If you are looking for branding in Japan, you might just be drowning while searching. Japanese cities are packed with ad posters, flashy signs, loud acoustic advertising in the streets and product varieties that couldn’t be more diverse. Branding in Japan is Japan itself: Japanese people love to consume and they love to identify with the brands they buy. Behind this is a deeper motive, that’s why brand identity strategies in Japan have a more elaborate structure than in our western world.
Japan—A world of rules, social codes and altruism
The Japanese think completely differently. This is because the Japanese mentality has a bigger collective mind than the individualistic west. Of course, Japanese have the freedom to be as individualistic as they want to be. The paramount importance in life though is harmony and order. The Japanese forgo their individualist needs in order to make life easier for everyone. They are always aware of their current environment. And all environments have special rules and codes in order to make life efficient and easy for everyone. Taking the metro for example: You don’t just bulldozer into the train as soon as it arrives – you wait until it’s your turn. When you try on clothes in a store, you take your shoes off first. If someone loses something in the street you make sure you run after them to return the lost token. There is an altruistic element that all Japanese have. If you talk to each other you make sure you hit a humble and most adequate tone. Courtesy and efficiency are top priority.
Escapism: Efficiency and order needs an outlet
In a world that is focused on efficiency, with coded social behaviour to superiors or subordinates one has to learn how to blend in perfectly. If you don’t blend in chances are high you might offend someone deeply. Often, this leaves very little space to be „you“. This is why Japanese people need big outlets to unwind from their formal lives. No other culture offers more possibilities and suprisingly, tolerance to escape reality. Countless imaginary worlds in manga, anime and video games are inviting you to leave your regular life behind and step into another universe. Partake in a weird hobby, take on a parallel identity on a computer game, sing karaoke and drink until you fall over, wear extreme and extroverted fashion, indulge in food, have a weird fetish, or dress your pets as your favorite comic character.
Branding in Japan: Brands that offer you a different world
Brands in Japan are not just logos, minor ideologies and photo shoots. Brands are stories, little parallel lives or personalities. They offer you new perspectives, they open up their worlds to you with new colors, new scents, even a new way to be „you“. They tell you that you can reinvent yourself by consuming this very product, in fact you will become that happy person on that very poster. This is why branding in Japan is way more elaborate and perfectionist than in most other countries. The Japanese have a keen understanding of identity, and they will notice the slightest disruptive element in a communication strategie—which will be a big loss of trust into the brand.
Japanese savor things more than most people
Food is a very important part in the life of the Japanese—when they eat something, they will not only chew and swallow, they will celebrate the very moment the food enters their mouth. They try to analyze the taste and they will be thankful for the experience. For this particular reason the Japanese version of „bon appetit“ is „itadakimasu“ (I will eat this now and I’m thankful for it). The same goes for every knick knack that they buy. Japanese love the little „kawaii“ (cute) in their lives. Have you ever seen a Japanese person buying a plush toy or plastic doll? They enjoy every moment of looking at them, cherishing and celebrating their design, character and appearance. So, if you are representing a brand in Japan, don’t be superficial. Elaborate. You want to open your brand world for the possibility to get lost in it. If you win the Japanese people over with your brand, if you make them enter your world, they will be willing to spend money.
Branding in Japan needs protagonists
Protagonists in advertising and branding have always been a thing. In our western world they sort of have become secondary. We are aware that this or that celebrity is posing for this coffee brand. But we don’t think „Wow! It’s George Clooney, so this must definitely be good!“ — This is different in Japan. Japanese people need and love protagonists. They are literally the test run for your product or service. If they are convinced by the look on that protagonist’s face, you’re good to go. „This man’s face on this beer ad looks so surprised by the bright appearance of his beer glass, so this must be an experience that I will enjoy as well“ Things are not subtle here. Facial expressions might be just super over the top, almost like a manga character. The extroverted world of manga and their graphic symbols blend effortlessly over into a real life context of Japanese advertising. It’s entertaining. But it’s also the perfect storytelling for emotions that you want your brand to evoke.
Branding and design in Japan: Between tradition & fantasy
As diverse as the elaborate identities of products are in Japan, the design, motion and sound takes on multifarious shifts and shapes. Traditionally Japan is a country of humbleness, reduction and perfection. Think of stone gardens, reduced and arty Kaiseki cuisine, or the perfection of a single hand gesture in a Kabuki theatre play. The most traditional Japanese brand design that you can get is beautiful brushed letters on a white background. This implies humbleness and quality but also tells your audience that you have a strong character in your writing (letters can become very unique in their shape). Add some more character to your brand to make your point. The contrary might be super kawaii, overloaded design in bright colors, underlined by anime like characters and girls in unspeakable outfits. Take Japanese popidol Kyary Pyamu Pyamu (the Japanese „Lady Gaga“) as an example. She describes her brand as „Slightly disturbing but always cute“.
Absurd fantasy? Yes, please!
Western elements are common in Japanese branding. But here they are super exotic. Your brand name with just an „S“ as a western finish – „日本ビル S“. Western elements mixed with Japanese Design and Illustration can become very obscure and sometimes weird looking to us. Overall you can say that there’s a huge tolerance for fantasy objects. Beauty products that show the face of a woman that looks like an ethereal presence might just be your perfect strategy. Arguments like „This is nothing like real life“ don’t really matter since you buy into the concept of this brand’s world. Japanese want to be entertained, and telling your story in an extrovert way is doing exactly this job.
Different rules: east & west
So what happens when a Japanese Brand tries to enter a western market. Or a western brand tries to make it in Japan? KR8 bureau helps Japanese brands to conquer western markets. And vice versa. It’s very important to look at brand identities from cultural perspectives in order to find the right strategy and not become untrue to your brand’s core and values. Western brands might just be perfect for Japan since Japanese love to enter different worlds and experience new things. But they might just have been scratching the surface and don’t offer more in this very moment when you won the audience’s attention. Japanese brands could be a little over the top for a settled western market with its extrovert characters. They probably are perfect but need to adapt. If you want to learn more about cultural conversion of brands, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.