Turning Japanese

by Nick Ramshaw

I’ve just come back from my second trip to the wonderful country that is Japan. I knew before I went how much the Japanese are into cartoons, characters, manga and anime, but was blown away by how many organisations and companies are now using mascots as representations of their brand.  

Mascots are everywhere, helping to promote brands as diverse as bus providers to the local aquarium. My favourites were Hello Kitty promoting curry, this loveable guy spreading positive vibes about the Tokyo emergency services, Pokemon (still very much alive over there) and working with the Giants baseball team (as sported by my son Dylan), and Papa Beard who entices millions to buy his cream puffs all across the country.

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1&2

The most popular of all is Kumamon. He is a genuine household name in a country where celebrities are ten a penny. His rosy cheeks and unreadable expression appear on hundreds of products, from sweets and snacks to bags of rice, stationery and toys – part of a commercial portfolio worth almost 30bn yen last year (apparently). That’s not bad for a cuddly black bear with a mischievous streak, who has risen from
humble beginnings promoting a new bullet train station in southern Japan to become the country’s pre-eminent mascot.

Kumamon2
Kumamon2

And nothing gets the locals more excited than someone dressed up as their favourite mascot. Whether you at an event or wandering in the local mall, a dressed up mascot is always in demand for snap happy, camera phone toting locals. The guy below also
appealed to my wife, Aisling.

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5&6

Even Japan’s holiest mountain, Koyasan, has a mascot.

This cheeky little fella crops up in amongst some of the most significant Buddhist temples in Japan, helping to endure thousands of pilgrims to this wonderful place up in the hills outside Osaka.

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And Nara, the former capital city, with its free roaming wild deer and laidback vibe, has this guy with antlers as their mascot.

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I’m not just  looking for an excuse to just show some more of my holiday snaps, here are a few more of my personal favourites from the trip. I’m not sure what they are ‘selling’, but they all look great!

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10&11

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10&11

It all got me thinking about whether this approach would work for brands in this country? It would certainly help people to trust a brand more, because everyone would believe a mascot over an evil human being.

How could they ever do anything wrong? At Thompson, we know from experience that characters included in brand visual identities we have developed can be extremely popular, so I think the answer is yes. We just need a new and willing client to try it out with! So come on, give us a call.

Nick Ramshaw

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