Cultural Competency = Good Brand Strategy

You might have heard about Bodega; the wi-fi enabled goods dispensary (aka vending machine) that seeks to "replace the corner store." Bodega is the brainchild of former Google employees Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan--two men who did not take into consideration the cultural connotations of said product's name.

If you were raised in or lived in a neighborhood with strong ties to the Latinx community, then chances are you have stepped foot in a bodega. The bodega is the corner store that you can dip into real quick for whatever you need; Where the owner knows everybody in the neighborhood, and whose kids might have gone to school with you. The bodega is more than just a corner store, it's a fixture of the Latinx community and an important part of it.

When choosing a name for your product or brand, you have to think like a copywriter. You have to think visually and look at words as pictures because certain words will bring up vivid and specific images in the mind's eye. This becomes even more important if you are thinking about using a name or word with specific ethnic/cultural/historical connotations.

Whether you believe it or not, you're evoking a specific image when you use the word "bodega;" an image of a beloved, family-owned corner store in the heart of Latinx communities. The word has already been branded. Clearly.  

To attempt to take the word "bodega" and use it as the name of a product that aims to replace its beloved namesake with an appropriated version of it (a version that has no ties or interests in the community from which the name came), is bad brand strategy... and kinda douche-y.

As a copywriter, I would have played with other names that evoke mental imagery of a corner store.

I might like the mental imagery that the words "mini mart" pull up in my head (a small store where you can purchase goods) and move that direction. I might play with combinations of the words "Mini" and "Mart" until I found my favorite which might be something like:


I'd like MARTI because it's catchy. MARTI is easy to pronounce and remember. MARTI conjures up the images of both a small place to purchase goods and a friendly person who lets us call them by their nickname. Since MARTI is a name, it automatically gives the product a degree of personality (think ALEXA), and most importantly, MARTI has a neutrality that could appeal to a wide audience. No community is alienated by the name.

Your brand is a culture. It's important to think about how your culture interacts with other cultures, and how those interactions create a reputation for your brand. If you don't take this into serious consideration, the backlash will be real.