Suntory Highball: Social Media Helps Boost Japan’s Whisky Industry

Suntory highball

Suntory highball (C)ITmedia

Do you know a highball? It’s a cocktail mixing whisky with seltzer in a glass with a lemon slice and ice. Though whisky was not my preferred drink, it has been my favorite since a highball campaign by a Japanese whisky company.

In 2008, Suntory, a leading Japanese beverage company, launched a highball campaign that included social media. This is regarded as one of the most successful cross-media campaigns in Japan, boosting my country’s flagging whisky industry.

As Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff say in the book, Groundswell, there are four key elements to raise public awareness and change their behavior–viral videos, social networks, blogs and communities. Using these elements, Suntory has created a highball boom and saved Japan’s whisky industry.

YouTube Videos

As Li and Bernhoff state in Groundswell, “Viral videos are best for punching through the noise.” Suntory has uploaded a series of highball commercials on TV featuring popular Japanese models and actresses on YouTube since 2008 (here is an example). In the meantime, the company has launched its official YouTube site showing how to make a delicious highball (Japanese language only). This cross-media strategy has successfully expanded viewership,  raising public awareness.

Highball Map

Suntory has launched its own website–Highball map (Japanese only)–to enable highball fans to introduce their favorite izakayas, Japanese-style restaurants and pubs, where people can enjoy the whisky-soda mix, and to share their experiences. On the webpage, users can respond to questionnaires from Suntory, helping the company monitor customers’ voices.

Social media

In addition to Facebook and Twitter (Japanese only), the whisky company created a blog (Japanese only) to connect and directly talk with customers. Blog posts featuring such topics as manufacturing processes and distiller tours allow whisky fans not only to understand the complicated processes but also to see inside distillers without actually being there. The website helps foster brand loyalty among the audience, using the groundswell to spread positive messages.

The cross-media campaign has brought great success as follows:

・Within one year after the launch of the campaign, the number of izakayas serving
Suntory highball increased tenfold (from 6,200 to 58,000).
・In the meantime, sales of Suntory whisky increased by 24%.
・Similarly, the entire whiskey market in Japan expanded by 9%. The campaign
triggered a significant rebound in the industry that had been shrinking for 25 years.

(The data is from IT media (Japanese only).)

The combination of online (viral videos, Highball map and social media) and offline (customers’ experiences in izakayas) interaction has successfully created the image that the highball is cool. As Brian Solis says, “Brands are no longer created, they’re co-created.” Two-way communication, based on cross-media strategies using customers’ experiences, shows positive impact on impressions and decisions among the public.

So, how about enjoying a cool highball tonight? (I surely will!)

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Lady “Kaga”: The Power of Association

As my NYU classmate in the PR program, Nadia Mostafa, mentioned in her blog post, creating a context that ties a small local organization with existing centers of media attention is one of the most effective and successful strategies for PR campaigns.

A similar PR practice can be seen in my country, Japan. One of the visible examples is the “Lady Kaga” (not “Gaga”) campaign. Kaga is a small town in western Japan famous for onsen (hot springs). To reenergize the tourism business hammered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the town launched a promotional campaign capitalizing on the similarity of the town’s name (Kaga) to the name of the American celebrity (Gaga) last fall. Ryokan (Japanese traditional inns) distribute posters, update their Facebook pages, and post promotional videos on YouTube that feature Kaga ryokan staff members, including geisha dancing to the music of Lady Gaga.

Since the launch of the campaign, Kaga has been covered in many news outlets. As of February 24, 2012, the videos have been viewed about 400,000 times. The small local town is full of tourists. To sustain the campaign, the Lady Kaga women wrote a letter to Lady Gaga inviting her to the beautiful hot springs. “Have a rest from your very busy daily life,” they wrote to the Japanophile pop star.

Lady Gaga has been very popular in Japan, especially since March 11. She raised money for Japanese relief efforts as well as donated millions of dollars personally.  In addition, she came to Japan last June for benefit concerts for the victims while many stars cancelled their visits. Japan is safe. The top singer helped spread the message around the world.

Since the earthquakes and tsunamis, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has decreased. Positive publicity is crucial to lure visitors back.

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March 11, 2011: We Found the Power of Social Media (Part 1)

(C) calgaryherald

Social media has dramatically changed the landscape of our communication. But the new communication tools allow for something more: the possibility to save our lives.

At 14:46 on March 11th, 2011, I was working on the sixth floor of a building in Tokyo. The quake struck the building without warning. I thought I would die, because I had not experienced such a huge quake before. I picked up my mobile phone and tried to call my wife. But I could not get through to her. The phone networks were down.

Some people around me began communicating on Twitter and Facebook. The Internet was relatively unaffected, so they were able to use data services and text. These communication venues helped them connect with their families and friends unsure of their whereabouts, and let their loved ones know they were okay. At this moment, I found the immense power of these communication tools: social media saves people.

This blog post is about the implication of social media I saw during the crisis. Especially, I will focus on four tools: Twitter, Facebook, Google, and YouTube.


Twitter was one of the most valuable methods for us, the people in Japan, to connect with our families and friends. Within one hour after the quake, the number of tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute, according to Tweet-o-Meter (also, the site shows the current number of tweets from your area). For users in Japan, Twitter posted a guide in Japanese and English to help us communicate with our loved ones. The guide also included earthquake-related hashtags to lead us to special sections where we could get updated information on the crisis. Additionally, one of the most used hashtags globally in the first half of 2011 was #prayforjapan.

The number of Tweets from Tokyo on March 11th, 2011. (C) Tweet-o-Meter


Facebook also played a vital role in connecting people. Before March 11th, Facebook was suffering from flagging adoption in Japan, because Japanese people were allegedly reluctant to use their real names online. However, since March 11th, Japanese Facebook visitors have been dramatically increasing. According to NetRatings Japan Inc., the research firm affiliated with the Nielsen Company, the number of visitors per month surged up to 10.83 million in August 2011, from 1.93 million in August 2010. This is because we have found the benefits of real names during the crisis. Real names helped us identify our families and friends. If we had used pseudonym, we could not have found and communicated with each other. This experience has shown us the huge advantages of real names. You can read stories about how the platform saved us on the Facebook stories page. Also, Facebook provided its visitors with digital ways to donate to victims such as

(I will continue this topic after my next post)

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