Head of Planning
When the Japanese government announced the new era of Reiwa, there were many brands that rushed to capitalize on this historic moment for competitive gain. Brands quickly offered new packaging emblazoned with Reiwa, or liberally used the word “Reiwa” in advertising copy in a transparent attept to gain cultural equity from this pivotal term.
Much of this activity seemed to lack thought and strategy. For it is a mistake to reduce Reiwa to yet another buzzword of the day. Reiwa is not simply about “newness”: When considered against the long history of the royal family’s influence on Japanese culture, the Reiwa era represents a truly fundamental breakthrough in the conservative nature of Japan.
Something profound occurred when our Heisei Emperor bravely challenged royal tradition by retiring. Despite many concerns expressed in the halls of power, his desire became a reality because the people of Japan were determined to make a change regardless of the consequences. The forward-looking spirit of Reiwa is thus in many ways a collective achievement.
Something profound happened, too, when Japan gained its new Empress – a person long known as an independent woman who has enjoyed her own fulfulling career. Such an Empress is unprecedented in Japanese society, and many are eager to watch how the example being set by our new royal family will empower the people of Japan to embrace changes in their own lives.
What makes Reiwa so different from previous eras, then, is not simply a new name. It is the new thinking and new values behind that name that truly matter. So how can brands approach this time of reflection in ways that unlock lasting cultural resonance and commercial reward?
Meaningful brands should always hold true to their core beliefs. Thus, in celebrating Reiwa, brands should focus not on superficial slogans, but on examining how the spirit of Reiwa intersects with what a brand believes and how that brand hopes to connect with consumers. As a marketing community, we must challenge ourselves to go beyond the “badge value” of the occasion to develop communications of real meaning and purposeful creativity.
In this way, Japanese businesses can use Reiwa as a catalyst to re-examine and re-think their approaches to marketing. Successful companies must find new ways to make their brands matter to a society full of Reiwa consumers – to consumers, in other words, who are more diverse, more ethical, and more digital savvy than ever before.
Here are three steps brands should undertake to kick off the new Reiwa era:
- Define what your brand stands for in new era. Revisit core brand values and ask, “What will make these Reiwa consumers continue to care about your brand?”
- Connect with Reiwa consumers by communicating the changes your brand embraces and the conventions your brand challenges. Do so in ways and formats that clearly resonate with this audience.
- Design your marketing ecosystem in adaptable ways to ensure that all activities are aligned to your values and flexible to consumer shifts. This task should be undertaken at all levels, from brand campaigns to quartlerly promotions to day-to-day tactics.
The time to start this work is yesterday; indeed, Ogilvy has already begun to help its clients adopt simple communication architectures to maintain their relevace to the Reiwa consumer.
For instance, SC Johnson strongly believes in diversity, and is determined to empower women in this new era to come. The challenge for SC Johnson was how to pursue this goal it a way that was unique to Japan’s cultural moment and relevant to the brand’s product category of home cleaning.
SC Johnson started with the insight that there are no gender stereotypes in the classroom. That led to a simple, resonant question: “Why does household cleaning stereotypically becomes a women’s job as we all grow older?” From there, SC Johnson developed an experiment to demonstrate the inequality of this stereotype.
The result was something called the “Girls Cleaning School,” an exaggerated scenario that had girls cleaning the classroom while boys played outside. This experiment made fathers realize the value of changing their own attitudes and behaviors towards cleaning. If it upset them to see their daughters shoulding the full burden of cleaning in the classroom, why should they promote a similarly unjust division of labor in the home?
This provocative campaign might not have succeeded in previous times. It relied on an opennesss to change felt by many consumers in the new Reiwa eras, as well as a renewed willingness to challenge typical attitudes and promote positive change in Japanese society. It is a prime example of a brand can use Reiwa not simply as a trendy new label, but as an opportunity to connect with consumers in unique, purposeful, and meaningful ways.