The opening of the first new KitKat factory in Japan for 26 years made global news earlier this summer. The snack is now Japan’s biggest selling chocolate brand and a cultural phenomenon. But how did this British-born treat get its big break in Japan – a country not short of its own confectionery? Well, it all began with a lucky linguistic quirk, university entrance exams in Japan, and some nifty transcreation.
Some years ago, Nestlé Japan noticed sales spiked in Kyushu when students were sitting university entrance exams every February and March. The reason for that, they discovered, was that in the dialect of the southern island of Kyushu, KitKat sounds rather like きっと勝つとぅ(kitto katsutou or “sure to win”).
On the back of this, the company developed a nationwide juken (entrance exam) campaign, fuelled by innovative marketing ideas. One was a collaboration with Japan Post on postable KitKat Mail packs for friends and relatives to send as edible good-luck charms in the juken season. Another was a cherry-blossom-themed KitKat for April: the month of sakura cherry blossoms and university entrance ceremonies. It featured the slogan きっと、サクラサクよ (kitto sakura saku yo).
Dreams come true
This masterful tagline literally means “the cherry blossoms are sure to blossom,” a Japanese for dreams coming true. And it also contains a pun on the Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of a KitKat being snapped apart (saku).
Nestlé Japan’s savvy localization, based on the Japanese love of wordplay, age-old gift-giving customs and consumer demand for variety and seasonality, is a world away from the English slogan “Have a break, have a KitKat”.
Over the last 13 years, 300 KitKat flavour varieties ranging from wasabi to purple sweet potato have helped keep notoriously-fickle Japanese consumers addicted to the chocolate wafer. High-end Chocolatory boutiques even produce pricey gift packs containing gold leaf-covered KitKats that cost ten times more than the regular product.
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