WORKING WOMEN GIVE JAPAN CULTURE SHOCK

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TOKYO-Japanese advertisers are racing to keep pace with a progressive new cultural evolution involving women.

While some marketers still picture the stereotypical housewife in ads for cleaning products and the like, a new breed of working woman is being addressed in spots for products as diverse as frozen vegetables, cigarettes and no-smear lipstick.

More than half of Japan's married women now hold full or part-time jobs, according to the government's Management and Coordination Agency, and women comprise 40.5% of Japan's 64.5 million workers. The agency said that even during the height of the recession in 1993, there were 26.1 million working women in Japan, up from 23.7 million in 1985.

The sea change in attitude toward working women was a slow process. Unlike the U.S., which was swept by women's liberation in the 1970's, in Japan the movement caused barely a squeak. "The women's rights movement in Japan is evolutionary, not revolutionary," said Johanna Metzger Miller, Leo Burnett Kyodo account supervisor.

A survey by the Labor Ministry, for example, reported that 60.1% of young women on a career track felt they were "treated unfairly in hiring, promotions and job responsibility." And a private survey showed that women have become presidents of only 5% of Japan's 1 million companies.

But while Japanese women haven't become as liberated as Western women, they have become as busy. "Time-saving is of value now," said Motoaki Hirao, another account executive at Leo Burnett-Kyodo, noting that working women are increasingly looking for products offering convenience.

Pillsbury Japan K.K.'s Green Giant brand was quick to see the trend. Advertising and PR for its seven product line of frozen mixed vegetables focus on the convenience and nutrition of the product. Advertising and in-house created materials aim to take the edge off the guilt of not preparing fresh vegetables by explaining to housewives that frozen vegetables are part of "modern up-to-date cooking."

Marketing Manager Hiroko Saito said Japanese housewives "feel guilty" cooking frozen vegetables in a microwave instead of preparing fresh vegetables and they question whether frozen vegetables are nutritious.

The non-guilt approach is apparently working. Green Giant's sales jumped 50% for the year ended Sept. 30 and Green Giant holds about a 10% share of the $600 million frozen vegetable market, matching its nearest rival, local giant Ajinomoto.

Flush with that success, Pillsbury this fall introduced Dough Boy frozen bite-size meat pies as a quick lunch for busy moms to pack in their children's school bags.

One traditionally male-only product expanding its reach to working women is caffeinated gum.

Lotte dominated the fast-expanding wake-up caffeinated chewing gum market (used for a quick pick-me-up on the way to work or during working hours) targeting only men-and the he-man type at that.

But Warner-Lambert K.K., sensing that women in the workplace, commuting and fatigued, were under the same stress, aimed new entry Sting at females. (AAI, Nov. 21). Designed for women office workers, Sting was promoted with fashionable advertising from Dai-ichi Kikaku and sleek gold and silver packaging. Sales reached a respectable $10 million the first year.

Another burgeoning category for working women is no-smear lipstick, a $145 million category that has cropped up only within the past three years. Both Shiseido and Kanebo Corp. are marketing long-lasting lipstick lines that allow women to rush through their day without smearing their lipstick. (See related story this page).

When Philip Morris K.K.'s Virginia Slims came on the market more than 10 years ago, the brand's U.S. tagline, "You've come a long way, baby" was not a message that had much relevance to Japanese women. But the campaign was used anyway because executives in the advertising industry gave Virginia Slims good grades for its visuals, and women responded to the ads.

Since then, a new generation has arrived in the job market. These are the "Dankai Juniors," or the children of Baby Boomers, who grew up in an affluent society and, as a result, feel "comfortable about their independence," Ms. Miller said.

So the Virginia Slims ads are now hitting home, even though the Tobacco Industry Organization of Japan advises against advertising of cigarettes targeted exclusively to women. PM therefore adapted its TV, magazine and outdoor campaign, formerly themed, "I Am Slims," to the newly relevant "Be You."

Like their Western counterparts, the ads are highly visual and action-oriented, showing a woman wearing jeans and repairing a motorcycle, or a woman with her face smeared with grease holding a monkey wrench.

The ads have apparently lit a fire under working Japanese women. PM said sales of Virginia Slims have grown 25% annually since the cigarette's entry into Japan in 1983. PM said Virginia Slims held 1% of the more than $37 billion market in 1993, the latest figures available.

New products aren't all of the picture though. Media buying itself is shifting too to accommodate the working woman in Japan. Since women "work a nine-to-five [shift] and come home late," said Burnett's Mr. Hirao, advertisers such as Procter & Gamble are increasingly buying evening timeslots to reach more women for products such as Rejoy shampoo.

And since fast-moving Japanese women have less time to watch TV or peruse magazines, ad executives here said it's now essential to get to the point quickly in both print and electronic media. Ads must be "relevant and to the point," said Mr. Hirao.

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