Wednesday, 1 July 2009

How Not to Create a New Name: Lessons from NiGaz

On a continent where individual countries have more languages than Europe, concerns about translation and wording are not new, especially for brand owners. But a recent announcement in Nigeria offers a not so subtle reminder to check, and double check, the possible meanings of your new brands.

The UK Guardian reports on the new joint oil and gas venture between Nigeria National Petroleum and the Russian company Gazprom. As is common in joint ventures, the companies took parts of each of their names and combined them. Unfortunately for the new company, they took the first part of each name and created Nigaz*.

For those who have spent any time in a country with lingering racial tensions, or who are familiar with the American hip hop music that has infiltrated most of the continent, the less than positive connotations with the company’s new name do not need to be explained. Reuters Africa reports that the new name has sparked a number of racism debates as well as plenty of caustic jokes and some opposition from Nigerians.

Afro-Leo wonders if those opposed to the name would find it less offensive were it not seen as coming from the Russian company. Thinking of a South African commercial seen in a Lusaka movie theater a few years back: a group of friends were sitting on some steps greeting each other with words similar to the new company’s name. Everyone was laughing and talking, just hanging out. Then, the only white guy in the group used the word to greet a friend, and everything went quiet. The other friends all stared at the white guy and words on the screen said something to the effect of ‘if you get it, that’s the point.’

The meaning of words can depend as much on who the speaker is as who the listener is. When considering new brand names and trademarks, it’s important to think of who the message is going to and who it is perceived as coming from.

*If actually pronounced like the first part of each word, the new name has a hard i sound, like nye.

1 comment:

Darren Olivier said...

In addition to the racial connotations, "ni" pronounced "nie" means "no" in Afrikaans (a national language of South Africa) ie NO GAS