David Blecken
Dec 9, 2015

Disneyland floats, McDonald's sinks: Dentsu Y&R study weighs brand equity in Japan

TOKYO - Tokyo Disneyland, Google, Apple, Dyson and Rakuten are among the 10 strongest brands in Japan, according to a study by Dentsu Y&R that analyses brand strength across four key categories.

Tokyo Disneyland scored highly in terms of differentiation,  relevance, esteem and understanding
Tokyo Disneyland scored highly in terms of differentiation, relevance, esteem and understanding

The agency’s Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) study canvassed 5,000 consumers in Japan aged 18 to 69 in October to assess the perception of 1,000 brands in the market. The research is part of a global programme and has been conducted eight times in Japan, the last time being three years ago. 

The overall standing of a brand is determined by performance across the following pillars: energised differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge. Masanori Togawa, a senior partner of strategic planning at Dentsu Y&R, said the agency saw the four elements as key to shaping brand perception.

The full top 10 ranking of brands and sub-brands is as follows. Dentsu Y&R was not able to state which if any brands featured in the survey were clients. 

1. Tokyo Disneyland
2. Google
3. iPhone
4. Universal Studios Japan
5. Amazon Japan
6. YouTube
7. Apple
8. Dyson
9. iRobot Roomba
10. Rakuten Ichiba

Tokyo Disneyland came top in 2012 and 2010. The other top brands in the 2012 survey included (in order of ranking) Apple, Tokyu Hands (an all-purpose retail chain), Ikea, Studio Ghibli, Disney, Dyson, Google, Uniqlo and Sony. In the most recent survey, in addition to Google climbing eight places, Amazon rose from 11th and Universal Studios rose from 15th. 

Togawa said brands that scored highly in terms of perception followed a pattern in the development of their identity, beginning with creating differentiation, then ensuring relevance to a target audience. This leads to esteem, which ultimately encourages people to want to know more about the brand.

Tokyo Disneyland was presented as a brand continuing to grow in terms of popularity. Others seen gaining in popularity and having positive "tension" between different characteristics included Universal Studios, Instagram, SoftBank, Rizap (a Japanese weight loss centre), Apple’s iPhone, Flying Tiger (a Danish design company), Yokai Watch (a video game series), Line Music, 7Premium and Dyson.

Tokyo Disneyland scored highly across all four pillars. Togawa said a big reason for its ongoing strength was that its staff, although mostly part-timers, were engaged in their work, with “a strong motivation for entertaining visitors”.

SoftBank scored especially highly for differentiation and knowledge, and was seen as both "smart" and "hip", according to Dentsu Y&R's analysis. 7Premium scored highly for relevance, followed by esteem, and was also seen as being credible and offering good value. Flying Tiger, while highly differentiated and relevant, was shown to lack esteem and understanding.

The brands seen as most innovative included Apple, Google, Skype, Dyson and Amazon, along with various Apple products: iPhone, iPad, iTunes and Apple Watch. Those perceived as most reliable included Visa, Japan Post Bank, JCB, House Foods, ANA, Sumitomo Bank, Fujifilm and Ajinomoto.

Brands that had weakened since the last time the survey was conducted included McDonald’s, Volkswagen, Toshiba and DoCoMo. Togawa noted that in 2012, McDonald’s and Volkswagen featured as “power brands”. On this occasion, esteem and differentiation for both were “way down”, he said.

The fall in perception was unsurprising given McDonald’s' struggles in the wake of food safety scares in Japan over the past year, and Volkswagen’s recent admission of emissions fraud. At the same time, Toshiba remained relatively robust despite a scandal caused by illegal accounting practices. Togawa attributed this to its activities being seen as more relevant to shareholders and the world of business rather than the general public.

“People have come to be more sensitive to food safety,” Togawa said in response to McDonald’s declining equity. “It’s still a leader of its category, but the leader is more likely to reflect social trends. People’s [thinking] is changing from fast food to slow food.” The leading brand in any category can easily become the “biggest loser” when faced with changing consumer demands, he said.

Samsung’s equity remained low in Japan. Togawa said while it was an established brand, many Japanese consumers felt it was “not for me”. “Differentiation and knowledge are high, but [they] don’t care about the brand,” he said.

Togawa added that Samsung’s lack of popularity in Japan reflected ongoing political tension between Japan and Korea. But he noted that Galaxy (a Samsung sub-brand) was more widely accepted in Japan and seen as “a more global brand” with “no particular country image”. Galaxy holds a respectable smartphone market share of around 16 per cent against the iPhone’s 60 per cent, Togawa said.

In the telco space, DoCoMo was failing to stand out from the crowd, said Togawa. That is despite an adventurous approach to content over the past year, especially in terms of online video. Togawa suggested the issue was that people continued to link DoCoMo to its parent company, NTT, which is seen as reliable, but also conservative, corporate and bureaucratic.

Saul Betmead, Masanori Togawa

“It’s all very well to do some good advertising, but that has to reflect the behaviour of the business,” added Saul Betmead, Y&R’s chief strategy officer for EMEA, who jointly presented the findings in Tokyo. “It has to flow down or you won’t see a big change. That’s where brands are built—not in communications.”

Betmead pointed to the role of what Y&R terms “tensity” in building strong brands—the co-existence of apparently disparate characteristics. While not present in the Japan findings, Land Rover was a good example, he said, since it manages to balance luxury with ruggedness.

“It’s very easy when talking about luxury to just talk about luxury,” he said. “The differentiation [for Land Rover] is that it’s hardworking. They are opposing forces, but Land Rover bridges the gap between them.”

Betmead said brands would benefit from engaging more often in “awkward” conversations about their weaknesses as well as their strongpoints. “In order to truly understand who you are, you have to unpack the dark side of yourself,” he said. “When you’re at your best and when you’re at your worst; how you got yourself out of that situation. It’s never the answer but it’s helpful to know when you’re wrong.”

Patagonia, he said, was a brand that had made a conscious decision to be hard on itself, find weaknesses in its system and give people reasons not to buy its products. “That’s an example of exploring vulnerability and using it to help build trust,” Betmead said. “It also starts with a much more honest conversation: what customers actually give a shit about rather than what you think they give a shit about.”

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