IKEA’s strategy has always been to not translate the names of their products. For example the plant pot above is known as ‘Jättebra’ across the globe.
The strategy has been very effective in building the IKEA brand over the recent decades. However it is starting to create problems as the company moves deeper into international markets.
The Thai market has recently seen a great stirring of controversy surrounding the IKEA product names. One of the IKEA beds sold in its store in Thailand was called ‘Redalen’. – to speakers of English and other languages the name appears as, at most, quaint, but in Thai ‘Redalen’ sounds distinctly like the word for sexual intercourse.
This is not the only example of IKEA’s Swedish names sounding unfortunately like rude words in Thai. For instance the name of the plant pot above, ‘Jättebra’, despite its extremely innocuous appearance, sounds a great deal like a very dirty slang word for sex in Thai.
It’s true, as a member of the Ikea team said, that “the Swedish words are important because they bring a unique character to the brand. Even if the brand has spent years preparing its launch in Thailand these mistakes remain. Some changes had already been made before the launch because some words sounded bad in Thai.”
It is essential for brands to be proactively aware of the potential for mistakes to be made in translating their products. This recent case with IKEA reminds us of Mistubishi’s branding blunder – the company realized too late that the name of their new car, Pajero, meant the equivalent of a ‘jerk off’ in Spain. The car was later renamed Montero.
It can’t be over emphasized how damaging these mistakes can be for a brand. Having said that, when brands get their branding and communications right in new international markets it can create huge opportunities. Consumers see poor translations as fundamentally foreign, and unfortunately this exacerbates campaigns that were already offensive. As a result of these perceived risks, however, those companies that are equipping themselves with the appropriate transcreation and marketing translation providers are in great stead to secure strong market position in the coming years of increasing globalization.
At TransCreation we offer a host of creative translation services ranging from multilingual copywriting to website translation. If you’re interested in our services or want to learn more about us, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parlez vous français? Read a version of the article above in French.