David Blecken
Jun 17, 2019

Marie Kondo meets adland: Can minimalism and consumerism coexist?

The 'less stuff' guru spoke with us in advance of her appearance at Cannes Lions today.

Marie Kondo (photo provided by KonMari)
Marie Kondo (photo provided by KonMari)

At Cannes Lions 2019 today, Marie Kondo, the de facto authority on decluttering, is due to outline her philosophy of having "less stuff" to an audience of people who sell stuff for a living.

In advance of the session, which will also feature her husband and business partner Takumi Kawahara, Campaign asked Kondo to explain what the desire for minimalism means for large corporations, and how she has become a global brand in her own right.

Asked what lessons the communications sector can take from the Marie Kondo phenomenon (branded as the KonMari Method), Tetsuya Honda, a PR consultant who helped organise the session, said Kondo's popularity was representative of the "era of the individual". 

Kondo's success is an example of an individual packaging their thoughts and knowledge and distributing them as a product, he said, adding that corporate brands should also behave more like "attractive individuals" who also give a platform to consumers' personal stories, as Kondo is doing in her Netflix series.

Responses have been edited and condensed.

The name ‘Marie Kondo’ has become phenomenally successful as a brand. Did you consciously think in terms of branding when you first started out?

To be honest, we are surprised that the name is so widely known now. When we started out as business, we were not consciously thinking in terms of branding. ‘KonMari’ is really a nickname.

At the same time, we are genuinely pleased that so many people have fallen in love with KonMari and believe in the method.

From a branding point of view, as captured on the cover design of my first book released in America, the peaceful, joy-centered thinking and philosophy are where my values lie. I believe my heartfelt wish for everybody to lead a peaceful life that sparks joy by tidying using the KonMari Method is what influences the brand itself.

I feel that this brand was not created by me, but rather was defined by the readers and fans who nurtured it to where it is today.

How big a role has marketing and PR played in your success to date? I am interested in the extent to which things have developed organically versus conscious promotional effort.

At KonMari, we haven’t spent money on marketing up to now. All of it has been due to organic growth by the fans and the readers. As a brand, we have tried to create content that is useful and inspirational based on the KonMari Method. Our fans share that content and spread the word through their owned media such as social media, which has resulted in increased awareness of the brand and the number of followers. We do partner with a PR agency based in New York that has helped fuel an overwhelming volume of reporting on the phenomenon that we have created.

What led you to choose Los Angeles as a base, and how did you set about building your name internationally?

When we thought about how we were going to accomplish our goals to ‘organize the world’ and spread the KonMari Method to as many people as possible, we knew we needed a team who would excel at turning these values and philosophy into content. Los Angeles has a lot of people with talent in these areas and that’s why we chose Los Angeles.

People in Japan often complain that it’s hard to succeed overseas due to the language barrier, among other issues. What would you say to them?

We totally agree. It is indeed difficult to express your true thoughts in a language that isn’t your own. On the other hand, the desire to lead a [happy] life and the struggle involved in tidying are universal. So we feel confident that our desire to support these needs comes across clearly.

Rather than focusing on the language barrier as a challenge, it is more important that we have something we want to convey that goes beyond language.

Even if you use an interpreter, it is critical to convey that the energy of your words is genuine and for that, it is important that you find translators and interpreters who can truly capture your message and emotions.

In your experience, how do people in the US perceive Japan as a national brand, and has this been an asset for you?

In my experience, people see Japan as a mysterious and attractive brand. I think that overlaps with people’s understanding of my [work]: they regard Zen or the concept of all things having as spirit as Japanese values. Many people who have visited Japan tell me, “It was a wonderful country”, or “I would love to visit again”. That makes me very happy.

I believe the way you interact with things, to thank things, to introspect and reflect upon yourself through the act of tidying are all very Japanese. I feel that people in the US understand that, which helps in the process of tidying.

How do you see people’s desire for decluttering/simplification evolving, and what bearing do you think this has on consumption?

Today, many of us have been able to acquire enough (or more than enough) stuff. In contrast, urbanisation continues, and living spaces are getting smaller and smaller. I sense people’s desire to reflect on what one truly needs in life and keep just the items that “spark joy” rather than to continue to buy and increase the amount of possessions.

What is the next step for KonMari?

We are working on two new books—one is a children’s book called 'Kiki and Jax' which will be released in November this year. The other is called ‘Joy at Work’ which is a book about finding joy in the workplace.  We plan on publishing it next year. At the same time, we’re exploring partnership opportunities and hope to work with those who share our vision.

Campaign Japan

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