When it comes to international expansion, brands need to translate more than just words. From advertising to product images and the brand name itself, when a company enters a new market they need to translate the very essence of what their company stands for, while working with a totally different language, culture and set of traditions and sensitivities – no easy task.
Unfortunately, many companies still fall into translation traps after missing one or more issues during this localisation process. For instance, when KFC first entered the unfamiliar Chinese market, despite an impressive overall break into the market, the company fell foul in one rather important stage of the translation process by directly translating its tagline “finger licking good” without considering cultural differences. This left KFC with the temporary tagline in Chinese of “eat your fingers off” and the brand was forced to rethink ASAP.
Despite the drastic disparities between Chinese and Western culture, many brands have successfully used localisation to infiltrate this alternative market. We’ve taken a look at some of the most intriguing Chinese brand name translations to see how it should be done.
Without the history the brand has in Europe, BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) means very little to the Chinese market so the company’s marketing team carefully translated it to Bao Ma, which means “precious horse”. Not a bad choice for a company focused on producing luxury cars with impressive horsepower.
It’s hard to pin down the ideal message for an alcohol brand, but we think Heineken may have got it right. Transformed into Xi Li, the Chinese version of the brand means happiness and power. Not only does the name have positive connotations, but as it’s completely departed from the original it’s more likely the market will begin to consider it a local brand.
Seiko has carefully translated its brand name into Jinggoing for the Chinese market. Written as two characters, the first part of the name means essence or spirit while the second refers to handmade crafts. When put together, the name has connotations of precise craftsmanship and attention to detail, perfect for a high-end watch brand.
Nike have managed to achieve an impressive translation, securing almost identical phonetics while gaining a positive and culturally relevant meaning. Ideal for a world-renowned fitness brand, Nike goes by Nai Ke in China, which means enduring and persevering.
5. Coca Cola
A list of Chinese brand name translations wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Coca Cola. Unfortunately, early imports of this iconic drink without modern advertising practices led to many odd Chinese interpretations of the name, including one version that translated literally to “Bit the Wax Tadpole”. Thankfully, the brand is now known as Ke Kou Ke Le, which translates as “Tasty Fun”. Rather more suitable.
Colgate have taken an alternative approach to translation, opting for the best meaning rather than a likeness to their original name. In fact, it’s fair to say that Gao Lu Jie sounds nothing like Colgate, but with a meaning like “revealing superior cleanliness”, it’s hard to argue with the decision of their marketing team.
7. Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton is a big name in China, and translation Luyi Weideng is intriguingly phonetically similar. Made up of four Chinese characters, the name means power and ascending to great heights – ideal for the wealthy Chinese shoppers hoping to elevate their rank with this iconic accessory.
Marvel has become a renewed success in recent years following the release of a plethora of new films, and this also helped to boost Marvel’s presence abroad. Thankfully, Marvel managed to secure the Chinese brand name of Man Wei, which not only sounds similar but appeals to superhero fans with the meaning “comic power”.
9. Mr Muscle
Sadly, Mr Muscle suffered a mistranslation crisis when it was first sent to China, with many native speakers noting that it sounded like “Mr Chicken Meat”. Thankfully, the original has since been replaced with Wei Meng Xian Sheng, which has a more appropriate translation of “Mr Powerful”.
Marriott Hotel chain has also gone for meaning over phonetics with the Chinese translation of Wan Hao, which means “10,000 wealthy elites”. Perfect for a brand focused on the luxury travel market.
If you’re considering a move into China, have a chat with one of our expert Chinese translation project managers at Bubbles as early as possible, just to be sure your band name doesn’t get lost – or worse, completely rewritten – in translation.