Here in Japan, every change of season undoubtedly heralds a host of new ‘limited time only products’.  A classic move to get people to buy lots, now! Right now! Before they’re gone, go!

Increasing interest in quirks particular to Japanese culture means there’s plenty of listicles and videos detailing the availability of apparently random seasonal products.

Consistently producing season-sensitive products is costly, but a market in lust with all things new has come to expect a wealth of things to buy from all the big-names every season.

The Beauty of Nature –  and Beer

Every autumn, beer rules for packaging re-design; a quick, easy and relatively cheap way to give a product a fresh feel. Beautiful red and gold leaf themed cans give consumers something pretty to look at without having to change the actual product too much.

Beer again, for the proposition of a ‘seasonal taste’. During the autumn, it’s often an extra malty-ness (meaning a heavier, more ‘autumnal’ taste) that gets consumers excited.

Autumn-leaf viewing goes hand-in-hand with a picnic and a few cold ones. The top beer companies bring out limited edition cans every year and, through marketing campaigns, encourage people to enjoy the beauty of nature, beer in hand of course.

In the UK, companies limit these re-designs to the biggest celebrations; Christmas, Halloween, Easter. Chocolate bars don’t generally get summer make-overs. So why do Japanese companies go to all the trouble?

Seasons & Cultural Expression

In my last seasonal marketing blog, I discussed the idea that Japanese Halloween is an imported celebration made popular by savvy marketing. But autumn marketing is something very different; marketers are latching on to an existing cultural value.

Seasons are a big deal in Japan. The transient nature of life is a central concept of Buddhism, and through paintings and poetry, depictions of the seasons have been created since ancient times. This permeates all areas of Japanese culture, literature, art, television, cinema, food, and in turn, marketing.

The reason some products enjoy wild success in one country, and bomb in another, is that consumer behaviour is specific to culture. For example, we usually take a concept like ‘time’ for granted, as an unchangeable facet of our lives. However, Hall’s study of time as a cultural expression theorises that while Western time is ‘linear’, Japanese time is ‘circular’ with everything returning to as it was, by way of the seasons.

Know Your Target, eBay!

Understanding the culture of your target audience is key, this much is obvious. But with concepts like time or ethics, Western standards are often taken for granted as worldwide standards, leading to misunderstandings and missed chances.

One example is eBay’s departure from the Japanese market in 2002. Japan is a technologically advanced country, which was possibly misconstrued, as a reason to believe they trust online transactions as much as in the USA. Entering your credit card details into websites wasn’t common in Japan at the time. Most online shops still offer pay-on-delivery, or payment in convenience stores.

It’s true that eBay couldn’t have salvaged their campaign with some timely red leaves plastered over their logo. But although autumn leaf packaging seems like a quaint idea, in many ways it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Assumptions could spell the end of a foray into an overseas market, so take the time to do some solid research, and if that means watching beautiful autumn scenery with some beers, then so be it!

In marketing, timing is everything. This series will take you through the marketing trends of each season, so look forward to the next instalment!