There has been an astounding rush of businesses from around the globe stepping out into the new Chinese frontier over the last 20 years but, as we explored in our last article “Five Chinese Branding Mistakes”, simply replicating your existing brand and business model is not a recipe for a fruitful transition into this fresh marketplace. But, there are plenty who have gone about it the right way, as we explore below. Chinese branding successes
Coca-Cola – 可口可乐 (Kěkǒukělè)
Coca-Cola is arguably the most well-known brand in the world and one of the most experienced in localising their image for foreign markets. Despite this, Coca-Cola still struggled when they first entered China, as local shopkeepers adopted the name 蝌蚪啃蜡 (Kēdǒu kěn là) which inadvertently meant “biting a wax tadpole”. Chinese branding successes
Fortunately for them, they were one of the first western brands in China so had the luxury of time to try again. They adopted the name 可口可乐 (Kěkǒukělè) which can be loosely translated as “tasty happiness” and sounds very similar to their original title. This is a near perfect example of dual adaptation (phonetic and literal translation), making it simple and easy to remember while also conforming to traditional linguistic structures.
Their global identity as a family drink resonates with traditional Chinese values; as opposed to Pepsi’s youthful and energetic branding. Even their signature colour is appealing, with red the Chinese symbol for prosperity. Coca-Cola is a perfect example of a company that has managed to localise every aspect of its brand to the Chinese market.
Pampers – 帮宝适 (Bāng bǎo shì)
Pampers’ Chinese name is 帮宝适 (Bāng bǎo shì). While not sounding too phonetically dissimilar to the original, it also carries baby-like connotations. 帮 (Bāng) means “to help”, 宝 (Bǎo) means “treasure” or “precious” but it is colloquially used to refer to babies; 适 (Shì) means “comfortable” or “well”. The full meaning of the name follows as “helping babies feel comfortable”.
However, the main reason Pampers is on our list is that their branding reflects the alternative strategies they had to employ to successfully penetrate the Chinese market. When Pampers entered China in the early 90’s people didn’t really see the need for nappies as babies and toddlers traditionally used ‘bum pants’ – basically trousers with a convenient hole in them.
Pampers reacted by adjusting their marketing strategy to focus on the health benefits of using nappies, rather than the convenience it offered – the golden sleep campaign. Their Chinese name perfectly communicates that to consumers which, combined with an aggressive marketing campaign, enabled them to become the market leader and one of the most recognised brands in the country.
Mercedes Benz – 奔驰 (Bēnchí)
Mercedes-Benz is one of the most recognised automobile brands in the world. The company’s sales in China have grown significantly over the last few years enabling them to outpace their main rivals – Audi and BMW. One of the reasons for their success was the early decision to overhaul and localise their entire strategy for the Chinese market. This prioritisation of localisation can be seen in their excellent branding. Chinese branding successes
Their Chinese name 奔驰 (Bēnchí) means “dashing speed”, clearly communicating the attributes of a high-performance car while also providing a phonetic tip of the hat to ‘Benz’. They wisely chose to focus on Benz alone, leaving the Mercedes part to one side. They decided on this approach because Mercedes is both difficult to pronounce and requires at least four characters to transcribe which, combined with Benz, would make the resulting name long-winded. In contrast, Benz is shorter, easier to remember and more simple to transcribe and localise. Chinese branding successes
However, there was one key element Mercedes Benz perhaps didn’t fully consider. 奔驰 (Bēnchí) is considered to be very masculine as speed, agility and power are traditionally considered male traits. This possible oversight may have accidentally helped make them the most popular luxury car brand for men.
L’Oréal – 欧莱雅 (Ōuláiyǎ)
L’Oréal is the world’s largest cosmetics company and it is one of the most influential brands in China. While developing an entry strategy for the Chinese market, the French company knew they must prioritise branding if they were to effectively compete with local and international rivals. To achieve this, they set out to present themselves as a luxury brand by emphasising their European heritage.
They decided on 欧莱雅 (Ōuláiyǎ) to front their Chinese identity. The first character 欧 (Ōu) is a shorthand term for European, which is strongly associated with quality. 莱 (Lái) is the name of a plant, which adds femininity, and, lastly, 雅 (Yǎ) is a character that reads as “refined” or “elegant”, giving it a touch of class. This exceptional name is perfectly suited to target the needs of the Chinese consumer. L’Oréal’s focus on fully localising their brand is seen in their logo, elevating the local characters above the original name.
This, combined with their strong influence of Chinese social media, enabled them to become the first e-commerce cosmetics brand in China. L’Oréal used this as a foothold to fend off their competition and cement themselves as the country’s market leader.
Gillette – 吉列 (Jí liè)
Since entering China in 1992 Gillette has become the dominant market leader and one of the top 10 American brands in China. This in part stems from Gillette having a very strong and well thought-out Chinese name: 吉列 (Jí liè) which is phonetically similar and culturally aware.
吉 (Jí), meaning “lucky” and “auspicious”, is one of the most popular characters. A lot of parents include the character when naming their children with the hope they will be lucky in life. 列 (Liè) is used as a measure word for a series or rows of things, but if we look closer into the composition of the character, you can see刂. This graphical component is the radical for ‘knife’, giving the whole character an aesthetically ‘sharp’ feel. So, in essence, the whole name of the brand could be loosely translated as an “auspicious row of knives” which is a fantastic name, holding true to the product and Gillette’s global brand identity. Chinese branding successes
As you can see, there are a variety of methods and techniques used by these companies, but they all share the common result of exceptional success following their efforts. By fully localising their brand and marketing strategies each have managed to gain dominant positions in their respective industries. Companies aspiring to follow suit should take note of these excellent examples of adapting already strong identities for the Chinese market before setting out to develop their own.