After a hard days work,an average upscale Beijinger likes nothing more than to replace his dress shoes with a pair of Enduring and Persevering,rev up his Precious Horse and head to the pub for a tall,frosty glass of Happiness Power. Or,if hes a teetotaler,a bottle of Tasty Fun.
To Westerners,thats Nike,BMW,Heineken and Coca-Cola,respectively. And those who wish to snicker should feel free: the companies behind these names are laughing too all the way to the bank.
More than many nations,China is a place where names are imbued with deep significance. Western companies looking to bring their products to China face a peculiar problem. Given that Chinas market for consumer goods is growing by over 13 per cent annually and luxury-goods sales by 25 per cent an off-key name could have serious financial consequences.
And so the art of picking a brand name that resonates with Chinese consumers is no longer an art. It has become a science,with consultants,computer programs and linguistic analyses to ensure that what tickles a Mandarin ear does not grate on a Cantonese one.
Art is only a very,very tiny piece of it, said Vladimir Djurovic,president of the Labbrand Consulting Company in Shanghai,which has made a business of finding names for Western companies entering the Chinese market.
The paradigm probably is the Chinese name for Coca-Cola,Kekoukele,which not only sounds like Cokes English name,but conveys its essence of taste and fun in a way that the original could not match.
Consider Tide detergent,Taizi,whose Chinese characters mean gets rid of dirt. (Characters are important: the same sound written differently could mean too purple.) There is Reebok,or Rui bu,which means quick steps,and Lays foods Le shi whose name means happy things. But finding a name involves more than just coming up with clever homonyms to the original English.
Do you want to translate your name,or come up with a Chinese brand? said Monica Lee,the managing director of the Brand Union,a Beijing consultancy. If you go for phonetic sounds youre immediately identified as a foreign brand.
For some products,having a foreign-sounding name lends a cachet that a true Chinese name would lack. Many upscale brands like Cadillac (Ka di la ke),or Hilton (Xi er dun),employ phonetic translations that mean nothing in Chinese. Rolls-Royce (Laosi-Laisi) includes two Chinese characters for labour and plants that more or less have become standard usage in foreign names all to achieve a distinct foreign look and sound.
But on the other hand,a genuine Chinese name can say things about a product that a mere collection of homonyms never could. Take Citibank,Hua qi yinhang,which literally means star-spangled banner bank, or Marriott,Wan hao 10,000 wealthy elites. Or Pentium,Ben teng,which means galloping.
To introduce Clear dandruff shampoo to young Chinese,Lees firm decided to focus on the shampoos image. Its not about where this product comes from; its about the benefit it can bring, she said. The ultimate choice,Qing Yang,combines the Chinese words for clear and for flying, or scattering to the wind. Its very light,healthy and happy, Lee said. Think of hair in the air.
Precisely why some Chinese words are so freighted with emotion is anyones guess. But Denise Sabet,Labbrand vice general manager,suggests that the reasons include cultural differences and Chinese reliance on characters. Each character is a collection of drawings that can carry meanings of their own. Then again,some meanings are best avoided.
Microsoft had to think twice about bringing its Bing search engine here because in Chinese,the common definitions of the character pronounced bing are disease, defect and virus rather inauspicious for a computer product. The revised name,Bi ying,roughly means responds without fail.
Peugeot (Biao zhi) sounds enough like the Chinese slang for prostitute (biaozi). And in China,the popular Mr Muscle line of cleaners has been renamed Mr Powerful,(Weimeng Xiansheng). The products maker said in an e-mail that it had forgotten why. But it could be that when it is spoken,the name Mr Muscle has a second,less appealing meaning: Mr Chicken Meat.