Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Localizing the Aisle: The Power of "Foreign Branding"

Whenever I go to a massive 24-hour supermarket, I'm confronted by tonnes and tonnes of different choices across plenty of different products from all over the world. I'm not here to get into a debate about giant supermarket chains killing local family-owned stores or price wars, but rather how language plays a part in everything we do.

Despite being a huge fan of pizza (of all shapes and sizes), I still find it difficult when I purchase Dr Oetker brand pizzas due to the fact that the German name doesn't sound as authentic in my head as any Italian-sounding brands.

Mmm... pizza.
My conviction isn't strong enough to stop me buying the brand since I enjoy their pizzas, after all. However, some people would not buy the late August Oetker's pizzas, regardless of whether or not he had a PhD. Marketers are fully aware of this process, so you'll find that products with names that don't match their origin or perceived origin appear to be in the minority in your supermarket.


The outdoor clothing company was founded in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the '60s and chose the name from a very liberal German translation of "LD Mountain Centre", where they were first based, for the name of their company. I speak from experience when I say that the brand name was rarely pronounced correctly in Newcastle by locals wearing the full-length draa-string borg-hoos jackets, as they were called locally.


If you've ever seen the "when'sa your Dolmio day?" adverts, you'll get that this brand really wants you to believe that their range of pasta sauces are far more Italian that Dr. Oetker's pizzas. However, the Dolmio brand is actually Australian and owned by the American company Mars, Inc.

We're sorry if these photos made you hungry.

Häagen-Dazs is probably one of the oldest examples of this kind of thing. Originally, the name was a tribute to Denmark by founders Reuben and Rose Mattus to a country they felt had treated the Jews fantastically during World War II. However, the name itself is little more than nonsense made up by Reuben to sound Danish. Danish speakers will be fully aware of this as there are no umlauts in Danish nor "z" and "s" appearing together as they do here.

The company actually fought another ice cream brand in the '80s for trying a similar marketing strategy. Frusen Glädjé was an American company that used an alteration of the Swedish for "frozen delight" as their name (the "é" should be without the diacritic).


The name may sound Japanese, but when UK electrical retailer Currys launched the brand with the slogan "Japanese Technology Made Perfect" and a logo reminiscent of a traditional Japanese "rising sun", they ended up in trouble for misleading customers. They were forced to get rid of the tagline.

Despite a fine, they were allowed to keep the name, which upset a number of British veterans of World War II who remembered the Japanese general Iwane Matsui, the man responsible for the Nanking Massacre in 1937, which resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 300,000 people (depending on who you ask).

Trader Joe's

The American chain of grocery stores sells a number of its own brands. Rather than slapping a label that says "Trader Joe's" on all of their products, they sell products under various names.

Mexican food is labelled as "Trader Jose's", Chinese food goes by "Trader Ming's", the Italian range is "Trader Giotto's", and then "Trader Jacques'" is the name of the French stuff. While it may seem overly simple and incapable of fooling anyone, they wouldn't do it if it didn't work!

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