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How Airbnb got their Chinese naming wrong, and how you can do a better job

March 24,2017 | Andy Clayton

Airbnb - the worlds largest hospitality broker, with over 3 million listings in over 191 countries has just announced its new chinese name. Has it all gone to plan?

Airbnb launch new brand name.jpg


As the company triples their Chinese workforce alongside integration with local payment methods including Alipay and WeChat, Airbnb are now redoubling their efforts to connect with Chinese consumers, with their CEO, Brian Chesky announcing their brand new, Chinese brand name:



At face value it sounds good, right? "Aibiying" sounds somewhat similar to the western name, with each character meaning "love,” “each other” and “welcome" separately.


Unfortunately, creating a Chinese brand name name isn't quite that simple. Once the nuances of the language, pronunciation of characters and local dialects are applied, the new name seems to be struggling to connect with consumers quite as they expected, with comments across Twitter and Weibo, including:


This encapsulates perfectly, the challenges creating a Chinese brand name that has a strong meaning, simultaneously connecting Chinese consumers to the western brand.


Why doesn't Airbnb work?


We typically talk about two key elements when creating a Chinese brand name, sound and meaning (covered in more detail in our article here). 


However, there's a third, somewhat trickier element to get right. The 'Chinese flavour', essentially how well the name fits in with the culture. From the Chinese reaction to Aibiying, This is where they've fallen short


A few good examples of brands that have hit all three elements are:


carrefour.jpgCarrefour, the multinational retailer uses Jiā lè fú - meaning "Home" "Happy" "Wealth" - not only does it sound similar to the western brand and carry meaning, it's also chimes well with local consumers and carries authenticity.


Sheraton Hotels & Resorts known as xi lai deng  - broadly translated to  "Happiness" "to come" "Reaching the top", implying the coming of happiness - once again a similar sound, strong meaning and fitting in culturally.


coca cola.jpg

Coca - Cola - trades as Kĕkŏu Kĕlè, meaning Tastes good" "makes you happy, another fine example of phonetic similarity, strong meaning and cultural fit.


It's not enough to just find characters that sound similar to your brand and have some connection to your operations. A Chinese brand name needs to feel authentic in the hearts and minds of local consumers.


When it comes to choosing a Chinese brand name, whether you're an SME or a large, publicly listed brand, don't take this decision lightly. 


Always ensure you always locally test your brand name. What looks good and sensible on paper can be incredibly different when put in front of real consumers. 


Airbnb can feel some small comfort knowing they aren't the first brand to struggle with this:


  • In 2006 - Google's Chinese name - 谷歌 (gu-ge) was criticised by locals for also sounding like a Chinese harvesting song.


  • Snapchat's Chinese name 色拉布, (se-la-bu) - returned pictures of Labradors when searched for using local Chinese search engine - Baidu


  • In the late 80's KFC's slogan "Finger licking good" was translated to Chinese for their Beijing launch, ending up stating "We'll eat your fingers off"


Why is Chinese naming so difficult and what's the art to success? Read our article on choosing a China name or get in touch with our local experts