August 16, 2012
Social Media is a worldwide phenomenon. Millions of people from hundreds of countries around the world can see and read your tweets, posts, blogs, and other online information. For the most part, this is a good thing. Social media helped to foment positive world change with the Occupy Movement, Arab Sprint, etc. Sometimes, though, not being sensitive to international considerations can lead to mix-ups, gaffs, and even outright offense.
Let’s take the semi-recent introduction of Nokia’s Windows Smartphone line. While the phones are spectacular (I’d recommend the line to anyone looking for a basic smartphone who doesn’t need the tinker-ability of the Android system or the alerts/notifications of iOS), the name caused a bit of a stir in the international community.
Lumia was meant to invoke the feeling of light, bringing clarity to the darkness of the smartphone landscape. The problem is that the word lumia is also a slang term for a person who takes money in exchange for sex. That’s right, folks, Nokia called their Windows Phone line a whore.
Twitter and other social networks ran with the story for weeks. Both with snide references to how Nokia had sold it’s soul (among other things) to Redmond in order to get into the non-Symbian smartphone market, and also queries as to how the marketing team didn’t pick that one up way before it ever became a product name.
Sometimes it’s not product names. A company I’ve had dealings with nearly launched an entire campaign around a Lucha Libre (a form of entertainment wrestling from South America) theme. There was a problem though, the professional wrestler the company hired to act as the spokesman for the campaign used a stage name that translated into a slang term for the perineum. In this case, not knowing the repercussions of a translation nearly led to a PR disaster as everyone would have been comparing their product line to a certain part of the human anatomy.
This type of thing has been going on for as long as broad-spectrum marketing has existed. Though the Chevy Nova didn’t see a sales hit due to its name (the rumor that it was rejected in South America was an urban legend), calling the car “doesn’t go” wasn’t the best idea when marketing to Spanish-speaking markets. With the advent of the age of social media and real-time communications, the problems get worse. Instead of taking months for rumors and jokes to spread, it happens in hours – even faster in some cases.
These days, it’s best to ask around to see if what you named your product or campaign means what you think it does in other languages. Because if you don’t, then once the product or campaign launches you’re stuck with the whore forever.