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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