April 2006 - Sweeping the Airwaves

Prime Network Inc. describes how it took a popular U.S. product like the Shark Cordless Sweeper and made it a hit in the Japanese marketplace.

By Vitisia Paynich

Marketers find it challenging enough to promote their wares in the United States, much less globally. However, one particular hit DR product made its way to the Japanese market and has found comparable success. The Shark Cordless Sweeper is cleaning households all throughout Japan thanks to the efforts of Prime Network Inc. of Nagoya, Japan.

Prime Network Inc. was established in 1996 as a direct marketing company that imports and exports home electronic appliances, furniture, household goods and other miscellaneous products. It also specializes in mail order, media buying and media production of direct response products. To date, Prime has partnered with many international companies, including Interglobal Intl. Ltd. in the U.K., Thane Direct Inc. in Canada, Glomail in South Africa, Northern Response Intl. Ltd. in Canada, QVC in the U.S., Homedics in the U.S., Shopping Net Inc. in Korea and Tung Keng Enterprise Co. Ltd. in Taiwan, to name a few.

What is the process for taking a hit DR product from the U.S. market and duplicating that success in the Japanese market?

Manufactured by Euro-Pro Corp. based in West Newton, Mass., the Shark Cordless Sweeper is suited for consumers who want a vacuum that operates easily in every part of the house without the restriction of an electrical cord and outlet. The product needs only to be charged for 45 minutes prior to operation. Another selling feature of the Shark is its compact size, which makes it easy to carry and store away.

“We determined that the quality and design of the product was excellent and furthermore, unlike the conventional vacuum cleaner,” says Mr. Kazuhiro Tabata, president of Prime Network Inc.

When Prime Network decided to market the Shark Cordless Sweeper, the company wanted to create a new image for the product that would appeal specifically to Japanese consumers. Ease of use was a key selling feature.

In 2002, when the company decided to market the Shark, he says, the machine had a unique rolling mechanism that made the task of vacuuming less exhausting, which also made it a good fit for the Japanese market. “Timing was also good for the year-end sales,” Mr. Tabata notes. Japanese consumers concentrate on cleaning their households toward the end of the year to prepare for the New Year.

What procedures did Prime need to follow before marketing the product? According to Mr. Tabata, Prime spent considerable time conducting market research to determine the Shark’s price point, quality inspection and clearance of the regulatory issues, including electric voltage conversion.

This was an important factor, as electronic appliances and materials must conform to the Electrical Appliance and Material Safety Law. Thus, products deemed special electrical appliances and materials are subject to compliance tests conducted by the Japan Electrical Safety & Environment Technology Laboratories (JET) or other test laboratory certified or approved by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In addition, these products must bear a PSE mark.

“Furthermore, in order to make sure that we could [market] the Shark at the same-if not better-level of quality as other Japanese electrical products and guarantee its quality to the general public, it was necessary to bring it to the Japanese quality inspection organization, JET, and receive an S-JET certificate,” explains Mr. Tabata.

The testing process actually took Prime two months to complete.

The next step was the DRTV campaign. At the time, there wasn’t an infomercial available from the U.S., so Prime decided to produce its own long-form show and short-form spots. Mr. Tabata says the company concentrated on creating an innovative image that not only highlighted the one already projected by the U.S. marketing campaign but a new image that also marketed the Shark’s functionality and how well it would work in the Japanese household environment.

On September 25, 2002, the company launched its Shark infomercial.

“This locally produced infomercial was well received by customers and the sales became successful,” he recalls. In fact, the show was so successful that Prime sold 350,000 units.

“The U.S. infomercial became available later, and we decided to test it as well with voice-over localization,” he adds.

However, after testing the show originally produced in the U.S., Prime soon realized that its own locally produced show garnered much better results and decided to stay with the first campaign to market the Shark further.

According to Mr. Tabata, when an infomercial is made available from a U.S. supplier, a straight voice over in Japanese will not suffice. Modification of expression is necessary and often required for a true localization of a show. What’s more, to make a U.S. show more convincing to the Japanese viewer and to emphasize the effectiveness of the product’s functionality, Mr. Tabata contends that one needs to carefully select the words to be used in the localized show.

“In many cases, we also find the music being used [in the original U.S. show] may not be emotionally strong enough, and we often change the music to make it stronger,” he says.

The Shark’s rolling mechanism enables the user to move the sweeper easily from room to room and without the restriction of electrical cords and outlets.

Although the Shark DRTV campaign proved successful, Mr. Tabata admits there were some obstacles encountered during the planning process. “Due to the nature of the product, it was expected that knock-offs or lower priced similar products would become available soon after our rollout,” he says. “Therefore, what was important was how quickly we could establish the Shark Cordless Sweeper brand under the Prime Shopping [name] in the majority of the marketplace through our promotional campaign.”

He adds that establishing brand recognition was key to the product’s success, so that the consumers would automatically associate in their mind with the Shark Cordless Sweeper whenever they saw similar products. In order to heighten the brand’s image, Prime realized it needed to concentrate on multichannel marketing.

“Therefore, our campaign was not only focused on the television media exposure through the infomercial and TV spots but we also developed the campaign on the web [and through] TV publicity, magazine advertising, TV program product placement, and event marketing, which led us to promote [through] general retail sales as well,” says Mr. Tabata.

What lessons were learned from the Shark DRTV campaign? “The entire project gave us an opportunity to reaffirm that the strength of television media exposure enables us to truly increase the brand awareness [of a product],” notes Mr. Tabata. “[Although] some brand managers may object to the importance of the reach and frequency [of media] these days, it still works very effectively based on strategically planned media marketing-depending on the type of product-which creates the strong synergy between the television media sales and other distribution channels.”

He adds that the campaign also gave Prime the opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the strategically scheduled promotional activities, including event marketing and retail marketing, such as in-store promotions combined with media promotions.

Mr. Tabata concludes, “The [multi-channel] strategy worked and enabled us to differentiate our brand from other similar products as well as the knock-offs.”

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