We have seen an enormous amount of press for Mondelez, the name planned for Kraft’s new snack division, to be spun off from Kraft’s grocery business. If in the marketing business any publicity is a good thing, then this is a good thing. But the reaction has generally ranged from negative to mocking. The name, chosen from 1,700 candidates submitted by Kraft employees, blends mond (the root for "world" in some major European languages) with delez, stressed on the last syllable and intended to suggest delicious.
Some object to the new brand’s perceived clunkiness. Forbes.com jokes that we can recall the name better by associating it with a former Secretary of State, as in "Mondeleza Rice." A few commentators class this name with fabrications like Accenture and Altria. And rightly so. If a company is going to adopt a name whose message is obscure, why take three whole syllables to do so?
More ominously, in commissioning focus groups to judge Mondelez, Kraft apparently omitted Russians, even though the name needs to work globally. A number of Web sources note the name’s potentially vulgar connotations in Russian, where it can be broken down into something sounding like "monda-LEEZ." We verified this with our Russian linguist, Fedor Rozhanskiy. To many Russians, manda is a slang word for "vagina." Compounding the problem, "LEEZ" sounds like the Russian verb root for "lick." The association is—unfortunately again—by far the strongest when, as Kraft intends, the last syllable is stressed.
Kraft’s official response has been a tad defensive. "The intention is for Mondelez to be a corporate name," Kraft spokesperson Michael Mitchell is quoted as saying on several news sites, including nj.com. "It won’t be a consumer-facing name." But given the reactions so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if Kraft ordered further testing before putting it to shareholders for official adoption.
That’s what we’d recommend, though we do wonder about the dust this case has stirred up. In what it seems to regard as a similar situation, the Huffington Post, citing the BBC, claims that "General Motors had to change the name of its Buick LaCrosse sedan in Canada after it found that the word LaCrosse is slang for masturbation in Quebec." That’s not quite accurate. After learning that crosse was a slang term in Quebec, GM chose to introduce the car in Canada as the Allure. But in 2009 a new management canned the Allure brand and began to use LaCrosse in Canada as it does everywhere else in the world. The brand is doing well in Canada as elsewhere.
Navigating the globe with a brand name is a complex journey where language, culture, and marketing intersect. Very precise attention must go to details of pronunciation and to linguistic and social contexts that foster or temper disruptive associations. We’ve been navigating these waters for practically twenty years at Lexicon, where our GeoLinguistics service includes an international network of Ph.D. linguists that now numbers 77.
UPDATE: The London Times published an interview (6/5/2012) they held with Lexicon CEO David Placek. He remarked on the Mondelez name:
Mr Placek dismisses the name like a medieval guild member inspecting the craft of an amateur. "Mondelez…you hear 'eaze' like 'sleaze'. I'm getting nothing from it. Maybe it would work for a restaurant."