By on September 20, 2021

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]

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14 Comments on “Abandoned History: The Early 2000s WiLL Project, for The Youths (Part I)...”

  • avatar

    “Where there is a WiLL there’s a way” turned out to be a flop.

  • avatar

    One day, and this is still true in 2021, marketers will come to their senses and realize that you cannot focus marketing attempts at teenagers and young adults. Middle-aged men in a conference room making decisions on how to focus to teens normally ends in disaster. Hey Toyota – how did your Scion marketing efforts go in targeting first time car buyers? Yeah, that’s what I thought when I see another boomer driving one.

    Trying to target any type of product to teens and young adults is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Their trends are created organically – what they see on social media, what their friends wear, use, or drive, etc. It isn’t found in a pop-up ad on a site, or on TV. They know when they are being pandered to and will turn it off in a heartbeat.

    • 0 avatar

      I tend to agree with much of what you say, but I hear a codger in the background hollering “get off my lawn”!
      My wife and I watch a lot of TV and I’d say at least half the commercials we see leave us with no clue as to what the product is.

      • 0 avatar

        Or alternatively, for whatever reason, if you’re watching something online via a streaming service, or even local programming via a stream, the broadcaster cannot show the same advertisements as is being broadcast over the air (or cable). So they “overlay” content. (Even if in the case of the local TV stations, they should be able to determine whether you’re in the local market by your IP address.)

        Especially on the local level, it gets to be annoying, as it seems like most of the big broadcast conglomerates can’t figure out how to put out an overlay that is at least somewhat randomized, and/or there’s not many entities buying the advertising on those overlays! So the result is that you see the same ads over and over and over and over and over again! When you see exact same commercial seven times in a row, it gets old quickly!

        When I get bombarded by the same garbage over and over, my reaction is usually to not patronize that entity as a protest!

        IDK if this restriction is an FCC thing, or something else, but it sure makes it unpleasant to watch local stuff without an antenna or cable, to say the least!

    • 0 avatar

      The big advertising money has been focused on “boomers” since “we” have done reasonably well financially and have decent disposable incomes but that gravy train is getting to the end of the line since young boomers are hitting 60.

      Those generations following us have been hit by extremely expensive education costs in a gig economy with expensive housing and other assorted geopolitical uncertainties.

    • 0 avatar

      The thing is that you CAN target marketing at “the youths”, you just have to not be condescendingly shit about it.

      A lot of failed “youth” marketing doesn’t fail because the youth is some special and impossible to tap market. It fails because they are conflating the young with the poor and are cynically trying to flog their cheapest crap off on people they see as too naive to know better.

      Turns out, they do in fact know better.

  • avatar

    Toyota marketing on Adult Swim:

  • avatar

    Oh, man … So many WWII Axis – related puns coming to mind. Must resist…

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

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

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