Main Topic: Product Naming in Chinese

Hosts: Robert Reynolds, Clyde Warden

Professor Reynolds joins TAM again to complete the product naming topic. In this show, we get much deeper into the whole issue and include a few research paper. We have more photos, a few commercials, and toilet bowl cleaner (WHAT?). You will have to listen to the show get figure that one out, but the point is, if you don't know how complex naming products is in Chinese, you could make some serious errors. 

The major approaches for naming products in Chinese are Phonographic vs. Logographic writing and the somewhat larger system of Phonetic vs. Semantic vs. Phonosemantic translations.

In the paper Creating Local Brands. . . the experiment is a bit weak, but it shows what Warden's research has been reflecting for many years now, mainly, the strength of English is high, and local Chinese use is simply understood and accepted better (see Figure 2 in that paper).

I love this little bit of explanation: "Another more conceptual explanation in line with our framework may be that Chinese native speakers, habitually attuned to the Chinese language and its visual/semantic encoding preference, prefer a meaningful semantic translation no matter whether the Chinese name or English name is emphasized." That is simply saying people understand things they already understand, and Chinese characters that already have some related meaning work best.

George and Mary CardThe wide use of English as a pointer, rather than real content, leads to such things as Skypeeee (Skype) and U To Be (YouTube). Also can be used in reverse phonetics, as in George and Mary cash card advertising campaign. George-借錢(jie qien)[台語] Mary-免蕊(main rui)[台語]. Here is a little local discussion about this specific meaning. For brand managers, the most important point is to avoid being fooled by those around you using English or English commonly in use in the part of town you are living in. English is more like an abstract symbol in Chinese settings. It conveys some general ideas, but nothing specific.

Most Chinese characters have a meaning! There is no way that you can avoid this.

Research on Product Naming

Warden's previous research on this topic:

Download: Use of English or Chinese on Web pages (Journal of Advertising Research)

Download: Is English a Brand (Journal of Language for International Business)

Related research papers:

Francis, J. N. P., Lam, J. P. Y., & Walls, J. (2002). The impact of linguistic differences on international brand name standardization: A comparison of English and Chinese brand names of fortune-500 companies. Journal of International Marketing, 10(1), 98–116.

Lee, Y. H., & Ang, K. S. (2003). Brand name suggestiveness: A Chinese language perspective. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 20(4), 323-335.

Tavassoli, N. T., & Lee, Y. H. (2003). The differential interaction of auditory and visual advertising elements with Chinese and English. Journal of Marketing Research, 40(4), 468-480.

Zhang, S., & Schmitt, B. H. (2001). Creating local brands in multilingual international markets. Journal of Marketing Research, 38(3), 313-325.

The Show:

Length: 1 hour 11 minutes. Download MP3 32.85MB (Right click->Save As).


Which one is toilet bowl cleaner? The brand name 妙管家 is a general brand used for many cleaning products from the same firm. The top instruction says: use a drop before bowel movement (便前滴一下), but the single word 便 bian is not strictly for doing your business in the bathroom, and the association could be to use this product before going to the bathroom. The bottom text states that it gets rid of odors. The product name does not give any clue, and then the packaging is giving a potentially wrong clue.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Easy to Be confused
George & Mary cash card commercial.

George & Mary cash card commercial.

Haagen-Dazs included in a Chinese promotional commercial.

Show Links:

Bottom Line:

  • In Taiwan, a norm is to have 3 syllables in brand naming, 2 will be the shorten version. 4 are too long.
  • A common practice is to name something with a hint of pun.
  • Choose Chinese words that have a good symbolism for your brand is a wise idea.
  • Naming medicines should be suggestive but does not contain medical meanings.
  • If the product is not a commodity, add a Chinese name in order to avoid confusion.
  • It is helpful if the brand name is linkable to the local language.
  • Products need to be pronunciation friendly, it helps for remembrance.
  • The foreign products are strictly regulative to make health claims.

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