Names carry enormous importance and meaning in China. For Australians looking to trade mark their brand in China it is advisable to either trade mark a logo or translate word marks to a Chinese brand name which is not necessarily a direct translation or transliteration. If not, you may lose out on a booming market.
The hard surface cleaning products known under the brand “Mr. Muscle” luckily acted quickly when they realised the brand name directly translated and spoken by native Chinese speakers sounded like “Mr Chicken Meat”. This product is now known in China as “Wei Meng Xian Shen” which means “Mr Powerful”.
Pfizer the makers of Viagra did not take Chinese market quirks into consideration. Pfizer owns the trade mark “Wai Aike”, a transliteration of Viagra. Viagra, however, has no meaning in Chinese and therefore means very little. Instead, a Chinese pharmaceutical company, Guangzhou Viamen Pharmaceutical Company, which was more aware of the local use of trade marks and the local trade mark law in China went ahead and registered the trade mark for this product as “Weige which means “Great older brother”. This name is very appealing to Chinese consumers. As a result, Pfizer lost control of the product in China.
This demonstrates that merely translating the phonetic sounds of your brand can have laughable and sometimes disastrous effects. Some household name brands, by chance, have been natural fits. For example:
- Nike: "Nai ke" means “enduring and persevering”
- BMW: “Bao ma” means “precious horse”
- Colgate: “Gaol u jie” means “revealing superior cleanliness”
- Marriott: “Wan hao” means “10,000 wealthy elites”
- Reebok: “Rui bu” means “quick steps”
- Heineken: “Xi li” means “happiness power”
- Citibank: “Hua qu yinhang” means “star-spangled banner bank”
- Pentium - “Ben teng” means “galloping”
However, your English brand name may not translate well into Mandarin.
Another near miss was with the Coca-Cola brand. When Coca-Cola was first sold in China in 1927 the company became aware of local shopkeepers advertising the product on signs with bizarre results. Their attempts to find characters which sounded like Coca-Cola ignoring references to Chinese meanings gave rise to the names “Female horse fastened with wax” and “Bite the wax tadpole”.
As a result, in order to brand the product in a way which was appealing to the local marketplace the focus was on the meaning rather than the phonetics. As it turned out, the Chinese brand was a natural fit. Coca-Cola is called “Kekoukele” which means “tasty fun” or “delicious happiness”. Kekoukele is not only a similar sounding word to Coca-Cola but has a meaning which personifies the Coca-Cola brand.
In addition to registering your word mark, there is, of course, a neat and easy solution to potential transliteration issues. Trade Mark your LOGO in China as well. This will alleviate any “lost in translation” problems. Your logo is recognisable in any language. Perfect examples are:
For more information on trade mark registration, read our comprehensive trade marks guide.
If you have any questions or concerns about your IP, or would like to speak with a lawyer, email or call us on + 61 2 9458 7005.