There are doubtless many more stellar examples out there, but these are some concepts we liked. Some are big and some might seem trivial, but each one of them demonstrates long-term consideration for what the brand is all about.
Few would have predicted that an advertising agency would be the catalyst for a change in the way people communicate. Akira Yoshikai, an employee of Dentsu in Tokyo, took it on himself to lead a plan to help foreign students of Japanese have more fulfilling interactions with locals when visiting Japan. The idea is controversial and success is by no means guaranteed, but we see it as something that could really benefit ‘Brand Japan’ in the long term by thinking from an outsider’s perspective.
A giant at home, MHI recognises the pressing need to build its brand overseas. ‘Brand journalism’ is not new, but the launch of Spectra, a branded media platform managed by external journalists, is a big step for a conservative company in reaching out to the rest of the world and making itself part of a global dialogue. Most importantly, it’s different to the bulk of branded content out there in that it aims to talk about the industry as a whole, not just itself, while bearing in mind its agenda.
In August, Airbnb launched a design division called Samara, which operates in the fields of architecture, service design and even new economic models. Its first move was in Japan, with the creation of the Yoshino House—a property in Nara Prefecure that functions as a listing for visitors. While owned by Airbnb, its aim is to play a role in boosting the local economy and in connecting the town with the outside world. It’s significant as a physical manifestation of the Airbnb brand and its intentions in a country where the sharing economy is only just starting to gain traction.
Toyota’s decision in May to invest in Uber was important not only from a business perspective, but also a brand one. Aligning with a disruptive brand apparently quite different to its own marked Toyota out as more progressive than many people might think. As Uber’s inevitable rise continues, the partnership means Toyota will be firmly associated with a brand that represents a new era of transportation globally, which is no bad thing.
Japan is known as an ‘apology-first’ culture, but this was quite special. In March, Akagi Nyugyo announced its first price-hike in 25 years: Its Garigari-kun popsicle, something of a national institution, would go up in price from 60 yen to 70 yen. A minimal increase, you say? Not for the company’s executives, who expressed their regret in a formal 60-second TV spot. The situation worked entirely in the brand’s favour, underscoring its apparently humble personality and commitment to value. It’s hard to imagine anyone else think about doing such a thing, let alone manage to pull it off.
It’s easy to dismiss it as a PR stunt, but training reindeer to deliver pizza, failing, and announcing that failure, was actually a very bright idea that 1) got a lot of people talking excitedly about a product that ordinarily isn’t very interesting and 2) achieved distinction from the competition and set the brand up for further quirkiness/experimentation in the future. It’s now up to Domino’s to ensure that this doesn’t become just a one-off.