Want to learn a bit about how brand names are used in China? How Western brands can localize for Chinese buyers?
Seven of us NMGers took a tour of a local grocery store, and here is what we saw.
First thing to know - almost all brands in the grocery store have both Chinese and English names.
Gillette uses the Chinese name 吉列 (Ji Lie).
And the Chinese brands usually add English translations too.
Chinese brand 大白兔 (Da Bai Tu) goes by “White Rabbit”.
Even the Japanese brands usually choose to go with Chinese & English names, without any Japanese.
MamyPoko is a Japanese brand, and uses the Chinese name 妈咪宝贝 (Ma Mi Bao Bei)
What if you don’t use a Chinese name?
The retailer will use a Chinese name on the labelling anyways!
Chinese-language labelling is required by law for all imported goods.
Beqa = 百嘉 (Baijia), which isn’t so bad. The two characters mean “hundred excellent”.
But if you don’t create a great name yourself, the one used for your brand might not be great.
Leibniz is translated as 莱布尼滋 (Lai Bu Ni Zi), which has no clear meaning & no relevance to the brand.
There are many different approaches to take in brand name localization.
Lays chose a name that is short, meaningful and sounds kind of like “Lays”.
They call it 乐事 (Le Shi) which means “happy stuff”.
Chinese characters don’t just have sounds. They have meanings too.
In English we perceive the brand “Olay” as a word of it’s own… It’s made up of letters that convey sounds.
But in Chinese, it’s made up of characters that convey both sound and meaning.
The Chinese characters for Olay are:
玉 (Yu) - Jade
兰 (Lan) - Orchid
油 (You) - Oil
(Might sound a bit too Chinese for this type of product though…)
And we all know “Pocky” right? No particular meaning in English.
In Chinese it’s known as “百奇” (Bai Qi). It means something like “a hundred wonders”.
One of us thought it meant there’s 100 in the package.
Some companies choose Chinese names that sound like their English names, but have little meaning.
Listerine’s Chinese name is 李施德林 (Li Shi De Lin). Maybe they want it to sound like medicine or a drug.
Some companies choose Chinese names that have meaning, but sound nothing like their English name.
Kleenex is known as 舒洁 (Shu Jie), which means “comfortable and clean”. Sounds good too.
Dog food brand Pedigree chose the Chinese name 宝路 (Bao Lu).
It’s tough to see why!
The characters mean “treasure road” in Chinese, which doesn’t seem to be related to the brand.
And it doesn’t sound like “Pedigree” either.
The brand name is written in Traditional Chinese... Maybe it was originally localized for the Hong Kong market?
And here are the worst names we saw. In order from worse to worst. ;)
First, two names that are not super bad, but just forgettable & irrelevant to the brand.
4th Place) Lotus = 和情 (He Qing)
The English slogan really emphasises the brand name, but the Chinese name is irrelevant to the brand.
The slogan is only in English too. I wonder if they’ve looked into which situations Chinese people are eating Lotus cookies.
3rd Place) Leibniz = 莱布尼兹 (Lai Bu Ni Zi)
This simply sounds like a foreign name, which isn’t a bad thing. But it’s also awkward and not memorable.
2nd Place) 坚尔美 (Jian Er Mei)
This is actually a local Chinese brand with a poor Chinese brand name. Yes, that happens too!
The product is food bags.
But for all of our Chinese team members that saw this brand, it brought to mind male performance enhancement. “Solid and Beautiful”... Hmmmmm…
Besides that, it also just sounds awkward.
And the worst brand was the worst by a large margin!
1st Place) Brita (碧然得)
It sounds a lot like “B养的”, which loosely means “raised by a c**t”.
4th Place) Ricola / 利口乐 (Li Kou Le)
It sounds like Ricola, and we know from their English branding that the sound of the name is highly emphasized.
Their Chinese name means it’s good for your throat. Or, character-for-character, it means “does good to, mouth, happy”.
3rd Place) Lays = 乐事 (Le Shi)
It means “happy things” and it sounds like “Lays” too. Good name for a snack - short and catchy.
2nd Place) Walch = 威露士 (Wei Lu Shi)
Care to try the “mighty liquid guard”?
The name not only sounds like the English name and has a relevant meaning. It also matches the logo beautifully, further enhancing memorability and relevance.
1st Place) Pampers = 帮宝适 (Bang Bao Shi)
Pampers was our favourite brand name for this trip to the grocery store.
It sounds like Pampers, and means “helps make baby comfortable”.
Plus, it's easy-to-read, memorable and just flows nicely.
A detailed look at how we go about creating brand names is best left to another post… But to sum it up, we look at a variety of factors such as:
Brand meaning - Does it express the brand’s story? USP? Value?
Readability - Is it easy for people to read? There are thousands of Chinese characters, not all are common. And awkward combinations are tougher to remember.
Pronounceability - Is it easy to pronounce? There are hundreds of Chinese dialects.
Memorability - Is it easy to remember?
Regional associations - Does the brand feel Chinese? Western? Japanese?
Sound similarity - Does the brand sound similar to its English brand name?
Negative associations - Any major negative associations? To know this, you better be on top of language trends in mainland Mandarin, other dialects and youth “net speak”. (We didn't do this research for the brand names above, but we do when we create brand names ourselves.)
X factor - Sometimes a brand name is just awesome, despite some technical shortcomings in other areas.
Which Chinese brand names have caught your eye in the past?
Let us know in the comments!