The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names

Dear readers,

In March I gave two mini-lectures to the Business School students at the London College of Fashion on the subject of international branding and talked about brand names inside and outside of Japan. Here is part of the lecture which I hope you will enjoy!

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The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names

Superdry is a fashion brand with a logo that features Roman letters and the Japanese Kana und Kanji alphabets – they are two of the three alphabets commonly used in the Japanese language. If you wanted to use the logo to figure out where the brand is from, you would be faced with quite a challenge, similar to finding out whether the American Hamburger really originated in Hamburg….

But let me explain!

 

Bild 1: Superdry Logo. Quelle: http://www.realclothesforsale.com/

Image 1: Superdry Logo.

Yes, the 3 Superdry founders really have been to Japan (so this part is true) at some point in the past, but they never lived there, they are not from Japan, they do not even speak “Nihongo” (Japanese language in, erm, Japanese) let alone know how to write it. They did, however, fall in love with things like the Asahi Super Dry beer and many other products which claim to be “super”-something. This led the founders to start a fashion label based in the small British town of Cheltenham which is not very exotic I would say.

(http://www.superdry.com/about-us)

Bild 2: Asahi Super Dry Bier. Quelle: http://www.e-aidem.com/aps/02_A50827134687_detail.htmImage 2: Asahi Super Dry Beer.

Now the famous Superdry logo is based on graphics also inspired by Japan and it is very popular in many countries around the world. It is also an important USP (unique selling proposition) for a fashion brand. But what exactly does this Japanese combination of letters mean? When you read Superdry’s famous graphics 極度乾燥(しなさい) you hear “Kyokudo Kanso (shinasai)” which can be translated to something like “Extremely dry (do it now)” – and it is not a polite request at all but rather an order which parents might give to children. In 2011, the Superdry founders admitted that this is pure gibberish which they like to print on their merchandise, but that did not deter the fans.

They are pretenders!

Bild 3: Superdry Werbung. Quelle: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/08/17/superdry-appoints-icrossing-search-accountsImage 3: Superdry advertisement.

Ok, so the founders are pretending that their brand is from Japan. Fair enough. But why are people ready to wear gibberish on their clothes, so much so that Superdry, which was founded in 1985, was able to offer an IPO about 6 years ago? For those who might not be familiar with the financial market, an IPO is an Initial Public Offering on the stock exchange and means that a company or brand is thriving and can promise investors further growth in the future.

Did the founders think that everything that looks Japanese is so cool that it will always sell? And do Japanese think the same way? Interestingly, or perhaps logically, there is not one Superdry store in Japan.
This is however, a strategic step by the brand, as Japanese people would not know what on earth they are supposed to think of the phrase of “Jinglish” – a mix of Japanese and Englisch. In fact, in Japan the popular items are T-Shirts with English or French Prints and fashion brands which sound Western – the exact opposite of Superdry’s appeal in the West.

Bild 4: Shibuya 109, Tokyo. Quelle: http://jpninfo.com/4979Image 4: Department store Shibuya 109, Tokyo.

They sound almost authentic, these Western brands which are called Dainy by JURIANOJURRIE or YUMMY MART by PEACH JOHN, Delyle NOIR as well as Ober Tashe. These are just some of the labels which are on offer in one of the most famous department stores in Tokyo, the Shibuya 109 – or “Ichi-Maru-Kyu” as the locals call it by spelling out the number. This is a fashion mecca for lovers of J-Fashion where young and fashion-conscious people flock to in the search for fashion styles like „Kawaii“ (= super cute), „Gyaru“ (super girly) or „oshare“ (highly fashionable).

 

Bild 5: Liz Lisa. Quelle: http://universal-doll.com/2014/06/shop-staff-68-liz-lisa-machida-109-yokohama/Image 5: Liz Lisa.

And just like the exotic names of the aforementioned fashion brands, customers also love T-Shirt with prints in „Jinglish”: „World Difference Execute“ or „Trusting To Luck. Everything is in your hand“ or „Much Like Hold“ they read. (More trends of Japanese T-Shirts are here: http://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/80665324669)

Bild 6: T-Shirt mit „Jinglish“ Print. Quelle: http://www.liberalamerica.org/2014/12/01/in-japan-t-shirts-with-reallyyyy-random-english-words-are-a-thing/Image  6: T-Shirt with „Jinglish“ print.

In Japan, the English-inspired prints are not limited to shirts nor to Tokyo, but you can find thm on all sorts of products (chocolate, cosmetics, bath essences etc.) and all over the country.

 

Bild 7: Fancl Japan

Image 7: Fancl Japan

 

One wonders why Japanese people might find foreign language gibberish so cool and one speculates what a customer values in such a product which is pretending to be foreign.

Afterall, Peach John or Fancl are also pretenders as they are local Japanese brands!

In the case of Superdry it is probably the attraction of a foreign alphabet which is impossible to decipher, and costs around €100 if printed on to an “extremely dry” sweatshirt which paradoxically does not absorb moisture nor shield you from the rain. The printed letters convey the poular image of Japanese products being high-tech and superior in quality. The customer transfers these characteristics onto the brand – irrespectable of its true qualities.

The Branding Journal reasons: “Research has shown that European consumers aspire and exhibit inclination towards Japanese brands and this is reflected in their purchase decisions. Moreover, packaging/products scripted in Japanese tend to exude a certain degree of quality and “wow” factor in the customer’s perception.” (http://www.thebrandingjournal.com/2016/03/the-superdry-appeal/)

Superdry has thus managed to turn this perception into a print and logo and then into its brand value. This same psychological mechanism can probably be applied to the Western brand names in Japan. Pretending to be a foreign brand seems to pay off quite well!

And how did Superdry admit its brand origin? Watch this video and see if you can spot the “truth”!

 

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SiberianNewspaper: There is more depth to Japan than Jpop and Kawaii

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo

Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo – as seen from the Starbucks in Tatsuya Records

 

Do

The lights turn green and hundreds of people flood the giant intersection simultaneously from 3 directions. There is not one empty square meter, yet everyone is polite enough to walk past each other without bumping or hitting one another. I take another sip of my Macha latte. „Oh my God! This is like soo unbelievable!“ I hear an American tourist comment next to me. They too have been overlooking the famous Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo from the familiar safety and comfort of the 1st floor Starbucks. Well almost familiar. After all it is only Japan that serves a green-tea latte and the matching green-tea cake. In fact, lots of things are green tea flavoured here…
The Starbucks is part of Tsutaya records. Centrally located this multi-storey music store is in one of the most hip shopping districts of Tokyo. It also serves as a well-known meeting point for both natives and tourists.
I leave my English-speaking neighbours to their intellectual conversation and start wandering towards the CD racks via the escalators. A group of freshly blonde girls in short skirts and high boots are just coming up from street-level and are chatting excitedly. „Neeee? So nan desu ka…“ They all have their keitaidenwas (mobile phones) in their hands and giggle their way to the second floor. In this part of town all the kids are super hip and show off their styles while shopping. Most boys try to sport a funky haircut and look like a rock-star and the girls’ ultimate goal is to create cuteness-overload or as they would express it – be super “kawaii”.
This includes shoes that limit your speed of walking to that of a sick snail and hairdos with a myriad of clips. The mobile phones are pimped up with crystals and you know those little dangly things you can attach to your phone? Well the girl on the escalator had about 10 of them on hers, and I could only guess it’s a phone because she was holding the giant bundle of toys to her ear.  Kawaii!!

The Japanese mobile phone is ultra kawaii

The Japanese mobile phone is ultra kawaii

Image credit here.

La La

I walk into the Jpop section.
There is everything: Soul, hip-hop, rock, girl-bands and boy-bands. Of course I can only look at the covers as I don’t read more than a handful of Japanese letters. Ooh, there’s a nice-looking fellow on this CD and I can even read his name! It’s written in Engrish. Engrish? You ask me. Hai! It’s a language of its own, which you only find here in Japan on a vast number of things and products. Bands excel and advance on this linguistic journey, which is perhaps synonymous to cool, young and different.
I jot down 10 names of the coolest and weirdest ones:
10. Momoiro Clover Z
9. Generations from Exile Tribe
8. Chatmonchy
7. Flumpool
6. The Alfee
5. Superdumb
4. Siberian Newspaper
3. Hangry&Angry-f
2. LazygunsBrisky
1. Egg Brain

LazygunsBrisky Jpop Band

LazygunsBrisky Jpop Band

http://lazygunsbrisky.com/
Later in my hotel I am going to play acoustic onomatopoeia on-line in form of a game called “guess how XXX sounds”. The rules are simple: You go on myspace or youtube and check to see if your word-association was right. “After all WHAT does a Siberian Newspaper sound like?”

So

A violin talks about feelings of melancholy and long, emotional travels. No doubt the name does capture a faraway romance in a difficult climate whith surprisingly uplifting tones. One could even say that an inspiration from Irish folk music comes into play (no pun intended!).

But why Siberia?  Why a newspaper? Perhaps because I happened to be born in Moscow myself, I really want to find out why this band identifies itself with 77% of the total area of my country where temperatures can get down to as much as −71.2 °C.  Siberia is the birthplace of tennis ace Maria Sharapova and Hollywood star Yul Brynner, as well as the source of the New Russians’ wealth in form of Gazprom-owned natural gas.

SiberianNewspaper Band

SiberianNewspaper Band –

 L to R
Takayuki Manabe (Classic Guitar)
Shusaku Yamamoto (Contrabass)
Yusaku Tsuchiya (Violin)
Masakazu Hilao (Percussion)
Takao Amori (Acoustic Guitar)
Kazuhiro Fujita (Piano)

http://www.siberian-newspaper.com/en/

“There is not the meaning about the name of the band superficially. Admiration to the continent. Some inferiority complexes. My brain does not stop if I start to devise it. I think it means “freedom” may be.” explains Yusaku to me.

He is the amazing violin I heard, the centrepiece of this acoustic sextet with an unusual instrumental constellation, and he is extremely polite and helpful when I request an interview.

Yusaku tells me: “Just one year after Siberian Newspaper was formed by the guitarist Amori, we were performing in Britain at the 2006 UK festival “In the City”. BBC radio loved the tracks so much that they were consequently broadcast worldwide.”
“We played in Manchester in 2006. This experience is one of most important things about the band. The audience seemed to catch our music at very sensitive feel. I was the first time that I felt the reaction that was such a physical. I was excited very much. We are influenced by traditional music, classic, Gypsy music, jazz and heavy metal and our motto is to struggle, thirst, despair, sometimes succeed, sometimes give up. However, the Japanese music scene has been patternized and is about to forget the splendid element of the individual.”

This is so very true, because especially in the West, when you ask about Japanese music, most people will immediately think of Jpop. But there is so much more to the creative music scene in Japan! And this particular band did new classical pop, so to speak, and went on to release their 4th Album in 2012, entitled “0” [zero], exploring this field of individuality further and wider. It is available on iTunes, for those who cannot buy it in Japan. They also covered the Four Seasons by Vivaldi on a special album.

4th Album released by Siberan Newspaper in 2012

4th Album released by Siberan Newspaper in 2012

I want to know how much the Japanese fashion scene is part of this groups life. So I ask: And what about fashion? Does fashion influence you?
“We choose the fashion which is not formal. But I am careful not to lose dignity and a style. Since I live in Tokyo I go to Omotesando and Harajuku well before gigs and do shopping. I am excited when I buy clothes for gigs. Then I travel to Osaka where our band is based.”
But Omotesando happens to be one of the most expensive shopping streets of Tokyo with all the top-notch designer brands. Harajuku is the complete opposite, it is crazy, cheap, insane youth culture and fashion frenzy.  How is this compatible in one style?
“I like good clothes of the form even if cheap, even if expensive. I like mix style.” He explains. He’s also goes to Tsutaya Records in Shibuya but is not so fond of the fashion there.
“I think Shibuya culture is ladies culture. And Shibuya culture loves showy clothes. I do not feel charm in it so much.”
And Siberia?
“No, I have not been to Siberia. But I want to go in the near future.”
For those who would like to find out more about SiberianNewspaper have a listen here: