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Coca Cola | © Mike Mozart / Flickr
Coca Cola | © Mike Mozart / Flickr
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11 Companies That Tried to Rebrand in Chinese, but Failed

Picture of Fran Lu
Updated: 5 November 2017
The recent Chinese rebranding of the U.S. fast food giant McDonald’s has been the biggest thing on Chinese social networks for the past few days. While its new name “Jin Gong Men”, translated as “Golden Arches”, became a laughing stock, the McDonald’s saga is just more proof that it’s never easy for international companies to rebrand in Chinese. Here, Culture Trip highlights those companies that pitifully failed to rebrand themselves.

McDonald’s – 金拱门 Jin Gong Men

Widely known as “Maidanglao”, the Chinese rendering of McDonald’s, the company has just changed its official Chinese business name into “Jin Gong Men”. Translated as “Golden Arches”, the name was ridiculed as sounding like a dowdy fertilizer brand, despite its straightforward reflection of its golden “M” logo. Although the company clarified on its official Weibo account that the new name is only used for the government registration, and won’t affect its 2,500 restaurants in Chinese mainland, it has nevertheless triggered a round of memes among Chinese netizens.

Max Factor – 蜜丝佛陀 Mi Si Fo Tuo

The make-up brand Max Factor is a perfect counter-example of German linguist Hans Vermeer’s skopos theory that translations should emphasize the “offer of information” to target audiences instead of rigid literal equivalence. With “Mi Si Fo Tuo” being almost the Chinese homophony of “Max Factor”, many people say they couldn’t tell what kind of products the brand sells from its Chinese name. If translated by its meaning into English, “Mi Si Fo Tuo” means “Honey Silk Buddha” – now you can probably understand why it’s so confusing to Chinese customers.

Gap – 盖璞 Gai Pu

The American clothing and accessories retailer is basically the synonym to “smart casual”, but its Chinese name doesn’t really convey that aura. With “Gai Pu” being the Chinese homophony of “Gap”, the company has carefully selected the characters – “Pu” stands for “unpolished jade” in Chinese. But the name thus seems to have fallen into an embarrassing position in between two languages, and in the end failed to please both the conservatives and the reformists.

Costa – 咖世家 Ka Shi Jia

“When I saw the Chinese name of Costa, I thought it should be the name for a beef noodles restaurant instead of a café,” commented Chinese online celebrity @Wuyuesanren. He’s definitely not the only one with this idea. The “Ka Shi Jia”, translated as “Respectable Family (skilled in) Coffee”, appears to some, more like a furniture store that sells products of poor taste. But luckily, its Chinese name is not that widely known because most Costa stores doesn’t have the Chinese name on their shop fronts.

Moleskine – 魔力斯奇那 Mo Li Si Qi Na

The high-end stationery brand Moleskine’s Chinese name seems to be nothing but just a simple pile-up of characters that are pronounced like its original name, which makes the English name even better to remember for Chinese customers. What’s more, with the characters “Mo Li” representing “magic”, hopefully no one is going to mistake it for a shop on the Diagon Alley.

AKG – 爱科技 Ai Ke Ji

The premium acoustic brand is known for its high-quality headphones and speakers. You have to give credit to the AKG for thinking of a Chinese name that sounds perfectly likes the three alphabets, while having a meaning in it – “Ai Ke Ji” means “loving tech”. Only that you can’t really tell which specific tech products the brand is about. What’s more, some customers say the “Ai Ke Ji” looks too localized and it has on the contrary, made the brand less premium.

LG – 乐金 Le Jin

The South Korean electronics company LG was named after Lucky and GoldStar, the names of two companies that LG was merged from. Its Chinese name “Le Jin” (Happy Gold), securely reflects the pronunciation of two alphabets while having a similar meaning to “Lucky GoldStar”. But still, ordinary Chinese customers who couldn’t possibly know the company’s background, think the name doesn’t match a brand for household appliances, but more like a name for a hardware store.

Lux – 力士 Li Shi

Lux is one of the oldest soap brands in the world, and the forerunner in the trend of letting glamorous female stars represent their products. But the fancy brand’s Chinese name “Li Shi”, meaning “man of great strength”, sounds a bit far away from its market niche. While Lux entered the Chinese market in 1986, it couldn’t compete with its equivalent Safeguard, which entered China in 1992. While Safeguard’s Chinese name, Shu Fu Jia (meaning “Comfortable and Wonderful”), brilliantly echoes to the pronunciation of the original name while conveying a positive and suitable meaning, Lux might have lost the game at the beginning because of its Chinese name.

Airbnb – 爱彼迎 Ai Bi Ying

Airbnb’s Chinese name caused a stir on Chinese social networks when it was announced this March. Though the company explains that “Ai Bi Ying” means “Let people greet each other with love”, and insists that the name conveys Airbnb’s spirit, many Chinese netizens only found it far-fetched and hard to read, with some even joking that the name, set against the pink backdrop, looks more like a family planning brand.

Makeup Forever – 玫珂菲 Mei Ke Fei

It’s a mystery why Makeup Forever changed its highly-praised original Chinese name “浮生若梦 Fu Sheng Ruo Meng” to “玫珂菲 Mei Ke Fei”. “Fu Sheng Ruo Meng” is from Tang dynasty poet Li Bai’s poem, meaning “life is short like a dream”. It was believed wishfully by some people as a genius reflection of the dreamlike essence of makeups. “Mei Ke Fei” is just a meaningless combination of beautiful characters that can be usually seen in the Chinese name of beauty products.

Coca Cola – 蝌蝌啃蜡 Ke Ke Ken La

If Makeup Forever is an example of failed Chinese renaming, Coca Cola is the example of a successful one. When the carbonated soft drink first appeared in China in 1927, it was advertised as “Ke Ke Ken La”, which is translated as “Tadpoles gnawing at wax” – of course nobody could understand what it meant. Plus the fact that the flavor was completely new for the Chinese, Coca Cola met its waterloo in the Chinese market. The company then decided to offer a 350-dollar reward for a good Chinese name, and the winner “可口可乐 Ke Kou Ke Le” revealed itself and has become the most successful example of Chinese rebranding of international companies. Meaning “Tasty and Pleasant”, while having similar pronunciation as the original name, “Ke Kou Ke Le” is regarded by some people to be even better than “Coca Cola”.