Friday, April 21, 2006

Google discovering Chinese word for 'minefield'

Google's Chinese search engine wasn't born under a lucky star, it seems. First we had the brouhaha over Google's conformity to Chinese censorship (see Suggested new motto: "Don't Be Hypocrites", Brin to blogosphere: "Forget about Don't Be Evil. We're now going for Do Be Practical", OK. Who ordered the 'Google #1 Hypocrite' mugs? and "No, we're not evil. And we don't want to talk about it"); and now Google's recently unveiled Chinese name has attracted the scorn of its Chinese user base.

'Gu Ge' are the newly chosen Chinese characters, which means as much as 'Valley Song' or 'Harvest Song', and they have undoubtedly been chosen for their combinination of sound similarity with 'Google', and a positive meaning.

Choosing a Chinese name for your brand is a tricky game, much like navigating a minefield. A cause célèbre are Coca-Cola's early Chinese years, during which it was marketed under four characters with the correct Ko-Ka-Ko-La sound, that unfortunately meant something like Bite Your Wax Tadpole. The story goes that the name had been chosen by a Cantonese-speaking secretary in Coca-Cola's Guangzhou head office, who had no idea what was at stake.

Sinds the early 90s Coca-Cola in China is known as 'Ke Kou Ke Le', which is a pun on 'Tasteful Soft Drink' and 'Happy Tasting Drink' respectively. 'Ke Le' has even become the Chinese word for 'soft drink'.

Over to Google, whose advisers must've been keen on avoiding a blooper like this. But alas, a minefield has many mines. 'Valley Song' doesn't only sound rural in English, but also in Chinese. Which is decidedly uncool in the eyes of Chinese digerati, who populate the glass and steel canyons of Beijing's and Shanghai's business district and do not like to be reminded of the undeveloped, uncivilized and utterly poor agricultural hinterland that still takes up most of China.

Unhappy Chinese Google fans have even set up an online petition under the unambiguous name, where thousands of signatures have been collected since its inception last Wednesday. Google should be cool, and 'Gu Ge' doesn't cut it.

Doing business in China ain't easy.

1 comment:

Jee said...

I always wonder WHY Google introduced the Chinese word for branding.

It's not necessary nowadays for China people.. lots of my MSN friends from China do command a decent level of English nowadays.

GOOGLE will do absolutely fine for them.