David Blecken
Nov 28, 2014

"Cheerful" products prop up Japanese in uncertain times: Dentsu

TOKYO - The Disney movie Frozen, talking mascots and the Tokyo Sky Tree top Dentsu’s list of ‘hit products’ in Japan for 2014, which Dentsu describes as “a year of ambivalence”.

Funashi: a popular mascot in Japan. Talking mascots ranked second among this year's 'hit products'
Funashi: a popular mascot in Japan. Talking mascots ranked second among this year's 'hit products'

Dentsu has carried out the ranking since 1985 in an effort to gain understanding of the Japanese consumer mindset over the course of a year. The online survey is conducted by Dentsu subsidiary Macromill Insight, canvassing 1,200 respondents aged between 20 and 69.

So were there any surprises? We already knew mascots were big (and indeed recently discussed Shalom-chan, a talking bird designed to sell Israel as a destination). But this year saw them jump from 10th place to second in terms of popularity, with Dentsu citing Funashi as a standout example.

Other items to make the top 10 this year were what Dentsu terms “free voice call apps” (such as Line), the Yo-Kai Watch (including games, manga and toys), smartphones, social networks requiring real name registration, Universal Studios Japan’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, freshly brewed convenience store coffee, and robot cleaners.

Other major climbers included tablet devices (from 35 to 17) and Halloween costumes (from 60 to 16). Premium beer was among the new entrants.

What does it all mean?

According to analysis by the Dentsu Innovation Institute presented in a media release, the prevalence of “bright, cheerful content” such as mascots and Halloween outfits indicates people are in a sort of middle ground, resisting a return to the doom and gloom of deflation but lacking the courage to move forward resolutely. Dentsu suggests that these childish pleasures are serving to keep morale up in a period of uncertainty.

Dentsu describes consumer sentiment in 2014 as ambivalent despite some growth in confidence as a result of prime minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Abenomics’ policies. It states that “an awareness of the need to economise fueled by the consumption tax increase in April intersected with aggressive consumption”.

However, it notes cause for optimism: The development of electric vehicles, lightweight wearable terminals and other “futuristic technology applications” promise to “boost expectations towards lifestyle innovations”. Regular smartphones topped the list in 2010, and hybrid vehicles were the most popular item in 2009.

Dentsu predicts electric vehicles, 3D printers and low-priced smartphones to be next year’s top three hit products, but representatives from the agency were not available to provide further insight into these predictions at press time. The big challenge for brands in any sector remains simply getting people to spend. Household spending fell by nearly 6 per cent year-on-year in July following Abe’s raising of consumption tax from 5 per cent to 8 per cent. Abe has since put plans to further increase sales tax to 10 per cent on hold.

2014 hit products according to Dentsu (brackets indicate last year’s ranking)

1. Frozen (Walt Disney animated movie) (–)
2. Talking mascot characters (10)
3. Tokyo Skytree (1)
4. Free voice call apps (such as LINE) (13)
5. Yo-kai Watch (games, manga and toys) (–)
6. Smartphones (3)
7. SNSs such as Facebook that require real name registration (24)
8. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Studios Japan) (–)
9. Convenience store freshly brewed coffee (7)
10. Robot cleaners (4)
11. NHK television morning drama series (–)
12. Sochi Winter Olympic Games (–)
13. Hybrid cars (2)
14. Japanese Nobel laureates (for blue LEDs) (–)
15. Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan) (Japanese anime movie) (22)
16. Halloween costumes (60)
17. Tablet devices (35)
18. Tomioka Silk Mill (–)
19. Premium beer (–)
20. Compact cars/K-cars (engine displacement up to 660 cc) (16)

2015 Expected hit products according to Dentsu

1. Electric vehicles (including fuel cell-powered vehicles)
2. 3D printers
3. Low-priced smartphones
4. Jet aircraft manufactured in Japan
5. 4K television sets
6. Thinking about how to lead your life in your later years and preparations for the end of your life
7. Smartwatches
8. Car sharing
9. Public Wi-Fi
10. Wearable cameras



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