The future's not so bright as Orange gets the red light in Ulster

Patrick Tooher
Friday 12 July 1996 23:02 BST

Orange, Britain's third largest mobile phone operator, is thinking about changing the name of its digital service in Northern Ireland after a week of sectarian violence in the province.

"We are taking advice about actively marketing our brand name in Northern Ireland," a spokeswoman for Orange confirmed yesterday. "I accept that we need to look to see if there is any sensitivity."

Orange is already in the process of acquiring base-station sites in and around the Belfast area and hopes "go live" in the province within a year. It is keen to tap into a captive audience of 1.5 million, 40 per cent of whom belong to the Catholic/nationalist tradition. But wooing them is going to prove an uphill struggle.

"Imagine the uproar it would cause if they ran a campaign there using their current slogan 'The future's bright, the future's Orange'," Gordon MacMillan of Campaign, the advertising industry bible, said. "They are going to have to seriously consider a sub-brand to get round the problem with the political situation so fraught and volatile."

Orange is not alone in having major marketing problems. Indeed, its teething troubles in Northern Ireland are a reminder of how the image of leading brands can quickly be overtaken by events.

Perhaps the most famous example was of a biscuit bar esigned to stifle appetite as part of a slimmers' diet. It was sold in the early Eighties under the unfortunate brand name Ayds - until the arrival of the disease Aids.

The Anglo-American drugs giant SmithKline Beecham ran into similar problems over its best-selling fizzy drink which bore the legend "Lucozade aids recovery". The company argues that the label was dropped long before before Aids became a major public health issue.

Instances of brand names failing to cross the language barrier are also legion, although the humour they elicit is often of the lavatorial variety.

Cars seem particularly prone to marketing faux pas. Rolls-Royce realised before it sold its Silver Mist range in Germany that "mist" translated as "excrement". But Ford's launch of the Pinto car in Brazil failed - "Pinto" is Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals". Ford wisely substituted nameplates with "Corcel", which means "horse". Vauxhall ran into similar difficulties with its Nova range in Spain; "no va" means "won't go" in Spanish.

Chinese translations have also caused untold linguistic complications. The Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger lickin' good" came out as "eat your finger off", while in Taiwan the exhortation to "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" ended up as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead". And soft drinks rival Coca-Cola had to be renamed for sale in China after it translated as "Bite the wax tadpole".

Foreign firms can also have trouble with English names. There is a French soft drink called "Sic", crisps sold in Spain as "Bum" and a Finnish anti- freeze called "Super-Piss".

But perhaps the funniest faux pas belongs to Parker Pen. When a ballpoint pen was marketed in Mexico the advertisements were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". Alas, Parker thought the Spanish word "embarazar" had just one meaning: to embarrass. Instead, the advertisements read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant".

Great advertising gaffes of our time

Ayds, Boots' slimming chocolate bar was renamed when the degenerative HIV disease became well known

The Rolls-Royce Silver Mist range had to be renamed for Germany because mist means 'excrement' in German

Now the Orange mobile telephone will have to change its marketing strategy in Ulster because of the Troubles

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