There are recent examples, too. China has many different
dialects that sound nothing alike, which makes naming products and
brands so difficult. That's what tripped up Ikea when it picked a
Chinese name for a toy called Lufsig, a stuffed Big Bad Wolf
clutching a bespectacled granny. In Cantonese, the name's Chinese
translation sounded similar to a term for a mother's private parts.
(The name has since been changed.)
But here's where things get complicated (and one could argue
that the name was actually a stroke of luck.) Partly because of the
innuendo, some Hong Kongers last year adopted the toy as a symbol
for CY Leung, the chief executive of Hong Kong, who is nicknamed
"the Wolf" by detractors. The toy became a symbol for demonstrators
and sold out repeatedly. It even has
its own Facebook page, with more than 51,000 followers.
Worse than screwing up a a slogan? Botching a brand
In Mandarin, Peugeot's Chinese name Biao Zhi means "handsome." When
it's pronounced in southern China, it sounds similar to a term for
There's an oft-repeated tale that Coca-Cola's original Chinese
brand name meant "Bite the Wax Tadpole." But is it actually
The company's digital magazine
cleared the issue up. Before Coke's official Chinese launch in
the 1920s, a shopkeeper came up with a phonetic equivalent for
"Coca-Cola" that had that absurd meaning, and hung a sign with that
So Coke was not to blame – and the name the company
actually adopted, Ke Kou Ke Le, is terrific – it sounds like
the original, and means "let your mouth rejoice."
Chinese brands have had their translation issues too. Dairy giant
Mengniu translated its Chinese slogan (roughly, "For Every Drop of
Happiness") into English and came up with "Little Happiness
"It still confounds me how this poor English translation with a
double meaning had gone live," said Wilson Chow, associate exec
creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising,
Please, no more ads for sportscars on the Great Wall of
While it's important to adapt your message to China, Western brands
can go overboard. And there probably aren't many compelling reasons
to shoot an ad at the Forbidden City or the Great Wall. It's been
done before – a lot.
Laurence Lim Dally, founder of Hong Kong-based market research
and consulting firm Cherry Blossoms, points out that brands from
Uncle Ben's to Fedex to Porsche have used the Great Wall in their
Take Porsche – the Great Wall has zero resonance with its
brand. When it chose that ancient setting for an ad several years
ago, the location seemed to belittle Porsche's own impressive
history. After all, "Porsche was 'only' founded in the 1930s," Ms.
Lim Dally said. Porsche probably wouldn't do anything similar
today, she said.