Ace, or the interlinguistic variation of brand names

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May 3, 2004 by AK

Ace is a line of non-chlorine whitening detergents manufactured by Procter & Gamble and marketed in Europe (Western and Eastern), Middle East and Africa. It is in the National Health Institute’s household product database, so it might be available in the US as well. I have not figured out (yet) the etymology of the brand name, but suppose for simplicity it’s nothing but the English word ‘ace’.

P & G has been active in Russia since the mid-1990s; it owns a plant in Novomoskovsk, not far from Moscow. Although this plant serves mostly Eastern Europe, I don’t think it’s in the company’s practice to rename their products for local markets; that is, if it’s Ace in Austria, it must also be Ace in Kazakstan. The next question is, how should ‘Ace’ be pronounced in TV and radio ads in Russian and other Eastern European languages?

The plain vanilla English option, ‘eys’, sounds fine in Russian, but a smart-reared ad agency decided to change it to ‘ahs’, which corresponds to the Russian word as, literally an ace pilot (from German As, ace). Russian as is normally used in the sense ‘a person who’s exceptionally good at something; ‘ace of spades’ would be tuz pik or pikOvyy tuz. The great linguomercial minds went further: early Ace commercials were centered around a female character called, yes, Aunt Asya (‘AH-syah’), who was, naturally, an expert at stain removing. (Asya is a diminutive from Anastasia, as in Turgenev’s novel.) That mature lady became a subject of a few popular jokes, a sure sign the ad series was a success of sorts.

A few years later, P & G apparently decided to either switch to another ad agency or ask them to come up with a fresh idea. I’m not sure if it’s the first grade of freshness, but the latest Ace commercial shows a happy young couple who have just had a new, bridally white washing machine delivered to their cozy apartment nest; the next moment, they can–at last–pour some Ace into the washer. Which they are shown doing. Suddenly, the picture changes: a still-young, elegantly dressed gentleman surrounded by brand-new washing machines begins a speech on the wonders of Ace detergents, confidently flashing a dark-blue bottle. He speaks Italian; after a few words, a Russian voiceover kicks in. One might infer that P & G teamed up with Merloni, an Italian white goods manufacturer whose brands every Russian knows, to jointly advertise this little cleansing wonder. Dunno.

What I know for sure is that the first word he utter is ‘Ace’, but he says it the Italian way: ‘AH-cheh’. And it is in this form that it appears on this commendable list of feline names, Polish and not.


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