Ethnic Branding

Unsolicited tip for Chinese tech companies: If you want to play well in the US, stop giving yourselves such fobby names. Americans are very xenophobic, we don’t trust brands like Huawei and Zhongxing and Dahua.

In the 1980s, Japan ran into this same problem with its international auto companies. Honda, Toyota, Nissan – You just know these cars were not Made in the USA. Toyota created a new brand called Lexus, Nissan made Infiniti, and Honda went with Acura. Wholesome, American-sounding names. Today, Lexus and Acura command a premium over Toyota and Honda even though they’re the exact same cars.

Sony was originally called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo — Way too intimidating. So they changed their name to Sony, a play on the word “sonny”, which was a term of endearment in 1950s America.

Instead of phonetic translations of Chinese words, take advantage of authority resemblance with names like Federal Telecom, or United Information Holdings, or General Freedom Ltd. “TikTok” is fine, we love misspellings. “ByteDance” sounds like a phrase you might find across a two-dollar t-shirt sold on Tung Choi Street. Or, flip open a children’s book and choose an innocuous animal name: Fox, Chimp, Rabbit, Frog. Or fruit: Apple and Orange are successful tech companies, how about Banana? Oh wait.

One thought on “Ethnic Branding

  1. I’d say it’s not so much about xenophoby as about preferring what people understand and familiar with. The lesson for Chinese companies is to adapt to a local market — any local market, not only the US one. Europeans also aren’t excited about hard to pronounce meanenless Chinese brands.

    Another example of this familiarity prevailance is visible in TV series. Doesn’t matter how good an US TV series is, local one with lower quality and simper plot is still more popular on a local market among mass audience — that’s just something fanmiliar with familiar type of faces.

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