Jul 17 2011 

Why the Chinese Love Logos

You might have noticed how the Chinese people, but also the Japanese and Koreans, adore logos. The same goes for monograms. Detractors claim this is related to self-promotion and a desire to show off, but they’re only marginally right. The fact is, logos go hand in hand with the Asian thought process because they are based on ideograms.

Indeed, our brains process word-based alphabets and drawing-based ones (like a logo or an ideogram) in very different ways.

When Westerners like us read, our brains perform additive operations. Take the word “Liberty”, for example (liberty and not freedom, please). Our brain is going to process it as such: L + I = Li, B + E + R = Ber, T + Y = Ty, and finally Li + Ber + Ty = Liberty, thereby yielding the final meaning. It’s a long mathematical process relying on the left side of the brain, containing logic. The term “Liberty” comes from Latin for “slave”, and therefore fits in the context of a break in the vertical master-slave relationship.

For our Chinese friend, things are totally different. For them to read, they need to associate meaning with drawings known as ideograms. Going back to our Liberty example, in Chinese it is represented by two ideograms Zi and You. The former represents the self, and the latter origin. The Chinese reader sees two successive images directly affecting the right side of their brain. – the side of intuition and emotion. Their concept of Liberty, incidentally, is different from ours, as it is entirely focused on the individual – having one’s self as an origin.

“What about logos?” you might ask. Well the brain works by routine and is a creature of habit.

At first, the Chinese are uncomfortable with our alphabet because it doesn’t fit in their ideographic system. And it is not ingrained in them by their education. For most of them, except those fluent in English, our words mean nothing more than when you look at a website captcha.  It makes no sense and is really hard to decrypt. But in a logo, the Chinese see a drawing, a concept much closer to their familiar ideograms.

So why do we say ideogram and not pictogram? Because the ideogram represents a concept, and is not a drawing per se. Take the drawing of a tree, for example. Normally, you see a trunk, some branches, leaves, and fruit. In other words, the visible parts of a tree. Now take the ideogram Ki. You see a trunk, branches, and roots. Namely, something you cannot typically see – the roots – but are an inherent part of the tree. We therefore have the concept of a tree, and not its drawn representation. We are dealing with symbolism, and not a reproduction of reality.

I don’t have to tell you that a logo is a brand’s symbol. It stands for its presence and its concept. Logos are Western versions of ideograms, and they work much like them from a Chinese thought process standpoint. Because the Chinese mind will not clearly identify the letters, but will see the symbol and associate a brand and its myth with it.

The human brain works off routine. It does not appreciate disruption. And so logos are well adapted to the Chinese brain with its prevalent right-side hemisphere. That brain looks at a logo as a symbolic image, not a set of calligraphed letters.

Herein lies the secret of the logo’s impact on the Asian mind. It has more to do with the way their minds are wired than any desire to show off.

By Nathalie Omori. Filed under Brand |

21 Comments

  1. by sofia bianchini, Jul 18 2011

    Bravo Nathalie! so interesting

  2. by Chinese Brands Love Chinese Logos | 360Fashion China, Jul 18 2011

    [...] by Nathalie Omori on [...]

  3. by Paul, Jul 18 2011

    Freedom in Chinese is zi you, not zi yu…

  4. by Nathalie Omori, Jul 18 2011

    Thanks a lot Paul

  5. by Cyfi, Jul 19 2011

    this is very interesting.huge implications for consumer research and marketing

  6. by Nathalie Omori, Jul 19 2011

    Thanks a lot, I hope I will participate to these consumer researches as well as marketing works

  7. by anna maria nardi, Jul 19 2011

    Grazie, interesting,that is the way for me to understand the Chinese people better!

  8. by Li, Jul 20 2011

    Great angle to look at the logo thing within Chinese and Asian People.As a Chinese I agree those seperate letter or complex letter combination means nothing to us and very very hard to spell/remember and even dont know how to pronounce if nobody tells.

    But for luxury brand logos probably culture thing such as no religon,desire to be acknowledged,showing off or reflection of less confidence etc etc, plays more important role…

  9. by Nathalie Omori, Jul 20 2011

    Yes I do perfectly agree but the question is why instead of other attributes did you choose the logo as a representative of state …. rather than for eg leather quality, design, ….

  10. by sanmitra, Jul 21 2011

    this is really interesting. Thanks for your sharing Nathalie..

  11. by From No Logo to Logos for 21st Century Asian consumers | TMRC Insights & Action, Jul 22 2011

    [...] our colleague Ms. Nathalie Omori from Zhenji has written a wonderful blog (http://www.zhenji.info/2011/07/why-the-chinese-love-logos/) in which she discussed how and why the Westerners and Asians see and understand logos differently. [...]

  12. by business review, Jul 27 2011

    ………………Article by on .You might have noticed how the Chinese people but also the Japanese and Koreans adore logos. Going back to our Liberty example in Chinese it is represented by two ideograms Zi and Yu.

  13. by Peterr Oakley, Aug 11 2011

    An interesting article Nathalie. I have previously noticed how enthusiastic Chinese and Japanese are about UK Hallmarks. The Assay Office marks follow heraldry conventions so are also close to ideograms. The old image based metal marks: a crown for gold, orb for platinum or lion passant for silver (lion rampant in Scotland) are now optional (the obligatory stamp is a millesimal value in arabic numerals). In light of this article it might be worth having the old metal marks struck too if you have a significant number of Chinese, Japanese or Korean clients.

  14. by Monex fraud, Aug 16 2011

    Even the ancient.Chinese had some minimal procedures for notice and hearing when people were.charged with something.

  15. by 5 Things To Know About Marketing In China | Fashion's Collective, Feb 09 2012

    [...] Omori, a Chinese luxury consumer specialist, explains: “Logos are Western versions of ideograms, and they work much like them from a Chinese thought [...]

  16. by Personal Shopper in rome, Dec 17 2012

    Very Vey interesting. I think China people have a particula imagination and creative idea. in the coming years will cease to copy е create their brands.

  17. by Nathalie Omori, Dec 19 2012

    They have already brilliant brands but not international

  18. by Peter Wenham, Jan 14 2013

    So in that case, the purely visual logoes should be the most popular/appealing to Chinese people? For example, the Shell one, which has no lettering on it now, or car ones like Hyundai/Honda? However, they do seem to prefer ‘stick’ drawings to anything representational as such, and a lot of their characters bear only a very obtuse/arcane resemblance (to our eyes) to the original object – the sun is not, as you’d expect, round or circular, but oblong or square! You have to know a lot about the origins and evolution of characters to understand/read/see them.

    I’m not sure about the failure to see our alphabet either, or a difficulty with it, as surely it is by its nature infinitely less of a memory load than their system – although it’s true my translator assistant has trouble – or is it sheer laziness, or bad teaching? – distinguishing between lower and upper case letters. Western numerals don’t seem to hold any difficulties for them – or money($$) amounts!

    Since so-called ‘opening up’ (now closing down again, as employees of shops with English names like Watsons or Starbucks or McDonalds or KFC cannot seem to even pronounce these let alone serve in Engish) in 1978 the kids have been studying English as one of the first fashionable activities to show off with, from kindergarten up! So it wasn’t to actually learn the language, just superficially go through the motions, to show off and brag? – maybe that’s why so few can actually communicate or hold a meaningful conversation in English?

    On the contrary, it is we who need some help with Chinese ideo-picto grams, as we have generally not been introduced to them let alone studied them systematically, and it is notoriously difficult to get any explanation of system (e.g. the phonetic side characters) from Chinese teachers. Until recently, despite many years in Chinese places, I have been blind to them – they do not register with me even at the level of patterns or pictures – so if Chinese want to join/open up to the International / global markets, perhaps they should acknowledge and adapt too – and keep them simple, humble and accessible to the miswired Western hemisphere!?

    On other implied ramifications: I’m not sure this cultural heritage makes them ‘creative’ – the evidence indicates otherwise. Anything which is not slavishly (not libertarian or liberal!) traditional like landscape paintings, is a pale forced imitation of Western forms, like their ‘pop music’, which only ignorance and the super-imposition of Chinese lyrics (without tones, which interestingly seem to be understood in context in a way they never can in our attempted speech!) lends it an air of (claimed) originality. I think at best they pay lip service.

    I think it is true their and our brains are wired differently, as one can find in almost every attempt at communication, even on work or technical subjects! How they build skyscrapers, planes and rockets beats me!

    What are the implications, then, more exactly, Nathalie, would you say, for Western brand marketers?

    And how such poverty-pleading rogues get to be in the space of only about 35 years the wealthiest in the world and snobbish elitist about not only material possessions but showing off and obligation to have the ‘best’ (using the best raw materials/resources!) of each item while looking essentially scruffy, dour, uniform also puzzles and confuses – and upsets me! Imagine what it will be like when all 1.5 billion (or it it 3, with the unregistered multi-child families?) have a BMW/Audi/Benz SUV tank/hearse/chariot/van, and nowhere to park them!?

    I think Marx (and Freud) would have a lot to say about these essentially selfish and self-centred, contradictions, whose only common thread is precisely that serving of the self – at all others’ (especially Westerners’, lao wai/wai guo ren/aliens) expense! Like a sort of retribution, too, for untold and unexplained offences/atrocities we must have committed unawares somewhere along their 5000 years of history! (They probably like the Scorpio zodiac sign, being of that ilk – but then again, why are their (animal) signs so realistico representational – even in jewellery – and ours so abstract? Is there a key here?!

    All very interessant, though, I do agree!

  19. by Galen, Jan 27 2013

    I have to say, as a local Chinese, I do not fully agree with your opinion. You have perfectly articulated chinese Lauguage as an ideogram, there is a logic that links different parts of the word into a meaning, but I don’t see why is it linked to Logo because logo has no logic behind, eg. I can recognize an LV monogram easily, but if you ask me to draw a monogram logo? I cann’t, because it has no logic so I don’t remember.

    To me, Chinese people love logolized luxury products are easily understandable: it’s because we are in the beginner stage in the luxury field. From my own experience, my first LV bag, of course I will choose a monogram, my first Gucci bag, of course a GG bag, we call it the entry level for a luxury world. But now I am buying the second the third one, what I am focusing on is the designer, the leather quality, the tailor techniques, the uniqueness, the time of launch etc. That’s why nowadays in the street of Shanghai and Beijing, you will see less and less logolized luxury products, because the first tier cties in China has passed the “entrial stage” already.

  20. by Yufeng (Roy), Feb 22 2013

    Very interesting discussion.
    To those famous Chinese brands, Chinese consumer usually remember the brand name, not logol (actually, they do not have logol. Why? It is not part of culture of doing business and the meaning of Chinese brand name is rich and clear). VI (including logol) is new concept in China in past 20 years.
    My observation is that Logol is important to foreign brand because major Chinese consumer can not remember the English name as well as pronunciation (And, this is no need to spell or pronounce it once they can be communicated and recognised). So, logol is the ID/ symbol to these foreign brands.

  21. by Marketing to Women: Why Chinese Love Logos | The Lipstick Economy, Feb 25 2013

    [...] of the most interesting articles I read this week was Why the Chinese Love Logos.  Trust me, it has something to do with marketing and branding.  The Chinese are hardwired to [...]

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