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Global Brands: Kitto Katsu!
March 15, 2010 - By: - In: Localization - 23 comments

The splendor and variety of snacks in Japan are unrivaled, and Japanese junk-food eaters won’t stand for just any junk. It has to taste really good and be viral enough to ride each food fashion wave that sweeps the country each season.

Now at the crest, the flavor favorite of the number one candy brand in Japan: soy sauce-flavored Kit Kats. That’s pronounced “kitto katsu” in Japan, which also means “surely win,” which is exactly what Nestlé has done with this familiar old brand (and in the most brilliant, local way might I add).

Plain old Kit Kats are the best selling candy bars in the world, but they must seem pretty old-hat in Japan right now.

Nestlé has come up with varieties that reflect the local produce and palate of each region. There are some staple flavors like miso, soy sauce, and green tea that are found in all regions, but Kit Kat varieties now range from yubari melon and baked corn in Hokkaido in the north, to green beans and cherries in Tohoku in the northeast, to yuzu fruit and red potatoes on Kyushu Island at the southernmost tip of the country.  The Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, contributed the sweet potato, blueberry, and kinako (soybean) flavors. The strategy started three years ago with a handful of flavors, but has escalated into a national phenomenon. It’s also unique to Japan, so Kit Kat lovers in other countries shouldn’t expect to see exotic local flavors. (Dear readers, I appeal to you in the name of science: I am seeking donations of kinako Kit Kats for additional research.)

Many of the special flavors are only introduced for a limited time to entice consumers to try something new while they can, and then they’re quickly taken off the market.

Nestlé took their winning product and tied it in with the tradition of offering best wishes to students on the eve of their tough national exams. They partnered with Japan’s postal service to create “Kit Kat Mail,” a postcard-like product sold only at the post office that could be mailed to students as an edible good-luck charm.

Nestlé decorates post offices with a cherry blossom theme that coincides with Japan’s annual exam period. It also stocks a sales point in each post office.

How to get to “wow” is tough for a global brand, and it must be done market by market. Up until recently, most of the work we do on branding is defensive ― designed to protect our clients from stepping on cultural toes and crossing linguist signals ― so it’s a nice change to approach this problem in a more proactive way, through harmonization and back translation, so that the guys at the head office can really get it and the in-country guys stay on the same corporate page.

This story is cribbed from Laurel Wentz at Ad Age Global News newsletter, which I recommend to anyone interested in international advertising. For a user perspective, check out Jen’s mission to try as many wacky Kit Kats as she can.

April Fools Update (April 5, 2010): The rise of the Kit Kats.

On April 1st, a strangely dressed intruder was arrested at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The saboteur, Eloi Cole, claimed to have travelled back in time to prevent the future destruction of the world as we know it.

“Police said Mr Cole, who was wearing a bow tie and rather too much tweed for his age, would not reveal his country of origin. ‘Countries do not exist where I am from. The discovery of the Higgs boson led to limitless power, the elimination of poverty and Kit-Kats for everyone. It is a communist chocolate hellhole and I’m here to stop it ever happening.'”

If Cole’s allegations are true, does this mean that wacky flavored Kit Kats are bad and not good? More as this story develops…

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