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The Poetic Dimension of Chinese Brand Names
A great brand name is one of the most important assets of a company. It conveys the brand identity, tells people what the company does and why it does it better than others, and gives room for the development of design and creative communication.
Indeed, a great brand name tells a story of your business, a story that transforms your brand into a broader idea: the business, the product, the service, but above all, the promise you make to your customers A phrase – preferably no more than 4 syllables or 4 characters – that can pull the strings of your audience.
Creating a brand name that carries this meaning is very challenging. But such a challenge becomes even greater when it comes to the Chinese market!
The nature of the Chinese language makes the art of naming brands and products even more complicated: characters have “multilayered” connotations and the slightest change in pronunciation can greatly change the meaning of a word.
Such a multi-layered nature gives room for countless creative routes (and limitations). In fact, words with multiple meanings can be used in brand names to break the normal codes of expression and better convey brand values.
This code-breaking quality can be used for a simple word game, but also to create names that integrate a poetic dimension, as words that have multiple connotations can be used to move away from the normal means of expression and create a emotional gap between what is said and what is actually perceived. from consumers. Such a gap can have a stronger ability to transform the brand into an idea, an emotion, an abstract image and thus firmly engage potential brand loyalists.
We call these brand names “poetic” for their ability to evoke an emotional response in consumers through the creative use of meaning, sound, context, imagery, or rhythmic language choices.
The Chinese brand names that draw from this poetic dimension can be classified into three main categories:
1. Brand names that integrate a poetic dimension coming directly from China’s literal history tradition 2. Brand names that create emotional touch points with consumers by twisting the meaning of the characters to express the message of the brand 3. The brand names that come from the attributes of the brand to communicate about the brand identity in an unconventional way.
1. The brand names derived directly from the tradition of the literal history of China
In this category, Revlon provides a good example. Revlon’s Chinese brand is [lù huá nóng] which literally means “glimmering with the bright spring dew”. However [lù huá nóng] it is also a verse from one of Li Bai’s poems: Qing Ping Ci 2.
Li Bai, who lived during the Tang Dynasty (701-762 AD), is considered one of the greatest poets in the literary history of China. His words have been treasured by generations of Chinese scholars and are often cited as exemplifying the best poetic practices.
Qing Ping There is an ode to the beauty of women. The verses that the famous poet coined then have become with the centuries canonical expressions to refer to female beauty. Therefore, the allusion to the poem combined with the image of spring dew glistening in the sunlight creates a powerful brand that makes the abstract meaning of Revlon reach such a legendary beauty.
Also, the pronunciation of [lù huá nóng] it’s pretty close to the English pronunciation of “Revlon”. The name is short and easy to pronounce, and has a round sound that is very suitable to represent the famous cosmetics brand in the whole country.
2. The twisted poetic brand names
When OLAY tapped into the Chinese market in 19893 it adopted the Chinese brand of [yùlán yóu].
The OLAY brand promise is to give women the skin care products, tools and tips to help them love their skin.
So how the poetic dimension of [yùlán yóu] does OLAY help you connect with Chinese women?
[yù] is the character for jade. In China, it is traditionally used to describe the natural beauty of women. [lán] for the orchid, it represents the chastity of a girl. These two Chinese characters have been used countless times in the history of Chinese literature to compliment or refer to beautiful women.
Also, like Revlon, [yùlán yóu] it resembles the original name of OLAY in terms of pronunciation. It has a beautiful sound and multilayered meaning – a cream to make your skin soft (like an orchid) and smooth (like jade) – but also a promise of unchanging beauty. Both represent and promote brand promise among Chinese consumers and have helped raise brand awareness in the country.
The Chinese name Häagen Dazs is clearly a phonetic transliteration of the original brand name. However, this brand also integrates a strong “poetic” twist that evokes the sense of pleasure and enjoyment, both key to the brand’s message.
Literally the combination of the 4 characters means nothing.
But on a deeper level, the combination of characters evokes the feeling of joy and happiness and the idea that Häagen Dazs is the source of every moment of joy. Hence the emotional connection: when you eat Häagen Dazs, people will be happy forever.
Meanwhile, the characters also lead to the development of the brand design:
3. Unconventional poetic brand names
Apple in Chinese, follows the same line as the original brand name: an apple – something that really has nothing to do with PCs – to convey the creativity and uniqueness of a brand that combines design, technology and the original in a brand concept.
Sprite name in Chinese – (snow green/jade) also belongs to this category. The Chinese brand name does not communicate the product category of the brand, nor does it directly convey any of the functional attributes of the sparkling beverage. Still the name means snow, white, transparent crystal on the one hand and green, jade, light blue, on the other hand, which evokes the idea of freshness, nature, and transform the brand into an abstract idea: pure as jade , cool and refreshing as snow. Indeed, sales soared in China after Sprite adopted this brand name.
So what makes a great brand and when are poetic names the best choice?
Naturally, many factors have to be considered.
Industry, first of all, plays a relevant role here. Some industries, pharmaceuticals for example, may prefer descriptive names because they are better suited to convey the attributes of the product and the reliability of the brand.
Second, brand identity, values and tone should be considered to determine the type of name that might be most suitable to represent a brand in China. Look at Baidu and Google. While both brands operate in the same industry, Baidu’s poetic name has been a great means of conveying brand identity while creating an emotional bond with netizens3. The name of Google [“GuGe”]instead, it was not welcomed by Chinese consumers as its poetic and traditional sentiment does not exemplify Google’s creative, young and innovative brand identity and character.
Of course, the brand’s target market also plays an important role here. What pulls your heart of the consumer? What are they looking for when they prefer a certain brand over another? A poetic name is certainly a good choice when it helps to present a company to its customers, to characterize it with the general public and to differentiate its offers from the competition.
That being said, the most important advantage of poetic brand names is to create an emotional touch point with customers. As long as a poetic dimension can provide your brand name with a set of associations and images that meet your needs and the desire of customers, the poetic denomination can be a good choice because it promotes your image and gives your brand a unique allure and a differentiating factor.
1. 2004, Aaker David A. “Brand Portfolio Strategy: Creating Relevance, Differentiation, Energy, Leverage, and Clarity” Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
2. The complete poem follows: In English: “Her dress is a cloud, her face a flower / Her balcony, shining with the bright spring dew / It is either the tip of the Jade mountain of the earth / Or a roof of paradise on the edge of the moon.”
3. Baidu’s name comes from a Song Dynasty poem that is over 900 years old. The poem compares the pursuit of a retiring beauty amid chaotic glamor to the pursuit of her dream while facing life’s many obstacles. “Hundreds and thousands of times, I searched for her in the chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, where the lights had gone down, and there she was.”
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