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Feature

Japan: picking over the pieces

24 June 2011
Japan: picking over the pieces

Japan’s importance on the world economic stage means there’s now a massive financial imperative to re-engage stakeholders, rebuild the nation brand and get the country back on its feet in the wake of its enormous humanitarian disaster.

On 11 March, the strongest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history occurred 70 miles off the north-east coastline. The ensuing tsunami wiped out more than 125,000 buildings and 15,000 lives, with another 9,000 still unaccounted for. Prior to the disaster, the Japanese advertising market was the second largest in the world behind the US. ZenithOptimedia now predicts it will dip by 4.1% with a 4.6% rise next year.

But when it comes to the recovery of Japan as a national brand, things are not quite so straightforward, according to Brandhouse managing director Crispin Reed: “In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, it looked like [Naoto Kan] the Prime Minister appeared to be handling the situation with humility. But it then became clear that he didn’t have a real grasp on the situation. There was no agreement between the different government agencies.”

Although understandable, this breakdown presents brand Japan with its biggest challenge: internal reputation building. Reed says that Japan needs to nation-brand from the inside: “The first people you have to look after are the stakeholders, and the rest of the world can respond from that.” However, the rebuild will be near impossible without heavy foreign investment. “Big international media has to act as the conduit to the business community looking to invest in the space – this is why the internal brand rescue is so important as a first step,” Reed says.

Bank of Japan has pumped $700m into the country’s beleaguered financial system, but the price of electronic goods is set to rise as factory output of fundamental components dwindles. NEC, Panasonic, Toyota, Honda and Futjitsu have also been forced to halt some areas of production, with ramifications felt around the world.

Japan has until January 2012 – once the nuclear situation stabilises – to formulate a proper marketing plan for the short-, medium- and long-term. But there are already signs that the internal buy-in is in place. Tom Lay, spokesman for the ShelterBox charity response team in Japan, says: “The clean-up operation is creating a massive psychological and emotional benefit."

Mark St. Andrew

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