Activating Sound and Meaning in Brand Name Evaluations: The Role of Language Proficiency in Bilinguals' Differential Processing
The Idea:Chinese consumers judge brand names in other languages by the sound and meaning of the names’ Chinese equivalents.
Shi Zhang and Bernd Schmitt designed a method for determining how bilingual consumers understand messages in both languages and tested it among 368 students at Nankai University in China. All students spoke Chinese fluently, while half scored high on an English test and the other half scored low. The study asked them to rank the quality of dual brand names, where the English letters and Chinese characters appeared in the same rectangular frame. The products were lotion, tissues, boxing gloves and a supermarket store.
The results showed that when you put the English name first or tell the consumer that’s your focus, it matters whether the sound of the name in English matches the sound in Chinese. This finding was even more true for the group with better command of English. When you put the Chinese name first or tell the consumer that’s your focus, it matters more whether the meanings of the two words match. This pattern was equally true for both groups of students.
Global marketers who sell to China
You can use this research method to evaluate names and even headlines, taglines and ads that you plan to translate into Chinese in your global campaigns. Chinese consumers are increasingly proficient in English to some degree, and this method helps you determine what combination of English words and Chinese characters best suits your target market, based on the consumers’ level of fluency in English.
Chinese marketers who sell to other countries
As Chinese companies increasingly market outside China, they must switch from meaning to sound that is, from characters to words. This is a fundamental difference between written Chinese and most other major languages. This research method can help you make translations into English or other target languages or choose original product names in Chinese that resonate with both Chinese and non-Chinese consumers.
Journal of Consumer Research,
Volume: 31 | Issue: 1 | Pages: 220-29
Publication type: Journal article