Branding blunders – updated

Despite the fact that it is breaking new ground, there wasn’t much interest outside of the energy business when Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev announced in late June 2009 that Russia was entering into a joint gas venture with Nigeria’s state oil company. Perhaps it was because it was in Africa and energy deals are quite common in that part of the world or it could have been because the deal was relatively small, in energy terms at roughly US$2.5bn.

Whatever the reason, the story seemed likely to show up briefly in the trade journals and perhaps as a footnote in the business pages of a few mainstream publications. And then came the name. Naming is, depending who you talk to, ‘a fine art’ (most agency types) or ‘yanking a word out of your butt’ (Nick Wreden).

I don’t know who was responsible for the name of this new organisation. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a team of industry brains who put their heads together for hours on end to come up with a suitable name that would position Russia as the saviour of African energy. Having been involved in similar naming projects, I suspect they studied the companies and countries involved, as well as others from different parts of the world, the competition, the industry, maps, multiple dictionaries, probably in many languages, the planets, names of extinct animals, disused road names, drilling equipment and so on.

Finally, no doubt after many arguments, late nights eating artery hardening comfort food and tantrums that would shame any precocious 5 year old, and as the deadline loomed, these exhausted creative geniuses eventually made a call and decided to play it safe. They decided to use a combination of Nigeria and gaz. Let’s call it Nigaz!

As you can imagine, Twittizens were onto the story in a flash and are still tweeting about it a month later. Meanwhile, more sophisticated trade publications such as Brand Republic announced that the name had “rather different connotations” for English-speakers. Indeed.

So as this latest branding blunder plays itself out, I thought it would be an opportune time to take a look at some others that have made us chuckle over the years. There are ten of them (including Nigaz) listed below. I’ve created a poll and you the reader can vote and decide who is the winner!

10) One of the most successful taglines for Kentucky Fried Chicken was “finger lickin’ good”. The trouble is, when translated into Mandarin (or is it Cantonese?) it becomes “eat your fingers off”.

9) When UK telecom company Orange launched their tagline “the future’s bright, the future’s Orange” Catholics in Northern Ireland were angry because the term “orange” is associated with Protestantism.

8) The Mitsubishi Pajero won a number of awards around the world for being so robust. For brand consistency reasons, they wanted to use the name in every country. Unfortunately they didn’t do enough research in Spain and after the launch had to change the name because in Spain, Pajero means ‘wanker’. (In the UK a wanker is someone who masturbates).

7) Spain gets another mention for another failed automotive branding story. This one revolves around Chevrolet. Some time ago Chevrolet decided to introduce the Nova to the Spanish market. Sales were poor, why? Because in Spanish Nova means ‘no-go.’

6) No brand mistakes article would be complete without a contribution from Pepsi. My favourite one is the “come alive with the Pepsi generation” slogan, which in Taiwan is “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.

5) And if we mention Pepsi, it’s only fair that we mention Coke. About 5 years ago, Coke wanted to break into the bottled water business. The name chosen was Dasani. OK so far. Coke announced that its “highly sophisticated purification process” was based on Nasa spacecraft technology. Soon after it was discovered to be a reverse osmosis process used in off the shelf domestic water purification tools. To make things even worse, just as the project was about to launch, it was discovered that the UK supply was contaminated with bromate, a chemical better known for causing cancer.

4) Five years ago, Cingular bought AT&T Wireless. AT&T was considered number one in terms of poor service. After the acquisition, Cingular binned the AT&T name. Four years later, Cingular Wireless was rebranded as AT&T Wireless.

I suspect the firm’s customers would have preferred that money had been spent improving operational issues rather than being wasted on a pointless rebranding exercise. Despite the re re branding, in 2007, AT&T Wireless generated the most complaints overall and the most complaints per subscriber, according to the FCC.

3) As personal branding seems to be getting a lot of ink at the moment, one of my favourite gaffs was the one about Lee Ryan (of Blue fame) who gave an interview just after 9/11. During the interview he was quoted as saying, ‘What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important. Animals need saving and that’s more important. This New York thing is being blown out of proportion.’ Many industry insiders consider these comments to be the reason for the demise of Blue.

1) One of the greatest naming disasters of all time must be the attempt by Dragon Brands to change the Royal Mail of the UK from a 300 year old domestic mail only (government) institution to a multi dimensional distribution company. Dragon Brands did a lot of internal and external research over a two year period and then assessed the aims of the brand using measures that included ‘the three p’s’ – personality, physique and presentation.

Next they took three circular like shapes and filled them with words such as ‘scope’ and ‘ambition’ and apparently (I’m not making this up) this brought together ‘the hard and the soft aspects of the brand’s desired positioning.’

This remarkable process threw up hundreds of actual words as well as some that were made up. Apparently the brain storming team favoured Consignia because it included consign and the dictionary definition of consign is ‘to entrust to the care of’.

The cost of the new name was £2 million. It lasted approximately 18 months.

Since this article was written we’ve had a couple of suggestions to be included in the poll.

11) When the Citroen C4 was launched in Malaysia (and no doubt elsewhere in the Cantonese speaking world), sales were poor. The manufacturer recruited expensive research companies to determine why. Apparently, C$ in Cantonese sounds like ‘stalled’.

12) Ken Peters reminded me of the fiasco back in the late 1990s, surrounding the sports attire manufacturer Reebok who launched a running shoe for women the ‘Incubus’. According to legend, Incubus was a “male demon who had intercourse with sleeping women.”


7 thoughts on “Branding blunders – updated

    1. Hey John
      Thanks for your reply and for the extra data on the Dasani farce! It was great to read your fuller account of what must be one of the finest examples of agency incompetence!

      Why don’t you self publish via an ebook? sell it off your site for 2.99 and market it through SM. It’ll be an interesting exercise and even if you only sell 100 copies, you’ll make more money than you would via a publisher.

      Go well.


  1. Citroen car, Model C4.

    In Malaysia, for Cantonese, C4 will sounds like stalled. which is not a good tag line for a car.


    1. Hi Nicholas

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I hope you voted too!

      I’m not a big fan of flash because so many people in SE Asia anyway are still accessing via slow connections. This is made even worse when at cafe or airports etc. However I do like what you’ve done with the Mitsubishi site. Nice and clean, easy to navigate and no dead ends. Nice one


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.