It’s not easy for a foreign business to make it China. Many have tried, most failed but few made it big. Coca Cola is one of the happy few. Why? The answer is simple – good branding.
Coca Cola had a really good starting point and that’s the color red. It may have not helped them with all red tape one must go through when starting a business in China, but it sure helped the product to look more appealing to the Chinese consumer (much like KFC and MacDonald’s). But when it comes to branding in China there’s one element which is more crucial than all the others – the name.
Choosing a Chinese name for your product is different than other languages because in Chinese the writing isn’t phonetic and there’s no alphabet. Instead you have characters, and the main purpose of characters is to signify a certain meaning rather than just serve as a pronunciation indicator. Imagine that like the letter V stands for victory, the letter F would also would stand for ‘fall’ or ‘fail’ (not to mention the F word). Wouldn’t you rather have a V in your brand’s name and not an F? Even if it meant your brand’s name would be Verrari and not Ferrari?
Coca Cola was fortunate enough to have an excellent choice of characters at its disposal to express the sounds of C and L. The Chinese name 可口可乐 (pronounced kě kǒu kě lè) means ‘delicious’ (可口) and ‘joyous’ or ‘reason for happiness’ (可乐). Quite the perfect name for a bubbly beverage.
Well, maybe not everybody thinks a coke is a reason for joy. The kid in the photo above finds it more to be food for thought. In her defense, this photo was take in a cold day while she was sitting in the backseat of her mom’s bicycle waiting for her to come back out of a small convenient store.
By the way, just like in English where you don’t have to say coca cola and can simply say ‘coke’, in Chinese you don’t have to say kě kǒu kě lè and a simple kě lè will also suffice. Incidentally this kě lè (可乐) sounds like this kě lè （渴了) which means ‘to become thirsty’.
If you want to learn how to say coca cola or that your are thirsty, check out the following lesson from Sexy Mandarin.
In it they teach how to say I’m thirsty in another way (口渴 – kǒu kě). On 00:16 one of the girls offers coca cola (among other drinks) and on 00:19 the other girl says she would like a coca cola.