Naming China: Oriflame in China
Oriflame is a Swedish cosmetics company already implanted in 62 countries, selling beauty products, accessories and home decorations. In 2006, riding on the European cosmetics craze in China, Oriflame entered the Chinese market and adopted a marketing strategy mainly focused on relaying their Swedish heritage to the local clientele.
Indeed, Sweden is often linked with nature, elegance, purity, in China: selling beauty products that claim having all three assets seems to be a piece of cake! However, in order to accurately convey this image to the Chinese customers, the brand had to rely on an intelligent naming and marketing strategy.
Concerning the advertisement policy, Oriflame chose to lead a communication campaign based on visual advertisement and a slogan that all remind the consumer of the firm’s Swedish heritage, as well as presenting the brand the sales force with this guideline.
As for the naming, Oriflame chose a phonosemantic translation : 欧瑞莲 Ou RuiLian (Ou欧meaning Europe, Rui瑞 meaningSweden, Lian莲 meaning Lotus). The brand meant for thisname to inspire the ideas of elegant and natural cosmetic products from Sweden. Is this exactly what is perceived by the consumer?
The Uppsala settled a research on Oriflame’s naming choices, with two focus groups, several interviews and a digital survey. What they found in the end proves to be quite interesting: as opposed to the original intention of the firm’s naming, this translation didn’t sound elegant or classy but rather awkward and farfetched… Of course, the meaning of each word still remains, as most people in the survey and in the focus group still associated each word with its meaning; however, it’s the combination of these three characters that sounds off: as Chinese is a symbolic language with lots of slightly nuanced meanings for each word, what’s important in a name is the combination of words. The meaning of each word alone counts, but what’s most important is the combination of them all : here, people tended to associate each word with the next or the previous one, finding no real link between them and leading them to eventually be confused.
Thankfully, conclusions drawn by both focus groups are similar : they still associated the brand with the ideas of Europe and cosmetics (thanks to the Lian莲 that carried the idea of romance, beauty, feminity…). Of course, we can’t say Oriflame’s naming was a great success, but we can’t say it was failed either : there are no negative connotations to the name (maybe apart from the fact that Lian莲 was a name often chosen by rural old women in ancient China), and the main ideas are accurately conveyed through the brand name. It’s just that due to language differences between Chinese and English those were not taken into account during the naming, the intended messages that the brand wanted to send were distorted and caused a gap between the brand’s identity and the brand’s image in China.