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Saturday, March 18, 2017

That's An L Of A Brand

I don’t know about you readers, but I have often been confused about Japan’s use of English words in branding…

Actually… I understand that using an English word can make your product sound cool… what I actually am confused about, specifically, are companies that utilize the English letter “L” in their product names, when there is NO Letter “L” or sound in the three Japanese alphabets of kanji, hiragana or katakana.

Why would you create a product with a name that can’t be correctly pronounced by the vast majority of your purchasing public? 

Let’s look at one of the largest and most successful automobile manufacturers in the world: Toyota.

Toyoda is a family name (and was altered slightly to become Toyota), just like Honda and Matsuda (creating the bastardized Mazda). Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Olds (Oldsmobile), Ford, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz… also utilize family names, so no biggie.

Jeep, by the way, is a U.S. Army way of pronouncing the G.P vehicle (G.P. = General Purpose).  

But what about Toyota’s long-running brand, the Toyota Corolla.

The Toyota Corolla, which is easy enough to pronounce for an English-first speaker becomes the garbled Toyota Ko-row-rah.

If you heard someone talking about a Korowrah, would you know it to be about their fantastic little car? No.

The Corolla name is actually part of Toyota’s naming tradition of using names derived from its Toyota Crown series of vehicles (a line of mid-sized luxury cars first introduced in 1955 and aimed primarily at the Japanese market).

The Toyota Corolla name, for example, is derived from the Latin “corolla”, which means “small crown.”

I get it. The Toyota Crown name used the phonetic katakana alphabet to simulate an English-sounding name because, despite the U.S. having a major hand in kicking Japan’s butt at the end of WWII, the Japanese secretly respected Americans and the English language they spoke, because… well… they were somehow stronger than the Japanese…

The Toyota Crown in Japanese was トヨタクラウン (Toyota Kuraun), or as it is pronounced Toyota Coo-Ra-ow-nn. It’s a fine name.

So is Small Crown… but Korowrah?

Screw tradition.

Wouldn’t it be more prudent to have a name that is actually pronounced properly by your own purchasing public in Japan?

Why would a company like Toyota give the proverbial finger to its customer base?

The Corolla first made its appearance in 1968… and while it is possible it was built to hit the international market as well as domestic—it became the best-selling car in the world in 1974—it still doesn’t excuse it for creating a brand name the majority of its own citizenry can’t pronounce. 

Coming out around the same time was the Nissan Sunny, it’s chief competition starting in 1966… and yes, while it could easily be produced in Japan and abroad, it’s a pretty damn weak name for international branding.

I mean come on… we’re talking about competition from American cars with rugged names such as: Mustang, GTO, Thunderbird, Falcon, Grand Prix, Tempest… look at that last one… Tempest… that’s a violent windstorm… now that’s a car name!

Sunny… yeesh.

You may know of the current car called the Madza 3, formerly the Mazda 323, formerly the Mazda GLC… in Japan it was called the Familia.

Aside from the fact that I think Familia might be Italian for family—is anyone else familiar with La Familia… the Cosa Nostra? The Mafia? It has an “L” in its name.

Fa-Mi-Ri-Ah. That’s how you pronounce it in Japanese.

Hells… the Japanese don’t even pronounce “R’s” in the same way native English speakers do… sort of combing the R with a D sound…

Dragon, in Japanese is ryu… it is not pronounced Rye-ew, but fug… I think it’s like due… but again… you have combine the d with an r…

Anyhow… again… I have no issue with any brand owner utilizing a word from another country as part of its moniker.

What I do take umbrage with is the fact that it should be one your own country’s populace can pronounce properly.

Case in point, my favorite Japanese fastfood chain Mos Burger. It should be pretty easy to say, right? Moss-brr-grr.

In Japan, it is Mo-su bah-gah.

It’s not even English anymore. Damn fine food, though.

Yes, I am aware that my examples were all old… but it’s hardly gone away. It still happens with new Japan-specific products… and I wish it would stop.

At some point in time, if Japan wants to cater to the rest of the world with its products, perhaps it should try to come up with easy-to-pronounce Japanese brand names in Japanese.

Heck - you saw my post on Necomimi yesterday? HERE. That's an easy name to pronounce! 

Why assume we can’t pronounce Japanese words—okay, ryu is pretty difficult for most non-Japanese speakers—but if you give the public some credit and have an effective marketing campaign, you’ll not only create a global audience, but a national audience that can take pride in your products real Japaneseness.

Oh... and for kicks... how about the "western" brand Nutella... are you pronouncing it as new-tell-ah? You should be. It's not Nuh-tell-ah.

What about Porsche? It's not Porsh. It's certainly not Por-shay. It's Por-sha.

Here in Toronto, we have a street and train station called Spadina... everyone and his sister pronounces it as "spa-dine-ah", but it should be pronounced after the man it was named after: "Spa-deen-ah".

Still... enough with the L-usage in Japanese brand names. It doesn't make you sound as cool as you think. 

Kanpai (kahn-pie)
A-n-doh-ri-yu Jyo-se-fu
That’s not my name! It’s Andrew Joseph
PS: Admittedly, having your name pronounced in that katakana fashion by some breathy female voice like my Noboko, is/was very exciting.
PPS: The image at the top? I just thought it was funny.  

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