Mengniu, the dairy brand that has been at the center of almost every tainted milk scandal in China, planned for re-branding and came up with one new marketing pitch: “Little happiness matters.” Is this another Chinese-English translation fail or did their marketing people just accidentally speak out the truth of their brand? Well…judging from the Chinese version of the pitch, what they meant to say is “Happiness, however small, matters” or “For even the smallest happiness.” Though Mengniu may have just put itself into another PR nightmare, the new slogan actually very well speaks out how the Chinese people are feeling about living in China right now.
At Mengniu re-branding press conference
Mengniu Dairy, in the past few years, has reduced from one of China’s most valuable brands to probably China’s most-hated brands. The deteriorating food safety situation in China isn’t news and Mengniu is almost seen as the face of China’s food safety problems. Since the melamine milk powder scandal in 2008, Mengniu has been involved in numerous other toxic dairy product sandals – there are Mengniu product poisoning or product-gone-bad cases exposed every year, if not every month, many of which involved small kids and young students.
The current re-branding initiative was Mengniu’s first in its 13-year history according to 广告门 (Advertising Gate), a website for adverting industry news. It was meant to rebuild Mengniu’s brand image as being one that cares about its customers’ happiness and health. That not-really-happy slogan didn’t help much, but many Chinese netizens did get the massage and thought it actually worked very well for Mengniu, though not in a way that Mengniu would want it to be. Like former Google China president Kai Fu Lee commented: “Stop arguing [about whether the English is right]. Isn’t “little happiness matters” a perfect fit for Mengniu?”
Mengniu ad copy: “You pay attention to every happy moments. We pay attention to every one of you. For even the smallest happiness.”
The new pitch, regardless of its English translation, clearly backfired. Netizen 周炜创与投 commented: “Choose Mengniu and you lose your happiness. I’ve never seen a better translation. Keep using it.” 安太子 went on: “So true, Drink Mengniu and you will feel little happiness.”
In additional to the obvious translation fail, Mengniu also chooses probably the worst time to incorporate the word “happiness” in its marketing massages.
“Are you happy?” has been a buzz word on the Chinese Internet for a good few weeks now. It all started with a special production of a CCTV (China Central Television) show called “Listening to Bai Xing’s Hearts” (Bai Xing, 百姓 in Chinese, means ordinary people). Journalists of the show went out and interviewed people from all walks of life on streets, asking everybody one same question: “Are you happy?” No one made a big deal out of the show until one day, a migrant worker answered: “My last name is Zeng.” To get the joke, there needs to be a bit explanation. “Are you happy (你幸福吗),” if pronounced in Chinese, is the same as “Is your last name Fu (你姓福吗)” (Both are “Ni Xing Fu Ma” in Pinyin).
“Are you happy?” “My last name is Zeng.”
Though there is no way to confirm whether that migrant worker gave such an absurd answer on purpose or not, Chinese netizens thought it was sarcasm in its best because many Chinese people are simply not feeling happy.
Like Weibo celebrity 假装在纽约 commented: “’Are you happy?’A person who keeps asking himself whether he is happy or not is definitely unhappy. A country that keeps asking its people whether they are happy or not is definitely not a country that can make its people happy.”
“Are you happy?” “I have hearing problems.”
In a way, Mengniu and China as a country are facing the same challenge – both completely lost their credibility among their audiences, both need to restore people’s trust in their “brands”, and both are badly in need for a reform at management level. People now can afford milk in their daily diet, but they are not OK with just any milk. They also desire nutrition and health benefits. People now are better off with way more disposable income than before, but they are not OK with just a fatter wallet. They also desire freedom and equality. Happiness, however hard to define, does matter.