From Tadpole to Tasteful: Coca-Cola’s mistake and success in China
In 1927, when Coca-Cola was first sold in China, the product did not own an official Chinese brand name and to facilitate the communications, it was inevitable for employees in China to adapt the American brand name into Chinese characters. The nearest phonetic equivalent to “Coca-Cola” is a string of four Chinese character of the four syllables: 蝌蝌啃蜡 kē kē kěn là, meaning “bite the wax tadpole”.
Anyone who understands Chinese would recognize the signs as a crude attempt to an arbitrary phonetic combination, and an out-of-context name has impaired the reputation of the company.
Having its reputation impaired in this promising market has prompted the company to develop a brand adapted to and appreciated by the Chinese market. Nowadays, Coca-Cola is now known as 可口可乐 kě kǒu kě lè in China, under which “kě kǒu” means “delicious and tasteful,” and “kě lè” means “to make people feel happy and pleasant.” This combination altogether means “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice” – showing the pleasure that could come from drinking Coke. From the phonetics, the sound of Coca Cola is sonorous, and its rhyme feature is exotic yet catchy and easy to remember.
An appropriate brand name does not only sound good to the ears, but it also acts on psychological behaviours. In Coca-Cola’s Chinese current brand name, it plays with the cultural and emotional psychology of the Chinese consumers, the linguistic experience becomes a tasty experience as the Chinese consumers connects the name with the taste. Respectful to Chinese traditions, the savviness of food naming is well present to reflect harmony, simplicity, beauty and happiness of living life.
An adaptation of the phonetic features of a brand name is essential, because it resonates with the originating brand, however it must in all cases respect the psychology and emotions linked with the targeted market’s culture in order to easily and quickly be accepted.
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