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Strong Will to Stay – Anniversary Marketing 60-year-old Brand

2018.09.08

Japan’s oldest instant noodle brand, Chicken Ramen (Nov 2017 articles) is turning 60 years old this autumn. Numerous hit brands disappear in one season. However, this brand has always been popular with many loyal customers, but it is time for a boost, sights set to keep on growing to its Centenary in 2058.

The Rebellion of Hiyoko-chan, the Brand Mascot

On 4th April 2018, a resignation letter from the little chicken “Hiyoko-chan” appeared on the brand’s website.

It followed a series of Tweets on Hiyoko-chan’s Twitter accounts.  They read, “I can’t do this anymore!”, “Stop this farce!”, and “It’s crazy to employ a little chick to advertise Chicken Ramen!”.  The letter tells of the stress she (or he?) had to endure to be seen as a sweet little chick all the time for 60 long years, including making fried eggs, and that it has to stop.

Both Tweets and the letter went viral.  Some customers thought that the account was hacked, but it was part of the strategy to expand awareness of this beloved, stable, but yet stagnant brand.

60 Years with No Major Changes

Chicken Ramen was the world first instant noodle created by Momofuku Ando in 1958. It is still the iconic brand of Nissin Shokuhin, the manufacturer, but it is facing a challenging time. The market for packet instant noodles is in longterm decline, accounting for less than half of the total for pot noodles.  It needed a serious boost to appeal to the younger generation, who grew up with the ease of pot noodles.

The ambitious goal is to achieve the highest gross sales for the company’s sixtieth anniversary, and to position itself as the “100-year Brand Company”. For this, it is necessary to appeal to new consumers.

Break the Mould in a Big Way

The image of packet noodles such as Chicken Ramen is that of a family staple which needs pots and a hob to cook.  There was a hesitation to change Chicken Ramen’s traditional brand message of sitting down with the family to eat warm noodles around a table.

In 2017, Chicken Ramen’s TV commercial showed the nation’s favourite actress appearing as a YouTuber, biting into a dry ramen block out of its bag. (It is perfectly safe, as the company is extra careful not to cross the line of food safety)!  Dubbed as “Zero-second Chicken Ramen”, it was a shocking yet appealing image for the pot-noodle generation. It drew attention and started to build a bridge between traditional packet noodle and new consumers.

This TV commercial, combined with the success of two video clips on its website, showing how to make the perfect Chicken Ramen with egg on top in in-flight safety instruction style – achieving three million views – proved that it could communicate with non-traditional customers by breaking out of its solid image.

Killer New Product – Devilish Kimchee Ramen

The new product to achieve the best gross sales for the 60th anniversary is Devilish Kimchee Chicken Ramen.  In the product development stage, it was merely a spicy version of the original, in line with the traditional packaging and marketing scheme.  But after a round of meetings, the word Devil was added.

The message was – this packet noodle is easy, quick and very tasty, so please try it. Consumers might ask – “how tasty?”. Then the answer was “devilishly tasty”. The communication had to be explosive to match this message.

It started with the rebellion of Hiyoko-chan on Twitter.  Hiyoko began to vandalise other brands’ websites, pulling other brands’ fans into the Chicken Ramen site.  She submitted herself to the cult of the devil in a website only available between midnight to 6:06 am, at a time when young consumers are active online.  Hiyoko turns into the devil in the end, leading to complaints from some loyal customers, including from a distraught mother whose child cried seeing Hiyoko no longer in its usual cute form.  Every step of the way, consumer awareness rose sharply.

Additionally, the pack size was changed from the usual five portions for the family to three, with condiments for a single person or modern small households.  Devilish Kimchee Ramen was placed in the cup noodle aisle. Retailers benefit from pot noodle customers adding this new concept packet noodle out of interest, rather than switching.

This radical strategy has paid off.  It is selling 150% against the plan, and Chicken Ramen original’s sales are also increasing in double digits.

Back to the Original to Honour Loyalty

In October, a new morning drama series on NHK, featuring the businessman who invented the instant noodle and his supportive wife – clearly about Momofuku Ando’s life – will start.  With it, Nissin Shokuhin plans to go back to their standard marketing strategy, looking back to its happy sixty-year history.

The brands’ life is generally said to be 30 years, but Chicken Ramen survived for double that time.  Even such a strong brand needs radical thinking, strategy, and logistical changes. Success comes from a strong will to survive, with no hesitation about challenging the status quo.

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