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Potato Chips - Re-classification of Products

Other cases can be attributed to customs classifications.  One well-known story was potato chips.  During the test market phase, they were classified as "vegetables, prepared or preserved" and carried a 16% tariff.  

When the product began to sell well, they were re-classified as "pastry, biscuits, cakes and other fine bakers' wares" and carried a 35% tariff.  After an emotional appeal to the Joint US-Japan Trade Facilitation Committee, they were allowed to keep the original classification.  

Believe It or Not!

Some stories have to be put in the "Believe it or not!" file.  One example is the initial attempt by non-Japanese ski manufacturers to market skis in Japan.  They were told their products were not suitable for the Japanese market because Japanese snow is different!

American beef producers had a difficult time getting into the Japanese market for several reasons.  The most obvious reason was the desire on the part of Japanese producers to protect the market and continue selling beef at outrageous prices.  Another much more interesting reason given is that according to the Japanese, foreign beef is not suitable because the Japanese have longer intestines than other people and thus have a difficult time digesting foreign beef.


U.S. Auto Industry - "Any Color as Long as it's  Black"

Perhaps the best example of the lack of marketing savvy in Japan is the US Auto Industry.  They will undoubtedly refer to the fact that for many years American cars were effectively kept out of Japan because of various projectionist measures--and they will be correct.  One tactic was the 'bleeding lights" inspection.  Rear brake lights, for example, were tested and if the smallest amount of light escaped, the car was rejected.  Distribution was also very difficult because unlike the US, it would be very rare to find a joint dealership such as Mitsubishi/Chrysler.

A fact that the US Auto Industry does not talk about is that between the late 1970's and 1985, sales of US cars dropped dramatically and the Europeans captured the major share of the prestigious foreign car market.  The government did not discriminate between US and other foreign cars with regard to tariffs and other regulations.  It appears that Detroit did not find it necessary to listen to the needs of consumers in Japan, finding it too costly to put the steering wheel on the right or offering smaller, more economical cars.  The strategy seemed to be the old Henry Ford approach --"give the customer any color they want as long as it's black".  

Campbell Japan - Japanese Tastes
The company was very successful selling corn soup at fast food and other restaurants in Japan.  The Japanese love this kind of cream soup, called "potage".
Ore-Ida - Packaging Savvy
Ore-Ida frozen potatoes have been successfully marketed in smaller packages suitable for keeping in Japanese refrigerators and cooking in smaller ovens.  They also substantially reduced the amount of salt.
Kentucky Fried Chicken - Location, Location
KFC initially positioned their shops in the suburbs, and modeled them exactly after those in the US.  The shops were too large, and the Japanese were not accustomed to drive-through windows.  

In the early stages, there were times when sales did not reach $35/per day.  KFC fortunately responded quickly and opened smaller shops in urban centers, near train stations, much as McDonalds had done. 
Coca-Cola & Pepsi - Different Approaches

Coca-Cola is one of the great success stories.  Many feel that their success comes from their constant message of "an idealized American Lifestyle" that has great appeal in Japan.  Their slogan "I feel coke" has been extremely successful. 

Pepsi, on the other hand, struggled and "The Pepsi Challenge" did not catch on in Japan.  Pepsi first opted to run US-type ads featuring MTV-style promotions of Michael Jackson and others.  The spots were only 15 seconds, not the usual 30-60 seconds, and lacked cohesion.  

Pepsi also attempted to introduce competitive product advertising, doing taste tests with Coke.  This type of advertising has often been viewed as arrogant and inappropriate in Japan.  The Japanese FTC required that Pepsi cover the Coke can in the ad--the message was lost. 

Barbie Doll - Tailoring Products to Fit a Market
Barbie Doll, introduced by Mattel, did not do well in the beginning.  Toy specialist, Takara, was brought in and soon discovered the problems.  Among other things, Barbie's legs were too long, and chest too large.  The eyes went from blue to brown and she took on a more suitable look that appealed to the Japanese child's sense of aesthetics.
Levi Strauss - Superstars in Advertising
Levi Strauss was losing sales to other "designer Jeans" makers despite the higher prices of the competition.  When James Dean became the symbol, sales took off.  Dean is something of a cult hero to young Japanese and the company has succeeded with such slogans as "Heroes Wear Levis" and "Cry your heart out, Calvin Klein."

Proctor and Gamble - Cultural Differences

Proctor and Gamble experienced some difficulties with the diaper market.  The Japanese apparently change diapers far more frequently than Americans, but still did not purchase the larger boxes of disposal diapers because of storage problems.  P&G started marketing diapers in smaller boxes and the market took off.

When Proctor & Gamble started to market Camay Soap in Japan, the company tried to use an ad, which had been successful in Europe, showing a woman bathing, the husband entering the bathroom and giving an approving touch to his wife.  The Japanese felt this behavior to be inappropriate and in poor taste for television.  The mistake was soon corrected.

Sears - Product Modification

Sears was successful selling refrigerators in Japan because they discovered that most Western refrigerators had motors which were too noisy for Japanese houses, particularly those which Japanese-style doors (shoji).  Sears designed a refrigerator specifically for the Japanese market.

Copyright 2000 Joyce Millet   All Rights Reserved.  

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