Posts by Jordan Price - Tokyo

AnxietyIndex: September poll finds Japan seeking stronger corporate and political leadership

The second in our AnxietyIndex series on post-quake Japan shows that many Japanese feel the March disaster exposed deeper problems the country had avoided facing previously. The survey, fielded Sept. 9-13 among 500 adults aged 18-plus, found that the percentage of Japanese who feel “very nervous or anxious” actually increased significantly since our April 2011 survey—from 30 percent to 46 percent. This is partly due to a strong sense that the disaster proved Japan’s political system is eroded (78 percent of respondents agreed) and showed that Japanese companies are becoming less globally competitive (60 percent).

The government has not convinced the people of its leadership abilities—anxiety has spiked over its failure to provide consistent, reliable information, especially in regard to radiation risks—with just 27 percent of respondents agreeing the government is capable of steering Japan through the crisis. By contrast, 61 percent trust what big corporations have been doing to help. Brands have a significant opportunity to help fill the leadership void with decisive actions and untainted information. For brands that can engineer a positive change from business as usual, the rewards will be significant, given the nation’s sentiments.

To download the full report, click here.

Philip Morris, Clorets see co-selling opportunity in Japan

philip-morris-and-clorets-gumAs mentioned in a previous post about co-branded kits of canned coffee and packages of smokes, cigarette brands facing declining sales and a shrinking market are looking for ways to steal share and reinforce loyalty wherever possible. The latest effort by Philip Morris leverages the ever-present concern of the smoker—smoker’s breath—by offering a box of cigarettes bundled with a pack of new Clorets gum in a two-in-one package.

This is a good example of turning an issue of consumer anxiety arising from one brand into a co-selling opportunity with a second brand that solves the problem, resulting in a win-win for both. Philip Morris gains a chance to convert new users, while Clorets gets its new product into the hands of a potentially core target. This is also an example of creatively re-imagining how your products are sold, one of our recommendations for brands in our Recession Handbook.

Photo Credit: Jordan Price

AGA gives Japanese men a forum to share anxieties

While there are plenty of sites for women to share health concerns and opinions, it’s rare to find one for men. Now Banyu, a Japanese pharmaceutical company best known for its AGA division of hair-loss treatment products and services, has launched a portal site called “AGA 30s Opinion” to collect questions and let men vote on male-specific dilemmas and anxieties on topics ranging from health to love, money, work and more.

In Japan the topic of hair loss is a particularly uncomfortable subject (until recently, a Japanese word for “bald” was prohibited from use on TV). With many of AGA’s products needing prescription, a key for the brand is to get men in their 30s—when the first signs of hair loss generally appear—who may still be in denial or reluctant to talk about the issue to consult with their doctor.

By leveraging broader anxieties and providing an interactive and anonymous tool to give men a glimpse into the concerns of their peers, the site is a clever way to decrease the sensitivity and stigma around the problems that AGA proposes to solve, showing men they are not alone in their anxieties.



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Craze for historical figure spotlights Japan’s loss of faith

ryoma-sakamotoI recently discussed the rising popularity of history among young women in Japan. This trend has been expanding to a broader segment of the population, with a new craze for all things related to one historical figure in particular: Ryoma Sakamoto. A rebel samurai from the late 19th century, Sakamoto was a driving force of the Meiji Restoration (which returned power to the emperor, speeding modernization and ending the country’s self-imposed isolation). He is the father of the modern Japanese navy and was a visionary leader during a tumultuous period who realized that to compete globally, Japan had to unite and to modernize.

Led by a drama based on his life that aired on Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, a boom in everything Sakamoto has given rise to books, anime and manga, events, lectures and tours of historical sites. All Nippon Airways is even decorating one of its jets with a giant image of Sakamoto. I previously noted that this fascination with historical figures appears to be driven by a sense that modern Japan has lost its way and a search for better models from the past. The focus on Sakamoto seems to be linked to similarities between the times he lived in and today, and the feeling that Japan is at another crossroads, again facing an uncertain future.

For businesses and brands, there’s an opportunity to help people envision a better future and to define it for them. We’ve seen plenty of examples of this on the environmental front but fewer on a social level. One of the more innovative examples is JWT’s “Lead India” campaign, launched by The Times of India in 2008, which sought to inspire Indians to become more engaged citizens.

Photo Credit: Robert Sanzalone

Seeking heroes, Japanese look to history

history-girls-4Among the Top 10 most popular words/phrases for 2009 in Japan, a list compiled by publisher Jiyu Kokuminsha, was Reki-jo—literally, “history girls.” Young Japanese women are suddenly taken with Japanese history, in particular warlords and famous samurai of the Warring States period (the mid-15th to early 17th centuries). And it doesn’t seem to be just a passing fad.

The history-focused Jidai Shobo bookstore in Tokyo, for example, had predominantly male customers when it opened in 2006, but a news report says that more than half are now women, and 90 percent are in their 20s and 30s. The history magazine Rekishi Kaido has seen its circulation jump to more than 120,000 from 70,000 five years ago, with female readership rising from 15 percent to 40 percent.

This trend seems to be driven in part by young women searching for models of masculinity reaction to the startling rise in asexual, unambitious “herbivore boys” (discussed in a previous post). But deeper than that, it also seems connected to a growing undercurrent of sentiment that the nation has lost its way. The recession has driven faith in government and business leadership to an all-time low and even given rise to more general questioning of various aspects of modern life, pushing many to look for better models from the past. The historical figures being idolized represent lives based on strong principles and convictions, and a greater vision—exactly what’s seen to be missing in political, social and business leadership and modern life.

What this means for brands in Japan is that there’s a void to be filled: a hunger for leadership, passion and vision. More than ever, brands must better define their core principles and values, and fully live by them, so that brands themselves can become respected role models.

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McDonald’s merges mobile media and marketing magnificently

9800082_tokyojapanThis post is not so much about anxiety but about being successful at a time when anxiety makes competition for consumers’ pocket money particularly fierce. McDonald’s, which recently announced that group operating profits for the first half were up 33 percent in Japan over last year, has carried out some very smart marketing here this year, especially in its efforts to truly connect with consumers.

For example, McDonald’s set up wi-fi hotspots in its restaurants and is making good use of them for marketing, using the wi-fi capability as a new media channel. For a summer promotion, McDonald’s Japan teamed up with Nintendo and Square Enix, a game designer, to create a downloadable Nintendo DS game, Dragon Quest: McDonald’s Travelers. Players could bring their Nintendo DS systems to a local McDonald’s, where they could download and play the battle game.

The brilliance of this promotion was that the only way to play was to go to McDonald’s. Players were also limited to one play session a day, but earned a free burger after five sessions (i.e., five trips to McDonald’s). McDonald’s Travelers got over a million downloads, and the promotion, scheduled to end Sept. 3, proved so popular that it was extended to Oct. 1.

The merging of retail and gaming is a great way to expand one’s consumer base, and the way McDonald’s executed it also enticed greater frequency of visits. Talk about getting people to spend time with your brand.

Coca-Cola markets a coffee/cigarettes combo in Japan

coke11Caffeine and nicotine … when there’s a lot of stress and anxiety in the air, you can expect more of these drugs to be flowing through the collective bloodstream. So it’s not a surprise that Coca-Cola has come up with a clever (some might say devious) marketing partnership to take advantage of Japan’s anxiety.

Coca-Cola’s Georgia canned coffee, the top seller in the market and basically positioned as the working man’s brand, has been appearing on shelves in combo packages with a pack or two of cigarettes. First it was Georgia and Phillip Morris brands in the AM PM chain of convenience stores. And now, with British American Tobacco, even the package color and design schemes match, enhancing the co-branded feel.


It’s too early to tell whether this effort is a success and something that will be around for a while, but it looks like a win-win for both Georgia and the cigarette brand partner. Georgia strengthens its working man image among a consumer segment that probably has the highest proportion of smokers. And the ever-assailed cigarette brand finds a new sales channel, and in a combination that’s as logical for most smokers as peanut butter and jelly.

Coca-Cola simplifies green for the mainstream in Japan

With the stifling heat of the Japanese summer in mind, and tapping into growing green consciousness and environmental anxiety in Japan, Coca-Cola launched a new, greener bottled water here in June. Called I LOHAS, it has a twistable bottle that’s touted as the lightest-ever PET bottle, and at 12 grams, uses 40 percent less plastic than the average bottle of the same size. This means lighter delivery loads, recycling shipments with less wasted space, reduced waste-disposal emissions and less overall waste.

But rather than talking about these more abstract green benefits, communication is focused on what’s easiest to understand and closest to home for consumers: It revolves around the idea of “1. Select… 2. Drink… 3. Twist….” While promoting recycling, the advertising demonstrates how this bottle innovation makes it simple for anyone to make a difference.
While being truly green probably means staying away from bottled water altogether—and there’s likely to be some “greenwashing” backlash—bottled water is unlikely to go away anytime soon. An excellent example of how to make green as mainstream as possible, I LOHAS has the makings of a big success.

Simplicity, sustainability and the LOHAS lifestyle are big in Japan

avedapurecafeimagesJapan is the most anxious market among the 10 we have studied in the course of our AnxietyIndex research. The country has become an increasingly fast-paced and complex place in the last few decades, but as anxiety grows, many are seeking a simpler life and reassessing what really matters to them.

So rather than providing ever more options and functions, or pushing the “have it all” aspirations of the ’80s and ’90s, brands would do well to strip down their offering and focus on simplicity, sustainability and the truly important things in life. Already many businesses are taking advantage of the fact that Japan is one of the fastest-growing markets in terms of LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability).

Aveda Japan, for example, has had great success with its LOHAS-lifestyle salon, spa and vegan restaurant, Pure Café. Radish Boya, a company that delivers organic vegetables and additive-free foods to its members, has seen dramatic growth since 2003; it now has roughly 100,000 members, and annual sales revenue of 22.8 billion yen (US$244 million). And Mujirushi, the clothing and lifestyle retail pioneer also known as MUJI, has succeeded with its core philosophy of simplicity, sustainability and stripping away the unnecessary. Annual turnover is around 145.5 billion yen (US$1.5 billion), and its success in Japan has allowed for rapid expansion—there are now 98 stores around the globe.

For more on the recession and its impact on the environment in Japan,  download the presentation from the Trends and Research section of this site.

Japanese consumers rediscover an old (green-friendly) tradition

With Japanese consumers reporting an extremely high level of anxiety, a distinct shift is occurring: Many Japanese are looking to the country’s past and the deeper lessons of the culture to find solutions to current issues, especially regarding the environment. (See the Japan version of The Recession and Its Impact on the Environment.) Reverence and respect for nature is intrinsic to the Japanese mind-set and culture. The power of nature has always been tangible for the Japanese, and much of the culture is built around living in harmony with the rhythms of the natural world.

One example of this shift is the comeback of furoshiki, the traditional patterned cloth used as a hand towel and a wrap for carrying anything from books to bento boxes. As consumers look to reduce their dependence on plastic bags, many are going back to furoshiki and learning the various traditional folding and wrapping techniques. Some of the hippest fashion retailers are jumping on board, adapting furoshiki for modern tastes.

Other brands can tap into this cultural shift by taking cues from Japan’s tradition and heritage in addressing the needs of today’s consumers.

Furoshiki gift wrapping from RecycleNow on Vimeo.