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Fukushima Industries caught up in perceived rebranding debacle

Published October 22, 2013 at 11:57 pm

More than two-and-a-half years after a tsunami and subsequent earthquake devastated Japan, the headlines associated with “Fukushima” these days are not encouraging:

  • “Radioactive water leaks at Fukushima as operator underestimates rainfall” (Reuters, October 21)
  • “Fukushima far from over” (U-T San Diego, October 21)
  • “Photos highlight the tragedy that befell livestock, pets after Fukushima” (The Asahi Shimbun, October 22)

Fukushima is the site of a nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company. The March 2011 earthquake triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, and has left the area reeling. More than 90,000 people are still displaced.

So it’s understandable why, over the weekend, the unveiling of a mascot by Fukushima Industries — a separate food cooling equipment company that shares its name with the region — was perceived by many as a clumsy rebranding effort by Tokyo Electric to improve its reputation in the wake of the ongoing contamination. The name of the mascot — an egg with wings — is a portmanteau derived from “Fukushima” and “happy.”

Criticisms of the mascot and particularly its name came swiftly from Twitter accounts around the world. In the wake of all the heckling, Fukushima has since replaced the American name with its Japanese rendering instead.

As Fukushima directors found out, a rebranding effort is not always smooth. The widespread misconception of Fukushima’s association with the ongoing contamination in the region didn’t help matters, but really, is any rebranding effort going to make any headway when the centerpiece of the strategy is a tamagotchi-Furby hybrid mascot?

Instead, businesses in dire need of a public image adjustment should look to a company like BP, which launched a fairly effective marketing campaign of its own in 2012 following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That campaign included positioning BP as an “efficient player in the oil and gas space” and presenting heartfelt profiles of the efforts of BP employees — many of them residents of the Gulf Region — to lead the clean up of the region.

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