Brand Identity: The complexity of localising global logo design

As brands become globalised phenomena, each are faced with one recurring challenge; how do we adapt our logo and identity to make it relevant to our new audience? One way is to change the language of the logo text, but prepare to witness some unforeseen challenges!


Go–logo decision

While the Canadian author Naomi Klein still insists strongly on ‘No Logo’, most of us would agree that a logo is much more than just a logo and often comes to symbolise what a brand truly stands for. Getting the logo to convey the right message consistently and for the consumers to make that instant connection takes years of hard work, continued reinforcement and of course, a super-active PR team.

While it’s already challenging for a brand, in these times of shifting loyalties and instant gratification, to reach a status where consumers recognise your brand by the font alone or when ‘Just do it’ reminds them of nothing else but your brand, the whole ball game changes when the logo needs to be translated into another language. Not only would the Brand Manager worry about retaining the aesthetics and visual appeal, but also the implications it may have on the country it is going to be marketed in.

Risky? Yes (even if you tread carefully!). Unreasonable? Not really, especially if you’re considering moving to a market like the Middle East (M-E) where a considerable percentage of the local population prefers Arabic over English, where they take a lot of pride in the local language and where they have the spending power to match.


‘Business as usual’ in the Middle East

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” —Frank Smith

It is true (for the most part) that the majority of M-E brands have a long way to go when it comes to measuring up against their international counterparts (except for a very few like Emirates Airlines). It is also evident that their logos and brand identities fall some way short of the mark too. One of the obvious reasons is that more often than not, the local products/services are M-E-centric and hence the brand development is always thought of on a more regional scale, rather than to appeal to a global audience.

Traditionally, the M-E brands would have an Arabic name that would then be translated into English, the font of which would resemble theArabic counterpart. ‘First Gulf Bank’ is a literal translation for ‘Al Khaleej Al Awal’ and the English and Arabic are used together to create one logo. This is a simple, standard solution that serves the purpose of communicating without diminishing the brand or its personality.

However, this trend has been changing steadily and it is interesting to observe some of the comparatively new homegrown brands and their logos. These new identities often carry the traditional symbols with modern strokes and edges and are often bi-lingual but not in a set standard format. They are more like a mix of ‘Arabic exotic’ with a dash of ‘modernity’.

Endpoint, for example, has been involved in the signage implementation for the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels. Located in the heart of Souq Waqif (a traditional Qatari shopping centre), the project comprises seven hotels, each with its own unique identity and character. The logo symbolises an Arabic ‘Souq’ (open air market with narrow alleys) while incorporating the two letters ‘S & W’. With a linguistic challenge of not having an Arabic equivalent of the word ‘boutique’, the Arabic part of the logo only says ‘Souq Waqif’ leaving the rest of the work to be accomplished by the English language. The logo looks considered and complete while making good visual sense too.


So, what does your logo mean, habibi?

While the Middle East’s love for all things luxurious is well known, there is more to the region than cash-rich men in crisp white ‘dishdashes’ and women donning Prada sunglasses. Even when an M-E consumer loves your brand and buys it while travelling the world, he expects a bit of localisation to the same brand in his home country.

Strong brands know that while consistency in the visual identity is of supreme importance, being relevant to a new market is equally desirable. The first step towards achieving such appeal is to speak the language the local population understands – Arabic in this case! And take it seriously. Deliver it not only in your advertisements, but take it across packaging, the website and include it in your in-store experience. And if there is one common factor in delivering your brand promise through all these different mediums, it’s the logo.


How do the global brands react?

Some of you might be aware that Arabic is written and read from right to left, which can only mean one thing – more homework. The Coke logo on a can runs from bottom to top while its Arabic logo is read from top to bottom. Similarly, Schweppes’ English logo tapers out from left to right while the Arabic one does the opposite. It is also important to mention that Arabic language does not incorporate capital letters. The Gap all-caps logo, when translated to Arabic has been given the tall effect to look similar to the English logo.

And while translating the logo from English to Arabic, it’s not just the font that is adhered to, the phonetic spelling of the brand name is also taken as is. So, KFC is spelt as KFC in Arabic too. Quite unlike the case of Arabic to English translations of the Arabic brands cited earlier, where the meaning of the name is used.


The invisible margin of error

If everything we’ve covered so far is correct for your brand, there is still a small chance of you not getting it 100% right.

My last name in Arabic is read as ‘Ajinkaya’ and not the correct ‘Ajinkya’. And if you are out to buy Pepe Jeans for yourself, the logo in Arabic might read ‘Bebe Jeans’ as the Arabic language does not have a letter similar to ‘P’ and therefore the equivalent of ‘B’ is often used as a replacement.

And, if your logo reads and looks correct, sometimes it’s the imagery accompanying your logo that may fetch you unwanted attention. Even a well-known brand like Starbucks has had its share of challenges, despite being operational in the Middle East for over 10 years.

While the inherent human need to communicate will keep on pushing us to discover the intricate differences between languages, and continue bringing surprises to our lives in the process, one key rule would continue to hold true for every market and in every language. Don’t get it? The KISS rule – KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!

Resources
www.naomiklein.org/no-logo
www.mygola.com/souq-waqif/
www.en.wikipedia.org/First_Gulf_Bank