Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Toyota and Japanese Branding

My last blog posts have referenced Langley Esquires podcasts as they related to "nation branding" and "Cool Japan". 

I said that "Cool Japan" is generally misconstrued as "nation branding" or some form of "soft power".  The problem here, as I see it, is that a lot of otherwise intelligent, knowledgeable and educated people don't really understand what "branding" is for one -- or "soft power" for another -- and that includes Joe Nye who invented the "soft power" concept !

In politics, people throw around terms carelessly without considering what they actually mean, if only because in this Brave New World defining things tends to limit your options. 

The term "branding" is like "love".  We use it all the time and we all think we know what it means. But clearly, as a behavior,  it means different things to different people at different times, according to context. It actually comes down to one thing: identity.
But "identity" is another difficult to define concept.

In business "branding"  is better defined, than, say, politics, if only because you will be out of business if you get it wrong.

Steve Jobs argued branding is not about the product so much as values.  He pointed to Nike, as an example, saying the Nike spent its advertising dollars not so much on extolling the virtues of its products but promoting the concept of athleticism -- so that the name “Nike” became synonymous with something bigger than shoes. When you buy Nike, you buy into imagined power.

So with Apple, Jobs decided to sell dreams.  

After all, what is the difference between an Apple computer and a Windows one –or, for that matter, a PC using a Linux distro?  They all use the GUI invented by  Douglas Englebart and later developed further by  Xerox.  

You can do all the basic tasks – email, word processing, and so one with any GUI -based OS.  Windows machines are cheaper than Apple machines and run more software.  Linux software is completely free and, in modern iterations such as Mint, will handle MS Word and most other software.  It also gets the job done.

So why do people spend more to join the “Apple” religion,  as one of my Apple friends calls it?  Why do they choose a product whose symbol is a partly eaten, leftover apple?

Largely because Apple is not selling computer functionality – rather, an idea understood emotionally – elegance – and, especially, social certification.  Yes,it is a religion. You buy it on faith. And you get a community, signs and symbols.  You're "in".

Apple products look good.  They all have that mark-- the Apple you would never buy in the fruit store because somebody else -- or maybe a rat -- took a bite out of it.  

Apple laptops are elegant. Slim.  They cost a little more – but not enough to dissuade the ordinary consumer, who wants the status of a premium product.

Of course, to use them professionally you need Microsoft Office and Adobe.   And MS Office and Adobe are optimized – of course – for Windows.  

Windows has tried to be Apple-ish in Windows 10.  But they don’t really “get” it.  Nobody wants an Apple clone.  Well, almost nobody.  In fact, the clones often work better than the real thing -- but that is another story and doesn't matter because....

Linux OSX clone
...when all is said and done -- brand identity is personality  .  

When we meet people,  we introduce ourselves in terms of the things that define us, make us different on the one hand -- and those things that we share -- seeking emotional connection.  We can be different but we cannot be "other". Apple does it one way, Microsoft, another -- but they serve the same community- digital users.  That's personal branding.

Product branding,  ironically is not the same as individual socialization -- but still always personal.  Which is why when we think of Apple, we see Steve Jobs, dead or not.And when we think of Microsoft, we see Bill Gates, retired or not.

Human beings are simple social beings so we like to put faces to things -- even huge corporations -- in fact even to nations -- although we will come to that in other post.
Over at Langley, they will tell you the Japanese are different.  They will also tell you they are not.

How can they say this?

Think: “ It’s a Sony.”  The values implied in this slogan were innovation, reliability, elegance of design, pride of ownership. Yeah – “Sony”  Yeah, “nuff said”.  And the face of Sony?  Morita Akio, of course. 

Then Sony gave up this approach, and had a succession of faceless leaders, without personality,  to become just another electronics maker.  Sales plummeted .  Goodbye Sony.  Hello Samsung. Welcome LG.  Who is  Sony today?  Dunno....

So the Japanese can  emphasize individual uniqueness,  personality and the like.

In addition, however,  the use their culture --  “J-Marketing”, making use of semi-mystical cultural concepts that have elements of magic, that say, "Made in America" lacks.

Toyota, for example, set up Lexus as a separate company to add luster to the overall brand, which was seen as solid, reliable – and boring.  They wanted Toyota to be classy.  Not just plain old classy but really classy.

This was values-based promotion -- innovation, quality, elegance of design and pride of ownership.  Classy.    Luxury befitting a premium product – for premium people.  So, social accreditation -- especially important for the Japanese who used to regard themselves as conventional, conformist and boring. 

Lexus stressed design – just as Apple did. 

It sponsored design events and published a “lifestyle” magazine for the snob class.  It cam eup with the the world’s ugliest automotive grille ever --  a huge nasty gaping maw  that any Predator would love – and which puts the finger to conventional taste. 

I hate the grille. 
No, bigger is not always better!   As any woman will tell you.   But does catch your attention.  And I loved the Predator movies.

To enhance the impact,  Lexus also”J-markets” --leveraging the foreign world’s perception of oriental culture as somehow magical or mystical.   Luxury car buyers are mostly upperly mobile men, with testosterone soaked dreams of power and a hunger for sophistication.   So Lexus pushes  power cars with samurai personalities, embodying sophistication and lots of zen. 

Lexus Ad

Its designers are therefore not just engineers – they are artists in the Japanese tradition -- so-called “takumi” – “masters”.      

No tie, no grey suit, styled hair, beard.  "Takumi".  Chief Designer:Tadao Mori

In reality of course --  they are just engineers --and, in fact, their ideas are often the results of consensus,relying on the creativity of their juniors or  borrowed from other makers.  This collective process is the Japanese way -- but they are presented as personal  inspiration – moments of automotive satori.   

Lexus touts “monozukuri” -- the Japanese tradition of craftsmanship through attention to detail – although its quality levels  -- in fact the whole “Toyota Way” owe much  to Arthur Deming and Toyota’s early studies of automotive manufacturing in the US.   Not that  a car is  a monozukuri pot or woodwork.

Add to that: a face. Toyoda Akio is now a "master driver". 

If you follow Toyoda,  he has moved from being a typical Japanese company executive to international trendsetter -- an amazing transformation.   As the great swordsman Musashi said, you must never stop moving. And Toyoda has two swords --flair and innovation.  .

But Lexus is not all automotive bushido.  

It offers omotenashi – a buzz word in Japan since Rio.  In modern Japanese it just means “hospitality” or “welcome” but the concept goes back centuries, having its origins in zen.  The modern idea is complete customer service – as long as you can afford it – and relative to social status.   Sorry to say, but omotenashi is different at the Hilton than at a “business” hotel. 

If you go to Lexus showrooms in the Middle East, you will see little Japanese gardens and tea rooms.  This is advertised conspicuously as  Omotenashi....  Hospitality but with meticulous attention to detail.

Does this account for the popularity of Toyota with ISIS?  Does this explain why ISIS  uses Hello Kitty notebooks to do flowcharts of massacres?  They too pay attention to detail.

Lexus was the best selling premium brand in the US for eleven years!

Yet, Lexus is only  rated No. 10 in customer satisfaction after …um…Chevrolet and Chrysler! Toyota itself is No. 5 in the US.   

Quality?  Lexus is far down the list.  Again in the US 

Then, such comparisons are meaningless.  Exactly what is the difference between a Lexus or top-class Toyota and a BMW, Audi or Benz?  It is really a matter of taste.  

Now, I adopt a very irreverent approach. Because,  logically most branding is pretty silly  But in the end, good branding is not about logic -- it is about emotion and personality.

So it is easy to make fun of any company's branding efforts-- including Toyota and Lexus. Or to criticize them for dumbing down or misapplying Japanese culture.  Branding is a show --and the shadow of the sublime is ever the ridiculous.The fact is, however, Toyota and Lexus sell better than many others, that might even be superior in some respects.    Whatever they are doing -- they are getting it right.  And frankly it is all right to dumb down culture for people who won't understand it anyway, so long as don't actually falsify it.

The Japanese government people funding Cool Japan could learn a lot from Toyota.

We will deal with that in my next post. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Tokyo on Fire? Or Just Smouldering

Tim Langley has   the only  regular  English language programs on Japanese politics broadcast from Japan -- Tokyo on Fire and Brand2020.

I don't always agree with some of the opinions expressed -- and I am sure you won't either -- but difference of opinion is the point of such programs - which makes them the place to go to for substantive discussion of things Japanese --and, at least, a look at how Japanese-based foreign residents see Japan.

As I suggested in my blog post on Koike Yuriko, Tim Langley has -- among other things -- a unique ability to ask all the right questions.

Of course, he doesn't have all  the answers.  Or at least if he thinks he does - he's not going to tell you.  He would rather you thought about  it and came to your own conclusions.

Most recently, Langley had Ichita Yamamoto of the ruling LDP on board to talk about "Cool Japan".

Right at the beginning of the interview, it went sideways with both Langley and Yamamoto seeming to talk about "Cool Japan" as "nation branding."  For Langley-- if it were national branding -- Cool Japan should be Amazing Japan,   meaning that the program should be advertising the many ways that Japan is interesting and unique.  Yamamoto seemed to agree -- even if he seemed oddly focused on common American (note: American only) stereotypes of the Japanese as "youthful" and having a national healthcare system 

(Please Mr. Yamamoto: many countries have NHS systems better than Japan's!  The US is the only OECD country without universal natioanal healthcare.)

 However ...

Cool Japan is most definitely not....
  •  "soft power"    
  • "nation branding"
  •  "public diplomacy"

Nation Branding?
As a professional in the branding and marketing business -- with no financial attachments of any kind to Cool Japan, I can tell you what it really is:
  • Government funded "J-marketing" of "Japanesey" niche products  
  • Corporate welfare for companies suffering from competition from the Koreans and Chinese
  • PR for the Tokyo Olympics
What is "J-marketing"?  It is selling things using the exotic ethos of Japanese culture.

 So "Cool Japan" focuses on  Japanese things that had become very trendy in the US, reaching a peak 15 years ago  -- notably, manga, Japanese animation, Hello Kitty, young Japanese girls ( or the fetishism associated with J Pop)  and so on.   It uses some Japanese words like "omotenashi" -- not in the traditional sense but in the modern sense as "welcome" or "hospitality",  stripping it of its cultural meaning, which goes back centuries.  
The Omotenashi Bra

The odd thing here is that manga and animation makers (with some notable exceptions) have been "internationalizing" their products for years, cutting away cultural content that might interfere with saleability.

So, no,  the manga you read abroad (translated, of course) is not the manga Japanese read!    "Lost in translation", indeed!

Ghost in the Shell: Original and Remake
With the Korean and the Japanese entertainment industries booming -- particularly in film --  Japan faces a lot of competition.   
This situation is similar to what the UK faced in the late 1990s when Tony Blair came to power.  At that time, popular culture had reached a peak in Britain.   "Cool Britannia" was the unofficial slogan of the youth counterculture -- but those young people who gave it meaning in its  glory days in the 1970s -- were now twenty years older and had kids and mortgages.  

Tony's "Cool" Britannia  was a a failure as the Iraq War soon showed. 

"Cool" Japan suffers from the same problem.  It is  government program intended to shore up a cultural phenomenon that began to die the moment every supermarket in the US -- and the convenience stores -- offered California Rolls and Koreans and Chinese started opening sushi shops.  Sorry, it aint 2005 any longer

"Cool" is all about "trendy" -- and trendy means temporary. A problem with Japan is that it usually five to ten years behind the trends elsewhere.

If only most of the money allocated for Cool Japan events went to stimulating innovation among young people and providing them with creative opportunities!  

Ironies abound. 

Blair's "Cool Britannia" reveled in the counterculture once that phenomenon was dying.   Perhaps that is the nature of such programs - they are run by old, rich men, without an ounce of art themselves.

Japan?  Did Japan ever have a counter culture?   Benjamin Boaz writes that the problem is a lack of input from the foreign world. While it simply commonsense that you cannot market when you don't know what the market wants, content markets like entertainment are drive by creativity.

So the real issue is a lack of input from creative people in Japan itself.  No, not Beat Takeshi or Takashi Miike,   who milk Japanese classic films adding violence porn.  But the real creative people.

So, to return to Langley and Yamamoto, both of them seem to recognize that "Cool" Japan is not -- and cannot be "nation branding".  

I wish they had come out and said that straight, although I recognize that it might be hard for them to do so.  I can do this -- but only because I am anonymous (the "Oracle").

Yamamoto, in particular, has to look more carefully at where the money goes.  He's a smart man, obviously educated and flexible, with real ideas.  He needs to stop focusing on what he thinks Americans think about Japan -- and think more about Japan's "amazing" culture and history -- and the spirit of innovation that has driven the country for 2000 years.

Yes, Innovation.    That's why Japan is different.

 If Cool Japan is set up to support the Japanese entertainment industry - that is what it should do -- grow it!  That means  stimulating  that spirit of innovation by opening up opportunities for young artists and filmmakers and story tellers.  

Japan needs a popular counter culture, rather than a hidden one. 

James Cameron.  Professor.  Beijing Film School

Next time:  successful examples of Japanese branding

Monday, August 7, 2017

Koike as Japanese PM?

Part One: Yuriko Koike

Brexit, Obama,Justin Trudeau,  Jeremy Corbyn, Hillary,  Trump...People ask me how I most get it right  in my predictions and analyses --when NYT and WaPo and the Guardian get it wrong. 

My secret?

As I have said before-- everything you need to know about politics, you learned in the High School cafeteria.  It's just basic human behavior -- not rocket science.  No, you don't need a PhD.

Of course, a lot depends on the High School!  And what if it's a Japanese school?

Different high schools mean different behaviors.

American commentators continue to get Japan and things Japanese wrong  --largely because they didn't go to Japanese high schools.  Or sometimes because they went to prep schools. 

Take the Foreign  Press's assessments of Yuriko Koike as a future Prime Minister.  No, the pundits say -- she will be shut out-- and they have, on the surface, some  prettygood reasons.

First, nothing is going to happen for at least five years.  Of course,  that could be a positive for Koike as a national leader.  However, in politics five years is forever.  Welcome to fantasyland.

Abe, of course,  is still strong -- and barring really serious scandals like his wife revealing he wears hair plugs and uses Viagra (more on this later) or other events...he will hold on to power  no matter what until the Olympics has come and gone -- and the economy takes the hit which it must after that event. 

Koike's term as Governor of Tokyo ends just before the Olympics and most people assume that she would run again as Governor rather than abandon her supporters and challenge a still strong Abe or a replacement from the LDP Old Boy system, most likely a younger Old Boy -- or one of the factions that are always popping up as "new parties".

The Guv' has indicated that she has no ambitions to work at the national level-- since quitting as defense minister to fix Tokyo.  Of course, her position as defense minister indicates an interest in national politics -- even though  she must have realized that she couldn't do  a lot and was there as a feminist, or rather female placeholder.

As Tokyo Governor, however, Koike is really beholden only to the citizens of Tokyo.

There is something else. to consider it.  As mentioned,   Koike is a WOMAN!  

Yes, she occasionally wears pant suits although Hillary seems to do it most of the time.   But Koike dresses for the occasion -- kimono, usually tasteful skirts and jackets.... She dresses for success -- as a woman. 
The one with the ball on the right

Koike does not proselytyze as a "feminist" -- unlike Hillary --who is what I call a "masculinist' -- a woman who mostly espouses hormonal male values -- war, for example --and predatory capitalism, war on the economic front.  

Hooya!  She is shrill.  She cackles about men getting raped by bayonets.     Kill, kill!

By contrast, the women of Japan look up to Koike because she's   smart and calm. She can manage.  And she knows her vegetables.  Oh, and she has never been married.  Doesn't need one. Besides, every housewife knows that men can't handle money.  

Where to go for opinion of Japanese politics?
Tim Langley went to the right high school.
Hillary's is  power is pretending to have balls -- Koike's is femininity.   No 'roid rage here.   Rather, the "All Mother" in the Japanese sense.  Himiko, who we will get to later. Hail estrogen.  

The "Old Boy" system is an anachronism.  A throwback to samurai days.  Please --just fall on your swords and get it over with. 

Given the rapid decay of the system, with its huge emphasis on male bonding -- who knows what will happen in in four or five years. This system ahs already proven inadequate in Tokyo which  had its Abe -- a guy named  Ishihara. Now you need a smart woman to clean up the mess.  Five years from now -- you may need here -- or someone like her -- nationally.

Of course, Koike will never say anything about this -- she is simply too here-and-now .   If she were a man, she would probably want to drop "hints" -- to flaunt and posture.   As a woman, she understands the value of modesty -- also also pragmatism.  One step a time.  

Part Two:  Japanese Feminism

Testosterone, as the ancient Chinese knew, makes for good soldiers but not for good governors.    That's why the top Chinese bureaucracy was largely made up of eunuchs.   Oh, if we could only do that to the State Department in the US!  Imagine too if all five star generals had to carry their balls in a box.

No, no --you say -- Japan is and always has been male-dominated.

Not quite.

From the Edo Period until 1945, women were officially non-people.  That's over 400 years -- a fairly long time.  In the West, women were in fact  almost-people for a rather longer time.

However, for much of Japan's 2000 year history -- say 1600 years --  women have played a prominent role.  

The Tokugawa Shogunate was regressive, and its aggressive feudal patriarchalism -- the cult of the warrior -- bushido --led directly to the militarism of the Meiji, Taisho and early Showa periods.  Historically, however,  bushido -- and Edo --was not the norm for Japan -- but an aberration.  

Japanese TV would have us believe otherwise -- with lots of female ninja. -- just as  American TV pretends that gunslingers didn't suffer from scabies and festering crotch rot and their women dream of escaping to the live with the Indians where they could have a life.

Foreigners love their memes  -- as long as they are not true.

 Japanese women should be submissive and obedient  cute, always polite.  Think of Japanese TV and all those "Yes Girls"-- nodding their heads in perpetual agreement.  And Japanese porn?   Yup.  Just try marrying a Japanese girl -- and see what happens to that cute OL!

As my friends over at Tim Langley's Brand2020 have noted, foreigners are surprised when they marry -- and get divorced in Japan.  They see their wives as "vengeful".   And they find they have no parental rights.

In this segment, Tim asks a pertinent question:  why do Japanese women seem so "vengeful".  The key to understanding a foreign culture is always being able to ask the right questions.

In this segement, however, Tim doesn't get an answer -- not a real one, in my opinion.

So here's one.....

In   the "salaryman" culture,  women, rule the "home", technically the "household", which is also the "marriage". To get married here you have to join a household.  

Traditionally -- since the 1950s anyway, Japanese women control the finances.  

If you get divorced, your wife will take the children because the marriage is the household; the children belong to it; and the divorced husbands don't .  It's not vengeance, actually -- it's just business. Marital capitalism.  In Japan, the husband has no household capital if divorced.

Of course, divorced men frequently don't pay support.  So women leverage their positions. And that "vengeful" attitude:    passive aggressive, yes.

 Japanese women have their own worlds, their own language, and their own social networks, which function differently from those of men which are dominated by "senpai-kohai" relationships, mimicking the samurai code. If you are a foreign man - -then you are very much "other.  Not a different gender -- a different species.

Empress Himiko.  Japanese Men Don't Always Call The Shots
Such things prompted the  anthropologist Volker to write of the "conspiracy of the wife and her children" against the father.     Many others have noted how little notions of sex and love have to do with marriage in Japan where in fact the rate of sexual congress is the lowest in the world.

Granted -- things are changing.  Men participate more with their families.  There is more sharing.   But when push comes to shove it is women who rule the home.   

Sometimes it gets confusing in Japan -- especially with regards to celebrities who have their own culture.  Take the Matsui Kazuyo scandal in which Matsui, an aging and wealthy celebrity found her husband cheating with her best friend in Hawaii and proceeded to make a video accusing him of not only infidelity but wearing hair plugs and using Viagra.  She then went on to try and get him fired from his job at NHK.

By Japanese standards,however, Matsui is not a feminist of any kind -- she is simply regarded as crazy. she is as the Japanese say "urasai".  Women in Japan have power --when they are calm and stable -- this is their role in the household.  Japanese women do not get mad -- they get even - -as I have indicated, usually passively aggressively.  They are social guerrillas. 

In a society that values ambiguity, ambivalence and indirection, women have few other options. 

Part 3 Koike and Himiko

Yuriko Koike looks like the kind of person who can hold it together.   A modern Himiko.  according to Chinese records, the first Empress of Japan.

 The country formerly had a man as ruler. For some seventy or eighty years after that there were disturbances and warfare. Thereupon the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler. Her name was Himiko [卑彌呼], her age at the time was only fourteen. She occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people. Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She had a younger brother who assisted her in ruling the country. After she became the ruler, there were few who saw her. She had one thousand women as attendants, but only one man. He served her food and drink and acted as a medium of communication. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades, with armed guards in a state of constant vigilance. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:13)