Foreign branding

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Foreign branding is an advertising and marketing term describing the use of foreign or foreign-sounding brand names for companies, products, and services. When the actual country of origin may not be beneficial, companies tend to use a foreign branding strategy, trying to make customers believe that the company and/or its products originate from a more favourable country than they actually do.[1]

In non-English-speaking countries, many brands use English- or American-styled names. In English and other non-English-speaking countries, many cosmetics and fashion brands use French- or Italian-styled names. Also, Japanese, Scandinavian, and of other origin-sounding names are used in both English- and non-English-speaking countries to achieve specific effects.

English-speaking countries[edit]

  • Pret A Manger sandwich retail chain is British but its name is French for "ready to eat".
  • Häagen-Dazs ice cream, intended to have a Danish-sounding name, was established by Jewish-Polish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus in the Bronx, New York.[2]
  • Vichyssoise, a cold potato and leek soup, was recreated at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York in the 1910s, but it was given a French name.
  • Dolmio and Kan-Tong sauces have an Italian-sounding name and an Asian-sounding name, respectively, but are both made by Masterfoods in Australia.
  • "Möben" is a trademark of the English company Moben Kitchens, implying the perceived higher quality of German and Scandinavian kitchens.[3]
  • Giordano is a Hong Kong-based clothing brand, despite the name sounding Italian.
  • Matsui is Japanese-sounding brand of the electrical retailer Dixons (UK).
  • Ginsu knives have a Japanese-sounding name (Ginsu, Kanji: 銀簾; Hiragana: ぎんす), but are made in America by Douglas Quikut.
  • Rykä shoes are given a Finnish-looking name, despite being an American company.
  • Berghaus, a British outdoor equipment company, converted the name of its first premises (LD Mountain Centre) roughly into German to market its own products.
  • Swiss Chalet is Canadian-based family restaurant known for chicken dinners. Some locations maintain a visual decor resembling a Swiss chalet.
  • Au Bon Pain, a bakery cafe with a French name, was founded in Boston.
  • Frusen Glädjé, an ice cream with the misspelt Swedish words for "frozen delight", was created in the U.S. by Richard E. Smith and later bought by Kraft Foods.
  • Several beer brands in the UK highlight their foreign origins in advertising, despite being brewed in the UK,[4] with the brand being comparatively unsuccessful in its home country.[5] In 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against Kronenbourg 1664 advertisements that gave the misleading impression the beer was brewed in France.[6]
  • Dubarry is an Irish footwear company.
  • Superdry is a British clothing company that presents itself as being Japanese via the use of grammatically incorrect Japanese language text and Japanese style foreign branding (in Japan 'Super Dry' is a brand of beer: Asahi Super Dry.)
  • Vasque, a European-sounding brand from Red Wing Shoes (US).
  • Røde Microphones is spelt with an "ø" in middle which gives the impression that the company is Danish or Norwegian, when in fact it is Australian.

In non-English-speaking countries[edit]

  • Germany's Hard Rock and Metal Hammer magazines[7]
  • In Japan, Pocari Sweat, a popular sports drink marketed in Japan by the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., has a name that to many English speakers would imply the product actually contains sweat, rather than the intended meaning of a beverage intended to replace the electrolytes lost in sweating.
  • Roland is a Japanese manufacturer of electronic music equipment with the name being chosen with the global market in mind. It is, however, difficult to pronounce for Japanese speakers, for whom it is hard to differentiate "l" and "r" sounds.
  • The Swedish snack food company Estrella is named after the Spanish word for star.
  • Alcott and Alcott Los Angeles are clothing stores marketed towards teenagers and young adults found in many cities across Italy that copy the Californian/American surfer style. Their only stores outside of Italy are in Paris, France; Beirut, Lebanon; and Tbilisi, Georgia.
  • Fashion accessories company Parfois (a French word meaning "sometimes") is in fact Portuguese.

Many South Korean corporations use foreign branding:

  • Seoul Metropolitan City Development (서울도시개발공사 Seouldoshigaebalgongsa), a corporation owned by the Seoul Metropolitan government, changed its name to Seoul Housing Corporation or for short SH공사 (에스에이치 공사 Eseueichi gongsa).[8]
  • Korea Tobacco and Ginseng Corporation (한국담배인삼공사 Hangukdambaeinsamgongsa), a corporation formerly owned by the Republic of Korea government, changed its name to KT&G Corporation (주식회사 케이티앤지 Jusikhoesa keitiaenji) after privatization. KT&G is an acronym for Korea Tomorrow and Global, not Korea Tobacco and Ginseng.[9]
  • South Korea-based LG Electronics (엘지전자 Eljijeonja) named its washer and dryer line Tromm (트롬 Teurom). One of the reasons for selecting this foreign-sounding name was to imply to the Korean domestic market a connection to the perceived superior quality of foreign brands; but Tromm is a now a global product line.
  • The main news program of Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (문화방송주식회사 Munhwabangsongjushikhoesa), a broadcaster in South Korea, is called MBC Newsdesk (엠비씨 뉴스데스크 Embissi nyuseudeseukeu).
  • Korea Electric Power Corporation (한국전력공사 Hangukjeollyeokgongsa), a corporation owned by the Republic of Korea government, uses the brand KEPCO (켑코 Kepko).[10]
  • Korea Electrical Safety Corporation (한국전기안전공사 Hangukjeongianjeongongsa) uses a brand KESCO (케스코 Keseuko).[10]
  • Korea Expressway Corporation (한국도로공사 Hangukdorogongsa) uses the brand EX (이엑스 Iekseu).[10]
  • Korea Land and Housing Corporation (한국토지주택공사 Hanguktojijutaekgongsa) uses the brand LH (엘에이치 Ereichi).[11]
  • Korea Minting and Security Printing Corporation (한국조폐공사 Hangukjopyegongsa) uses the brand KOMSCO (콤스코 Komseuko).[10]
  • Korean Railroad Corporation (한국철도공사 Hangukcheoldogongsa) changed its brand to Korail (코레일 Koreil).[12] Korail is a portmanteau of "Korea" and "railroad". The operator's high-speed rail system, Korea Train Express (한국고속철도 Hangukgosokcheoldo) is marketed as KTX (케이티엑스 Keitiekseu), which stands for "Korea Train eXpress".
  • Korea Water Resources Corporation (한국수자원공사 Hanguksujawongongsa) uses the brand K-Water (케이워터 Keiwoteo).[10]

Products renamed to avoid offence[edit]

  • The Mitsubishi Pajero had to be renamed to Montero in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America, since pajero is a Spanish slang term for one who masturbates (with similar connotations as the British slang term wanker). Mitsubishi originally got the name Pajero from the pampas cat, Leopardus pajeros.
  • The Honda Fit was originally intended to be named the "Fitta", but the name was shortened and in some markets renamed completely upon discovering that in several Nordic languages, fitta is a vulgar word for the female genitalia.
  • Buick initially chose to rename its LaCrosse to Allure in Canada; a slang term meaning "to cross oneself" was a euphemism for masturbation in Quebec. GM reversed its position in 2009, returning the LaCrosse nameplate.[13][14]
  • The SEAT Málaga was marketed in Greece as the Seat Gredos, because the word Malaga was considered very similar to malaka, a common Greek swear word for one who masturbates.
  • The U.S. fast food chain Taco Bell formerly sold a burrito originally named "Chilito". When many became aware that that name is used as a slang term for a small penis, its name was changed to chili-cheese burrito.
  • The Ford Maverick was intended to be marketed in Brazil as the Ford Pinto,[15] but no one in Brazil would identify Pinto as a horse breed, since pinto (a small chicken) is a Brazilian informal term for "penis".[16]
  • In Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, Nestlé could not sell instant coffee called Kenjara because the name resembles Serbo-Croatian vulgar words related to defecation.
  • The Toyota MR2 sportscar is named MR in France, because a way of pronouncing it, "merdeux", sounds like the word for "shitty" in French.
  • The computer Commodore VIC-20 was renamed to VC-20 in Germany, since VIC would be pronounced the same as fick ("fuck" in German).
  • The Vicks brand of over-the-counter cough medication was renamed Wick in Germany, to avoid too much a similarity with the German word wichsen meaning "to wank".[citation needed]
  • In Israel, Korean car company Kia Motors adjusted their original pronunciation (IPA: [ki.a]) to sound like "Kaya" in promotional material, since a Hebrew slang pronunciation for "vomit" (קיא) sounds like the original brand name. This decision was later reversed, and now the company uses the normal pronunciation.
  • Church's Chicken is known as Texas Chicken outside of North America, presumably to appeal to non-Christians who would not understand it was named for its founder George Church, and not a religious group.
  • The word "mist" must be avoided in German trademarks; while harmless in English, it translates to manure or dung.
  • Although the Mexican bakery Bimbo uses its real name in English-speaking markets, it emphasizes the word "Bimbo" is pronounced "beam-bo" to avoid the negative connotations associated with the word "bimbo" in American English.
  • In Portugal, Opel Ascona was marketed as Opel 1604 because the model name is similar to a slang word for female genitalia, cona.
    • For that same reason, and because of the same word, although written differently, the Hyundai Kona was renamed Hyundai Kauai.
  • German cosmetics company Schwarzkopf had to rename its Gliss Kur product line and change the appearance of the packaging for the Bulgarian market. In German Kur means cure but in Bulgarian this is a highly vulgar word for penis. An initial attempt to pronounce it in advertisements as kyur (with a palatalized k, similarly to English cure) could not blur the negative effect. The same product line was renamed also for the Romanian market, because of the same reason specified above. Although it is written differently, it has the same meaning for ass in English.
  • Subaru Legacy is marketed as Subaru Liberty in Australia, as the word 'legacy' is sacrosanct in Australia and always relates to the work done by the charity organization Legacy Australia, which was set up after the World War II to serve the interests of the wives and children of the Australian soldiers who died during the war (mainly at the hands of Japanese soldiers). Understandably, the Japanese car manufacturer Subaru did not want to bring in a Japanese made car called Legacy to Australia.
  • Calpis, a Japanese calcium-fortified beverage, is marketed in English-speaking markets as "Calpico," as the original name sounds very similar to the unflattering descriptor "cow piss" in English.

Foreign orthography[edit]

Foreign letters and diacritical marks (such as the umlaut) are often used to give a foreign flavor to a brand that does not consist of foreign terms.

Some fonts, sometimes called simulation typefaces, have also been designed that represent the characters of the Roman alphabet but evoke another writing system. This group includes typefaces designed to appear as Arabic, Chinese characters, Cyrillic, Indic scripts, Greek, Hebrew, Kana, or Thai. These are used largely for the purpose of novelty to make something appear foreign, or to make businesses such as restaurants offering foreign food clearly stand out.[17][18]

Characters chosen for visual resemblance[edit]

Greek characters in Latin contexts[edit]

  • The Greek sigma, Σ, is often used for Latin E, although it is the equivalent of Latin S. Examples include the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding (stylized as My Big Fat GRΣΣK Wedding) and ABC Family's college-set series Greek (TV series) (stylized as GRΣΣK).
  • Less commonly, delta Δ or lambda Λ may be used for A, or theta Θ for O. Examples include Samsung, in which the logo is stylised as "SΛMSUNG".
  • The lower-case Greek lambda, λ, was used for Latin A in the video game Hλlf-Life, apparently in reference to the use of λ as the symbol for the decay constant (related to the concept of half-life).

Cyrillic characters in Latin contexts[edit]

  • Cyrillic Ya, Я, and I, И, resemble the reversed Latin letters R and N, respectively, and are often used as such. Examples include the video game TETЯIS.
  • Cyrillic De, Д, may be used for Latin A, as in the film BORДT.

Other scripts[edit]

Hebrew foreign branding; note the use of actual Hebrew letters alef א (for X) and shin ש (for W).
  • The London-based sushi restaurant YO! Sushi uses a typeface that makes the Y and O look like the katakana letters and (romaji: ri and ku).
  • Letters of the Hebrew alphabet can be used to evoke Jewish culture.
  • The television series Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis use a glyph resembling Å in marketing materials, thus "STARGÅTE SG-1" and "STARGATE ATLÅNTIS", respectively. This usage derives from the symbol representing Earth on the titular Stargate, and is unrelated to the letter as used in the Swedish alphabet (which is pronounced similar to English "o").

Diacritics and foreign spellings[edit]

  • The name of the French soft drink Pschitt is merely an onomatopoeic rendition of the sound made when the bottle is opened, but the -sch- and terminal -tt are German, rather than French, clusters.
  • A premium-priced ice cream made by a company based in Bronx, New York was dubbed Häagen-Dazs to imply "old world craftsmanship and tradition". Häagen-Dazs has no meaning in any European language, although it contains several conventions used in European languages, such as the umlaut, and resembles a mixture of German and Hungarian. Häagen-Dazs spawned imitators, such as Frusen Glädjé (frusen glädje without the acute accent meaning "frozen joy" in Swedish), another brand of premium ice cream. Häagen Dazs sued unsuccessfully in 1980 to stop them from using a "Scandinavian marketing theme", despite the fact that Häagen-Dazs does not even remotely resemble anything Scandinavian itself.
  • Le Tigre Clothing, an American brand which adopted a French name, has at times used an accent over the final "e" in tigre (French for tiger), although the French word itself contains no accent.[19]
  • The fashion for the metal umlaut (use of umlauts in the names of heavy metal bands) can also be seen as a form of foreign branding.

Characters chosen by keyboard or encoding match[edit]

Where different keyboard layouts or character encodings map different scripts to the same key positions or code points, directly converting matching characters provides an alternative to transliteration when the appearance, rather than the meaning, is desired.

  • The cover of Madonna's Greatest Hits Volume 2 contains the Japanese characters モヂジラミミヂ. These characters share the same keys on a dual-layout Japanese/English keyboard as the letters M-A-D-O-N-N-A. The characters are otherwise unrelated and the resulting Japanese text ("mo-dji-ji-ra-mi-mi-dji") is meaningless.


  1. ^ Aichner, T., Forza, C. and Trentin, A. 2017. The country-of-origin lie: impact of foreign branding on customers’ willingness to buy and willingness to pay when the product’s actual origin is disclosed. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 27(1): 43-60.
  2. ^ Josiassen, A. and Harzing, A.-W. 2008. Descending from the Ivory Tower: Reflections on the Relevance and Future of Country-of-Origin Research. European Management Review, 5(4): 264–270.
  3. ^ "Umlaut does not make kitchens Germanic, says ASA". 2006-04-19. Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  4. ^ "The Great Foreign Beer Myth". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  5. ^ "How Australian is Foster's Lager?". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  6. ^ "ASA Adjudication on Heineken UK Ltd". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  7. ^ The UK also has its own version of Metal Hammer, but the German one came first
  8. ^ "SH공사". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  9. ^ "한국금연연구소 논평- "KT&G가 토종기업 맞습니까?"". 뉴스와이어. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d e 박, 태구. "시민은 모르는 공기업 영어이름". 중도일보. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  11. ^ 김, 민석. "영어 권하는 사회에서 설 곳 잃은 우리말". 서울대저널. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  12. ^ 유, 용무. "철도공사, ´코레일´로 명칭 일원화". EBN 산업뉴스. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  13. ^ Cancilla, Patricia (September 3, 2009). "Buick Allure now LaCrosse in Canada". National Post. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
  14. ^ Saporito, Nick (September 3, 2009). "Canada: Buick Allure Now Called LaCrosse". GM Inside News. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  15. ^ [1] Archived February 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "pinto: Significado de "pinto" no Dicionário Português - Inglês Online: Moderno Dicionário Inglês - Michaelis - UOL". Retrieved 2015-04-06.
  17. ^ Chachra, Deb. "Faux Devangari". HiLoBrow. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  18. ^ Shaw, Paul. "Stereo Types". Print Magazine. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  19. ^ Richard Jackson Harris, A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication (2004), p. 101.

External links[edit]