Marketing and branding gurus are familiar the story of mega-brand COCA COLA and the story of “the wax tadpole.” In case you don’t know the anecdote, let’s go back to the year 1928, when Coca Cola was looking to enter the Chinese market. Due to the language having many dialects and pronunciations for the Chinese alphabet (called “characters”), the company had to find a way that everyone would be able to order the product by one name. To do so, the company had to figure out which characters would create a universal pronunciation.
Initially, the characters used to translate Coca Cola could be “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax.” This would have been a huge branding blunder. Can you imagine ordering a can of horse wax to quench your thirst?
The company researched over 40000 Chinese characters, and settled on the characters that mean “happiness in the mouth” or “joy in the mouth.” The characters were pronounced closer to the name and had better meaning than the horse/tadpole/wax names, and the company used that slogan outside of the U.S. At least I thought so until recently. Not too long ago, I saw a commercial for COCA COLA that encouraged viewers to “open happiness.” Wow.
The exercise in translating the name to “happiness in the mouth” for the Chinese market made it to the U.S. The simplicity of the idea is great. The translation also makes up a cute call to action “open happiness.” At a time when people are having lots of financial problems what could be more comforting than to be able to open happiness and drink it up. The timing is perfect!
There is a lot of pressure to come up with new ideas that will reach and influence people positively (I mean satisfy the customers). We are more familiar with ideas being “lost in translation” than we are with finding value in it. Why reinvent when you can re-purpose? I like the way the brand re-purposed the Chinese translation. What was a problem in 1928 made it to a 21st century campaign that is relevant today and culturally acceptable. “Happiness in the mouth” could have left a lot up to the imagination, depending on how one defines happiness, but “open happiness” is actionable and more to the point.