In Japan, brands have traditionally been little more than corporate umbrellas under which vast and disparate arrays of products are displayed, with neither managers or guardians to secure their fortunes.
But during the past decade of recession and decline, Western concepts of brand management have slowly begun to take root. This has been helped in no small part by agencies such as McCann-Erickson, J Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather applying their own methodologies.
The Japanese have a way of adopting foreign ideas and giving them unusual twists. The same is proving true of branding.
Five manufacturers have joined forces to build a communal brand – WiLL – to allow each of them to promote products developed specifically for people in their 20s or early 30s. While such a collaboration would be marketing heresy in the West, in Japan it looks like sensible team-work since all five have seen the market share of their mainstay brands slipping among the young.
One of the driving forces behind the WiLL brand is the Toyota Motor Company, with its new subcompact car, the WiLL Vi – targeted principally at women in their late-20s. Others include the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company (with the WiLL PC and refrigerator), Asahi Breweries (WiLL beer), the Kao Corporation (WiLL fabric deodorising spray), and the Kinki Nippon Tourist Company (WiLL tours). This disparate range of products is united visually by a square orange logo emblazoned with the can-do brand name and the slogan: “A spirit of fun and a sense of true quality.”
The catchline was devised by Hakuhodo, Japan’s second largest ad agency, which legitimised this radical project with its own marketing and ad credentials.
These companies has also set up a Website (http//:www.wills hop.com) and mounted joint promotions linking, for example, the WiLL PC with Asahi’s new brew.
While each of the five partners already has some successful products aimed at young consumers, they are all known more as steadfast, conservative giants than nifty innovative newcomers. For example, Toyota’s Vitz car is already proving popular with young drivers. Even so, Toyota sales are still biased toward older people with a domestic market share approaching 50 per cent for consumers over 50 but much less for consumers in their 20s.
The WiLL players feel the project makes sense because late-20s and early-30s consumers are notoriously hard to win over. They are not very brand-loyal and resist intrusive sales pitches, but like products that are advertised and fit into their very personal lifestyles. They are both eager to list their demanding personal prefer ences and easily swayed by the latest trends.
The step from this perception to creating a joint brand illustrates the differences in how Japanese and Western minds connect ideas together.
If the new brand meets the participants’ high expectations, it will surely prove that where there is a WiLL there is also a Japanese way.