Friday, November 21, 2008

Chinese Coke: Tasty-Happy

Some brands don't translate well into other languages, like the Chevy Nova, which in Spanish means Chevy No-Go. But when Coke came to China in 1978 as the only foreign company allowed to sell packaged cold beverages, it hit the ground running and hasn't stopped. That's thanks in part to its great brand name in Chinese.

For some reason, last night at badminton we were discussing the Chinese name for Coca-Cola, which is: 可口可乐 (ke3 kou3 ke3 le4). This is really an ingenius translation, and no doubt helped propel the soft-drink maker into the Chinese stratosphere. The first part, 可口 (ke3 kou3) means "tasty," or "delicious." Then the next half, 可乐, (ke3 le4), literally means "really happy," although nowadays it stands alone as the generic word for "cola" of any kind. So Coke in Chinese is "Tasty-Happy." Or just "Tasty-cola," since cola has worked its way into the Chinese lexicon.

Pepsi's name is 百事可乐 (bai3 shi4 ke3 le4), which sort of means "100 Things to Make You Happy." Again, it is also just "100 Things Cola" now, but the literal translation still isn't bad. Sprite's name is a little more poetic: 雪碧, (xue3 bi4), "snowy green jade."

Some product names are translated with poetic names firmly in mind. Take furniture giant IKEA, for example: 宜家 (yi2 jia1). In "English," the name is apparently an acronym of Ingvar Kamprad (founder's name) Elmtaryd (his family farm) Agunnaryd (his home county in Sweden).

According to blogger Xie Zhichun, IKEA's Chinese name was taken from a poem in the ancient 诗经 (shi1 jing1) or "Book of Songs," that goes: 桃之夭夭, 灼灼其华. 之子于归, 其室. (tao2 zhi1 yao1 yao1, zhuo2 zhuo2 qi2 hua2. Zhi1 zi3 yu2 gui1, yi2 qi1 shi4 jia1) "The lovely peach tree displays its magnificent flowers. When the new bride arrives, she brings harmony and peace to the home." The word for IKEA is taken from the last part of the poem and basically means "harmonize the home." Good one, Ingvar.

Revlon is another poetic one. In Chinese, the make-up company's name is translated as 露华浓, (lu4 hua2 nong2). It kind of sounds like the English version (which is based on company founders Charles and Joseph Revson's last name with an "L" inserted in the middle for their chemist, Charles Lachman), but the Chinese version refers to a poem by Li Po, which he wrote about famously hot Tang Dynasty imperial consort Yang Guifei (杨贵妃, yang2 gui4 fei1). And it goes a little something like this: "云想衣裳花想容,春风拂槛露华浓." (yun2 xiang3 yi1 shang hua1 xiang3 rong2, chun1 feng1 fu2 jian4 lu4 hua2 nong2). "Clouds make me think of her clothes and flowers remind me of her visage, the spring breeze blows by her door and reveals her deep magnificence." So Revlon wants Chinese consumers to believe that they will reveal a woman's "deep magnificence," a good thing for a cosmetic product to do!

This is a clever translation that works on several levels: phoenetically (loosely); poetically (real nice) and historically (Yang Guifei is a well-known babe of historic proportions. See statue above!).

Next time: Brand names that don't work! (If I can find any...)


Susan said...

So glad to see a new post and a great one...especially intrigued that this came up at badminton! Tell more sometime about the badminton crowd and your place in its linguistic stew.

Anonymous said...

They should be paying you to update the material being used to teach marketing branding in every business school! Chevy Nova and Coke seem to have been the only ones prevalently being used as examples of flops and success:) ~Vince~

siewgin_alan_tyler said...

I think my name deserves a special mention for coming up with this idea. Nice write up!

Ben Moger-Williams said...

That's true. I now hereby announce to the Universe that Siew Gin came up with the idea to write about this. Thanks SG!