Abandoned History: The Early 2000s WiLL Project, for The Youths (Part I)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s Abandoned History story is one of targeted marketing. In the early 2000s, an amalgam of Japanese corporations combined efforts to reach out to younger consumers via unified branding. Cars, food, appliances – all across Japan new, youth-focused products all wore the same sub-brand: WiLL.

Collectively WiLL asked, “How do you do, fellow kids?”

The WiLL marketing project started in August 1999 and ran through July 2004. Seven Japanese companies banded together in a concerted effort to attract the yen of young people. While the WiLL project became known mostly for its resultant cars, those were just the most costly products from the project.

WiLL offered food, paper and office goods, tourist attractions, consumer electronics, alcohol, and home goods in addition to cars. Beer producer Asahi marketed three new types of alcohol under the WiLL brand. They were joined by candy maker Ezaki Glico, who made their own WiLL candies and chocolates. WiLL products wore the effort’s unified logo, a small (usually) orange square.

On the home goods and electronics front, Panasonic and Kao Corporation offered exciting new WiLL products. Kao produced three WiLL-branded air fresheners, while Panasonic offered 14 different consumer goods under WiLL. Said goods appealed to younger consumers of different ages and incomes, as they ranged from fax machines to microwaves, fridges, washing machines, and even a collapsible bike. Consumers of the WiLL Panasonic fax machine might have filled it with new WiLL stationary and used the assorted pens offered by Kokuyo. Kokuyo is an office furniture and paper producer.

There were also WiLL-branded services offered by the Kinki Nippon Tourist company. Kinki created tours exploring different parts of Japan that were designed specifically for younger consumers. Tours took place in Kyushu, Okinawa, Hokkaido, and there was a general “Sports Tour” as well.

Finally, there were the most expensive WiLL products: A series of four different Toyota compacts intended to draw upon the styling of extant vehicles, and appeal almost exclusively to a younger audience. All of the WiLL cars looked very different from one another, and none were produced for very long.

The WiLL project was created based on an engineering theory called Kansei. The principle of Kansei is to develop or improve consumer products and services by understanding and incorporating a consumer’s psychological wants and needs into a product’s design. With this methodology, Kansei engineering can create products that drive an intended feeling within the consumer and generate sales. With WiLL, the desired feeling was “This is made just for me as a young consumer.”

So did it work? Yes and no, mostly no. The WiLL products had varying success generating buzz in the Japanese market, but the cars, in particular, were underwhelming where sales were concerned. Having said that, some WiLL products are still around today. There was another, simultaneous Kansei project in Japan that most certainly had a direct effect on the North American automotive landscape, it just took a while. Not much car talk this time (gasp!), but we’ll get to that in Part II.

[Images: Panasonic, Toyota, Kokuyo, Kao, Asahi]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Smicallef427 Smicallef427 on Sep 20, 2021

    WiLL was such a roaring success they decided to proceed with Scion anyways. The Japanese consumer is very different from the American perhaps they though. The WiLL VS was an awesome car. Too bad they didn’t bring those to the US.

  • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Sep 21, 2021

    If only they could have gotten WiLL Smith as their spokesman, maybe it could have worked.

  • SaulTigh When I was young in the late 80's one of my friends had the "cool dad." You know the guy, first to buy a Betamax and a C-band satellite dish. Couple of stand up arcade games in the den. Bought my friend an Atari 2600 as soon as they came out. He had two of these crap heaps. One that only ran half the time and one for parts in the yard. My middle school brain though he was the most awesome dad ever, buying us pizza and letting us watch R rated movies recorded on free HBO weekend. At the time I though he was much better than my boring father.Now with adult hindsight, I now know he was "dad who should have taken better care of his family" and not had so many toys.
  • Dave Has to be Indy 500. Many more leaders and front passes than NASCAR, and Monaco is unwatchable with the inability to pass on that circuit.
  • Jeff How did the discussion get from an article about a 56 billion dollar pay package for Elon Musk to a proposal to charge a per mile tax on EVs in California or paying increase registration on vehicles to make up for lost gas tax revenue? I thought such a discussion would better fit Matt's Gas Wars series.
  • Master Baiter Both people who bought ID.4s will be interested in this post.
  • Urlik Not a single memorable thing happened in the big three races this weekend IMHO.