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Brand owners diverting from the script



Emma Barraclough, Hong Kong


Choosing a local script mark can be good for business, as long as you get it right. Emma Barraclough explains what issues brand owners need to consider

We might be in a period of unprecedented globalization, but when it comes to entering new markets, localizing your brand is often a savvy commercial move. Unfortunately for IP owners, however, choosing a great name is no easy task.

Companies that want to localize their brands need to decide whether they will do it by translation or transliteration. A translation needs to express the spirit of the mark in the original language but also ensure that the local version captures the cultural nuances of local consumers. A word that has positive cultural connotations in one language may not have them in another.

Other foreign trademarks can be transliterated by simply choosing sounds that mirror the name in the local language. Although these sounds may have no particular meaning when read together, individually they should offer positive connotations. Car company BENZ provides a good example. Its Chinese name (奔驰, pronounced Ben Chi) means “to gallop” or “run quickly,” invoking the speed that the company would like consumers to associate with its cars. Tire company Goodyear also chose a good Chinese name (固特异, pronounced Gu Te Yi). Not only does it sound like the original brand name, but the characters also suggest the qualities solid, unusual and different. Although there is no dictionary definition of the term Gu Te Yi, the three characters together can be roughly translated as “especially and unusually solid and firm.”

The best localized names often manage to combine transliteration with translation, capturing the sound and the meaning of the original trademark. IKEA’s Yi Jia (a proper home) and COCA-COLA’s Ke Kou Ke Le (delicious and pleasant) are good examples.

A session today will consider some of the practical and legal aspects of choosing and protecting a local script name. It will be moderated by Patsy Y. Lau, of Deacons, who will provide examples of successful local marks and explain what makes them so good. Emi Ashihara of YKI Patent Attorneys will discuss the differences between the three writing styles in Japanese (see box) and suggest what factors brand owners should take into account when choosing which system to use for their trademarks. Faisal Daudpota of Daudpota International will look at localizing names in Arabic and explain how trademark owners should consider how their chosen name will be received in different emirates within the UAE. Christopher Woo of Quahe Woo & Palmer will address some of the complex issues that brand owners face when choosing a name for the Singaporean market, given that the multicultural city state has four official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil) as well as a number of Chinese dialects.

The variety of dialects spoken throughout greater China can pose a problem for marketing specialists who want to ensure brand consistency. The same Chinese characters can be pronounced very differently by Cantonese, Mandarin and Hokkien speakers, making it very hard to choose a suitable transliterated name that will reflect the original trademark across the region.

Trademark owners should choose names that are relatively short. Names that consist of five or six characters are often shortened by consumers, and not always in ways that the brand owner wanted. That may mean sacrificing transliteration accuracy for brevity. An early transliteration of the trademark JOHNSON & JOHNSON, for example, gave the accurate-sounding but rather long-winded 约翰逊-约翰逊 (pronounced yue han xun yue han xun). This was later changed to 强生 (pronounced qiang sheng), which means strong life. The new name captured both the sound of the mark and the attributes the owner would doubtless want associated with it.

Brand owners should also consider what their trademark invokes, because words carry different symbolic meanings across linguistic divides. Fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, for example, was obliged to pull bottles of its (directly translated) OPIUM perfume from department store shelves in China following complaints about the product’s name. Opium may suggest languorous, exotic passion to Western consumers. To many Chinese it invokes a history of a brutal trade in drugs and unjust wars.

Localizing your mark is an important part of getting your products accepted in overseas markets. But paying close attention to the cultural aspects of localization, as well as the transliteration and translation elements, is a vital part of the process.


Japan’s three writing styles

Kanji (漢字): These are Chinese characters imported into the Japanese language. Each character is composed of different radicals, or elements.

Hiragana (ひらがな): These are used to write native Japanese words for which there are no Kanji characters. There are 46 hiragana, which express the sound of a word and not its meaning.

Katakana (カタカナ): There are 46 katakana used in modern Japanese, which are used for words which have been incorporated into Japanese from other languages. Examples include the Japanese words for coffee and sofa.


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Article Comments

In Emma's article on lookalikes she says that United Biscuits lost their trade mark action against Asda in the PENGUIN/PUFFIN case. What she does not say is that they won their passing off action and Asda were ordered to change the PUFFIN get-up.

Tony Willoughby May 14, 2014

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