They say that names have power, and nowhere is that truer than in China, where Chinese characters are imbedded with deep significance and connotations. So when global brands enter the Chinese market, deciding what to call themselves is a top priority. Translating phonetically may keep the name on-brand, though your new name could turn your brand into a laughing stock. Microsoft’s ‘Bing’ had to think twice before bringing its search engine to China, as the most common characters closest to the sound ‘bing’ are virus, defect and disease. KFC had a similar problem when the direct translation of their tagline “finger licking good” fell foul, get it? Leaving them with the temporary slogan “eat your fingers off” – a complete PR disaster.
Most Brands go through a rigorous process to find their Chinese name, making sure to convey the essence of their brand in a few characters while in many cases retain the sound of the brand – easier said than done when you have to consider endless connotations of characters, pronunciation in various dialects and how it’ll be perceived in Mandarin and Cantonese. Some successful examples include Coca-Cola (Kekoukele), which conveys ‘taste and fun’, Reebok (Rui bu) meaning ‘quick steps’ and Colgate (Gau lu jie) which translates to ‘revealing superior cleanliness’.
A video created by the Shanghai-based company, SmartBuyGlasses, covers even more Chinese versions of world famous brands.