KitKat is one of the best-selling candy bars in America.
In recent years, Kit Kats have also become very popular in Japan, a phenomenon attributed to the coincidental similarity between the bar's name and the Japanese phrase kitto katsu, roughly translating as "I hope you succeed!" This has reportedly led to parents and children buying them for school examination days as a sort of good luck charm.
True enough. But it didn't happen by coincidence. It happened by a brilliant, subtle, incredibly patient advertising and public relations campaign.
Year 1: Hotels in Tokyo began giving complementary KitKat bars to students who came to the city by the thousands to take the fiercely competitive university entrance exams. The KitKat was presented as a little "lucky charm". Students were surprised and touched. They didn't know the candy giveaway was sponsored by the manufacturer.
Year 2: The advertising agency behind this stealth campaign wangled some news stories (not ads) about the hotels' candy giveaway. The reason for the stealth: Japanese young people are suspicious and scornful of advertising.
Year 3: Some ads began to appear. They didn't look like ads. They were cute little stories about teachers, mothers, students and the lucky charm. The ads were fiction, but real Japanese moms began packing KitKats for their kids when they left home to take the exams.
Year 4: Real people began to appear in the ads that didn't look like ads. No product was ever shown. Just a subtle little KitKat logo.
And KitKat -- a candy that's been around for 70 years, that was considered just a few years ago an old-fashioned candy in Japan, the opposite of trendy or cool -- became Japan's top seller.
Besides sales, here's how the success of KitKat's Japanese advertising campaign is tracked: Number of mentions in the press and in personal blogs, which are booming in Japan. The blogs are often emotional and touching. Japanese moms post loving and fearful notes about sending their kids off to the examinations, making sure they have their lucky KitKats.