Coldplay's Lessons for Global Marketing (Yes, Seriously)

When Coldplay (a band that everybody hates on the Internet except for me) announced that its 2011 album would be titled Mylo Xyloto, the music world had a bunch of questions. Such as: What the heck is a Mylo Xyloto? And, why does Coldplay insist on being so horrible? And, so is this recorded in Turkish, or what?

coldplay mylot xyloto cover 330.jpg

The real answer was much more boring. Apparently, it was a play on Mylo, a name that lead-singer Chris Martin found charming, and Xyloto, a portmanteau fusing the words xylophone and toe.  "It's just something that we thought looked really good," Martin explained on ABC last week. "But everywhere we go around the world people pronounce it in the most crazy ways and we're beginning to regret it now." 

I wouldn't be writing this for The Atlantic if it were just a Coldplay story (Such. A. Lie.), but it's really, truly also a global marketing story. Coldplay is a global brand. Their songs and records travel around the world, not unlike the name of a Ford car, or an Apple computer. They have to translate for disparate audiences as easily as a C-Am-F-G chord progression.

Their last record, Viva La Vida, or Death and All of His Friends, was the global best-selling album of 2008. And talk about a name that travels! Half-Spanish, half-English, and practically gift-wrapped for a global tour. Compare this with Mylo Xyloto, which is neither Spanish, nor English, nor anything really. It looks like esoterically spelled baby-speak.

A name that half the world can't pronounce and the other half can't even Google puts Coldplay in the shameful pantheon of global brands that majorly screwed up a global name: Consider Pschitt, a French softdrink; Fartek, a Swedish babywear product; Cat Crap, a lens cleaner in Japan; the Chevy Nova (that's Spanish for "no go" or "doesn't go").

In an interview I conducted last year with Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer at the famous naming firm Landor, he explained that 40 years ago, cross-cultural comparisons of names was a "smart extra step." Now it's mandatory diligence. This is not a band that has demonstrated formidable faculty with words, but next go around, expect some more phonetics in the title.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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