Happy Foods and Drinks in China

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A bag of Lay's potato chips in China.

What if your bag of Lay's potato chips was called Happy Things? Your can of Coca-Cola, Tasty Fun? If you live in China, they would be.

A recent New York Times article discussed the business of branding Western consumer goods in China, an effort that's part art, but more science. Computers and linguistic analyses play a role in the search for the perfect product name.

Why not call a rose a rose, even if it is from this side of the Atlantic?

For starters, the construction of the Chinese language introduces a formidable challenge to literal translations.  Built on characters, Chinese must turn phonetically-based English into marketing poetry.  It's tough to do.

According to The Times, the Chinese definitions of the character pronounced, "Bing"—what we know as Microsofts's search engine—include "defect," "virus," and "disease."

What's more, China's brand names actually mean something and often draw reference to a positive emotion. Western marketing takes a different approach. We tend to elicit a positive consumer response through the branding of a story or an experience, not necessarily through the use of a particular word.

"iPod" is the name for a personal egg case, seed vessel, or detachable compartment. I wonder if "Happy Player" could have done the trick?

A can of Coke in China.

Unlike China, the United States makes scant use of words like "happiness" and "fun" in the naming of its major brands.  There's "Joy," the dishwashing liquid, and "Lucky," the jeans/clothing company.  But not counting children's games, other happy-ish Western brands don't easily come to mind.

The question is would you be more likely to buy a product that had "happiness" or a similar emotion in its name?  Maybe you've grown so accustomed to the Western ways of branding that it would just seem funny.

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