Sapporo says ‘arigato’ to the West

A North American campaign evolves the Japanese beer brand's story by placing it in the context of a cultural exchange.

Sapporo is evolving its story from one driven by its Japanese origins into one about its global presence and cultural significance.

Last month, the beer brand launched “Return the Favour,” a TV and digital campaign showcasing the West’s influence on Japanese culture. The main 30-second spot and 15-second digital shorts feature Japanese artists, athletes, musicians and craftsmen who have adopted Western cultural influences into their own lives, including a tailor making denim jeans and a band playing 50’s rock and roll music. At the end, they say thank you (“arigato”), offering Sapporo in return.

Creative for the North American-wide campaign was led by the The&Partnership’s Toronto office, with Jungle Media handling media duties. It’s the first TV creative to come out the one-year-old client-agency relationship. The&Partnership was named AOR for the Sleeman and Sapporo brands in July last year, replacing DentsuBos, following a competitive review.

The campaign is an extension of a story several years in the making. The beer brand’s “Legendary Biru” campaign from 2010 was created to establish Sapporo’s Japanese origins, says Scott Pederson, director of marketing at Sleeman Breweries. The creative that followed explored “the fusion of ancient and modern that Japan and its culture holds in the minds of North Americans and move the brand beyond the expected context of the sushi restaurant,” he says.

The latest effort moves that narrative further along and into the realm of the culture exchange that occurs when East meets West. Moreover, telling real stories of Japanese people who have embraced Western culture lends a degree of authenticity to the ad, says Ron Smrczek, executive creative director at The&Partnership.

The campaign launched the week of June 25 in both English and French and is airing during the FIFA World Cup. The international soccer tournament offered the opportunity to build mass awareness of the brand, which is still relatively new to the Canadian market. But, more importantly, the idea of cultural exchange at the heart of the campaign “sits very nicely in the World Cup environment,” says Pederson. It doesn’t hurt that, as with most beer brands, Sapporo’s target consumer skews male.

Still, Pederson says the World Cup play has little to do with trying to speak directly to sports enthusiasts. With a core target that tends to be urban creative professionals, Sapporo doesn’t view its main competitors as domestic and North American beer brands aligned with professional sports (Budweiser’s Red Light being a prime example.)

From the beginning, the brewer has positioned itself as offering a beer that was truly unique in the market, and its Japanese origins will continue to be an important part of its marketing, according to Pederson.

While filming the spot in Japan, Smrczek says The&Partnership captured additional material that will help tell longer-format stories about individuals who have embraced elements of Western culture, and who feel they have something to give back, supporting the campaign’s main theme. Those digital elements will be unveiled in the fall and over the next year.

Earlier in 2018, Sleeman launched a new ready-to-drink beverage line, claiming to offer a no sugar or sweetener alternative to other RTDs in the market, under its Squeez’d Beverages division, launched last year.

Ontario-born Sleeman Breweries was acquired by Sapporo Breweries in 2006.