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image of people raising the arm iceland sues the iceland supermarket. Brand identity crisis

4 Brands with Creative Names that Backfired in Big Ways.

  |   CultureShocks Blog

Choosing a brand name that is intriguing yet relevant is vital to a corporation’s future. This is to become the company’s hallmark; their brand identity.

Some organisations tout extremely clever and unique calling cards that represent the brand, its personality, and the services it offers flawlessly. Most brands, however, end up engineering a title that fits the company, but perhaps lack a certain amount of zest and intrigue. And then there are those that thought they had artfully shaped an ingenious name worthy of the world’s attention, but had actually concocted a recipe for outrage.

As these businesses have learned, it is highly advisable to have specialists provide feedback and clearance to any carefully crafted brand identities you wish to bestow upon your company to avoid public backlash, legal disputes, or to minimise customer resonance.

Check out these organisations whose names inspired significant outrage from the general public.


Iceland, the Supermarket




When most people hear the word ‘Iceland’, their first thought isn’t typically that of a grocer. One food retailer that carries the name is trying to change that, however, and has subsequently landed in some proverbial hot water.

Due to the fact that the British frozen foods dealer has been blocking local companies from using the word ‘Iceland’ to describe themselves, and has gone as far as pursuing – and winning – legal arguments over the matter, the Icelandic government has stepped in, taking legal action of its own.

The actions of the supermarket has affected many smaller businesses such as Clean Iceland or Iceland Gold, a fish supplier, who have both tried (and failed) to register their company names with the EU.

These kinds of shady practices have caused the Icelandic government to intervene after multiple attempts to negotiate and reason with the organisation, only to be met with ‘unrealistic and unacceptable’ expectations.

As of now, the grocer owns the European trademark to the word in question, but the Icelandic government believes the brand identity to be, ‘… exceptionally broad and ambiguous in definition, often rendering the country’s businesses unable to describe their products as Icelandic’. They therefore seek to strip the company of its trademark.

While the dispute is still ongoing, the supermarket’s PR representatives have taken to Twitter to post a series of tweets that clearly display that the company is not taking the matter seriously.


The grocer has been operating under the name for some time now, but has only garnered the negative attention after ownership changed hands and began aggressively pursuing any company that attempted to utilise its trademark.


Two Taquerias, One Bad Decision


bandidos restaurant changed its name to echo, to preserve brand identity


Restaurants, in particular, are in need of creative names that reflect their offerings so that potential customers know what they serve. One Mexican-style eatery in San Francisco thought they had devised such a sobriquet, but ended up biting off more than they could chew.

In its first week of operation, the restaurant had to change its name, Bandidos, due to objections from the Mexican-American community as bandido refers to an outlaw, or bandit, and is seen as defamatory by those of Mexican heritage.

Those who were unhappy with the establishment’s choice sounded off on its Facebook page with a plethora of comments.

bandidos restaurant change its name by echo to preserve brand identity

Shortly thereafter, the company’s owners, Jesse Woodward and Dana Gleim, took to social media to explain that they had not intended to offend or demean anyone and would be changing the name of the eatery to ‘Hecho’, which means ‘made’, as in ‘made in Mexico’.

In Arizona, another Mexican-style restaurant owner came under fire from a student group, Movimento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, for its name, ‘Illegal Pete’s’.

The body of students wrote a letter to the eatery’s owner, urging him to change the name and informing him of the chain’s offensive nature. Additionally, a petition was started to have the restaurant change its name or be banned from conducting business in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite the fact that Illegal Pete’s had been operating in Boulder, Colorado since 1995, the owner heard the complaints of the people, yet elected not to change the name because of the personal history that it holds for him. The owner, Pete, even went as far as to dedicate a page of the Illegal Pete’s website to explaining the controversy and the history behind the name.

The lesson here is that when choosing a brand name, it is best to stray from titles that could be construed as culturally insensitive.


Candy Crushed


ayds the candy was confused by aids, therefore the brand name changed preserve brand identity

Despite these poor naming decisions, there have been several instances when it was not the company’s fault for owning a bad brand label; time had merely turned the tables on them.

Back in the 1970’s and early 80’s, a hot, ‘appetite-suppressing’ candy was sold all over the U.S. It came in various flavours and was a smash hit success as one of the most sought after weight-loss products on the market in the 70’s. The name of the candy was Ayds. Yes, Ayds.

In 1981 when AIDS began to enter public consciousness, company CEO, Robert Berglass, thought that it was a small enough incident to be inconsequential to the brand’s wellbeing.

Fast forward to 1987, when the AIDS epidemic was in full swing, Mr. Berglass had changed his tune, stating, “Obviously, with a name like Ayds, we’ll have to do some re-marketing”. 

The company devised a solution to save the company’s reputation by renaming the product to Diet Ayds.

The plan was obviously half-baked and shortly thereafter, the company crumbled into obscurity.


A similar fate befell another popular chocolate delight that had been in production since 1923. All had been going well for the oganisation until a terrorist group that shared a name with the sweet treat began to emerge. That group (and the candy), is of course, Isis.


ISIS Chocolates: Belgian Chocolate Maker Changes Name To ‘Libeert’ To Avoid Confusion With Militant Group

Because of the damaging effects of the unintended association with the group, the company opted to drop the name in late 2014 for something more favourable; Libeert.

While forsaking a recognised brand name can often result in devastation for a corporation, in this instance, there was nothing that could be done and it did ultimately work out for the better.


Creating a brand identity and choosing a brand name is important. What is more important, however, is public perception of your business. If an organisation decides to go forth with a name that is unknowingly offensive, derogatory, or distasteful, the owners are likely to hear about it from the community. They will make their voices heard, not only through outlets like social media, but with their wallets as well.

For these reasons, it is essential that newly formed businesses consult branding specialists before rolling the dice on their new company name.

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