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Phka Rumduol: What's in a Name?

Posted by James Plamondon on July 30, 2016 . 0 Comments

The Cambodia Rice Federation wants to brand Cambodian Jasmine Rice as "Angkor Malis" (see here). Cambodia's Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts wants to brand it as Phka Rumduol (see here).

I have every reason to believe that the Ministry is staffed by excellent people, seeking the best outcome for Cambodia, to the best of their knowledge and abilities. However, there are some things that they apparently just don't know.

For example, they seem not to know why they are completely wrong on this point.

I'm going to write a series of posts on why the Cambodian Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts might want to reconsider its position.  I will make only one point per post to make it easy to follow. 

The name "Phka Rumduol" is completely unacceptable as brand name in any English-speaking country.

I will try to make this easy for the Ministry to understand by using an example in reverse, using the English phrase "pump it."

In English, the phrase "pump it" means to "fill something with energy, make it exciting, make it fun."

One can easily imagine an English ice cream brand "Pump It!", as shown in the picture below.



In the picture, do you see the brand name "Pump It!" on the ice cream cone sleeves?

One eats an ice cream cone by licking it. Likewise, the brand name "Pump It!" could be turned into a noun, like "a Xerox," "a Kleenex," or "a Coke." Therefore, one can easily imagine people saying "Lick My Pump It!"

This slogan makes perfectly good sense in English, and is entirely socially acceptable.

However, in Khmer, the English phrase "Pump It!" sounds like a Khmer word for...how can I say this politely...female genitalia (in the slang of rural Battambang, anyway). The brand name "Pump It!", and the slogan "Lick My Pump It!", would be COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE in Cambodia.

Completely unacceptable.

It is exactly the same for "Phka Rumduol" in English.

  • The English pronunciation of "phka" is "fucka" (fucker), a very impolite word meaning "a contemptible or stupid person (often used as a general term of abuse)."
  • And "Rumduol"? It sounds like...well, nothing, actually, except for maybe an alcoholic (rummy) passed out in a gutter, with his drool slowly washing last night's vomit from his chancre-pitted lips. Rum-drool.

So, in English, "Fucker Rum-Drool" ("Phka Rumduol") is completely unacceptable as brand name.

Completely unacceptable.

It was specifically because of this cross-language & cross-cultural problem that the Cambodia Rice Federation hired Phnom Penh's ad' communication to conduct market testing of various different possible brand names — including Phka Rumduol — in targeted markets (USA, France, & China). The results of this market testing was totally clear: POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS preferred the Angkor Malis name to the Phka Rumduol name by an overwhelming margin, in all three markets.

Let me say that again: When presented with the potential brand names "Phka Rumduol" and "Angkor Malis," POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS chose the "Angkor Malis" name. They did NOT chose the Phka Rumduol name. In every targeted market. By a wide margin. (Given the "Pump It!" example, you can see why.)

Therefore, product branded "Angkor Malis" will SELL MORE than a product branded "Phka Rumduol," all else being equal. 

This is the right way to choose a product name: by using market research to gather data to answer the question, "which name will SELL MORE?"

The wrong way is to ask some bureaucrat his opinion (that's HiPPO decision-making at its worst).

In conclusion: The next anyone from the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts suggests that Cambodia should brand its rice "Phka Rumduol," please remind that person: "Lick My Pump It!"

I know that this is offensive. That's my point. The name Phka Rumduol is as offensive when pronounced in English as "Pump It!" is in Khmer. That's why customers preferred the name Angkor Malis. I apologize for needing to offend, in order to make this point clearly.

(This is my opinion, as an experienced marketer and as the CEO of AwardBest Foods USA, LLC. I do not claim that it represents anyone else's opinions.)

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