Brand, translation and China

How luxury brands are recreated within cultural contexts

China’s retail market has developed significantly in a short period of time, and is now the world’s second largest after the USA. Naturally, the upshot is that more and more brands tailor their services to satisfy the needs of the market. Most of the world’s economy is struggling and everyone is looking at China, because it’s one of the few markets that are still growing.

In the past five years China has become one of the most attractive markets for luxury brands whose efforts are continuously directed towards anticipating market needs and trends and translating them into successful campaigns. These days, discretion is key in China.

Flashy logos, loud and flamboyant designs are no longer appealing and the population is shifting from brands like Gucci or Louis Vuitton to more under-the-radar, subtle yet sophisticated brands like Celine, Isabel Marant or Maison Martin Margiela. Those who are familiar with luxury goods now want highly unique brands.


In order to comply with the Chinese standards, brands need to make adjustments, for example re-thinking clothing size charts. This has been a struggle especially for the American companies. Gap, for example, had to provide a size XXXS in China in order to make up for the size difference.

LVMH's Louis Vuitton and Kering-owned Gucci, which won over legions of fans with their visibly branded products, have recently moved away from the logo-look and are now offering more upmarket leather handbags.

The differentiation between big cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing – where consumer tastes are rapidly evolving – and China’s smaller cities must be made. Logos are still very popular in China’s vast interiors where fashion labels are still a novelty; therefore sales strategies differ from one city to another.

According to the official China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), around 81% of China’s 618 million internet users go online wirelessly, so mobile-friendly apps are a must in boosting online sales, especially in a country where online shopping is booming. It’s no wonder, therefore, that with this number of people accessing the web, localisation of content into the local language is so vital. Relevant cultural references in copy-writing and visual advertising can really make the difference.

Meeting desires

The Chinese society emphasises on luxury items because they regard it as a status investment, a method of public display of their social ascent.

“The rule for positioning a brand in China is that products must address the need to navigate the crosscurrents of ambition and regimentation, of standing out while fitting in. Men want to succeed without violating the rules of the game, which is why wealthier individuals prefer Audis or BMWs over flashy Maseratis,” suggests Tom Doctoroff, the author of What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer in an interview for The Wall Street Journal.

“The Chinese society emphasises on luxury items because they regard it as a status investment, a method of public display of their social ascent.”

Markus Kramer, Partner at Brand Affairs AG and Expert at Powering Brands, thinks that "The Chinese consumer is rapidly moving upwards on the curve of sophistication. The consequence is that differentiation through price and logo presence is increasingly replaced through inner brand value and knowledge. Status is no longer synonymous to badge, but to meaning and a real demonstration of taste. Or as Coco Chanel put it very nicely 50 years ago when positioning luxury for western societies: some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity."

As investigated by the Association for Consumer Research, Chinese women have developed an awareness of their femininity marked by consumption. Chinese women respond differently to female appeals in fashion ads than American women do to the same type of appeals.

Conversis’ CEO, Gary Muddyman, says that “Localisation of content is crucial for a marketing campaign to be successful. For global companies to tap into the Chinese market, they first need to understand these needs and tailor their services or products to fit the cultural context. We have handled various Chinese translations and localisations. Their terminology is very specific and their alphabet very sensitive. You need to send the message across in a way that they can relate to easily.”

Gary Muddyman, CEO of translation and localisation agency Conversis

With the Chinese young consumers becoming more and more lodged in the digital sphere, simply opening stores supported by huge ad banners just won’t do. Building brand credibility through relevant social channels and engaging the right brand ambassadors are key components of a successful strategy.

Lead Image: Flickr / Carlos ZGZ

Elena Arau

Elena Arau is a senior communications executive at Conversis, a translation and localisation agency. Her work portfolio includes technology, cybersecurity and luxury accounts across the EMEA region. She formerly held executive communications roles at Dubai-based agencies Active and Matrix.