Today I’ll tell you about the two most promintent (in my opinion) marketing tricks you see in the Japanase retail business today. The thing is, at first glance, these two techniques seem to be vastly different and I have always thought to myself that they were contradictionary. However, I guess with some deeper analyzing, you can see how they fit into Japanese society, and the mind of the Japanese consumer.
Anyway, here we go. The first one you ALWAYS see everywhere is the RANKING LIST. This must be the most used marketing trick in Japan, and it seems to work so well because everyone uses it, for almost anything. So you watch TV and you see “TOP TEN DIET SUPPLEMENTS” or you step into a supermarket and you can see on the shelves, “TOP FIVE IMPORTED CANDY” or “TOP TEN SNACKS FOR KIDS” etc etc ad nauseum.
I think the theory behind this is fairly obvious. Japan is a society where almost everyone goes with the flow. At least as far as I can judge from my position as an outsider. The key to success for a product in Japan is that people already buy lots of it. Yes, it’s kind of a Catch 22, you can’t get big in Japan unless you are already big in Japan! So, the Top Ten Lists in their various disguises, communicates to the consumer : “Buy this, because everyone else is buying it!” And since everyone else is buying it, it must be good, right? Personally, I think most of the Ranking lists are bogus. They are constructed from supplier’s marketing money – the company who spends most will get their product ranked at the top.
There is even a shop here in Japan that specializes only in these kinds of sales. It’s called “Ranking Queen” and sells everything from CDs to cosmetics, to candy, to water etc. Thing is, they have a selection of 3-5 different producs of every type only, and they are displayed as Top 3 (or 5) “Bottled Water” or “Skincare product” or “Japanese CD Single” Simply a genious marketing ploy!
The second marketing trick, which seems to be at odds against the first one, is the “Limited Edition”. You often see “For a limited time only” products in Japan. For example, during the summer, we have seen the following different soft drinks (andmany of them are already gone off the market) Fanta Apricot, Fanta Yuzu, Fanta Kiwi, Sprite X, Pepsi X, Pepsi Black, Kirin Lemon Black, Kirin Lemon White. And don’t get me started on the different time-limited snackbars and chips-flavors, it’s ridiculous!
So how come a society who is so unwilling to adapt new things, and always waits for the group to move in harmony, will desire to pick up these limited editions? I don’t have an answer to this. I know that Japanese are quick to jump on new trends and fads, but tend to tire fast, either because not enough people join in or that, in fact, the fad was stupid. So, when there is a new version of a product, Japanese love to get it because it’s unique and special – however there is one thing that is worth to note. All these unique and special limited products are all produced by big companies – so the Japanese consumer “safely” can buy it knowing that a popular company stands by it. I don’t think a limited edition by an unknown producer would do nearly as well as something launched by, say, The Coca Cola Company.
So in my opinion, within certain safe boundaries, Japanese are willing to take risks and jump onto new trends and try new products – and the more limited and special, the better – however, the safest bet to gain the consumer’s trust is still to be big and popular already….