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War of the Words may go on forever
Naseem Javed
'as the war swings the nationalistic pendulum, it will force the revival
of the nationalistic brands all over'.
"Names are marketing weapons and as such deployed in the global market place'

Remember that old familiar French bistro with those cozy tables?
There, "Isabelle" twisted her slender body into the chair across my table, which was graced with a plate of succulent filet mignon, crispy French fries and a glass of Bordeaux filled to the brim. That's when my alarm sounded. I suddenly screamed for Freedom Fries and before my dream girl uttered a single word, I was craving a Freedom kiss.
That bell rang again. Indeed, it was my alarm clock. Time to wake up and smell the coffee.

The war of words between oversize American cuisine and fatty French gourmet food is just a big joke, oui monsieur? Suddenly, French wines are being poured out on the sidewalks.

No one dares to order French fries in a restaurant, and all this because of France's outspoken criticism of the US-led war on Iraq in the Security Council.

The war of words and name calling - via corporate and product names and nationalistic posturing - is an ongoing issue, although recently it has intensified between countries such China vs. Taiwan, Indo-Pak battles, EU vs. US and even Canada vs. US. A kind of 'us v them' mentality is moving in fast from all directions.

Globalization of brands is moving much slower than the nationalization of names and symbologies. Cultures of ideologies are attempting to govern buying habits and forming a new Cold War of Words with cultural posturing. American-owned Coca-Cola Co. is getting high-profile boycotts and competition from Mecca Cola and Qibla Cola. The use of such religious iconic symbols as branding will not bring Islamic consumers to their knees to pray, but rather incite the issue of anti-Americanism and quench the media.

Imagine an airline called HolyJet or a football team called The Vaticans.

Parisians rallied hard against Mickey Mouse and the whole Disney movement - now a cheesy darling. These fights are short lived and they will come and go with the tide. However, the real challenge is in the corporate image area, where a new threshold is emerging and companies are facing new challenges to their existing corporate personas.

Some of the personas that are poised to be challenged in the coming months include:

Territorial persona - when a company wants to project local domination and blend into the local cultural personality. Names and images for these types of companies convey the geographical reach of the company, and brands are promoted to meet local customization of culture. This oldest model of commerce, based on close contact with the local customer, is the prime foundation of corporate image.
This tried-and-true, old-fashioned corporate image ideal was thrown a curveball when the internet came onto the scene and companies started naming themselves after ideas and concepts rather than geography.

The generic, geographically based names like Eastern Products, Western Products, Blue Ocean or Star Brands and more, simply fell out of favor.
These images were changed into strange, odd combinations to fit domains and new URLs.

Nationalistic persona - when companies attempt to evoke a nationalistic feeling through a patriotic name or concept. These names are either based on the country's name or distinctive national icons. Images are promoted to show superiority in global export markets. Every country is blessed with unique, one-of-a-kind products and services providing the opportunity to capture national symbologies. Think Cuban cigars, French wines, Egyptian cotton, Hollywood movies, Disney characters, Swiss banks, Chinese silk, and American chips (not the freedom type, the silicon type).
Recently, the tech evolution has equalized the national powers, and wine and fashion are no longer exclusive to France and neither is Hollywood as it faces competition from entertainment centers like Bollywood.
Today, China makes better products for consumers, and India has a sharper edge over the US in software development. Great national iconic brands are being tossed around in international tradeshows. This group has been under serious pressure and nationalistic symbology may increasingly become a liability.
Now, as the war swings the nationalistic pendulum, it will force the revival of the nationalistic brands all over.

Universal persona - when companies embrace global customers while still understanding specific local needs. These powerful brands have cemented global images and global transparencies that are here, there and everywhere. These companies have user-friendly names and their brands have mixed in the local lingo and culture of most of the consuming world. Think Nike, Sony, Disney, etc. Today, less than 1% of global marketers use this strategy, as it requires a major commitment. This war will challenge the universal persona and force global consumers to divide and take an ideological position on brand loyalties and buying patterns. This will make the evolution of brands into the universal arena sluggish and will reinvent the naming and positioning of products and services on ideological grounds.
With or without an actual war, the war of words has started, and there is going to be a major shift in corporate images as companies re-assess their ideological persona to fit the market while the e-commerce revolution changes the scene and turns the globe into one simple flat earth.

Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast are just the start of the free debate of free societies. Furthermore, the French did not even invent the French kiss - they only liberated the tongues.
© Naseem Javed 2003

Naseem Javed is a New York-based syndicated columnist, the author of "Naming for Power" and a corporate naming expert.

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