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Next-wave Japanese MNC brands stand to score big in Emerging Asia: JWT Survey

9 June, 2015

J. Walter Thompson

SINGAPORE — Japanese companies that develop a clear brand idea, play up provenance and shed the innovative-but-unglamorous label have an unprecedented opportunity in emerging Asia, according to a survey by J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific.

A new wave of Japanese companies are moving swiftly into Asia’s high-growth emerging markets to offset slowing sales and an aging market back home. Outbound foreign direct investment by Japanese companies hit a five-year high of $135 billion in 2013 according to a 2014 JETRO report; the biggest recipient was the ASEAN region, which will unite into a free trade zone comprising 600 million consumers in December 2015.

As these aspiring Japanese multinationals enter Asia’s emerging markets, they need to compete with domestic legacy brands and with brand-savvy Western competitors. That may pose challenges to some Japanese companies, which typically emphasize product rather than brand differentiation.

To help Japanese companies consider how to build, and position, their brands in Asia’s key emerging markets, J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific surveyed 3,200 consumers, aged 20 to 49, in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, China and India, as well as Japan. Our research found that:

• Consumers in ASEAN and India deeply admire all things Japanese. They want to visit the country, more than any other country in the world, and they describe Japan as a “loved one”, “mentor” or ‘best friend’. “Made in Japan”, meanwhile, equates high quality, reliability and superior technology, and consumers in our survey markets are highly disposed toward purchasing Japanese goods.

• While all things Japan – the country, its products and its brands – are admired and seen as innovative and reliable, the country and its brands are not seen as sexy, design-driven or cool. Japanese brands are reliable but not evocative. There is a gap that needs to be filled with a clear position and powerful brand idea.

• Consumers in emerging Asia are more open to engaging with brands online, and feel more strongly that brands express their personality, than consumers in Japan. Japanese brands need to develop a strong digital strategy that reinforces a clear brand idea if they want to connect with these consumers move them up the value curve.

• ASEAN presents a unique opportunity to Japanese brands. Consumers in this fast-growing region not only have a high level of admiration for Japan, but are the most willing to try new brands - and they’re also less likely to think Western brands are more stylish than Asian brands.

• Japanese companies targeting mainland China need to approach this market differently to the rest.

“Consumers in much of Emerging Asia already love Japan. Brands just need to tap into that ready, deep pool of affection, trust, admiration and respect,” said Ratan Malli, J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific’s Director of Strategic Planning. “Japanese brands should use their inherent Japanese-ness as a point of distinction and leverage on distinctive elements of Japanese culture to build a unique and compelling brand identity. While “innovation” and “reliability” are top of mind, there are many more facets of Japanese street culture, style and craftsmanship that brands can tap into that will strike a chord with consumers across the region.”

Japanese brands should play up their provenance in Emerging Asians markets where Japan is highly admired. They should also exploit the technical advantage that’s already associated with Japan, and its products. Even in non-tech categories, the scientific innovation and quest for perfection that consumers associate with Japan offers a powerful route for communication. To amp up the cool factor, brands could do more to leverage other distinctly Japanese qualities, such as attention to detail and craftsmanship, as well as Japan’s youth-driven counter culture that’s put Japanese fashion and anime on the world map.

“There is no greater brand building potential than harnessing the power of Japanese brands as they expand abroad. In Asia and beyond, Japanese products and services boast assets that can be skillfully leverage to create enduring loyalty,” said Tom Doctoroff, J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific CEO.

The English version of the report can be downloaded here, and the Japanese language version from here (pdf, 55Mb).


J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, the world’s best-known marketing communications brand, has been making pioneering solutions that build enduring brands and business for more than 150 years. Headquartered in New York, J. Walter Thompson is a true global network with more than 200 offices in over 90 countries, employing nearly 10,000 marketing professionals. The agency consistently ranks among the top networks in the world and continues a dominant presence in the industry by staying on the leading edge—from hiring the industry's first female copywriter to developing award-winning branded content today.

J. Walter Thompson opened its first office in the Asia in 1929, and today employs over 3,800 people in 53 offices across 18 countries in the region.

For more information, please visit and follow us @JWT_Worldwide and @JWTAsiaPacific.

Cris Prystay
Asia Pacific Director of Corporate Communications
+65 6880-5134

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