Our clients often come to us for advice on how to chose the right Chinese name for their products or brand. Content localization is a very interesting task and it’s often more than ‘just’ language. Coca Cola is one of the most successful cases for brand localisation. Its Chinese name 可口可乐（which sounds like Ke Kou Ke Le）sounds similar enough to Coca Cola and means “can be tasty, can be happy “. It reads very simply and is easy to remember. However, when Coca Cola was first sold in Shanghai in 1927, it had a different name “蝌蚪啃蜡” (which sounds like Ke Dou Ken La) which means “tadpole chewing wax” ; not very appetising! Unsurprisingly sales were not good so the company put a competition in the newspapers calling for a new name for Coca Cola with a prize of £350. A UK based Chinese professor, JiangYi, won the prize with 可口可乐 and it is regarded as one of the best translations/localisations for a western product in China.
The story is very different in the case of the soap, Lux. Lux, made by Unilever, is translated into 力士 which sounds like “Li Shi” . The chosen Chinese words 力士 means powerful man. Actually the phrase “big力士” often refers to someone ( usually male) who is really strong and powerful. Safeguard soap from Proctor and Gamble was more successful in this sense. The brand, Safeguard, was translated into 舒肤佳（shu Fu Jia）which has a slight connection with “safeguard” but the Chinese words chosen have the meaning “Comfortable skin, better”. In most households in China women are buying soap products for the family and they favour “better skin” naturally!
According to research done by marketing professors,companies can take one of the following four tacks, each with its pros and cons.
Ideally the Chinese name would have both phonetic and semantic associations with the product. This is quite a challenge; fewer than a quarter of the companies studied achieved this branding outcome.
VisitBritain has recently launched a campaign to get Chinese names for British tourist attractions. Most of the attractions are named by Chinese social media users through meaning adaption. You can read an article about it here by The telegraph.