Chinese Brands

of five

Case studies of brands successfully creating a Chinese-language version of their brand name, logo and/or strapline.

There are no available pre-compiled case studies featuring companies successfully expanding into China through localized rebranding. As such, information regarding three separate brands has been found and compiled here, each very successful in their own right. Those brands are LinkedIn, AirBnB, and BMW. While a Chinese rebranded name is not the only ingredient in their recipe for success, as detailed below, it is a large part of it. Also, included are a few examples of other companies that have seen success with Chinese rebranding. Some sources are older than the 2-year guideline on Wonder Standards, however, they are still pertinent and up to date for the purposes of this report.


United States

The first step for LinkedIn’s expansion into China in 2014 was to hire a China-based branding company, Labbrand. After a thorough search, through hundreds of possible new brand names, and with the help of consumer surveys, they settled on a Chinese word that is pronounced Ling Ying. The English translation is “leader of elites.” According to experts, a Chinese rebranding should sound close to the original name, which Ling Ying definitely does, and should work in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Shanghainese. This can be difficult, as none of the languages sound alike. It is also important to note that the Chinese perspectives when it comes to business can differ from the Western perspective. This means that any rebranding will need to be looked at from a completely different vantage point so that a new name will fit into the culture. For instance, it is important when rebranding is to ensure the new name isn’t too close to a negative term in any of the new languages.

According to the case study's findings, Ling Ying "received dominant acknowledgement and preference from Chinese consumers. Even though it is very different from LinkedIn's brand positioning of "connect everyone," the fact that China prefers "leading elite" provides valuable insight into the Chinese market. Rather than desiring a platform for connectin, Chinese "professionals sought a platform with international vision and authority." What's more is that the branding was proven successful as LinkedIn "experienced early and easy adoption among consumers in China, growing from 4 million users in February 2014 to 13 million users 18 months later no small task, considering it is the first foreign internet brand to be successful in China."
Another boon to LinkedIn’s foray into China was the introduction of Chitu, a social networking application developed by LinkedIn China’s team. Where LinkedIn China is seen as having a “high-profiled and stern” atmosphere meant for international executives, Chitu is warmer and more fun, while still being just as professional.


United States

In order to comply with China’s strict regulations on foreign businesses, AirBnB created a spinoff company just for the country. Calling their new company Aibiying, the company hopes to “establish itself above the fray” of local businesses that already have a foothold. Aibiying, which translates to “welcome each other with love,” is working hard to expand its workforce and its investments in China, partnering with Alipay to process payments, and with WeChat to foster sign-ups. While the company first entered China in 2016, their new name didn’t come until a year later. It seems to be working well for the company; since the induction of Aibiying outbound travel of Chinese citizens grew 142% in its first year, and has seen 1.6 million travelers from outside the country. More than 80% of the users from China are millennials, or under 35 years old. According to the company, this is a higher percentage than any other company they operate in.
AirBnb has recently launched a product called Trips, which helps its users to find ideas for attractions to visit while traveling. More than just pointing at the most popular “tourist traps,” Trips hopes to connect travelers with immersive experiences. The plan is to spark a muse in users through the cooperation of Aibiying and Trips that inspires.



Implemented in 2010, BMW changed its name within China to Bao Ma, and saw sales nearly double from 168,998 cars sold in 2010 to 327,341 in 2012. Bao Ma sounds similar enough to BMW, and uses the same Mandarin character for “horse” that is used in “motor,” making it a smooth entry into the local culture. Bao Ma, meaning “precious horse” is an aptly named rebrand for the luxury car company’s journey into China. Not only are horses seen as a symbol of power, as evidenced by the word “horsepower” in the English language, the Chinese zodiac shows horses to be symbols of grace and strength as well. Together these imply that “it runs fast and runs for a long time.”

In addition, the B and M in the Bao Ma name "retains sounds from the first two letters of 'BMW,' which is critical when attempting to associate a Chinese brand with the global brand. Moreover, in China the horse is considered lucky and prosperous, a connotation that can only mean positive association with the BMW brand.


While the following companies do not possess case studies specifically targeting their Chinese rebranding, they have seen great success in doing so. For instance, Nike is called Nai Ke, meaning “enduring and persevering.” There is also Coca-Cola, or Ke Kou Ke Le, which means “tasty fun,” and Tide changing to Tai Zi, meaning “gets rid of dirt.” Tai Zi states that the characters used are the key to their successful rebrand, because the same sounds written in a different way would have meant “too purple.”


BMW, called Bao Ma in China, AirBnB, called Aibiying, and LinkedIn, or Ling Ying, have all seen success with their rebranding into the Chinese language.
of five

Case studies of brands who tried to create a Chinese-language version of their brand name, but failed.

The brands that tried to adapt according to the Chinese language are McDonald's, KFC, IKEA, Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz, and Best Buy. We have compiled a list of 6 brands that tried to adapt according to the Chinese language but failed. While there are not enough case studies that entirely meet the defined criteria, we found examples that address the same topic. Below is a deep dive of my findings.


An extensive search revealed multiple examples of brands that tried to adapt according to the Chinese language and culture, however, only a couple of them meet the defined criteria entirely. Some examples were older than 10 years, while others were not directly related to the brand names. However, we have compiled a list of 6 brands that best suited the criteria and might prove helpful to your cause.
Please note that in order to look for case studies of brand names during the last 10 years (and older), we have used some sources that are older than 2 years but are still relevant to the research. Also, blog entries have been used for the purpose of this research, however, their content was verified with other sources for credibility.
Please also note that most of the companies listed below are based in the United States, whereas those that are not have been marked as such.

Case Studies

Below are the case studies of brands that tried to adapt according to Chinese language and culture, but failed.


When McDonald's first entered China in 1990, they chose a name, "Mai Dang Lao" that just sounded like their name in English while not translating to anything meaningful. Mai Dang Lao translated to English means "wheat serves labor". Although the name didn't mean anything specific, it survived the Chinese market; however, a recent name change by McDonald's to "Jingongmen", which translates to "Golden Arches" in Chinese, went south for the fast food brand. Although the name change is only for licensing purposes and will not affect the name of the restaurants, internet users in China are ridiculing the new name because it sounds like "the Chinese word for a pig eating". The name was officially changed on October 12, 2017.


When KFC entered China in 1987, they translated their slogan, "Finger-lickin' good", to Chinese. The translation ended up meaning "Eat your fingers off". The name was changed quickly and KFC now has over 900 restaurants in China.


The Denmark-based company, IKEA, created a stuffed toy wolf, which became famous in December 2013 when it was thrown onto Hong Kong government's Chief Executive CY Leung. It was later found that the toy was named "Lufsig" which literally translated to "mother's vagina" in the Cantonese language, spoken in the Chinese province, Guangdong. Although the toy would be considered a failure in terms of its name's translation, instead it became "a symbol of opposition to the Hong Kong government".


When Pepsi launched their "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" slogan in China in the 1960s, it did not go well because it translated to "Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead" in the Chinese language.


Germany-based Mercedes-Benz launched in China under the name "Bensi". The translation of Bensi does not fit a brand that is trying to market fast cars as it translates to "rush to die". The date of this event was not found even after extensive research.

Best Buy

Best Buy shut down its Chinese stores in 2011 after having failed. One of the reasons for their failure was the Chinese name they selected, i.e. "Baisimai". They picked the name because it sounded somewhat similar to Best Buy, but it translated to "think it over 100 times before buying", which is well, not the best of names.


After an extensive search, we determined that there are only a couple of case studies that entirely fit the defined criteria. We have listed 6 case studies that address the same issue but some of them deviate from the defined criteria because of the lack of apt examples.
of five

Case studies proving that brands that have a Chinese version of their brand name are more successful commercially than brands who do not.

Exhaustive research of the public domain indicates case studies specifically highlighting the success of re-naming Western brands in the Chinese market are not available. This could be due to a couple of factors:
1) Until recently, Chinese consumers showed a strong preference for foreign brands over domestic brands. Together with the lack of available information, this would seem to suggest that re-naming has not been a universally, or even broadly, successful tactic for foreign brands entering the Chinese market.

2) Re-naming in the Chinese market is notoriously difficult to do well. The majority of media coverage for brand re-naming primarily highlights the plethora of examples wherein it has been done poorly. Coverage of well-executed examples tend to list multiple examples without any accompanying data points (ex: here).
3) Market research comparing the efficacy of renaming versus not renaming have either not been conducted, or have not been published publicly.

However, all research also indicates that re-naming is considered a good practice for the current market, for several reasons. In light of the unavailability of case studies with success metrics relevant specifically to re-naming, provided below is all the information discovered in the research which supports your agency's position that re-naming is an important step for success in the Chinese market.


We began by researching for pre-compiled case studies on re-naming success for foreign brands in the Chinese market. This strategy quickly demonstrated that there is a fair amount of examples of failure in this category (ex: here and here), but it did not generate any relevant examples of success with associated metrics. Explicit mentions of successful re-naming, including Chanel, Coca-Cola, Tide and others, are consistently brief mentions. Further search in both English and Chinese for a case study of these individual brands' success in re-naming and/or localization did not generate any such case studies, nor any media coverage with relevant data points. Available media coverage was broad and anecdotal (ex for Coca-Cola here). Please note that, while we conducted several search strategies in Chinese as well as English, the level of translation publicly available was consistently too poor to allow for useful analysis of Chinese-language sources.

We next researched the Labbrand marketing case study library, as Labbrand is considered a "specialist in Chinese names," but this did not generate any relevant examples with data points. Broader research, including via custom search engines specific to marketing and advertising, generated sources that demonstrate more detailed information about the success of various localization strategies implemented by Electrolux, IKEA and KFC, among others. However, none of these brands chose re-naming as part of their localization strategies.

For this reason, we have presented below the information discovered in our search which supports your agency's position on re-naming for the Chinese market. Please note that some sources are older than our typical 2 year standard, and most of these older sources are included for context and supplemental information. Others are included because they are the only media sources available for the given information.


As you are likely aware, the premium Chinese consumer's preference until a few years ago was primarily for foreign brands, a preference on which iconic brands like KFC, Haagen-Daz and Starbucks have successfully capitalized. However, multiple recent market research reports indicate that Chinese consumers are demonstrating a steadily growing preference for local brands, in part because local brands understand Chinese consumers better and they "are better adapted to fast-growing online sales." From this, it is reasonable to assume that a consumer who believes a local brand understands her better will also have a higher trust in that brand, although there was no data available to support the leap in assumptions that this would also apply to foreign brands renamed in Chinese.

However, a well-executed renaming strategy would benefit a foreign brand on both points noted above:
1. In a market rife with examples of poorly-executed renaming launches, a well-chosen Chinese name would demonstrate that the company understood Chinese culture sufficient to actually choose a good Chinese name for the Chinese market.
2. A Chinese name would significantly assist online user search for a given brand in Baidu, which can be challenging with English names. In two 2010 Labbrand case studies of renaming, the Chinese name had more search engine searches on Baidu than the English name.


Copying and modifying brand logos and names is a common and long-standing practice in China. For this reason, a brand without a Chinese name is more vulnerable to copyright and intellectual property infringement. A Luxion Media analysis of Chinese re-naming notes that "creating an official Chinese name and registering it as a trademark with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce is protect from these risks," though it does not state specifically how this protects the brand.


As noted above, there are multiple examples of mild to terribly disastrous renaming endeavors, from McDonald's and AirBnB, to Gucci, Gap and Puma. Common mistakes across all examples include choosing a Chinese name based solely on phonetic similarity to its Western name, and choosing the literal translation of a name instead of a translation that conveys the essence of the brand. For example, the "Golden Arches' translation for McDonald's conveyed the literal name of the brand logo, without conveying anything about the brand itself. The meaning of AirBnB's Chinese name makes it appear to be a brothel; and Gucci, Gap and Puma all missed the mark in their renaming, which collectively failed to convey in translation the essence of their brands.


As has already been noted, mentions of successful renaming strategies were brief in all available sources, and did not include any measurable data points. Further search for case studies for each company generated anecdotal media articles in some cases, though not all; however, no available source contained the statistical information you requested. Those successful mentions include:
- Chanel
- Tide
- Colgate
- Mariott
- Nike
- Lay's
- Reebok

The most frequently mentioned success example across all sources was Coca-Cola, Kekoukele in China, followed by Tide, Colgate, Marriott and Nike. All research indicates, however, that these brands are successful because they have found a combination of phonetic similarity and a positive, brand-related meaning in translation. However, other Western brands have found success with "phonetic translations that mean nothing in Chinese," and are actually successful because the 'foreignness' of their Chinese name lends a foreign glamour.


As noted above, there are case studies available of successful localization strategies, particularly for KFC and IKEA. However, all of these companies focused on adapting their products or pricing, or both, to the Chinese consumer; KFC even went so far as to change its Chinese business model dramatically from its US counterpart. If you are interested in this kind of localization strategy to compliment the re-naming strategy you outlined for this request, please let us know; we'll be happy to continue researching that as a separate request. This seems to have been the primary localization strategy covered in granular detail for successful Western brands in the Chinese market; as such, there appears to be more information available on it. Alternatively, if you are interested in pursuing granular information specific to renaming, the lack of this detail in the public domain indicates such research might require primary market research.


Extensive search of the public domain indicates that case studies of successful renaming strategies are not available, possibly because it is so often poorly-executed and likely because market research on this aspect of localization has not been published. Much of the media coverage of brand re-naming for the Chinese market focuses on the failure of this strategy, including case studies by Labbrand. However, available resources also indicate that, when well done, a brand rename can have several benefits in the increasingly competitive Chinese market, including greater intellectual property protection and more accessible web search for Baidu browser users. Examples of brands successful in Chinese renaming are Coca-Cola, Colgate, and Tide.
of five

Case studies that show that Chinese brand names are more memorable than English brands names to the Chinese audience.

Whenever a foreign or Western brand is moving into the Chinese market, it has proven helpful to create a new name in the Chinese language that conveys the importance and relevance of a product or brand. Brands such as HARIBO, LinkedIn, Marvel, and have had great success with their branches in China because they produced a Chinese version of their names. Other brands, however, such as Best Buy, failed to succeed in China because of a poor choice in Chinese naming for their company. Below you will find a breakdown of the importance of forming a Chinese version of a brand name, as well as case studies for how certain companies failed and succeeded due to their choice in naming.

Effects of Chinese Names for Brands

In Western and European cultures, the meaning behind a name or word is not weighted as heavily as it is in Chinese culture. For this reason, many products in Western cultures will have names that do not always have any cultural significance behind them, or even are not words in the associated language at all. While this might work in those areas, China is a completely different market space. The Chinese people associate the character of a word with the expectations for a product, rather than relying solely on the phonetic sound. This can cause major issues for companies looking to enter into the Chinese market, as their Western names may have other meanings in Chinese than intended. In order to overcome this confusion between brand and customer, forming a new name for a product in the Chinese language can produce great success for a product. Poorly chosen names can also fail significantly, even if they are in Chinese, if not formed carefully. When choosing a Chinese version of a brand name, there are some important characteristics to be considered that have proven to have great success with other companies. Below are the ideologies behind Chinese brand naming, and why they are successful for products.

In Chinese cultures, it can be difficult for consumers to pronounce Western product and brand names due to large differences in linguistics. This can make it difficult for the Chinese to market by word-of-mouth about products because they often do not have words for the brands in their native language. By forming a Chinese version of a product or brand name, consumers are more likely to understand the use or meaning of something, and pass it along to their friends. Chinese product names that are memorable or easily repeated are often more successful than others, too, as they easily fit into daily conversational habits. Such names often sound similar to the original, Western name, but also evoke a positive meaning about the product. Not doing so can sometimes result in consumers putting a bad name to products, or even evoking unintended meanings about the brand or product.

As previously stated, Chinese cultures often put more weight on the meaning of a word, rather than the product itself when it comes to branding. For this reason, a Chinese name that is built with significance is more likely to seed than one that is not, or one that does not even have a Chinese version of the name at all. "By choosing a Chinese name that embodies your brand's personality, and by adding a localized culture flair, you can better communicate, associate, and connect with the enigmatic Chinese consumer." For example, when Coca-Cola formed their name for the Chinese market, "Kekoukele," they formed a name that not only sounded similar to the original, but also conveyed the "essence of taste" of the soda in a way that was more relatable for the Chinese market. It is more important that the purpose of the product is transferred to the customers in a name, rather than the geographical origin of the brand or product.

Forming a Chinese version of a brand or product name can also help to express the importance of a product in everyday life. Names that show the commonality and features of a product are more likely to resonate in the consumer mind than names that have no specific meaning at all. The goal with forming a Chinese name is to remind the customer why they might need a product, rather than stating what the brand is.

Best Buy — Failure

When Best Buy was working on moving into the Chinese market space, they did opt for forming a Chinese version of their brand name. Best Buy chose to form a Chinese brand name that sounded similar to their original name, but did not take time to consider the meaning of chosen words in Chinese. The name that they formed was pronounced, "Bai Si Mai" and when translated into Chinese, it literally meant, "Think a hundred times before you buy." Since the Chinese people put more weight on meaning of words rather than the sound of them, the company struggled for 5 years before leaving the Chinese market completely.


Originally a brand from Germany, HARIBO has begun selling three products in China since 2015. HARIBO has produced a different Chinese version of each individual product, and they even formed a Chinese translation of the brand's motto. The English motto for HARIBO is, "Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of HARIBO." In order to convey the true meaning of the phrase while producing something that was rhythmic and memorable in Chinese, the company translated the motto to mean, "Grownups and kids all say it's good, and happily enjoy HARIBO."

Of the three products that HARIBO is currently selling in China, each piece of merchandise has its own name that represents the feel of the candy, as well as its type. The two-toned gummy candy named "Peaches" was transformed into "Meng Tao Zai" in Chinese, which means "cute/peach/young." This new version of the original name signifies the cute and lovely feeling of the candy, and even has a mascot on the packaging to personalize it. HARIBO's "Supa Mix" fruity gummies was transformed to a Chinese version called, "Qu Bin Fen" which means interesting and colorful. This new adaption of the original name conveys the fun and joy of the sweet candy, while also conveying that it is a variety candy. The final product currently being sold in China is originally named "Berry Dreams," but when converted to a Chinese, it is pronounced "Tain Mei Kuang Xiang," which means "sweet/berry/fantasy." This depicts to the consumer the curiosity, imagination, and sweetness of the gummy candy, while still holding true to the actual product.

By slightly altering the product marketing of each individual gummy candy through producing a Chinese version of the name, the candies were found to be more successful and memorable than those with English names. The new Chinese names also helped to convey the type of gummy candy that was being sold, and the feelings that might be associated with consuming the product.


LinkedIn came into the Chinese market space officially in 2014 with the Chinese name pronounced, "Ling Ying." "Ling" in Chinese means "to lead" and "Ying" means "elites." While this was different from the original LinkedIn value of connecting everyone, surveys showed that it was more successful at marketing to a Chinese audience than the original English name. The new name conveyed to users the leadership and elite international capabilities that the platform brought to the table that the English version of the name could not explain.


When Marvel introduced itself into the Chinese market, they entered with a Chinese version of their name, pronounced as, "Man Wei." The "Man" in the name means "comics" or "caricature/cartoon," and the "Wei" in the new name signified power or strength and prestige. Not only was the Chinese version of Marvel's name phonetically similar to the original, it also worked to indicate the true meaning of the brand — bravery, adventure, and power. Linguistic tests and focus groups alike both showed that the Chinese version of the name was more successful than the English version. came into the Chinese market after other similar companies had already marked their territory in the available audience. For this reason, when forming a Chinese version of their name, the brand had to focus heavily on the positive aspects that separate them from other analogous companies. In doing so, the company came up with the Chinese name pronounced, "Bin Ke." The part of the name "Bin" signifies the differences and approachability of, while the "Ke" portion of the name represents the courtesy and modesty of the business practices. The Chinese version of the name helps to express the English version of's motto: "Every guest is welcome."


Formation of a Chinese version of brand and product names is often vital to success in the Chinese markets. More pressure is placed on the significance of words, rather than the sound of a word in Chinese culture, which can greatly affect the achievement of brands and products that do or do not form Chinese names. Such names ought to focus on the intentions and importance of a product, rather than the actual brand name, forming something that is easily pronounceable and memorable.
of five

Case studies proving that brands that have a Chinese version are considered more trustworthy than Brands that only have an English name.

While there is limited information to fully answer your question, we've used the available data to pull together key findings. Coca-Cola, Subway, and LinkedIn are three companies that have successfully adopted Chinese brand names that instill trust in Chinese consumers because their names reflect what they do or tap into traits Chinese consumers deem as admirable or reliable. Coca-Cola's name change may go back a bit further than ten years, though I could not find a specific date, but it has been included because of its ubiquitous presence throughout the articles consulted.

Below you'll find an outline of our research methodology to better understand why information you've requested is publicly unavailable, as well as a deep dive into our findings.


I searched advertising, marketing, and media sources, as well as consulting agency portfolios and case studies, in an effort to identify brands that meet the requested criteria. While there were multiple examples of Western brands that have adopted both successful Chinese names, most of the examples relate to whether the names are memorable or evoke positive traits. I found no examples that specifically mention the trustworthiness of the name, but the three companies outlined here have evoked a sense of trustworthiness by following some established rules for selecting a Chinese name: it should sound like the original name, be easy to remember and pronounce, and present the product in a positive light.


Labbrand is a Chinese consultancy that brings in half of its revenues by helping Western brands select successful Chinese names. CEO Vladimir Djurovic says that the name must be legally available, suitable for multiple languages as the brand expands into new markets, and connect with the consumer on a rational or emotional level. The following three brands have successfully accomplished these goals.


Coca-Cola is frequently presented a paradigm of a successful Chinese rebranding, as its Chinese name both sounds like its original and connotes its brand message: taste and fun. Originally, however, Coca-Cola's brand name was translated phonetically into a Chinese version that translated roughly to "bite the wax tadpole," clearly not a sales-worthy or trustworthy moniker.

Eventually, however, Coca-Cola adopted a new Chinese brand name (可口可乐 pronounced Kěkǒukělè), which translates to "delicious happiness," a name that evokes what the product claims to do. The four Chinese characters literally translate to "so delicious to one's heart's content." Chinese consumers have embraced the beverage as a trusted product, with Coca-Cola holding 63% of the market in 2014. One case study on Coca-Cola's Chinese name says that it is "equivalent in alliteration, consonance, and assonance" with the American brand name, making it among the most successful and envied brand translations.


LinkedIn has encountered success with its Chinese brand name, which translates to "leading elite." In 2012, LabBrand assisted LinkedIn with the development of the name, which uses two Chinese characters. The first character, ling, means "leading the way," and the second, ying, means "elite." The translation and its branding message are unique for China, where LinkedIn is not seen as an authority. It instills trustworthiness and confidence among Chinese consumers because young professionals in China are concerned with becoming leaders in their fields. So the Chinese brand name suggests that LinkedIn will help them in that endeavor.

According to LabBrand, ling is an especially meaningful character because it evokes leadership and excellence, which positions LinkedIn as a necessity for the Chinese professional, and its phonetic similarity to LinkedIn gives it additional resonance. LinkedIn grew from 4 million Chinese users to 13 million over the course of 18 months, making it the "first foreign internet brand to be successful in China."


Subway has done an especially good job of matching its Chinese brand name, 赛百味 (Sàibǎiwèi), with its major selling proposition. The name translates to "filled with 100 flavors," which offers a direct link to the restaurant chain's major selling point: designing a sandwich the way you want it. The name evokes trust because it is true to the nature of the product the company offers, while maintaining a phonetic resonance with the original name.

Subway has become hugely popular in China, growing exponentially to reach 580 stores, up from 200 in 2015. Other translations suggest "to surpass" or to "be better than" may be more accurate, which may play into the Chinese mentality of being the best.


In conclusion, Coca-Cola, LinkedIn, and Subway are three brands that have successfully gained the trust of Chinese consumers by selecting Chinese brand names that evoke authenticity by sounding like the original name, that are easy to remember and pronounce, and that present the product's true offerings in a positive light.