Say “Hallelujah” — or Maybe Not

HALLELUJAH2Ahh, the perils and pitfalls of international branding.

Last year it was Russian energy giant Gazprom igniting a global firestorm of criticism when it announced a new joint venture in Nigeria. What went wrong, naming-wise?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Nigerian counterpart signed a $2.5 billion deal to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Africa’s most populous nation. But they named the new firm Nigaz. It was intended to be a fusion of “Nigeria” and “Gazprom” and be pronounced “Nye-gaz.” But as the Reuters news service reported, that can be read phonetically as an offensive term for people of black African origins.

(Maybe energy companies are just tone deaf. A few months after this gaffe, BP’s then- CEO called the Gulf of Mexico oil spill a “modest problem.”)

Now comes an innovative company primed for a global launch of a breakthrough technology brand under the name Hallelujah.

What could possibly go wrong, you ask? It’s a thankful cry of welcome or gratitude, says the dictionary. (And the beloved Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” echoes in your brain.)

Turns out, for an international brand, there’s a whole chorus of problems with singing “Hallelujah.” Consider these findings from a multilingual and multicultural suitability study of the brand’s name appropriateness:

  • In Israel (76% Jewish, 16% Muslim population), a Jewish linguist observes: “The word is not suitable because it is exclusively religious and is used in prayer. It would be as if one were to advertise the ‘Praise God’ product in the United States. A secular Jew here would think it was weird. A religious Jew would think it was blasphemous.”
  • In Saudi Arabia, a country which is 100% Muslim, a linguist reports: “The meaning of the word is very encouraging in a religious Muslim society. But here we do not use the name of God, ‘Allah,’ in any product. It is considered a degradation.”
  • In India (81% Hindu, 13% Muslim), linguists predicts the word would not be welcomed by the Hindu population and would not be suitable for either population as a product name.
  • In Spain (94% Roman Catholic), a Christian linguist says: “Typically spelled ‘aleluya’ in Spanish, the term is in fairly common usage as both ‘praise the lord’ and as an exclamation akin to ‘hurray!” Hallelujah as a brandname is unlikely to be perceived as offensive to the entire population, but it may offend a number of segments – the more devoutly religious, particularly members of the Opus Dei movement, who will find the reference crass; non-Christians, who may see an encroachment of the church into commerce; and the non-religious, for the same reasons.”

There were many other countries to be surveyed, but you get the picture.

Hallelujah bowed out, and the product will be launched under another brand name.

Posted in Watch What You Say