When Brandnames Backfire

To coin a brandname, and see it going places is indeed every copywriter’s long cherished dream. He dreams to boast of the brand name even after his retirement and wishes to see his grand children appreciating the name in their heydays. But it’s not as easy a task as he dreams.


David Ogilvy finds that copywriters are a species with the longest gestation period. It may take days, weeks and even months crossing the deadline limits to land on a perfect brand name that really matters. Even if one finds it as a bolt from the blue, nobody knows what the future has in store for the proposed nomenclature.


Tata Motors, the Indian Automobile giant, who was in the forefront of realizing the average Indian citizen’s dream of owning a car at the price of a motorbike, found itself in trouble with a brandname that almost misfired. Tata’s latest hatchback model was named ‘ZICA’ as an acronym for ‘ZIPPY CAR,’ and preparations for an extravagant launch were made.


But the ZIKA Virus reports from South America in 2016 cast a shadow of fear over the world about an imminent outbreak of an epidemic with no cure. Tata Motors then had to rename the car, going for a more elegant spelling variation of Thiago, son of footballer Lionel Messi, who became the car’s brand ambassador.


Such changes are not uncommon in the history of branding. In 1970s, one of the most popular brands among appetite suppressing caramels was AYDS which had campaigns all over US with the then famous slogan ‘AYDS helps you lose weight’. There is no prize for guessing which disease prompted them to change their brand name to Diet AYDS (Aydslim in UK). Even the name change failed to save the brand and the company downed it shutters very soon.


In 2013, a Belgian chocolate-maker changed their name from Italo Suisse to ISIS as it no longer had much association with either country, according to a Reuters report. A decision it soon regretted in 2014 as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started releasing horrific videos of beheadings and murder on YouTube. It led to stores refusing to stock their chocolate till the company decided to quickly ditch the name and adopt Libeert, the family name of the company’s owners, for their chocolates.


Global giants like General Motors, Ford and Honda were victims of naming bloopers which cost them dearly. In 1971, Ford couldn’t understand why their Pinto model wasn’t selling in Brazil. After some research, they found out that “Pinto” in Brazilian is slang for “tiny male genitals.” Similarly GM’s Chevrolet Nova was a failure in Spanish speaking countries because it translates to “It Doesn’t Go.” Who wants a car that fails at its sole job?


In 2001, Honda planned to release a car known as the Fit in Asian markets, as the Honda Fitta in the European market. However, in Swedish, fitta means female genitalia. Honda then rebranded the car as Honda Jazz.


Many Multinational companies have suffered similar setbacks from time to time. Many of them saved their face by changing the brand name while many others were forced to withdraw the brand itself from the market or was totally wiped off. In a globalised world, brand-naming is getting more challenging in the face of cultural connotations.

Note: A version of this piece first appeared on Big News Live in February, 2016. Picture courtesy: motortrend.com