The campaign, which will consist of TV ads, sponsorship idents, radio, print and retail, launched on 1st September 2016 in the UK, and is due to then subsequently roll out across Europe. The campaign is designed to rekindle the quirky spirit and idiosyncrasy that is at the heart of the brand by poking affectionate fun at the spirituality and wellness platitudes we all too easily buy into with ‘health’ products from the Far East. Asking ‘where does Yakult come from’, portraying the brand’s home as a world of oriental mystery that panders to all the usual suspects, delivered with the over-saturated, painted-backdrop, widescreen beauty of old school movies. A world then punctured with reality: no, Yakult was invented by Japanese scientists in a lab. It’s science, not magic. A little bottle of science, in fact.
Yakult first appeared on UK supermarket shelves back in 1996, simultaneously inventing two new markets: probiotics and dairy drinks. The brand built its early success on the compelling benefit of ‘friendly bacteria’, an iconic, instantly recognisable bottle and an idiosyncratic, un-marketed approach stemming from a background in ‘science’ rather than ‘consumer marketing’.
Unfortunately, a lot can change in 20 years. In a similar way to many trailblazers, Yakult now finds itself squeezed between multiple pressures across Europe, but particularly in the UK, which are impacting on its business performance and future potential.
Where first movers lead, others soon follow. The market for ‘functional’ yoghurts, and in parallel, milkshakes, has exploded over the last 10 years with a proliferation of products that have introduced clutter and confusion to the market. More specifically, powerful, marketing-led businesses like Danone have used their muscle to dominate in store, driving growth of Actimel (and Activia) through flavour extension, price promotion, broad-brush, if generic ‘lifestyle’ positioning, and heavy advertising investment.
After its early noughties advertising heyday, Yakult continued to stay true to its philosophy, and work on educating the public about the importance of maintaining good gut health and the benefits of its unique bacteria, rather than promote through traditional mechanics employed by competitors. The importance Yakult placed on its bacteria and science credentials is seen in its reluctance to extend the brand. Yakult only added a reduced sugar version to its standard product in 2004, which is still only available in its ‘original’ flavour, leaving the brand much less visible at fixture and lacking salience with consumers.
Although Yakult is still seen as the credible choice in the market, this streamlined range, combined with increased number of competitors and a general trend towards generic ‘health foods’, has left Yakult in a common position across its main markets. It retains a core of loyal (older) buyers, and remains a profitable business, but one that is considerably smaller than Actimel, which, in the hard-nosed world of grocery retail, is always a precarious place to find oneself.
Despite this, Yakult remains positive about the future, something reflected in the brief for this activity. Our job was to encourage reappraisal in a way that drives penetration by presenting the brand in a new and revitalised way. Whilst remaining true to its science roots, Yakult recognise that ‘science’ alone will not be enough to deliver success, particularly given the messaging constraints we now face.
To help the brand reclaim the fame it once enjoyed means disrupting expectations, both in what we say and how we say it: something meaningfully ownable other brands can’t or won’t say; something that emotionally connects with people, particularly the active retirees and younger urbanites motivated by health and well-being. At Quiet Storm, we call this combination of disruptive fame, ownable meaning and compelling emotion a MindBomb.
In seeking this disruption, ownabilty and compulsion, the solution is both immediately obvious yet strangely hidden. It lies in the origins of the brand. Many could not tell you where Yakult comes from. Based on previous advertising VOs, some would make a stab at Scandinavia somewhere. The reality is Japan. It was 80 years ago that the scientist Dr Minoru Shirota of Kyoto University first cultivated a unique strain of bacteria – Lactobacillus casei shirota – going on to develop Yakult so that people could enjoy its benefits. And nothing much has changed since then (in a good way).
As a brand truth, this Japanese heritage is something that Yakult has never really pushed in Europe, not least because ‘Japan’ was less interesting to people originally beyond certain niche areas, and a negative in some countries. Now though, Japan is arguably as ‘on trend’ as it is possible to be, in the healthiness of its cuisine, its wellness and spirituality culture, and its design aesthetic (did you know the Yakult bottle, relatively unchanged for almost 50 years, is the work of a famous Japanese designer?). Tell people this in 2016, and they immediately sit up and take notice. Disruptive, ownable and compelling? Most definitely – who wouldn’t want a little bottle of Japaneseness? Add to this an implication of the health and wellbeing we can no longer say explicitly, and you have the foundations of a potent idea.
Compelling as its Japanese origins are, however, in bringing them to life, we want to avoid the obvious hackneyed approaches, whether the science of hi-tech Japan on the one hand or stereotypes of traditional Japan on the other. We want something as famously disruptive as discovering the brand’s Japanese origins for the first time.