By Ryoko Ward & Melissa Francis
Tokyoesque are experts in Europe-Japan relations and provide clients with unique cultural insights that can be used to accelerate business growth across the globe. In this post, we look at the G20 Summit in Japan as a current example of how limited-time goods and experiences can enable greater interaction and engagement with an event among Japanese audiences.
With the G20 summit due to take place in Osaka this year, organisers are ensuring the event is being promoted in a myriad of ways. One of these promotional methods is to create limited edition products revolving around the occasion. Here, we discuss how commoditising events like G20 can boost interest and engagement among Japanese consumers, and how this type of offering fits into the much broader cultural context of gift-giving.
What’s happening around the G20 Summit in Osaka?
Formally known as ‘The Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy’, the G20 Summit will be held over the weekend of 28th-29th June in Osaka, Japan. It’s an event of global importance in which the leaders of G20 countries, guest countries and international organisations will come together to discuss global issues such as energy, agriculture, gas emissions, sustainability, and other such crucial topics.
The government has been conducting several events to promote the summit within Japan, such as the ‘Dialogue with students’ seminar, organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), which saw MOFA officials and students mingling to discuss global issues of concern. There was also the ‘Unveiling Ceremony for the G20 Osaka Summit 100-Day Countdown Board’, to which members of pop group ‘Kanjani Eight’ were invited. They have also set up official social media accounts including; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr, in addition to the official promotional video.
Limited edition products for the G20 Summit
Creating limited edition products related to the summit is another way of ramping up hype and positioning the event in a positive light. Here are a few examples from various regions across Japan:
82 Yen Stamps
The Japan Post Office started selling limited edition commemorative G20 stamps from mid-June this year, featuring designs based on a Japanese traditional craft called mizubiki (水引き). Mizubiki items are traditionally made of rice paper, creating different shapes such as animals and flowers. They are also used to tie things together, such as hair and letters, just as ribbons and bows would do in the west. The mizubiki featured in these G20 stamps are plum blossoms, as these are the official flowers used to symbolise Osaka.
G20 Osaka Cookies
Osaka Bay Area MICE, the biggest conference/event facility in the Kansai region of Japan with accommodation, restaurants, and shops, is selling G20 Summit Osaka Cookies for the visitors to get as souvenirs. The cookies are available only in the Sakishima area, where the G20 Summit is set to take place. There are twenty cookies per box, with each one featuring the G20 official logo.
Although Osaka is the main site for hosting the G20 Summit, meetings with related ministers will be held in other prefectures, including Fukuoka, Ehime, Hokkaido, Niigata, Ibgaraki, Nagano, Okayama and Aichi. G20 limited products seem to be especially thriving in Fukuoka. Below are just a few notable examples of the many G20 products the region has launched.
Menbei is a type of famous Japanese rice cracker brand originally from Fukuoka. Menbei is pollock roe flavoured rice crackers and is one of the most typical souvenirs for Japanese consumers to buy as a memento when visiting Fukuoka. To promote the event, limited edition G20 menbei were sold for a limited time between 1st — 11th June.
Limited Edition G20 Menu
Souvenirs are not the only thing being used to capitalise on the G20 Summit. Several restaurants at Hilton Fukuoka are offering a G20 menu for a limited time only. The dishes available on the menu varies depending on the restaurant, but they all consist of local specialities such as chicken hot pot and locally sourced fresh sashimi (raw fish). This provides a one-off experience for consumers relating to this specific occasion and place they choose to visit.
G20 Gourmet Stamp Rally
The Niigata Toki Messe was the venue for the G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting on 11th and 12th May. The occasion also happens to mark 150 years since the opening of Niigata Port, so from the beginning of March until 12th May, there was an official G20 Gourmet Stamp Rally that people could participate in. This encouraged dining at specific restaurants in Niigata that showcase dishes from countries represented in the G20 Summit. Once three stamps had been collected, customers were automatically entered into a draw to win prizes.
Twenty participants had the chance to win a 2,000 yen coupon to use at any of the specified restaurants, thirty could win commemorative goods relating to the Agriculture Ministers Meeting, and fifty participants would be in the running to get their hands on a pair of sustainable bioplastic chopsticks, made from rice. A total of 45 international restaurants (although largely Italian and French) throughout Niigata offered their cuisine as part of the rally.
A Culture that Strongly Appreciates Gifting
For Japanese people, the act of gift-giving is especially important in order to show thoughtfulness towards others, and as a way to share their experiences. What’s more, gifting is not limited to occasions such as birthdays, weddings and Christmas. What is more unique to Japanese consumers is to give omiyage (souvenirs) to each other after they have been away on a holiday or business trip. It’s very common to see people giving out small souvenirs to their family, friends and work colleagues. So for example, after a long summer holiday, it is not unusual to see lots of cookies and sweets piled up on one’s desk because their co-workers went on holiday and returned with a little something. Giving omiyage isn’t necessarily a mandatory custom at offices, but there is a certain expectation among Japanese that it’s the most appropriate thing to do.
This is part of the reason cookies and sweets sold in Japan are often individually wrapped, even when they are already packed inside a presentation box or tin. Souvenirs tend to be distributed among a several people in a workplace or social group. This might be one example of how social expectations in Japan are changing the way products are designed.
Handing out souvenirs can be a good conversation starter for telling others about their trip. It also has a special feeling because if the souvenirs are sold only in certain regions, family members, friends and colleagues couldn’t buy them unless they actually visit those places. So it’s not necessarily the case that Japanese people think limited editions are hugely innovative and different from the ordinary products, but the omiyage culture is still strong because of the perceived added value they bring. Bonding with others in work or social settings is an important aspect of Japanese culture, so omiyage can serve as a kind of social glue. Food items, such as sweets or cookies are the most popular.
Tokyo Station, for instance, produces a range of souvenirs such as these limited edition waffle cakes that can only be purchased at Tokyo Station.
What does this mean for western brands who want to expand into the Japanese market?
It’s important for western brands to acknowledge the fact that the omiyage culture remains prominent and unique to the Japanese market. We therefore recommend considering this as one possible strategy for promotion. The fixation that Japanese consumers have around limited edition goods can also be a useful way of maximising impact in Japan.
Even in cases where the focus is on B2B, politics or academics, think about how the central message of the occasion can be transformed into something that consumers will also benefit from or enjoy sharing with others. The Niigata Gourmet Stamp Rally, for example, encouraged people to explore international cuisine they might not have been inclined to sample otherwise.
It’s worth remembering that limited edition products are not necessarily released only to commemorate special occasions. They can also be related to specific times throughout the year, as we covered in our recent post on seasonal marketing.
Tokyoesque specialises in localising marketing strategies to help western brands adapt for the Japanese market. Feel free to contact us or fill out our free diagnostic to see where you stand in terms of making a strong impact in the Japanese market.