Monday, 11 December 2017

It's a brand name so you can't translate it (into Welsh)

Brand-name : “a trade or proprietory name” (OED); otherwise “a name which must not under any circumstances be translated into Welsh”.

“It can’t be translated because it is a brand name”: this is the all-too-familiar protest of those who have perhaps had a bright idea but haven’t included the fact that their business or presence is in Wales in their plans before launching the said idea on the public. Cue, questions as to where the Welsh identity of the “brand” is to be found; response, wriggling, occasionally leading to a reversal (which very often turns out to be quite painless, after all), but sometimes determined refusal to consider the Welsh language (more likely if the parent company is not based in Wales and orders, or not-so-bright ideas, have come from elsewhere).

Although I have mainly worked in the public sector I must put my hand up here and confess to a family background in PR and advertising, so although it is at one or even two removes I do know a little bit about what a brand name is supposed to be and some of the principles of successful marketing. The name must be memorable, easy to associate with the product, and fairly simple. Over time a good brand name will become well-known. An unsuccessful name might close doors (such as names which work in one language but not in another, for instance – the reason why we never saw that refreshing drink Pschitt! for sale on this side of La Manche, at least not under that name. “Pour vous, cher ange, Pschitt orange”, its early slogan, would have been a challenge to English marketing in translation …)

I am talking here in terms of business because that essentially is where terms like brand truly belong. A brand is not the same thing as the public image of a public sector operation, although business language, terms and ideology creep in there all the time. It certainly is not the correct term for a room with a functional name in a building. It is also not the correct term for an advertising slogan or campaign. A business is free not to translate its advertising (although it may be losing a trick by not doing so), but a government agency does have to provide Welsh language versions of its public information. Some slogans are easier to translate than others, and in some cases something may be lost or gained in translation (slogans are the product of a creative mind, after all) but there is no reason for not making the attempt. So, Cardiff Council’s brilliant “Tidy Text” can be and is translated into Welsh (but loses the joke in the process), whereas “Gwener y gwario gwirion” is a witty, and alliterative, improvement on “Black Friday”, although perhaps not quite conveying the meaning which businesses want!

Two examples of “brand name” oddity spring to mind at once.

The Royal Mint, formerly in the Tower of London but based in Llantrisant in Wales since 1968, would surely count as most people’s idea of a public body. It recently opened its doors to the public, and you can go there for the Royal Mint Experience, during which you can enjoy the Royal Tea Experience. In Welsh (once you have found the Welsh version of the website) you are invited to enjoy the “profiad y te brenhinol”, but it is part of something translated as “Profiad y Royal Mint” – a strange and distracting hybrid. (The Welsh name has slipped in in a few places, for further confusion). “Profiad y Royal Mint” appears on all the yellow directional road signs.  Next to the name “Royal Mint” a little ® appears, so it seems that this is now considered a “brand name” – yet the Welsh name “Y Bathdy Brenhinol” has existed for years, and is easily found elsewhere both on the Internet and in print. It’s not as if anyone would have to pay for a special creative translation, as the Welsh name is already known and established. If one really has to treat a name as a brand name (I’m not convinced, but so it seems to be), isn’t it possible to have two? It’s not as if anyone else can claim to be either “Y Bathdy Brenhinol” or “The Royal Mint”, after all! (the current penalty for counterfeiting money is 10 years’ imprisonment).

Another recent example, this one from the private sector and apparently unresolvable, involves Marks & Spencer, or M & S, which appears to have undergone a recent rebranding exercise. Out with the green, in with the black and white; out with the full name, too, in lots of places; more contentiously, in with the weird new coinage “foodhall” (one word), which indicates, if I have understood correctly, the smaller, mainly food outlets, which also sell such things as flowers, newspapers and magazines, and a small selection of kitchen and bathroom consumables, but no clothes or household items. This is problematic even without the Welsh question. Clearly the words “food hall”, which are more correct in English, could not be a “brand name” because, well, they are just words – in this case words which have been used for the same concept by other well-known stores for many years. Where there is a larger M & S, that is with the clothes and shoes and so on, the words “food hall” appear on the store guidance signs, and in Wales they are translated as “neuadd fwyd” along with the other names of different departments in the shop. However, it appears that a “foodhall” is not the same as a “food hall”, and that we are being asked to regard “foodhall” as a brand (let’s for the sake of argument think of these shops as M & S with no knickers). When M & S opened its new “foodhall” in Aberystwyth, the council objected to the lack of Welsh, but was told that “foodhall” was an untranslatable brand name. Several people pointed out on Twitter and elsewhere that the large shops do translate the two words. Ah, but the two words are not a brand name, you see. Clear? Well, no, obviously not, since once you get into having to explain the difference between two words (named department in a bigger store) and one word made out of two words run together (the no-knickers shops) you have obviously failed to get the concept across to the customers, and the name isn’t meeting the requirement of being simple and easily understood. It doesn’t work particularly well in English, because you either have to pronounce it as two words (in which case you have moved away from the brand name) or make something up – should it rhyme with Goodall? Should it have an Old Norse slant and become the Fuđhall?

I haven’t managed to come up with a creative solution, so perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t follow other family members into this field, but I can’t believe that there isn’t something which would work better than this, both for clarity, better English, and, of course with a Welsh version too: or, if the idea of a Welsh brand is unacceptable, another clearer name or word which would work for everyone, including in Aberystwyth where the % of people who speak Welsh is higher than those who do not. Many years ago my grandfather actually worked for Marks and Spencer in just this type of work. I wonder what he might have suggested?

Welsh has official status in Wales, which does not affect the status of English but does mean that Welsh should not be treated less favourably. The law is weak in the area of private enterprise, stronger in the case of public bodies (but in these days of semi-privatisation and arms-length agencies, what exactly counts as a public body?)

Private companies have more freedom to ignore the language, but might like to consider how excluding Welsh from their “brand” comes across to their potential Welsh customers. Basically, if you are saying that your “brand name” cannot or must not be in Welsh, you are really saying that you would rather people didn’t speak Welsh, and you perhaps cannot even comprehend that they might be thinking in Welsh.

No comments:

Post a Comment