The Weird and Wonderful World of Japanese Promo

japan blog header

Japan is a nation where the traditions of the past harmonize beautifully with the technologies of today. Where amongst the bright neon lights and honking horns of a sprawling, futuristic city, you can find quiet tranquility in the Japanese maple leaves at a shrine tucked in between the concrete buildings that cast shadows below.

Japan also has some of the best food in the world, with 414 Michelin-star restaurants – coming in second only to France for countries with the most Michelin stars. Japan is incomparable when it comes to media, from Nintendo and its franchises like Pokemon and The Super Mario Bros. to anime and manga artists producing some of the greatest storytelling the human race has ever seen. Junji Ito and Hayao Miyazaki are easily the two most celebrated manga and anime artists. And it’s a nation that uses its media to heal. Godzilla, the king of monsters, was spurred by the trauma resulting from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 during World War II.

godzilla 1956 poster
Godzilla Poster (1956),

This same concept of using creative expression and storytelling to help individuals and communities navigate and recover from devastating events was utilized once again after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011 with the subsequent film Shin Godzilla, which is heralded as one of the best Godzilla movies of all time.

Shin Godzilla PC Cushion & Arm Rest,

Japan is also regarded as a nation of innovative advertising. As a society, we’re inundated with so many daily advertisements that we have become ad-blind to traditional methods like commercials and billboards. Sure, we look, but we don’t really digest. The promotional product can break through that, especially if it’s different.

Japan has gotten really good at the different – especially when it comes to promotional products. They have also gotten really good at tapping into the pop culture heart of the country. There are two (unofficial) promotional product rules in Japan: 1) anything goes, and 2) pair it with a popular anime character, and you’re likely to have a winning combo.

Anime, which refers to any animation produced in Japan, has a pretty specific style of art, and it’s such a big deal – there’s a whole district in Tokyo called Akihabara. It’s become a cultural hub for all things gaming, anime, and manga (comic books). And Japanese advertisers have a firm grip on the collector side of things.

akihabara japan unspash

Take, for example, one of the most successful animes to come out of Japan: Neon Genesis Evangelion and its partnership with an eyedrop company. Yep. Eyedrops. The target audience isn’t exclusively those who need eyedrops – it’s also those who like the anime. Buy two packs of the eyedrops to get all your favorite characters to save away, and maybe they’ll be lucky enough that the consumer will try their brand, and then they’ll have a new repeat customer. Though this isn’t a new strategy – if you go to any store during a holiday, you’re likely to see something with a “limited edition” sticker on it – it is a proven successful one. Advertisers regularly utilize this strategy to tap into people’s FOMO.

evangelion eyedrops

The Japanese aren’t afraid to get weird with their promotions either, like this Lucky Star branded motor oil. It even comes scented. It was also a wildly popular campaign that had consumers searching for the product.

lucky star motor oil

Kawaii isn’t off the table, either! Kawaii is the Japanese word for ‘cute,’ and their greatest ability is to personify everyday things and make them kawaii! Take, for example, Mount Fuji.

mount fuji

Mount Fuji is an active volcano located on the main Japanese island of Honshū, and the summit is considered to be sacred. It’s also a destination, with many tourists and locals making the trek to the volcano – either to the base or to the summit. And like many national parks here in the US, it has gift shops! Unlike the national parks here, they have plushies of the geologic formations. You’re not likely to see a plush of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming – maybe stuffed animals of the native animals you can find there, but certainly not the cutest little volcano you’ve ever seen!

mount fuji plush

I think, when it comes to promotional products, it’s natural to sway to what we know. Pens, mugs, shirts, bags. And there’s nothing wrong with those! They are classics for a reason, and sometimes, they are the most effective promotional items available.

However, I also think that when the opportunity presents itself to us – we should look for something a little more outside of the box, just as the Japanese have done with their expertly crafted (often viral) campaigns. We are inundated daily with advertisements. We pay extra on our streaming subscriptions so we don’t have to watch commercials, and we largely ignore billboards. But, if something clever catches our eye – like the giant Pop-Tart at the Pop-Tart Bowl, then there’s a good chance we’ll talk about it for a day or two. And that’s the goal of promo, isn’t it?

Promotional products help keep your client’s company in mind, and we know that people love gifts and giveaways. So, giving them a uniquely branded gift that’s outside of the box is a fantastic way to stand out and leave a lasting impression.

Did you know that SAGE can help find a perfectly unique promo product? It’s true! We have over a million verified products in our database and we’ve got research assistants on standby to help you find the right product. We’ve even tapped into the power of AI to bring you some more ideas.

To check out some more stand-out ideas and dig even deeper into some specific industries, you can check out our mini dives here!

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(Marketing Content Writer)

Betty is the Marketing Content Writer at SAGE. She is a self-proclaimed, bonafide nerd, and when she's not writing, you can find her playing video games, watching documentaries, hunting for heavy metal records, and going down rabbit-holes on Wikipedia.

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