KitKat breaks $12M film series in Japan

By Published on .

With media fragmentation and clutter a challenge facing marketers worldwide, Nestle is pushing its ad agencies to consider fresh approaches.

The Swiss confectioner and WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Tokyo, on March 24 break "Hana & Alice," the first in a series of Nestle-financed short digital films called KitKat Break Town Cinema. The goal is to revive KitKat's image with Japan's trendsetting teenagers.

The yearlong campaign, which commemorates KitKat's 30th anniversary in Japan, was developed by JWT to build both the brand and impulse consumption in retail outlets such as 7-Eleven. The series of 15-minute films will have new installments in July and October, all written and directed by Shunji Iwai, a well-known Japanese filmmaker. The films are on Nestle's Japanese KitKat site,, and on DVDs sold with KitKats for $2.55.

Although KitKat is Japan's No. 2 chocolate brand with a 5% market share, Nestle's global marketing message-"Have a break, have a KitKat"-hasn't worked well in the Japanese market.

"Historically, if you look at KitKat's non-U.S. advertising, created by JWT, London, it involves a humorous look at taking a break," said Ambar Brahmachary, JWT's Tokyo-based CEO, Japan. (In the U.S., KitKat is marketed by Hershey Foods Corp.)

"Japanese take a break only when they've finished work, that's why the message wasn't grabbing people before," Mr. Brahmachary said.

So JWT's new approach is "cyber cinema," with a storyline about lovesick teenage friends. "We are very much inspired by BMW Films, but we [don't] know if online films will also work for chocolate," said Takashi Takeda, JWT's management account director.

The youth market "is an extremely fad-driven target. In six months, they can dramatically change the way they look at a brand. It's a challenge to make them think about KitKat differently, but if there is any market to do it in a mass way, it's Japan," said Mr. Brahmachary.

Almost all KitKat's $12.7 million local marketing budget will be spent on the films, which Nestle finances and markets. There is no product placement. Limited TV ads will build awareness, but Nestle is relying more on viral marketing, promotions with portals such as Yahoo! and chat-room buzz. Mr. Takeda expects the first film to generate at least 500,000 hits in the first two months and all three episodes to exceed 1.5 million hits.

Just 30% of KitKat sales are impulse buys; the rest come from supermarkets. "With the popularity of the films, we want to raise that number to 50%," Mr. Takeda said.

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