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Diversity and brands in Japan

The world started paying more attention to diversity and inclusion in 2020, partly because the ’Black Lives Matter’ movement in the US has been reaching a wider audience. In the UK, protests to support the movement were organised and many companies explicitly started addressing this.

For instance, the BBC is to increase diversity by investing £100m of its TV budget over a three year period to produce "diverse and inclusive content”. The media coverage in Japan was not comparable. It was as if it was someone else’s problem, given that 98.5% of the total population belongs to a Japanese ethic group. Japan is the rationally (and culturally) homogeneous nation.

You can imagine what ‘diversity’ means for the minds of Japanese people. This is usually for promoting the female workforce, as fifteen TOPIX 100 boards are still left without any women.

Brand partners, e.g. consumers, employees, shareholders, etc. are more and more supportive and collaborative for a brand which has a purpose. They are conscious about the impacts of brands on communities and the world. How should Japanese brands accommodate and strategically address their values to diversity and inclusion for business growth?

It would be more relevant for the brand to talk about the ‘gender gap’, especially around inequality for women in Japan.

Chocolates for Valentine's day

Godiva, activist for Japanese women

Here is an interesting example of Godiva, a Belgian chocolate company, to capture the mind share of Japanese women.

Valentine’s Day in Japan has a slightly different context and dynamic than Western countries. This is the day that women give chocolates to men who they both love and work with. The latter is called ‘obligation chocolates’ and is not considered a romantic gesture nor an enjoyable experience for women, as often this involves preparations which seem to be an extension of how women at work are expected to behave; women have traditionally supported men who dominate the political and corporate world.

Godiva launched the provocative campaign in 2018. The concept was ‘Let’s stop obligation chocolates’. Rather than forcing customers to buy chocolates, they invited them to enjoy the day and treat themselves to luxury hotels. This captured the hearts of many women who have been questioning this custom and the structual barriers to empower women, and raised ‘compassion’ to the brand which can speak on behalf of them.

This is a very smart move, as revenue for Godiva could have been assumed to be hit hard by discouragement to buy obligation chocolates. In fact, Godiva did not deny their products directly and its brand association as it is a high-end chocolate brand which is normally selected for a chocolate gift of true love; women pick inexpensive brands for obligation chocolates.

Godiva knows that consumers have a question and what they stand for: treat yourselves. It is the intersection where a genuine purpose is born.

In Japan, there are quite a few advertisements which use celebrities (influencer marketing) which are not necessarily linked to what they stand for. To question/propose new perspectives on diversity can be a new way to build brand equity into customers’ minds.

Finally, non-Japanese brands may have a lower risk in advocating diversity as they could act as an intermediary between Japan and overseas. Their introductions of new views imported from the world could have less barriers by which they are acknowledged. At the same time, we wish to encourage Japanese-origin brands to strategically drive branding with diversity and inclusion, as consumers might feel someone from the same ethic group can have a voice on their behalf.


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