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Swedish PR experts split on Google word battle

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Swedish PR experts split on Google word battle
15:52 CET+01:00
Marketing experts in Sweden say Google putting pressure on the Swedish Language Council to edit a word spells poor PR, but disagree on whether the move was acceptable or not.

"Google has quite a good reputation in Sweden, but people don't want a big American company meddling in matters like this," Niclas Lövkvist, CEO at advertising company Agency, told the TT news agency.

"I think it's a big mistake because it ends up creating a David and Goliath type of situation."

It was revealed on Tuesday that the Swedish Language Council (Språkrådet) had retracted an entry from its annual neologism list after pressure from the US search giant.

"Ogooglebar", which means ungoogleable, was recognized by the council as a new term bandied about by Swedes in 2012. The council does not itself make up terms, instead releasing a much anticipated list of new buzzwords every December.

SEE ALSO: Ten Swedish words you won’t find in English

Google, however, wanted "ungoogleable" not to refer to terms not found online in general, but to things that only its own search engine did not pick up. Under pressure, the council instead retracted the word, preferring it to an edit.

Its CEO then issued a damning statement, which ended in an angry "Google has forgotten one thing: language development doesn't care about brand protection."

Opinions on Google's ill-received edit attempt were, however, divided as the initial fracas died down. Publicist Viktor Bolin at the Volontaire communications bureau told The Local there might be a simple reason for Google interfering in the council's work.

"My gut reaction - just like everyone else’s - was to ask why Google is trying to dictate how Swedes use their own language, but then I did my research," he said.

"I’ve done a 180 on this."

Bolin said a ten-second Google search about trademark protection led him to believe the US search engine had to get embroiled in what on the surface might appear to be a petty battle, all in order to protect its patents.

"So if that is the case, why don’t Google communicate that?" Bolin told The Local.

"It is a classic PR mistake when companies respond to an uncomfortable situation with silence."

"On the surface, this flies in the face of their self-processed 'Don’t Be Evil' mantra, and it will damage their reputation in Sweden," Bolin summarized.

Petter Rindforth at the Google legal team told the TT news agency earlier on Tuesday that it was a trademark owner's task to try to make sure references to the brand did not invite misinterpretation.

He responded to the council's initial wording that ungoogleable meant a term yielding no results on "search engines" rather than specifically on Google.

"That's an incorrect reference to a strong and well-protected trademark," he said.

"It's a problem for very strong trademarks that people start using them for a bit of everything," Rindforth added.

"So you have to keep an eye on the media, dictionaries, discussion forums and the like to see how the trademark is used, in order to not risk that it degenerates."

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

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