Halloween, like most Western holidays, has become a major commercial event, and over the past decade or so has found new life among young people and spook-enthusiasts in the land of the rising sun.
It all began in 1997 when Tokyo Disneyland hosted its first ‘Disney Happy Halloween’ event and invited guests to wear costumes. In 2000, Disney hosted the ‘Happy Halloween Twilight Parade’ at its Tokyo park to a turnout of 400+ guests. Seeing there was profit to be made from jumping on the Halloween bandwagon, other prominent Japanese theme parks such as Sanrio Puroland and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka followed suit.
As the increase of public awareness spread, Halloween became more and more widely accepted as an annual event in the autumn calendar.
Though many are unaware of it, Halloween originally derived from Samhain, a Gaelic/Celtic pagan seasonal celebration of the autumn harvest during which the veil between the dead and the living is said to be at its most fragile. The closest Japanese equivalent would be the Obon festival, a Buddhist celebration during which many families honour the spirits of their ancestors. Perhaps it is this very detachment that makes Halloween so marketable in Japan. Much of Halloween’s symbolism is considered an American import, and provides a whole range of fun imagery that makes it easy to sell.
Much like in the West, Japan has capitalised on the amusement value of Halloween, while adding its own unique features and traditions, as with Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Halloween’s growing popularity in Japan could be down to many factors; the simple fun of dressing up, as well as the prevalence of cosplay culture among young people, or perhaps even the Japanese love of seasonal celebrations. After all, what is Halloween but a time to have fun and get spooky?
With this comes the opportunity for many brands to capitalise on consumers’ love of unusual seasonal flavours, the most notable example being KitKat. Though trick-or-treating hasn’t exactly caught on, there’s no shortage of snacks to try, with ‘Pumpkin Pudding’, and even ‘Sweet Yam’ being just some of the fun themed flavours that make an appearance at this time of year.
This year, Starbucks Japan launched a limited edition ‘Halloween Princess’ and ‘Halloween Witch’ campaign featuring two new limited edition drinks, encouraging friends to try them together.
Perhaps the most notable event during this time is Halloween night in Shibuya, where crowds of people will amass in all manner of scary and cute costumes.
From a marketing perspective, it makes a lot of sense to target Japanese consumers at this time of year. All one has to do is look at the search trend in Google alone to see that the keyword search volume for ハロウィン (Halloween) begins to rise as early as late August, with themed products generally being rolled out in September. This leaves plenty of time for market research and campaign planning. Localising content for your target audience and making it relevant to local tastes is key to driving sales. Something that may work in the US or UK for Halloween may not translate well overseas, a prime example being ‘trick-or-treating’ merchandise.
Research what your competitors are doing right, and learn from their mistakes. Expanding your business reach to APAC markets can be a daunting task, one that can reap excellent gains when done correctly. Establishing the correct tone of voice, paying attention to detail, and getting to know your consumer audience on a local level will ensure your content and products are more engaging and authentic.