December 23, 2021
“Facebook’s rebrand means dead in Hebrew” – highlighting the importance of language and transcreation in branding and international marketing
This year, Facebook announced that its parent company, previously known as Facebook Inc., will be rebranding, and changing its name to Meta Platforms Inc.
Trading and doing business as Meta, the holding company offers services and products such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, and has outlined major plans to invest in virtual reality and space called the metaverse.
Although the organisation has faced criticism for using the name change as a means of distraction from its ongoing legal battles, this post solely focuses on the name change in relation to language and international marketing.
An effective name change…
From the organisation’s perspective, the name Meta, from the Greek μετα meaning ‘beyond’, was likely chosen for its futuristic connotations. Many may associate this word with technological advancement or any other innovative concepts.
From this information alone, one could argue this is an effective rebrand and name change; however, does this translate well into other markets?
“Facebook’s rebrand means dead in Hebrew”
The rebrand faced mockery in Israel, where critics noted the name change sounded like the Hebrew word for “dead.”
“As images of Facebook’s name superimposed on a tombstone were shared online, Dr Nirit Weiss-Blatt, a tech expert, wrote in a tweet directed towards Facebook’s communications team: ‘In Hebrew, *Meta* means *Dead*…The Jewish community will ridicule this name for years to come.’”
“Another Twitter user posed the question: ‘Perhaps that’s a message? Disclaimer: I’m not a conspiracist.’ And another wrote: ‘Maybe Facebook (I guess Meta now?) should have done some focus groups on the rebranding. #FacebookDead’”
On a similar note, in many Slavic languages, the term usually refers to a finish-line or target – not having quite the same meaning or ‘futuristic’ weight.
One could make the argument that, fundamentally, the organisation is declaring that they are ‘dead’ or ‘finished’ to these markets. Either way, these examples demonstrate that what is an effective brand message in one language, can be a marketing blunder in another.
Linguistic failures in branding or international marketing strategies
This is not the first time a global organisation has made the mistake of not language checking their branding or marketing materials; in fact, there is a large list of examples:
Pepsi – In the 1960s, Pepsi entered the Chinese market with their usually successful slogan, “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation.”
The slogan was not so well received in China, with sales plummeting soon after the campaign. Although not confirmed, it is often accepted that this was due to the slogan claiming to “bring your ancestor back from the grave.”
KFC – In the late 1980s, KFC followed in Pepsi’s footsteps and launched a campaign into the Chinese market with their famous brand slogan, “Finger Licking Good.” However, an initial mistranslation led to consumers being encouraged to “eat your fingers off.”
Further examples include a Swedish car magazine called ‘Fart’, an Iranian soap called ‘Barf’, and a Japanese sports drink called ‘Sweat.’
Considering translation is essential in branding and international marketing
As the Facebook rebrand and other examples demonstrate, considering language and carrying out extensive market research is imperative when launching an international campaign.
Global organisations should have as much information as possible before finding themselves to be making poor decisions that lead to them becoming the next marketing blunder.
Firstly, any brand message, slogan, company name changes, etc., should be tested against other languages and multilingual focus groups.
Secondly, mistranslation needs to be avoided by using language experts that understand the intricacies and nuances of both the source and desired market’s language.
Next, if the brand message does not quite have the same impact in the desired market, then the strategy needs to change.
Organisations can either look at other options or consider bringing transcreation into their strategy. Transcreation will take the initial brand message and adapt it into the desired market – avoiding any mistranslations, double-meanings, or marketing mistakes.
As an example, the original Haribo slogan read: “Haribo macht Kinder froh, und Erwachsene ebenso.” Although rhythmic in German, the slogan translates to “Haribo makes children happy, and adults too.” If the company were to keep this translation, the marketing message would be bland in English; so, the brand transcreated the slogan to read “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo.”
In the case of Facebook (Now Meta), should the organisation have thought of a different name, or should they have used transcreated branding in certain markets? Will this global rebrand be considered an effective move in international markets, or will the name be continually mocked throughout 2022?