How can a brand be called WTF? It’s not a joke; it happened to the World Taekwondo Federation -not a company but an organization- whose initials form the acronym WTF, popular on the web to abbreviate the expression what the f*ck.

An original brand name

There’s no doubt that the WTF initials grab anyone’s attention. However, we immediately think of the aforementioned expression, used to show surprise, bewilderment… at no point would we think of sports, let alone taekwondo.

Organizations use initials to shorten their names; for example, the UN or UNICEF. The latter, in fact, we read as a new word. In other cases, such as the FBI or the CIA, letter by letter. But when reading WTF, in our heads we hear “what the f*ck” and, even though it might seem like a really original brand name, it’s not ideal for a sports federation.

Rebranding is necessary

The WTF exists since 1973, when the acronym didn’t even existed since it was popularized with the birth of the internet. It must have been a difficult decision but in 2015, the federation decided it was time for rebranding and, even though it would maintain its official name, it would change it for business and commercial purposes, and from a marketing point of view, calling itself simply World Taekwondo.

It’s funny because if you perform some searches, it’s not the only organization with initials that equal those of “new (internet) words”. We have the case of the Object Management Group which, as you may have noticed, has the acronym OMG (oh my God).

Your brand should represent you but rebranding isn’t cheap.

How much does it cost? Should you do it?

The process of changing your brand name can be pretty expensive. It all depends on where it appears. For example, if you’ve never printed business cards, letters, or any kind of packaging, it’ll be cheaper or, at least, you won’t have lost that much money. On the other hand, the relevance of the internet, social networks and search rankings is nowadays bigger than ever so going back to square 1 might be a bad idea.

Now, if your brand can be linked to something funny, ridiculous, offensive, or totally unrelated with your company or organization, you’ll have no choice but to rebrand like WTF did -at least for certain areas.

Going global with your brand

I work in the translation world daily and I can’t stress this enough: take into account the importance of product localization -and of texts in general. People want to listen to you or read your stuff in their language, which goes beyond “English”.

Still, unless you’re focusing on a very specific audience, it’s ideal for brand names to go global and not local. In other words (although if you click on any of the three links I’ve subtly dropped, you’ll get a better understanding):

When localizing, we focus on a particular target audience. It can be a language, a country or a type of target user. We speak to users the way they talk, with colloquial language, slang, jargon, or mentioning very local people and places. When globalizing, we do the exact opposite: we translate so, for example, the whole Spanish-speaking world understands us, and so they don’t go “WTF” on us.

Most successful brands choose a brand name which can mean something or not, but it sounds good.

If it does become world famous, great. We all say “Facebook” without thinking of a “book of faces”. We incorporate it. The problem comes when our brand name can be translated and it means something offensive or ridiculous in a foreign language.

A few years ago, I saw the LinkedIn profile of an alleged “brand naming expert” who would come up with brand names and charge for it. One of those names –I curse my memory for forgetting both the name of the brand and of the guy, meant something awful in Spanish. That is, in Spain or Latin America, the brand would have been laughed at. That’s something very important to take into account, particularly if you go around saying you’re an expert on it!

What’s your take? Has this happened to you? What would you do if you were part of one of these companies?