Food service on airlines may be disappearing, but food names on airlines are thriving, thank you very much. South Africa has Mango Airlines*, India has SpiceJet, and Japan has Peach, which I wrote about in 2011.
Now another Japanese airline is raiding the pantry. AirAsia Japan, which is wholly owned by ANA, the country’s second-largest air carrier, has been rebranded as Vanilla Airlines. (Or possibly Vanilla Air. Reports are inconsistent.)
To a speaker of idiomatic English, “Vanilla Air” may suggest a plain, nothing-special approach to in-flight amenities.** But that’s not how Japanese speakers perceive it, according to a report in Campaign Asia (all punctuation sic):
While the ‘vanilla’ is synonymous with ‘safe and boring’ in the English-speaking part of the world, it’s nothing of the sort to Japanese says McCann Worldgroup senior strategic planner, Sakura Irie. “The brand is clearly targeting young Japanese travellers so what it means in English, does not really matter.
“In Japan, vanilla does not have any connotation of being boring or bland – and the overall impression of the word is very positive. It is accessible, likable and familiar. Moreover, it gives the impression of being ‘pure and innocent’ and ‘kawaii’ – which means a lot more than ‘cute,’ it’s the feeling of emotional excitement, endearment and desire to be a part of or to own,” she continued. “It’s an interesting and in fact, very Japanese choice, I thought.”
No mention of whether Japanese speakers will struggle with the pronunciation of the L phoneme, which is virtually identical to R in Japanese.
AirAsia worked with “several” agencies on the rebranding, according to a Bloomberg.com report. Much is made in the press coverage of the report that AirAsia “sifted through” a list of 200 names, as if that number were astronomical and newsworthy. (The runner-up names were not disclosed. Spearmint? Cinnamon? Oregano?) In my professional experience, 200 names is a modest number to be developed for a major rebranding. I have to wonder, though, about the wisdom of presenting the client with that many names. That must have been one very long conference call.
But here’s a happy thought: Aren’t you looking forward to the merger of Peach and Vanilla? Mmm, swirly goodness.
(Hat tip: Rochelle Kopp. Headline source.)
* OK for man, but how does woman go?
** Or a cheap drugstore fragrance for teen girls.
I lived in Japan in the 1990s. As quoted above, the word "vanilla" in Japan doesn't have negative connotations. I don't know how positive its connotations are, but as a culture Japanese people do like vanilla.
Regardless of the English words in the logo, Vanilla Air in Japanese is バニラ・エア (e.g., http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20130820-00000035-zdn_mkt-bus_all), which would be romanized as Banira Ea (bah nee rah ay ah). The words バニラ "banira" (vanilla) and (in various senses) エア "ea" (air) have been in Japanese since the pre-WW2 part of the Showa Era (1926-1989) (Toshio Ishiwata, Kihon Gairaigo Jiten, 1990). Japanese speakers won't struggle with the /l/ phoneme or the English vowels because the English sounds aren't in the name.
Both English /l/ and English /r/ are similar to Japanese /r/, but Japanese /r/ is close to American English's flap in the middle of the identically pronounced "medal" and "metal" (which is why "pudding" can be written プリン "purin").
Posted by: languageandhumor | August 23, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Is there an English word that would convey the qualities Sakura Irie lists? My first random thoughts--"Dorothy," "BoyBand," "Pearl"--are pretty gendered (and in the case of "Dorothy," queered) by association. (And you probably wouldn't want air service between the US and Japan to carry the name "Pearl," now I think of it.)
Posted by: rootlesscosmo | August 23, 2013 at 02:56 PM