Contact Us

Brand name associations

by Nigel Hollis | July 22, 2013

By Gordon Pincott, Chairman, Global Solutions Millward Brown

When you travel around other countries, as I was travelling around India the other week, you come across many brands that you have never heard of. One that caught my eye on my recent trip was Catholic Syrian Bank.  

For a brand unknown to me, it conjures up an amazing array of associations. I have been lucky enough to wander round Damascus in quieter times, with its wonderful markets and spectacular mosque. Today, Syria is in the headlines for other reasons and the imagery is deeply troubling. ‘Catholic’ also evokes sounds, sights and smells, although the church has also been in the public eye for less positive reasons. Even the word ‘Bank’ stands not only as a category descriptor, but also has associations of trust and solidity, of conservatism and exploitation. 

So it would be difficult to imagine a brand with richer or a more diverse set of mental connections. The only problem is that I still know nothing about it as a brand. What makes it meaningful? What does it stand for? Why is it different?

Sometimes we talk about brands as if they are brought into existence by marketers, but the moment the name is attached to the product it already brings connections. The marketing challenge is to shape these. The Catholic Syrian Bank would have a near impossible task of overcoming the legacy of its name. No wonder marketers tend to either go for names without too many existing meanings, or sometimes invent an entirely new name for their brand (see this previous post from Nigel about unique brand names – did you know Häagen-Dazs is a made up name and its origins lie in New York City?).

In contrast, the owner of Swastik Logistics, another brand new to me that I discovered in India, had little doubt what they were doing. The Swastika is a long standing symbol of well-being in the Indian sub-continent. However, the Swastika also conjures up associations of hatred and violence due to being adopted as the symbol for the Nazi Party in Germany in 1920. It would be interesting to see what brand name associations those in Western countries have of Swastik Logistics. That is another careful consideration marketers must make when deciding on a brand name: a set of positive associations in one country could be negative in another.

So what do you think? Can you give examples of other brands and their brand name associations?

5 comments

Leave a comment
  1. Terry, August 21, 2013
    good! Zulu and Xhosa it means human excrement - very funny. Another one I saw in Lusaka, Zambia while driving was a shop called Chidoti Fashions, Chidoti means dirt/dirty in one of the local languages, I found that thought-provoking. How hare-brained can some names be, especially when used locally to attract local markets and have very negative meanings in indigenous languages. What was even more interesting was how packed the shop was. Could that mean that the name means little or nothing to the people?
  2. Dare Khuji, July 25, 2013
    Sometimes, branding is a thought of imagination, cloned in reality of the presence and the foreseeable future.

    In Nigeria, global brands gets positive results, unlike the use of local brand names; it all boils down to the right marketing strategy and concept.

    In Lagos, Nigeria, the issue of branding plays a major role in understanding corporate governance.
  3. Sandile, July 24, 2013
    I find this topic very interesting. There is one very popular brand in Africa, particularly South Africa called Simba. In some South African languages i.e. Zulu and Xhosa it means human excrement - very funny. Another one I saw in Lusaka, Zambia while driving was a shop called Chidoti Fashions, Chidoti means dirt/dirty in one of the local languages, I found that thought-provoking. How hare-brained can some names be, especially when used locally to attract local markets and have very negative meanings in indigenous languages. What was even more interesting was how packed the shop was. Could that mean that tmean that the name means little or nothing to the people?
  4. Silvia, July 23, 2013
    Names and associations are strongly related to culture. That's why it is so hard for global brands to come up with the "right" brand name. That's why they decide to use rather meaningless words.

    But as global brands are flooding the world's living rooms, factories, cities and every high street feels the same, let's hope for some more diversity, so we'll be able to find examples like Who Killed Bambi? & The Butcher's Daughter - Hair Studio and forever wonder what the brand managers were thinking... :)
  5. Ann Mathew, July 22, 2013
    The name Catholic Syrian Bank has more to do with the community of Syrian Catholics (also called St Thomas Christians - who are part of the Syro Malabar Church which is a denomination in full communion with the Catholic Church - see Wikipedia for more details about this denomination). The founders of this Bank belonged to this Community and hence the name. This was circa 1920 and this private sector bank was founded in Kerala (in the city of Thrissur, which incidentally has the highest concentration of banks in the southern part of India). The bank caters to a large rural and semi urban population in Kerala. Over the years, this bank has expanded its operations to other parts of India, mostly in the big cities. Therefore, at least to the Indians who hail from Kerala, the bank is not likely to be associated with the imagery of modern day Syria. Though, it will be interesting to observe the brand name associations when the bank starts expanding into international markets.

    Leave a comment

    Share