Let’s face it, Hong Kongers are fascinated by Japan. This is not only demonstrated by the number of times they have visited the country, but it also seems to occasionally influence their preference in choosing brands. According to YouGov’s latest recommended rankings, Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo was the third most recommended brand (75.8%) among Hong Kongers, while Japanese multinational cosmetics company SK-II ranked eighth (74.2%). %). Meanwhile, Don Don Donki saw the opening of its tenth store in Whampoa Garden despite the COVID restriction difficulties in Hong Kong.
This attraction to Japanese culture is not isolated to Hong Kong. Recently, global Chinese retailer MINISO had to publicly apologize for portraying the company as a Japanese designer brand as part of its marketing strategy. Going forward, the brand has promised to “de-Japanese” its stores by March 2023.
“Japan has long been a cultural and fashion icon for global consumers. Brands have often incorporated Japanese styles and features into their products. Take fashion retailer SuperDry, for example. Its products rely heavily on Japanese characters and graphics, yet it is headquartered in the leafy town of Cheltenham in the UK,” Hill said.
Specifically in Hong Kong, the market has been a fan of Japanese culture for many years, in addition Desmond Ku, founder and director of The Bridge Agency. The high quality generally associated with Japanese products has left a lasting impression on consumers and has transcended generations. Japanese image has been impressing locals since the 1990s, and “japanizing” a brand definitely helps brand image communicate well with the public, Ku said.
As long as “Japanese quality” still conveys some level of positive image in that particular product industry, Japaneseizing a brand could help resonate with consumers, according to Price.com chief marketing officer Wilson Wong. hk.
Sushiro and DON DON DONKI are typical recent examples in Hong Kong for the food and supermarket industries, said Wilson Wong, Marketing Director of Price.com.hk. Both brands launched and has grown very rapidly in Hong Kong with an emphasis on Japanese quality, as consumers see positive values in Japanese quality supermarket foods and products. “Japanese quality is also driving demand for products in segments such as consumer electronics,” Wong added.
This is not a new phenomenon. But it gets trickier.
According SEC Newgate Hill, there is a history of brands borrowing brand attributes from another country to help sell products and services. “Countless examples can be found in the electronics, alcohol and automotive industries. However, in today’s world, where authenticity is prized and nationalism is on the rise, borrowing brand attributes from another country carries considerable risks,” he added.
Moreover, “japanizing” a brand can sometimes backfire, said David Ko, general manager of RFI Asia. “Yes, it resonates with Hong Kong consumers who have had decades of love with Japanese culture, with many locals even jokingly referring to holidays in Japan as visiting their ‘homeland.’ strategy can only work if there is a fundamental commitment to embedding Japanese sensibility into the brand’s DNA,” Ko said. If adaptation feels forced and inauthentic, or appear as an opportunistic tactic to gain notoriety among Hong Kong consumers, it can backfire.
“Once the brand is discovered or even just accused of cultural appropriation, then trust is lost and it will be very difficult for the brand to recover,” he added.
Recovery for Miniso?
As the hot water solution MINISO found itself in, SEC Newgate’s Hill said it was time for Chinese brands to proudly assert their local heritage and Chinese characteristics. This is not only because domestic consumers are increasingly defending Chinese brands over foreign alternatives, but also because despite all the geopolitical noise, international consumers are increasingly seeing Chinese goods and services as better quality, more innovative and better value.
“Companies should label their products: ‘Made in China – and proud of it,'” Hill added.
On the other hand, Ku from The Bridge Agency suggested that the brand focus on its product design and brand vision. “Besides apologizing, he should avoid mentioning what cultural country he is like. What matters is innovation and brand vision.
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