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25 AUGUST 2023

Welcome to this week’s edition of Culture Wire, a newsletter brought to you by Singapore-based pop culture and lifestyle marketing agency Culture Group.

In this week’s edition:

  • Innovation of the Week: A catchy earworm or a branded ad? 
  • Fax, No Printer: What’s top of SEA Gen Z’s most-wanted tech list?
  • Regional Round-up: The latest fashion x gaming collab, Thai soft power, anime promos and more!

Innovation of the Week


Indonesia’s latest music chart topper and the most searched for song on Shazam has a surprising backstory… it’s actually an advert to promote the relaunch of McDonald’s Taste of Japan burgers. Nihon No Fureeba, created with Indonesian-Japanese singer Ica Zahra, is an untranslated J-Pop song that’s resonated with the country’s J-Culture fans. The lyrics include: Soft bun, crispy nori / Yakiniku sauce and authentic taste / McDonald’s Taste of Japan / What a uniquely awesome flavor. So how did a burger ad become so popular? 


💡 Our take

This campaign is built on a remarkably simple insight: people in Indonesia love J-Culture. As we highlighted in The Anime Impact, 76% of Indonesians are interested in Japanese anime and manga, and Attack on Titan (an ongoing anime series) was more popular than the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The lyrics to Nihon No Fureeba are in Japanese and they weren’t translated, meaning that many people simply assumed this was just another catchy J-Pop song. By the time they realized it was an advert, it had already been added to Spotify playlists, was a karaoke go-to and had gone viral on TikTok. 

The fact that people didn’t understand the lyrics is central to the campaign’s success. We’re not saying the song is badly written (although it might not be nominated for a Grammy any time soon 😉), but aligning it with J-Culture added an instant cool factor. Most listeners can’t tell what’s being said, but they know what the song gives them access to, because culture transcends language.

The desire to understand can inspire fans towards deeper cultural immersion – witness how the K-Wave inspired many people in Southeast Asia and beyond to learn Korean – but this doesn’t have to be the case. A language barrier doesn’t prevent people from enjoying a culture, in fact the unfamiliarity can add to the novelty and build a sense of community. Not every J-Culture-inspired campaign will enjoy this level of success, but concern about fan understanding shouldn’t put brands off this approach. 

Nihon No Fureeba reaffirms everything we’ve been saying in this newsletter for the past year: by taking the time to understand specific fandoms, brands can create more authentic campaigns that truly resonate and deliver – per McDonald’s, first-week sales for the relaunched burgers surpassed that of the past three years! Of course, understanding is just the start: the brands that win will create and contribute to culture, they won’t just piggyback on the existing zeitgeist.

Fax, No Printer*

For those of you born before 1997, ‘fax, no printer‘ is Gen Z speak for ‘undeniable facts I agree with’

What’s top of SEA Gen Z’s most-wanted tech list?

Apple Vision Pro

RayBan smart sunglasses

A budget phone

Scroll down to the end of the newsletter for the correct answer!

Regional Round-up

👾 When gaming meets fashion! Cult Korean brand Gentle Monster has partnered with Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch 2 on a limited-edition pair of sunglasses inspired by D.Va, one of the game’s most iconic characters. The catch? They’re only available via Gentle Monster’s time-limited Instagram filter challenge (an in-game Gentle Monster x D.Va bundle is also available). This isn’t the first luxury fashion x gaming collaboration, but it’s further evidence the line between the two is increasingly blurry. 

🇹🇭 Capitalizing on the growing T-wave, Foodpanda and Tellscore (who connect brands and influencers) are partnering with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. As part of the ongoing Amazing Thailand campaign, three influencers from Asia and Europe will document their trip to Chiang Rai. Could a partnership enhance your cultural strategy? 

🍄 To celebrate the Singapore launch of two new snack products, Meiji has released two anime-inspired brand videos, experiential pop-ups and merchandise. The cute campaign highlights how brands are taking a page from the anime playbook and leveraging the popular entertainment format to build buzz around product launches. How can it help you grab Gen Z’s attention?

Starbucks Malaysia just opened a signing store for the Deaf and hard of hearing at a mall in Borneo, its third in the country. With young people in particular placing more value on diversity in the workplace, employers looking to appeal to (and retain!) values-driven employees should consider making inclusivity central to their offering not an add-on. 

⚠️ ICYMI: YouTube has unveiled a series of AI music principles and will launch a ‘Music AI Incubator’ with Universal Music Group (UMG) as its first partner. A selected group of UMG artists will explore and give feedback on the AI-related music tools YouTube is creating. With concerns about the impact of generative AI on creators’ rights making headlines, we’ll be watching to see how this plays out… 

This Week's Trivia Answer

C. A budget phone

Recent research conducted by YouGov (note that it was sponsored by Xiaomi) revealed that young people in Southeast Asia are gravitating towards mid-range or budget phones. Almost eight out of every 10 respondents said they are more confident in mid-range mobile phones than five years ago, because these devices ‘are affordable and budget friendly, strike a good balance between price and performance, and fulfill user needs without excessive features’. 

With many young people worried about inflation, it’s unsurprising that they are looking for more affordable alternatives – including when selecting a phone. But this only tells part of the story. With concerns about the negative impact of screen time on user’s mental health reaching new heights, many young people are looking to unplug by embracing so-called ‘dumb phones’. The fact that these phones align with an ongoing aesthetic obsession with the 1990s and Y2K style is just an added bonus.

When it comes to technology, new isn’t always better! In fact, research from our friends at the GSMA shows that extending the lifetime of all smartphones in the world by one year has the potential to save up to 21.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually by 2030 (equivalent to taking more than 4.7 million cars off the road). As ‘retro’ tech gains traction, younger consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint might consider buying an older, used phone or keeping their existing device for longer.

Gen Z’s attitudes towards tech are changing. The status hit associated with owning the latest device waning, replaced with a desire to reduce screen time and practice more mindful consumption. How will your brand respond?

🚀 Over and Out!

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Your Culture Mavens,

Acacia, Aliya, Angela, Kiko, & Vicki