STATUS LOSES STATURE AMONG JAPANESE

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TOKYO-A shift in traditional Japanese values is rendering status out and value in as the ad industry's buzzword this year.

A new movement under way in Japan toward individuality and away from tradition is changing the marketing focus.

"Japanese consumption styles and product selection had been based on becoming a member" of a social group, said Shuichi Suzuki, senior planner-marketing management at Dentsu. But now, he added, consumers are becoming more "discerning, active and autonomous."

Consumers, added Chris Beaumont, strategic planner at McCann-Erickson Asia Pacific, are "looking at what's in a brand from a more rational point of view than before."

Specifically, they're searching for authenticity in brand selection, in addition to products that provide convenience, a sense of well-being and an element of nostalgia.

However, Mr. Beaumont said consumers want to live life beyond the everyday small indulgences and are looking for ways to add quality to their lives through products' perceived value-the functionality, emotional benefit and value for money.

Value doesn't pertain only to price, Mr. Suzuki said. Instead, it conveys quality of life.

While cut-rate prices and discount shopping were the big topics last year, now price alone isn't enough to sway the Japanese consumer. McCann-Erickson Chief Creative Officer Koh Sakata said if price is the only element in an ad, it won't work. "The advertisement needs to express the function and to show what the value is to the consumer."

Some companies are already trying this approach. Mercedes-Benz Japan's print and TV ads for the C200 series, its lowest-price vehicles, for example, read "100 yen can be called `expensive,' 1 million yen can be called `cheap,"' providing a way for consumers to evaluate the price based on their own value system. Dentsu handles that campaign.

Authenticity and substance are hot buttons for products from cappuccino to cars. Toyota's four-wheel drive Rav4, for example, is successfully positioned in ads from local agency Nanboksha as practical for both city and country use. And jeans marketer Levi Strauss Japan's products are also sought for both product heritage and durability.

"Fifteen years of Levi's ads [from McCann-Erickson Japan] showing the authentic American blue jeans as representing freedom and the American dream have worked well," Mr. Beaumont said.

Nostalgia is powering some product categories, including videogames. Taito Co.'s Space Invaders was reintroduced last year, for the first time since its 1978 debut, and within one month sold 300,000 units.

The new Japanese awareness of well-being both physically and mentally has helped sales of self-help books, particularly in the areas of death and dying, how-to tomes on childbirth, and those on time and life organization.

The new awareness of well-being, Mr. Beaumont said, is a reaction to the wantonness of the '80s, when people wore Gucci and Cartier to send the message "I'm successful."

"Now," he said, "people want to say, `I'm happy with myself."'

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