12th November 2021

With the announcement last month that Facebook is rebranding to Meta, there are lots of areas for debate happening across the internet, with many recognising this as a careful attempt by Facebook to distance itself from recent controversies.

Any brand name change is a process and when that brand is the world’s most successful news and engagement platform, it was always going to cause some debate. As human beings, we’re not all wired to adapt to change quickly. Add to this the extensive criticism Facebook has faced in recent years: Whether it’s the recent testimony and revelations from a high-profile whistle-blower, not doing enough to dispel misinformation and/or fake news and providing a platform for troll-like abuse, it’s fair to say Facebook’s struggled reputationally in recent years.

So, whilst the name itself is potentially a surprise, the intention likely isn’t. But what about the name itself, meta…. Does it translate?

Meta has become fairly ubiquitous in many western languages as something that is self-referencing, but its source is Greek, meaning ‘about’, ‘after’ or ‘beyond’.

But can Meta be global, will it work across the world? Well, I think it’s clear that the Facebook branding team have some work to do, as these examples show;

Meta’s meaning in other languages

Just in Europe, Meta has a range of alternative meanings, very few of which denote what Facebook (as it was) is probably trying to achieve.

In Italian, it can also mean ‘half’, in Lithuanian and Latvian, threw, or, with an accent, méta also translates as mint!

In Swedish, meta translates as the verb, ‘to fish’, while in Bulgarian, it can mean ‘sweep’. In a final, probably less appealing example, Meta is also a slang term for the drug methamphetamine! And recent a recent news story from BBC News has shown that Meta hasn't gone down well Hebrew speakers either!

Global branding localisation

So, when you factor in just these few translations for the word Meta, it’s fair to say that Facebook has potentially got a challenge on its hands. But it’s not the first brand to face this sort of challenge…

In Germany, Vicks, the flu and cough medicine brand is a rude word (we won’t translate it here!) whilst Amazon’s Siri also doesn’t translate for polite company.

In China, Coca-Cola initially translated as "Kekoukela", which means "Bite the wax tadpole" or, even less appealingly, "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect.

Coke worked hard to pin down a phonetic equivalent, eventually coming up with "kokou kole", which translates as the much more appropriate "happiness in the mouth".

I’m sure the marketing boffins at Facebook have put their extensive data hats on and worked their research budgets to figure this out and can take the hit - after all, despite its recent challenges, it continues to grow its audience and reach. But its recent decision to rebrand can teach us a lot about the importance of taking care and getting expert help from native speakers with your brand localisation.

People and brands

And even more, we learn that just because Facebook is now Meta, the very fact that it’s a platform for people first and foremost means it’ll be people who decide whether this new brand name works, globally.

If you need a partner for brand localisation, get in touch, we can help you manage the risks that moving a brand into a new market entails and ensure you get it right first time.

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