At my last workplace it became a custom in our global marketing team for anyone visiting Japan to bring back the latest Kit Kat flavour – green tea, cherry blossom and even edamame (soy bean) flavour. As a mainly British team, we found it bizarre to see what seemed to us an iconic British brand become so utterly Japanese.
Of course the Kit Kat brand is actually owned by a Swiss company, Nestle. The President of Nestle Japan, Kozo Takaoka, turns out to be the person who instigated the campaign, turning Kit Kat into a premium brand, to the surprise of the Swiss headquarters. The editor of Nikkei Business Kenji Tamura asked Takaoka in a recent interview if this meant European marketing was not as advanced as Japanese believed.
Takaoka’s response is that Nestle HQ itself is beginning to wonder if marketing has become bloated. The marketing costs for Nescafe, for example, cover 100 countries and 100 flavours of Nescafe. Advertising is still effective in developing countries, but no longer in matured markets. TV advertising and celebrity endorsement worked in Japan during the period of rapid economic growth, but this method is no longer persuasive, Takaoka believes.
“Marketing is the management of the company” says Takaoka, because to manage a company you have to innovate to produce new value and work out how to get that to the customer. “Up until now this kind of marketing was lacking in Japan. We have continued with the developing country model. We don’t seem to be able to escape from that model – that we just need to make products and then advertise them” – words that will resonate with my former marketing team colleagues I suspect.
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