Friday, February 28, 2014

Corporate naming gaffes--BP

On Wednesday, I interviewed Christine Bader. She's written a personal and wonderfully nuanced book that explores the challenges that people who have strong social missions face as they pursue corporate careers. It's titled The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil and it will be published by Bibliomotion in late March. Eventually, the Q&A will appear in strategy+business and I'll post it here.

Until then, I'd like to share a passage from the galley of the book that's off topic, but which caught my eye because I've written about the pleasures and perils of corporate naming in the past:

"When I first arrived in China, I was surprised to find that four years after the company officially changed its name from British Petroleum to BP, Chinese staff were still using the old name in conversation and written correspondence, and having their old business cards reprinted at local copy shops rather than ordering new ones from the company. I asked a few people why but got nothing more than giggles and shrugs in response, so I wrote it off to inertia.

"Finally, a friend outside of the company revealed that BP had fallen into an even worse trap than the apocryphal story about Chevrolet's Latin American launch of the Nova, which approximates Spanish for no-go, not a great name for a car. With the wrong combination of context and tone, B in Mandarin can sound like slang for 'vagina,' and P like 'fart.' In the dialect of Guangdong Province, it can also mean 'big pig.' No wonder the new corporate identity hadn't caught on."

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