In case you are wondering, “couque” is a French word meaning “cake” or “biscuit”. “D’” is a contraction of the word “de”, which in French can mean “from” or “made of”. The rest of this product name is not French. It was probably made up by a Japanese marketer who thought its assonance would appeal to the ears of his countrymen, in the end increasing sales and improving his company’s bottom line. Or perhaps he simply thought it was a translation for “butter cookie”.
Japan is famous for its many examples of product names and slogans that elicit chuckles from foreigners, because of either a misunderstanding of the nuances of borrowed foreign words (as with the popular sports drink “Pocari Sweat”) or a lack of attention to the unfortunate connotations of Japanese words (or even invented words) in other languages (as with the almost-equally popular soft drink “Calpis”). [To be fair, this kind of obliviousness is universal. I recently saw two German attorneys, visiting New York, who broke out in guffaws upon reading a can of Sprite that touted “Real sugar!” as a plus. I suppose to an American the analogy would be a liverwurst advertised with “Real cholesterol!”] I once worked in Tokyo for Interbrand, a British-based marketing company that strove to create brand identities that would avoid these cross-cultural gaffes, so they would appeal not just to the Japanese, but to international markets as well.
It was one of the most entertaining jobs I ever held. I had always been fond of wordplay and etymology – part of the reason I got the job was my experience as a crossword puzzle constructor – and most of what I did in this job was sit at my desk and fiddle around with roots and sounds and shades of meaning. Even when our goal was to create a totally new word (a very useful strategy in international marketing, because it lessens the chance of trademark conflicts), we had to come up with some plausible derivation that would lend a pleasing definition. So there was a lot of creativity involved as I mixed and matched syllables and phonemes to come up with a backstory for each new name.
In the end, though, I left the world of marketing when I left Japan. Playing with words was fun, but I knew that there was no room for growth in that. If I had pushed to be more successful in the field (either in Japan or in the U.S.), I’d have spent less and less time doing the fun stuff and more and more time on the business stuff – marketing, relationship building, management, etc. Why stay in a field in which the reward for achievement is deprivation? To be a real success in any profession, one needs to have more to relish at every stage of one’s career, not less.
[First published February 17, 2012]