Brands, Positioning and Cultural Sensitivity
The South China Morning Post recently ran a full-page report on the rapid growth of the private aviation market in China. focusing on the emergence of the second-hand market for private jets.
In the case of jets, buying second-hand does not necessarily mean buying a used aircraft. In recent years, there have been significant numbers of private jets ordered which buyers are unable to settle the final payments on; which then enter the re-sale market as distressed assets.
More interesting, however, was a sidebar story which described how one of the leading global private jet makers changed the name of one of its top new aircraft models just for the sake of the China market.
Although Gulfstream Aerospace has not publicly confirmed a link between the name change and the China market, various industry sources told the SCMP that this is in fact the background to the decision.
The Gulfstream G250 long-range, large-cabin private jet was unveiled in 2008 amid much marketing fanfare.
The good news was that the product launch in 2008 paralleled the emergence of the mainland’s private jet market, but, in another way, that was also the bad news. Gulfstream reportedly got feedback from a variety of industry sources in China that the new model’s designation, G250, had unfortunate and undesirable associations in the Chinese language and culture.
“250” in Putonghua can mean “stupid”, so to describe someone as “250” is like calling them a dummy or imbecile. The origins of this expression date from ancient Chinese culture and derive from the use in those days of strings of copper coins. A string of 1,000 coins had a standard measure of value. Half that many coins, 500, eventually came to connote something or someone sub-standard, and half again — “250” — came to mean something or someone severely lacking.
In other words, this expression has been around a long time. It’s not one of those slang expressions that come and go quickly with some passing fad. This is the type of thing marketers need to pay attention to when choosing brand and model names to be consistent with their positioning strategy, including all key national target markets.
Gulfstream must have gone to considerable expense when, three years after the G250’s launch, they decided to rename it the G280. Marketing materials, user manuals, and aviation regulatory filings around the world must all have needed redoing.
Regardless of the expenses involved, they made a smart business decision. It’s hard to imagine any super successful Chinese entrepreneur wanting to spend large amounts of money to be flown around on his own personal “250”.
It brings to mind a similar issue which confronted a new hotel in Beijing in the early 1980s. For many years, foreign tourists and business visitors to Beijing stayed either at the Beijing Hotel, the Friendship Hotel, or the Minzu Hotel. This was before the large-scale advent of international hotel brands and management into China.
So, there was quite a bit of attention paid to the opening of another new local hotel on Changan Street in Beijing, to the west of the Minzu Hotel. It’s name — the Fuxing Hotel — created a lot of chuckles among foreigners.
For the typical non-Chinese who does not know the hanyu pinyin system of romanizing Chinese characters, “fuxing” reads like a verb form derived from the English four-letter word beginning with “f”; and therefore a funny-sounding name for a hotel.
This was commented on in various international media reports in those days, and before we knew it, the new hotel’s name was changed.
The funny thing is, I remember the name “Fuxing”, but I can’t remember what that hotel’s name was changed to. Perhaps some reader will volunteer to help provide that information?
Moral: it’s important to do careful research into brand names and model names, and this needs to include multiple geographies, cultures, and languages.
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