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Kit Kat embraces Japan and Japan returns the f(l)avor: regional tastes & cultural understanding

Japanese Kit Kat flavors

Anyone whose high school psychology teacher fed them an Australian musk-flavored Lifesaver and then laughed hysterically as they projectile-spat it out knows that there’s no accounting for (regional) taste. (If you’re curious, by the way, just soak a piece of chalk in cologne and pop it in your mouth.) Luckily, Kit Kat is offering a more palatable set of flavors tailored to several niche regional markets across Japan.

The brand, which is licensed to Hershey’s in the US but owned and operated by Nestle abroad, boasts 19 Japan-specific flavors like miso, soy sauce (the top-seller), green tea, and wasabi-white chocolate (as well as more sedate ones like strawberry cheesecake), and regularly adds new limited edition flavors to its carousel of localized palate-pleasers.

The genius of this product localization effort is that it is not only Japan-specific (no other market has regional flavors) but that it is region-specific within Japan–flavors are tailored to the peculiar palate of a given region, and are only offered in that specific location. For example, red potato Kit Kats available in Kyushu and yubari melon from Hokkaido cannot be purchased elsewhere in the country, spurring a collect-em-all frenzy (the specialty flavors, which began to roll out 3 years ago, are wildly popular) and making them tourist-worthy souvenirs for travelers from both abroad and at home–a fun way for Japanese consumers to discover, sample, and appreciate the multifaceted culinary culture and exotic regional fare of their own country. Many of the flavors are offered only for a limited time, with excess inventory being collected and distributed in “Happy Bag” grab-bags sold during major gift-giving holidays such as New Year, a move that both creates all-important hype as well as efficiently moves inventory.

Thanks to the success of their regional flavors, Kit Kat is the #1 candy brand in Japan, and has become a cultural phenomenon. Adding to Kit Kat’s branding and sales success is yet another insight about the Japanese consumer base and culture: gift-giving is a big part of the Japanese culture, especially the practice of presenting students with good luck tokens before their all-important school entrance exams. In a fortuitous twist of phonetics, Kit Kat in Japan is sold as Kitto Katsu, which in Japanese means “surely win,” making it an excellent symbolic token (and delicious pre-exam pick-me-up) for this ritual. Kit Kat recognized the sales and product-as-medium branding opportunity and partnered with the recently-privatized Japanese postal service to create a special “Kit Kat Mail” postcard-like confection to be sent in the mail as an “edible good luck charm.” Kit Kat decorates post offices with Japan’s auspicious cherry blossoms during the annual exam period and sets up points of sale for Kit Kat Mail at each location–a brilliant choice as an uncluttered and competitor-less space. The execution not only boosted sales and allowed Kit Kat to become a natural part of a beloved cultural ritual, but also won agency JWT Tokyo the 2009 Media Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions.

Hear what the execs have to say–Advertising Age has the skinny on more of the strategic insights that led Nestle and JWT to their Kit Kat wins.


A map of flavor availability

post office

Kit Kat decks out a post office for exam season and the addition of Kit Kat Mail points of purchase


Milton Glaser becomes first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts
March 7, 2010, 4:05 am
Filed under: Art & Design | Tags: , , ,
glaser obama

President Obama presents the National Medal of Arts to Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser recently became the first graphic designer ever to be honored with the National Medal of Arts, established by Congress in 1984 to recognize “contributions to the creation, growth, and support for the arts in the U.S.”–past recipients have included composer Aaron Copland, architect Frank Gehry, poet Maya Angelou, and choreographer Twyla Tharp. Glaser is one of twelve 2009 recipients of the prestigious award, placing him in the distinguished company of arts legends and fellow 2009 honorees including Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, John Williams, and the School of American Ballet.  

Glaser is perhaps best known as the man responsible for one of the most recognizable and oft-copied icons in our visual lexicon: I Heart NY, but his prolific career has seen multifarious endeavors ranging from murals, logos, and posters to packaging design, publishing, and book covers–most notably those done for longtime friend, author, and fellow national treasure (and National Medal of Arts recipient) Philip Roth.  

Notoriously quotable, Glaser has given us such simple, pithy insights as “The purpose of art is to inform and delight,” and “Less isn’t more; just enough is more,” sharing with us a worldview in which design is a fundamental means of communication and art is a cognition-altering tool for relating more fully to the world.  

Read more about Glaser’s thoughts on art, career, and life at idsgn.  

i heart ny  

secret of art


Who’s afraid of the big bad internet? (hint: it’s these guys)
March 4, 2010, 1:03 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

Paloma Vazquez is a frequent contributor to PSFK and her posts there are invariably fascinating. This time I stumbled upon her posterous, where I found these shrewd, Clio-winning ads by the International Society for Human Rights. The metaphor is spot-on, the wordplay is implicit, and the picture says it all: nothing is more terrifying to a dictator than free and open access to information.




Wrangler and Levi’s: Jeans campaigns share conceptual genes
January 27, 2010, 10:02 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , , , ,

Wrangler We Are Animals

AdFreak recently highlighted Fred & Farid’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning “We are animals” campaign for Wrangler’s European rebranding, and it reminded me strongly of the ads we’ve seen all year for Levi’s—Wieden & Kennedy’s expertly-hewn “Go forth” campaign. (Advertising Age pithily notes the latter is “no good because it’s too good by half.” I’m inclined to agree.)

It’s interesting to me that two such similar brands would take such a similar route at around the same time—and that both would manage to do it so well. In Levi’s spots, stern, crackling directives and psycho-scrawls send dust-bowl darlings bounding across the vast pioneer-promised land; in Wrangler’s, red-dusted hellions  flail and contort like the primal spirits they are.

What we see in both campaigns is the cheesy discount cowboy hokum of yore replaced by something earthy, optimistic, and deliciously reckless. Each has an element of Americana, Whitman romantic while Kerouac ominous. In a world where jeans have turned hyper-tailored, sleek, and designer-fussy, both Levi’s and Wrangler replace pretension with authenticity and present an alternative that’s unhokily rugged, young, and raw. Each campaign makes it about some underlying truth about human nature, so it’s a question of lifestyle and an assertion of outlook rather than a drab and meaningless global uniform. Each has the unironic sincerity of a stripped down close-up portrait, and each is aspirational—just maybe in a way we’re not used to seeing. Whether they’ll make an impact on sales is another issue altogether, but in these aesthetic-and-conceptual-DNA-sharing campaigns, both brands offer us something fresh and powerful in a world of winking blasé preciousness.

Wrangler We Are Animals

Levi's Go Forth

Pringles interactive banner amuses, entertains, does not ask us to guess which one is Kanye West
Pringles Banner

Initial frame of Pringles banner--click the image to play with the flash banner

I was looking over AdFreak’s year-end roundup and loved this interactive banner by Pringles. So did the Cannes jury–it won its agency Bridge Worldwide a gold Cyber Lion last year. The cool thing about this banner is that it’s engaging–it tells a story that makes you want to keep clicking. The even cooler thing is that it never once takes you to the Pringles website. It may not get traditional clickthrough, but it’s a more meaningful clickthrough–it offers even the most jaded and banner-wary web denizen an amusing (and pleasantly unpredictable) experience that communicates the brand’s quirky, youthful spirit and in a subtle way rewards our trust–not just in the brand, but also in a medium so many of us have come to distrust.

Lego shows that it’s not always the medium, it’s the message
December 4, 2009, 3:44 pm
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , ,

It’s been a long time since I’ve been impressed by a print ad. Maybe all the other great stuff going on, all the other ways to be really innovative and tell interesting stories, well, interestingly, unfairly jaded me to the old ink-and-paper. I know that dating to 2006, these ads are hardly new, but when a friend (thanks, Blair!) sent me these ads by Lego, I was reminded that even with the panoply of ways a brand may express itself and interface with audiences, that it’s possible–and relevant–to tell simple, rich, and compelling stories in 2D.

In these ads for Lego, the brand’s belief in imagination and endless possibility are brought to life with emotionally-resonant, on-brand simplicity thant evokes the wonder, creativity, and poignancy of childhood. One look and nostalgic parents will agree that it doesn’t need to have a mouse, batteries, or a joystick to stimulate their little ones’ developing brains, and that Lego is a timeless classic for a reason. Capturing and communicating the essence and the aesthetic of the Lego brand, the following ads were all released in 2006: the first four are by Blattner Brunner, and the last, entitled “Periscope” and winner of top honors at the Cannes Lions, is by FCB Johannesburg.






Browse more great Lego ads from a number of excellent campaigns.