- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 27 August 2012 05:26, Updated 28 August 2012 06:08
Companies moving into new markets often bring unfortunate names with them. Distributors in Chile asked Mazda to rename its Laputa minivan because “puta” means “prostitute” in Spanish. Clairol introduced the Mist Stick curling iron in Germany only to learn that there, “mist” is slang for “manure.”
Choosing a name when taking a product to China is the biggest challenge of all. Chinese has thousands of characters, each with many meanings and with pronunciations that vary from region to region. In the early days of Coke’s introduction in China, for example, shopkeepers advertised the drink using characters that sounded similar to “Coca-Cola” but had nonsensical meanings such as “wax-flattened mare.”
To help companies avoid having their brands associated with strange images or messages, we used our research on 100 multinational brands to develop a naming framework that takes into account both meaning and sound. Companies can take one of four tacks, each with its pros and cons. Ideally the Chinese name would have both phonetic and semantic associations with the original — but fewer than a quarter of the companies we studied achieved this branding nirvana.
Marc Fetscherin is an associate professor, and Ilan Alon is the Cornell Professor, at Rollins College, in Florida. Romie Littrell is an associate professor at Auckland University of Technology. Allan Chan is an associate dean and professor of marketing at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Harvard Business Review