegedly targeting no one, this brand actually targets its largest consumer base – those people who shun conformity and yet unknowingly embrace it, hipsters.
So, too explicit of a name can be negative and a name that is not explicit enough can be confusing. What’s the Goldilocks (or “just right”) mentality to brand naming?
A post in the New York Times written by University of Texas Economics Professor Dan Hamermesh answers this. He comments that despite the determinants of demand that every student learns in ECON 101 (price sensitivity, personal income, and general preferences) he factors in an additional determinant he calls “the cuteness of the product’s name.” This is a man who purchased a Soy Vay® hoisin garlic glaze and a six-pack of Arrogant Bastard® ale based on the appeal of the products’ names alone.
Granted, not everyone can go out and buy a $150,000 car just based on the appeal of its name. That being said, a good name can go a long way towards winning the hearts (and wallets) of a target market. Why alienate your consumers with your brand name when you can leverage it to win them over? This seems like a fairly simple mistake to avoid that some modern-day companies insist on repeating.