Nearly seven months after the Tohoku earthquake and the ensuing tsunami ravaged its east coast, Japan is not just rebuilding its physical infrastructure but is also focusing on resuscitating its once-infallible brand image.
Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) has launched an ambitious one billion yen, or about $13 million, campaign to restore confidence in Japanese brands and, at the same time, promote the country’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs), particularly in Asia’s fast-growing economies.
The ‘Cool Japan’ campaign, METI believes, is crucial not only to maintain the competitive edge of Japanese products and services but also bring back the appeal of Japanese branding, which it admits has been affected by the earthquake that occurred in March.
Consequently, it is casting a wide net. Apart from Singapore, which is the first stop for the campaign, ‘Cool Japan’ will also travel to seven other countries — Brazil, China, India, South Korea, France, Italy and the United States.
“China is a very important market for Japan and other countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia are also important for us. India is certainly the growing market, especially on the consumer (products) side. So, we see a huge potential for Japanese companies to contribute to these countries,” said Tetsuya Watanabe, director for the creative industries division at METI.
Focusing across 13 sectors — in Singapore, for instance, the emphasis is on the food, fashion and the creative industries — the campaign aims to provide objective information about Japanese products and services while also promoting them in newer markets.
“The Japanese population is aging and in the economy itself, domestic demand is shrinking. So, we have to extend our businesses in the growing markets, especially in Asia,” explained Watanabe, while adding that, although the campaign had been planned before the earthquake and tsunami hit, it had gained in significance since.
While the overall thrust of the campaign will remain unchanged across geographies, METI will localise it depending on the market and its requirements. In Singapore, where Japanese cuisine is popular, METI will showcase Japanese foods, particularly those from the affected Tohoku region, to not only allay doubts over the quality and safety but also to promote new brands.
Moreover, 15 Japanese street fashion brands have been invited to set up shops in the heart of Singapore’s main shopping district, and Tokyo-headquartered Dentsu, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, is also looking for content from the city-states vibrant creative sector for its Anime Festival slated for later this year.
Similarly in India, where METI is planning to hold a ‘Cool Japan’ festival in March, the luxury industry and high-end fashion brands are likely to be focus areas. “The festival will be held in Mumbai, and will also be a celebration of 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” Watanabe added.
Given the campaign’s emphasis on promoting the SME sector, the ‘Cool Japan’ festival in India may also stand to gain from the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which came into force earlier this year.
But as a global campaign to make key markets “regain confidence in Japanese brands”, as senior vice minister for economy, trade and industry, Tadahiro Matsushita, said at the launch in Singapore, METI would also have to remain mindful of the current economic headwinds across the developed world.
Undoubtedly, though, ‘Cool Japan’ will be helped by an uncommon legacy, a gold standard of sorts: the ‘Made in Japan’ label.