Toyota and Honda,
Nintendo and Sony,
Nissan, Suzuki and Lexus and Muji,
Brown paper packages tied up in strings,
These are a few of Japan’s favourite things.

There’s a lot more but they didn’t lend the right syllables to the song. When it comes to brands, Japan has an undisputed global reach. These days it seems they need to appeal to other nations more than ever but this time with a new brand — Brand Japan.

The last two months have seen the country play host to arguably one of the most interesting branding adventures to date — the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I know what you’re thinking, how do you brand thirty men with extraordinary cases of cauliflower ear?

This World Cup is different though. The ninth instalment but the first ever held in Asia. Match attendances surpassed a million people and naturally, brands have been trying their hardest to muscle in on Japan’s party.

In the spirit of the World Cup’s all-consuming nature, Heineken created a clever advert in the lead up to the tournament that focused on the world of the ill-informed fan that desperately feels the need to immerse themselves.

There’s an opportunity everywhere you look, so desperate are brands to showcase themselves while the world tunes in. However, global trends will not necessarily resonate in Japan so delicacy is required.

Canon has been taking advantage of a tournament on home soil by positioning themselves as contributors of specialist video content. Yet it’s the alternative global brands that have been dominant. America was represented by Amazon who launched a tailored version of Alexa as a means to indulge the fanatic fan base of New Zealand’s famous All Blacks. New Zealand itself promoted the national team through imaginative advertising for the airline, Air New Zealand. Dubai also took to the skies with its Emirates ad.

But perhaps most surprisingly, the visual identity for a tournament where England conveniently made it to the final was created by British branding agency, Futurebrand. Whether it be by coincidence or because they’d happened to make a branding deal with the rugby gods beforehand, who knows.

This is quite the recognition as the Japanese market has always felt fairly isolated. Now thanks to the World Cup, global brands have been granted a unique entry point.

But this wasn’t unexpected. Hosting the tournament ties into a plan for Japan to become more globally accessible and globally outreaching as a way of halting a population crisis that is one of the fastest in the world. One preventative measure the country agreed on is the need to encourage as much export as it possibly can as a means of reconnecting with the rest of the world and broadening its horizons. What better way to do this by inviting nineteen other nations to your party?

A re-connection appears to have occurred. But before the rest of the world came, first Japan had to fall in love with rugby. A mania has since flooded offices, bars, local parks and at least half the population (if the viewing figures of 54 million for one of the host nation’s matches are anything to go by).

Both Japanese hearts and those of the other nations have been captured simultaneously. One fan, in particular, epitomised the warmth with which Japan has interacted with others in this tournament, singing the Samoa national anthem before a match against Samoa themselves. It was widely acknowledged and praised by the rest of the world.

Essentially, there’s a two-way branding opportunity going on here. A sense of one hand washing the other. Japan’s plummeting population offers more global brands the chance to swoop in and establish themselves now the market has been made accessible, and by opening this market, Japan is also opening its arms to the rest of the world as an approachable nation. This, all in time for next year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Let the branding commence.

Written by Henry King, Copywriter

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