Japanese women are beautiful.

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It is not often that a local brand achieves market leadership within a year in a developed market competing with the likes of P&G and Unilever. Tsubaki shampoo from Shiseido launched in mid-2006 is now the top selling shampoo in Japan, leaving behind titanic brands from P&G and Unilever. What is behind the success? A magical product? Ultra low pricing ?

Tsubaki’s success has been driven to a large extent by its launch campaign, “Japanese Women are beautiful”. To be fair, the packaging also has stand out value and the product story is quite unique and culturally relevant. However it is the communication and activation campaign anchored around the “Japanese women are beautiful” idea that has played a key role in delivering $155mn in year 1 sales. tsubaki-shampoo550.jpg

Read the International Herald Tribune story on Tsubaki here.

I see this campaign tapping into the same insight as the hugely successful Dove campaign for real beauty. It is a pity that Dove cracked the insight globally but their local execution (analysed in detail here) in Japan was not sharp enough. It looks like a faithful adaptation of the UK & North American execution. Something to mull over with regards to GLOCAL  i.e Think Global, Act local or Global strategy, Local Insights

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So what is wrong with a faithful adaptation? The big idea behind the “real beauty” campaign is :Challenge the established notion of beauty, celebrate the “real”  and make women feel more confident about their looks and appearences. The headline on the Japanese ad translates as “I won’t hide my skin anymore” and the visual shows pretty much similar sized women. Is “show your skin” as provocative an idea in Japan as “show your curves” is in West. Also is the portrayal “real” enough?  It is a clutter breaking visual no doubt but it could have been sharper and bolder.  

The question the Global agency planner should have asked every key market is – “What is the beauty stereotype in your market? What is the culturally resonant idea which can bust this stereotype and connect powerfully with the average wo(man) on the street ? 

This is what Tsubaki answered brilliantly. The dominant beauty stereotype in Japan (at least as portrayed in shampoo advertising historically) has been western women with blonde hair. Tsubaki tapped into the growing confidence of Japanese women and busted this stereotype head-on via “Japanese women are beautiful”. The campaign features Japanese women from all walks of life. See the TV ad here. You will notice the models don’t necessarily look like the average woman on the street. The big leap here is, showing Japanese women (and not western) in settings and activities which reflect the changing lifestyle of women in Japan.

I experienced the societal impact of this campaign first hand during my recent visit to Japan. During corridor talk with one of the PAs in our Japan office, I casually enquired about Tsubaki. One of the things she mentioned was – “Ever since that campaign far fewer women including myself dye their hair blonde”.  Talk of insightful communication shaping/changing people’s attitudes and behaviours.

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4 responses to “Japanese women are beautiful.

  1. The revelation on the gap is impressive. The digging-out on where ‘the hot-button’ missing from the same insight interpretation and execution is very beneficial for me.
    Are there any other activations aside the video…? Package? What about Pricing? Really no other subtle message delivery on the ‘oriental beauty’ functionality?…failed to find out, but somehow gut feeling tells there must be, after all the NO 1 sales achievement is so outstanding!

  2. The TV commercial is amazing! It really contains all the beauty that a woman can dream of…delivers functional attributes of the product at the same time..Tsubaki certainly did a very clever campaign!!

    I just wonder how they would crack other markets other than Japan??

  3. I don’t think Tsubaki is available in Hong Kong, but judging from the number of celebrities they used in the TV ad, I believe it must be a premium plus brand.

    I did a search in youtube as the embedded video was removed from the website, and I noticed that they also have a Taiwan version of the TV commercial with various Taiwanese celebrities, I wonder how this brand is doing in Taiwan.

  4. Pingback: All about feeling beautiful | Japanese Beauty Trends

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