The case of two corporations in China tells an interesting story of two quite different approaches to localisation.
The first is global drinks giant Coca-Cola. The company first entered the Chinese market in the early 1920s, and quickly localised the brand to “可口可乐”. This clever move is often viewed as one of the greatest ever examples of localisation. Not only does the Chinese sound very similar to the English: “kěkǒukělè”, but its literal translation of “tasty happiness” is exactly the message they want to convey to the consumer.
Of course Coke’s massive marketing budget helps, but its focused advertising at the Chinese market, including endorsement deals with Chinese pop stars and athletes, has reaped massive rewards. When the brand re-entered China in 1979, after the Communist government forced its absence for 30 years, they shipped 20,000 crates from Hong Kong to be sold in Beijing hotels strictly to foreign tourists. Today, over 140 million servings are consumed in Coca-Cola’s third-largest global market.
Relatively speaking, Apple is a much younger company, but one who’s popularity and profits have increased dramatically in recent years. Like Coke, Apple expects China will soon become its biggest market. A quick glance at the Apple website, however, reveals a small but significant difference. Even though all the text is in Chinese, Apple has very consciously not localised the names of many of its products and services. While Apple hasn’t succeeded in stopping the Chinese public referring to them as “苹果公司” (“Apple Company”), the word “iPhone” is on the lips of every young Chinese person, even when they are trying to sell you a fake!
This shows a very different marketing approach to Coke. Coca-Cola has gone to great lengths to ingratiate itself with the Chinese people and become part of the everyday, with their final goal of every resident of China consuming its flagship product. Apple has achieved similar recognition, but retaining the English names has effectively associated the products with foreign luxury, something much desired by the country’s burgeoning middle-class.
Either way, Apple and Coca-Cola can both rest assured that their localisation efforts have proved far more successful then French automotive company Peugeot. Peugeot’s chosen Chinese name, “Biāozhì”, is too close to a slang term meaning “prostitute” – especially in southern China, where it has become the punchline in dirty jokes!