Foreign names and brand perception

Balaji W. Sundar

A brand’s name plays a significant role when it comes to brand perception. People associate emotions with brands and, a majority identify themselves with the brands they use. They judge the desirability of any brand in two ways:

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Spelling and pronunciation

A widely used technique is foreign branding which refers to “the strategy of spelling or pronouncing a brand name in a foreign language". At times, even the diacritical marks, such as an umlaut or an accent aigu, used to add a foreign flavour to a brand could make a huge impact on determining the origin of the brand (e.g., Citroën, Jägermeister, L'Oréal).


Like other stereotypes, foreign names that are associated with a certain country or culture influence the perception and judgement of the product. One of the best-known examples in this context is the American ice-cream brand, Häagen Dasz, which suggests a Scandinavian origin. A leading Chinese appliance brand, Haier, uses a German-sounding brand name to enhance the utilitarian associations such as durability and performance, which are usually attached to German appliances.

Kinra found a consistent result in developing nations like India, where local consumers still show increased interest in foreign brands. Despite high levels of nationalism and drives to promote locally manufactured products, a large percentage of Indian consumers continue to associate foreign brand names with better quality.

What’s in a name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” wrote Shakespeare. A rose is a rose is a rose, but do we think a shampoo is a shampoo is a shampoo? In an empirical study by three leading marketing experts, hybrid products (with a mix of utilitarian and hedonic characteristics) such as shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant and body lotion, were found to sound more hedonic when pronounced with a French name.

Foreign names like Uber, Volkswagen, Lux, Godiva - help in creating strong product-associations and influence purchase-likelihood if the name corresponds with the product-category. Brand names with an English or German pronunciation tend to generate more “functional” or “utilitarian” perceptions of the product. In this sense, the selection of French brand names will favour hedonic product categories (like perfumes, or high-fashion apparel) with, while the selection of English brand names would help more functional products (for example, gas stations, appliances, or toothpastes). The concept of “French-ness” brings to mind a rich associations related to aesthetic sensitivity, refined taste, and sensory pleasure, and in some instances, elegance, flair and sophistication—beliefs that create a unified image of French-ness as a culture of hedonism.

The flip side

There is a negative effect in case of incongruence between the actual CoO (Country of Origin) and the CoO suggested by a foreign branding. It reduces purchase-likelihood for both hedonic and utilitarian products. Emerging countries should think twice about using foreign-branding in hedonic categories; this situation has been identified as “the worst case”. Food brands in India are a case in point.

Product names speak of the culture and tradition that goes into making the product. Branding serves not only as an association—favourable or not—for the brand itself but also for the product’s actual country of origin. So, the next time you choose a wine based on its impressive label, look for “Made in France” instead of assuming it is so!

Watch this space for particular brand case-studies -

Multicultural Perspectives in Customer Behaviour
Maria G. Piacentini, Charles C. Cui

The Double-Edged Sword of Foreign Brand Names for Companies from Emerging Countries
AMA Journals

Foreign Branding and Its Effects on Product Perceptions and Attitudes
France Leclerc, Bernd H. Schmitt and Laurette Dubé

Balaji, is our in-house linguaphile. Besides Tamil and English, Balaji is fluent in French. He is now on his way to acquiring fluency in German. He has a B.E. degree in electronics and communication and a Master’s in industrial Marketing.


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