In New York in the 80’s, the Ramones were clearly upset that somebody put something in their drink. Why then, 30 years later in Shanghai, does Budweiser expect us to get excited about it?
These ads are currently in Shanghai Metro’s Jing’an Temple Station:
Here’s a closeup of that first ad:
I posted these photos to my WeChat Moments with the caption “WTF?” I only got about 10 comments, but the response from Chinese friends and non-Chinese friends was quite different.
Chinese friends: Ha ha, cool!
Non-Chinese friends: Are you kidding me?! Not cool!
This is a great example of cultural differences playing out in the world of marketing. I wonder if Budweiser HQ is going to react to this.
I’m used to seeing English words mixed in with Chinese advertising copy, and even product names, but this name took me by surprise:
“茶π“?! Why in the world…?
I showed this to some Chinese friends, asking them why anyone would put π in the name of a bottled tea drink. No one had an answer.
I speculated that maybe the “π” was being used as a pun on 派, meaning “faction” or “clique”? They didn’t really like that theory, but they had nothing better to offer.
In my foolish optimism, I searched online for the answer, and discovered it in this article:
What is “Tea Pi,” you ask?
Nongfu Spring‘s official answer: a combination of tea and fruit flavors, infinitely unrepeating π, which is also our infinitely unrepeating youth!
Uhhh… there’s nothing I can say to that!
Translation: kids these days like random stuff.
There’s a brand of high-quality wigs in China called Rebecca. The Chinese tagline for these wigs is:
The simple slogan (great for beginners!) sets up a nice contrast between the words 假 (fake) and 真 (real). It doesn’t translate well into English, though, because the word for “wig” in Chinese is 假发, quite literally, “fake hair.” So here are your two most obvious direct translation candidates:
- “Fake hair, real me”
- “Wig, real me”
Pretty bad. The wigs themselves look pretty gorgeous, though, and Rebecca hired Chinese superstar babe 范冰冰 (Fan Bingbing) is their model:
The Rebecca wigs also occasionally stray into the “slightly less than practical,” apparently:
I’d say that the Chinese name of Starbucks’ new flat white coffee is adequate proof that Starbucks hates Chinese learners. (The other piece of proof is that Starbucks employees in China probably play the fiercest language power struggle game of any other group I know.) Anyway, the Chinese name of the flat white is 馥芮白:
Yeah, don’t feel bad if you don’t know those first two characters. They’re not at all common. And that fist character… wow.
A little more info about the two hard one characters:
– 馥 (fù) fragrant. (The right half is the 复 you might know from 复旦大学.)
– 芮 (ruì) small / surname. (I am familiar with this one mainly because of the “Réel” mall (芮欧百货) near my office.)
So in this case, even if you’re trying hard to use Chinese as much as possible, I’d say don’t feel bad if you took one look at this Chinese name and opted to use English.
Today is December 12, AKA 双十二, literally, “double twelve” in Chinese. It’s a day when Taobao (淘宝) and JD.com (京东) offer huge discounts online (and this year, Taobao is really pushing its AliPay mobile phone payments, sort of similar to Apple Pay, but using barcodes on users’ phone screens instead of NFC). So today is kind of like China’s Cyber Monday.
12-12 is clearly riffing on 双十一 (“double eleven”), a modern Chinese holiday that was once known as “Singles Day” (光棍节) but has since been largely co-opted by online retailers and remolded as China’s Black Friday.
At first I was kind of amazed that this 12-12 holiday even “took.” It’s just such blatant commercialism to follow up a 11-11 shopping holiday with a 12-12 shopping holiday. But so far, as long as the discounts keep coming, no one seems to mind. What’s next, co-opting 1-1 (元旦节)? I have to say, 双一 certainly doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Some screenshots for today’s sales from the aforementioned sites:
I’m not buying anything. I’m having my own little Buy Nothing Day. (不消费日 in Chinese, but make no mistake: this is not a familiar concept in China, and people find it pretty ridiculous.)
Here’s a creative use for the alphabet:
The Chinese reads:
…or, “Stupid Apple’s English Learning Method.”
(Hopefully it’s not just hiding letters in Chinese characters.)
Here’s another one for the “I can’t believe they named the product that” file (see also “Cat Crap Coffee“). This one has more of a cultural differences angle, with a little bit of translation difficulty thrown in for good measure.
There’s a brand of Chinese rice wine called 酒鬼酒. Here’s a picture of it:
酒 in Chinese, while often translated as “wine,” more generally means “alcohol.” Traditionally, it’s some kind of grain alcohol, like 白酒 (Chinese “white wine“).
A person who routinely drinks to excess is called a 酒鬼 in Chinese, which literally means “alcohol demon” or “alcohol devil” or “alcohol ghost,” depending on how you want to translate 鬼. It sounds pretty negative, but in fact, in Chinese culture this type of alcohol abuse is not nearly so stigmatized. Although the police forces of many regions in China have begun cracking down on drunk driving in recent years, alcoholism in China is not as closely linked in the public consciousness to vehicular manslaughter, domestic violence, child abuse, and the host of other evils as it often is in the west. In fact, regular heavy drinking is closely linked to some of China’s greatest poets, most famously 李白 (Li Bai).
Here’s 李白 getting his drink on:
So it’s more in the spirit of historical drunken poetry (as opposed to inebriated abusiveness) that this brand of Chinese rice wine is called 酒鬼酒.
Translating the brand name into English is a new challenge in itself, though. If you simply translate 酒鬼 as “alcoholic” and 酒 as “alcohol,” you get “Alcoholic Alcohol,” which sounds like it means “Alcohol that Contains Alcohol,” which is just plain dumb. In fact, you can’t use the word “alcoholic” as a modifier at all for that reason, so if you don’t want to ditch the noun “alcoholic” altogether you have to say something like “Alcohol for Alcoholics,” which sounds like some kind of horrible demented “charity” to my American ears.
So what else can you do? “Booze for Boozers” and “Wino Wine” are ridiculous. “Drunk Spirits”? I’m curious what a creative translator can come up with. (Pete? Brendan?)
Anyway, 酒鬼酒 is a real company in China, and has its own Baidu Baike page (in Chinese, obviously), and is also listed on Wikipedia under “unflavored baijiu.”
This National Day holiday (October 1-7), the People’s Bank of China (中国人民银行) is doing some major work on its computer system which handles interbank transfers, and as a result, interbank transfers will not be possible for the entire vacation.
It strikes me as totally ridiculous (and incompetent) that such an important part of China’s banking system would need to be down for so long. One could hope that it’s the last big push the country’s banking system needs in order to be completely modernized and never require this kind of downtime again for interbank transfers (or anything else), but I’m not quite that hopeful.
The amusing silver lining of this incident is that Alipay (支付宝, Taobao’s payment service) is taking advantage of the business opportunity and sending out its own marketing message: “hey, you can’t do regular interbank transfers during the October holiday, but if you try Alipay instead, no transfer fees!”
OK, so you’ve heard of kopi luwak, right? Just in case you haven’t, here’s some Wikipedia for you:
> Kopi luwak, or civet coffee, refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The name is also used for marketing brewed coffee made from the beans.
Given the process by which this coffee is created, it’s not too surprising that we elect to refer to it in English by a foreign name–kopi luwak–rather than actually giving it a descriptive name. I mean, you can’t just call it “cat crap coffee,” charming as the alliteration may be, right? Well, you can in Chinese.
The Chinese name is 猫屎咖啡, literally, “cat crap coffee.” If you want to be a little cruder, the translation “cat shit coffee” is no less accurate.
What kind of blows my mind is that a coffee shop in the business of trying to sell this product (and it’s kind of expensive coffee) just straight up calls it 猫屎咖啡 (“cat crap coffee”). Don’t strain yourself too much with the marketing effort, right?
You can ask your Chinese friends if they’ve heard of 猫屎咖啡, and probably most of them have. What you won’t hear is them saying things like, “isn’t it weird that we just call it ‘cat shit coffee?'” Well, I have to hand it to the Chinese for calling a spade a spade.
But what I find even crazier is that there’s now a coffee chain expanding to multiple locations in Shanghai that goes by the very name “猫屎咖啡.” So some entrepreneur heard of this coffee, liked it, and decided he wanted the word “shit” in both his main product’s name as well as the name of his very business. Now that’s bold. Sassy, even.
The English name for the Chinese chain is, notably, “Kafelaku Coffee.”
Looks like there’s some backlash forming around this particular strain of coffee in the UK. I can’t imagine it’ll faze the Chinese market, though!
I noticed this cleverly designed logo for the Shanghai brand 永久 recently, and had to take note:
永久 means “permanent.” Here’s the logo with its English name, “Forever”:
Here’s a bit of evolution of the logo over the years (notice that it was once written right-to-left):
Finally, if you’re having trouble identifying the character elements in the logo, here’s a little deconstruction aid for you:
As most of us in China know, fortune cookies are not a Chinese thing. They’re an American thing. ChinesePod just recently did a lesson on American Chinese Food, and user he2xu4 linked to this TED talk which gives more detail on the issue: Jennifer 8. Lee hunts for General Tso. (ChinesePod also once did a lesson on the fact that you can’t get fortune cookies in China.)
The thing is, it looks like now you can get fortune cookies in China. I took this photo in my local Carrefour supermarket:
OK, so it was in the “imported foods” section (they seem to be from Japan), but the packaging is in simplified Chinese. They come in two flavors: “cream” and “chocolate.” It says on the package: 装密语签语饼干, which means something like “Secret-containing Fortune Cookies.”
Probably the best thing about these fortune cookies, though, is that they feature Pac-Man. The Japanese may have had the invention of fortune cookies stolen by the Chinese in the United States, but at least as they introduce fortune cookies to mainland China they’re sneaking Japan’s home-grown video game icon into the mix!
These images are currently in the third “slide” of the BenQ USA website front page slideshow:
OK, military-themed FPS games are popular in the States. Especially with a tech-loving male audience. Fair enough.
But this is the third “slide” of the BenQ China website:
So… how, exactly, is this ad trying to appeal to a Chinese audience? Hmmm.
I don’t think these were meant to be compared.
You know the little 5-note musical tune that Intel uses everywhere their logo shows up? Yeah, you know the one. It’s very easy to remember. I just became aware recently that this little musical tune has a translation into Chinese. Here it is:
So the Chinese is:
The English translation of this would be:
> The light! Wait for the light, wait for the light!
This is amazingly appropriate, considering the “English version” of the “lyrics” would be something like:
> Dunnn…. Dun-dun dun-dun!
Not quite as articulate, I gotta say.
The whole idea of “translating a a musical tune into a spoken language” is bizaere, though.
I think this is going to be one of Shanghai’s shortest springs ever; we’re practically going straight from winter to summer. And advertisers know it; I saw this ad for skin whitening cream on the Metro the other day:
What struck me about this ad was not the amount of English, but rather the diversity of its usage in the ad:
1. Olay: a famous brand name, untranslated. (This is kind of a ballsy move in China, but some companies do it.)
2. White Radiance: the product’s English name. This is probably mostly for aesthetic effect and symmetry of design.
3. 小S: a name. Yes, her Chinese name is 小S. It might not be her real name, but it’s her name.
4. VS: a term used pretty often in Chinese, appreciated for its simplicity and compact nature. (In Chinese, you spell it out: V-S.)
5. PK: a Chinese verb (derived from “player kill”) popular among the young internet-savvy folk, referring to some type of elimination competition.
The less interesting part is the actual content of the ad. It’s trying to get people to go to a website and vote for the star they think is whiter. Ugh.
China is known to be a nation of heavy smokers. So I was taken by surprise when I overheard this exchange in a beef noodle restaurant in the Cloud Nine (龙之梦) mall by Shanghai’s Zhongshan Park:
> Customer: 服务员，烟灰缸！ [Waitress, (bring an) ashtray!]
> Waitress: 这里不可以吸烟。 [You can’t smoke here.]
> Customer: 有吸烟区吗？ [Is there a smoking section?]
> Waitress: 没有。 [No.]
> Customer: [grumble, grumble]
In case you’re not familiar with China, let me tell you what’s surprising.
1. The guy asked for an ash tray rather than just lighting up.
2. The guy (and the other two men with him) accepted the restaurant’s no smoking policy
I guess I just like to celebrate the tiny little signs of social progress I see around me.
I’ve also noticed a sharp divide between the coffee shops in Shanghai. If you accept that the major chains here are Starbucks (星巴克), Coffee Bean (香啡缤), and UBC (上岛咖啡), they fall on a smoking/no-smoking continuum like so:
Costa Coffee aligns with Starbucks, and, at least in some locations, Cittá has recently joined the “glassed-in smoking section” faction, joining Coffee Bean.
You can see how smoking policies align with these companies’ target markets. UBC, with its dedication to universal smokers’ rights, frequently reeks of smoke, and has quite a few middle-aged Chinese men in there talking business (or something). Starbucks, on the other hand, is full of trendy young Shanghainese, and usually at least a couple foreigners. The interesting thing is that Coffee Bean and its ilk seem to have basically the same types of customers as Starbucks, and you rarely see middle-aged people there, even if they can smoke there. Most of the smokers at Coffee Bean and Cittá are young.
What does all this mean? Well, I’m just hoping that there will be less smoking in China’s future. Maybe UBC will even start to reek less!
Once upon a time I blogged about a short-lived beverage experiment known as Spicy Sprite, and before that, Mint Sprite. Recently someone called to my attention the new Green Tea Sprite. Being the long-time Sprite connoisseur that I am, I had to try it.
It tasted like Sprite, but only… (wait for it) …with green tea in it.
It wasn’t altogether bad, I guess. Not nearly as bad as Mint Sprite, anyway.
The Chinese name is 冰+茶味雪碧. I’m not sure exactly what that “+” in there is trying to prove.
I was searching Youku for interesting Chinese videos about Obama, but all I could find were a few CCTV news clips. If only average Chinese young people liked to video themselves talking about all sorts of topics and put it online, like American kids do on YouTube!
In the process, I ended up doing a search for 黑人 (“black person/people”). Most of the search results were rap or hip hop or dance related, but there was one bizarre one that stood out:
It’s not even Chinese (not related to “Black Man Toothpaste“); it looks like Thai to me. Apparently the Chinese have no monopoly on bizarre/offensive use of black people in toothpaste advertising.
In the last few weeks a new drink has appeared on the convenience store shelves of Shanghai. It’s called 水溶C100, but you probably know it as “lemonade.”
The name 水溶C100 comes from the idea of 水溶性维生素 (water-soluble vitamins). In this case, obviously, it’s vitamin C, and the drink boasts 100% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin C (the equivalent of 5.5 lemons, the bottle tells us) in each bottle… but only 12% juice.
I like the drink well enough. Seems to be another success for bottled water company Nongfu Spring, the same company that pleased me 5 years ago with it’s “Farmer’s Orchard” juice. But this new product has been given a fairly horrible name. My wife, who’s been drinking the stuff for a few weeks (like me) still has no idea what it’s called if she’s not looking right at the bottle. It’s just “that lemon drink” (什么100?). And what should we call it in English? C100? I don’t even know. And not only does it have an unmemorable name, but there’s that awkward word in big print “lemon,” just hanging out on the label, though apparently not part of the name. Thanks. Lemon. (But only 12%!)
The drink is quite strong (sour/sweet), but I find it mixes nicely with tonic water, creating a classy concoction remarkably similar to Japan’s own CC Lemon (now there’s an Asian lemonade with a catchy name!). I bet this stuff mixes great with vodka as well.
I saw these board games on a recent trip to my local Carrefour supermarket.
Makes sense; they’re all translated into Chinese except for Scrabble, because that just doesn’t work. [There are at least two Chinese adaptations of Scrabble, though, called Magi Compo and Chinese Squabble.]
Did you notice the price stickers? Yikes! In case you missed them:
– Monopoly (地产大亨): 198 RMB
– Monopoly, Beijing version (地产大亨，北京版): 349 RMB
– Risk (大战役): 249 RMB
– Life (人生之旅): 199 RMB
– Clue (妙探寻凶): 169 RMB
– Scrabble: 238 RMB
Still cheaper than back home? I’m not so sure… What do these game go for in the States these days?
Related: China Risk
This really does make me wonder how many brands of racist toothpaste are out there.
Thanks to Roddy for the find.