Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

Welcome to Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy!

Posted by Admin | 04.04.11

I must say this is a rather inauspicious day to launch QEQ’s blog. It’s the 4th day of the 4th month and the year 2011 equals 4! (2+0+1+1 equals 4).

In Chinese culture, the number 4 is considered unlucky. Why? Simply put, because in both Cantonese and Mandarin languages the pronunciation of the number “4” rhymes with the word for “death”.

In English, this linguistic concept is called a homophone. Examples like sense, cents, and scents in English are even more numerous in many Asian languages that QEQ works with. Homophones come into play when our Chinese, South Asian, Korean, Tagalog, Japanese and Vietnamese creative teams write catchy tagline phrases, headlines or develop in-language brand names. Regional pronunciations, the infiltration of English words in the languages of Asia and South Asia, tones, and context within a sentence all can affect the meaning of homophones and oronyms (multiple homophones together, as in the case of “ice cream” vs “I scream”).

Earlier this year, QEQ was asked to create a Chinese brand extension for an educational institution. It needed to be understood by our mainland Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese Canadian residents. We reviewed thousands of potentially-suitable Chinese homophone characters that sounded almost identical to the English verbalization of the corporate brand name. The challenge in producing the English back-translation is that the potential interpretation of the oronym in the various dialects of Chinese spanned from “horse racing”, to “being ill with a fever”, to a “Rhodes scholar”. It can be challenging for many North Americans to trust that the context the oronym appears in will successfully guide the reader to its intended meaning.

The process of building an in-language brand often is complicated. We’ve all heard of Coca Cola‘s attempt at developing a Chinese brand name that could have resulted in an oronym which back-translated to “Bite the wax tadpole”; there are approximately 200 Chinese character combinations that could produce the oronym “ko-ka-ko-la”. No wonder their sister soft drink beverage, 7-Up, chose to skip the whole oronym method and use 七喜, which literally means the number “seven” and “rise”.

Cross-cultural strategies and executions require sensitivities of all the senses — not just language. The reward of being able to build strong, loyal connections and a diverse customer base is, in the end, worth it.

We invite you to join the conversation with your comments, suggestions, and cross-cultural marketing questions.

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