Excellent New York Times article (is it just me or has the NYTimes really picked up its China coverage both in terms of quality and quantity in the last six months or so?), entitled, Picking Brand Names in China Is a Business Itself. The article reaffirms what we are always telling our clients: get help from China branding specialists in choosing your brand name for China.

The article talks of how “China is a place where names are imbued with deep significance” and of how “an off-key name can have serious financial consequences.” And, just as is true in the United States, choosing a “brand name that resonates” “has become a sort of science, with consultants, computer programs and linguistic analyses to ensure that what tickles a Mandarin ear does not grate on a Cantonese one.”

The article goes on to discuss the following good branding of Western companies/products in China:

  • Coca-Cola. Called Kekoukele in China, “which not only sounds like Coke’s English name, but conveys its essence of taste and fun in a way that the original name could not hope to match.”
  • Tide detergent. Called Taizi, “whose Chinese characters literally mean ‘gets rid of dirt.’”
  • Reebok. Called Rui bu, which means “quick steps.”
  • Colgate. Called Gao lu jie, which means “revealing superior cleanliness.”
  • Lay’s snack foods. Called, Le shi, which means “happy things.”

The article goes on to note that some brands use foreign-sounding names in China that have no meaning, but lend “a cachet that a true Chinese name would lack, such as Cadillac (Ka di la ke) and Hilton (Xi er dun), which “employ phonetic translations that mean nothing in Chinese.”

In its funniest part, it also discusses the harm that can result from choosing the wrong name for China:

Peugeot (Biao zhi) sounds enough like the Chinese slang for “prostitute” (biaozi) that in southern China, where the pronunciations are especially close, the brand has inspired dirty jokes. And in China, the popular Mr. Muscle line of cleaners has been renamed Mr. Powerful, (Weimeng Xiansheng). The product’s maker said in an e-mail that it had forgotten why.

But it could be that when it is spoken, the name Mr. Muscle has a second, less appealing meaning: Mr. Chicken Meat.

So what are the two things you must know when choosing a brand name for China? One, enlist specialised help. Two, once you have chosen your Chinese brand name (and spent time and money in doing so), you are going to need to protect it. For that, you must trademark it in China.

What do you think?