Back in December, Asahi Shuzo, the makers of Dassai, Japan’s most popular brand of sake, earned some serious goodwill by making the unorthodox move of taking out a newspaper ad asking customers not to pay so much for the brew. Now, the Japanese division of chocolate maker Godiva seems to be borrowing a page from Asahi Shuzo’s playbook by running an ad asking people in Japan to buy less chocolate for Valentine’s Day this year.
Unlike in the West, in Japan it’s customary for women to give gifts to men, with chocolate being the most common present (men return the favor one month later, on March 14, which Japan calls “White Day”). In addition to giving chocolate to boyfriends or husbands, Japanese women also commonly give what’s called giri choco, meaning “obligation chocolate,” to their male coworkers, as a sort of all-purpose thank-you for support, cooperation, and all-around effort in the workplace over the past year (and yes, manners dictate that men should give a platonic gift in return on White Day).
But on Feb 1, Godiva ran a full-page ad in the Nihon Keizaki Shimbun newspaper, with its Japanese text attributed to Godiva Japan president Jerome Chouchan and taking aim at the entire giri choco practice.
The ad reads:
Japan, let’s stop the giri choco practice.
There are women who say they hate Valentine’s Day, and there are also women who feel relieved when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend. Why? Because of the difficulty and inconvenience of thinking of who to give giri choco to, and then having to buy it. They have to spend mental energy and money, but it’s hard to break the cycle, and they feel irritated about the custom every year.
We at Godiva speak from experience, because we see this happen annually. Of course it’s OK to give chocolate to someone you have genuine feelings for, but it’s OK not to give anyone giri choco. Honestly, in this day and age, it’s better not to. This is what we’ve come to believe.
Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you tell someone your pure feelings. It’s not a day on which you’re supposed to do something extra for the sake of smooth relations at work. So men, especially if you’re the top person in your company, tell the women in your office “Don’t force yourself to give anyone giri choco.”
We want more people to experience the joy of telling people their feelings, and we want them to enjoy Valentine’s Day more than they do now. “I love you.” “I adore you.” “Thank you, truly.” Those aren’t things you say to be polite. From now on, we want to continue giving these earnest sentiments an important place in our hearts.”
The fact that the ad ran in the Nihon Keizaki Shimbun, Japan’s most influential financial publication, lends legitimacy to Godiva’s expressed hopes that high-ranking executives will put an end to the practice of giri choco in their offices. However, there’s a key difference between Godiva’s appeal and Dassai’s.
As mentioned in the ad, Godiva’s specific complaint is about giri choco, but when Japanese women pick out what to buy for giri choco, they pretty much universally opt for low-priced brands. Some companies even knowingly play up this understanding, like Pocky has done in the past with its limited-time “Giricky” giri choco packaging.
On the other hand, no one’s buying Godiva’s pricy chocolates to give as giri choco. Yes, all chocolate makers see a surge in sales in February, but in Godiva’s case, it’s from women who’re buying expensive morsels for a serious boyfriend, loving husband, or, increasingly, to enjoy themselves.
As such, even if everyone in Japan resolved to stop buying/giving giri choco, it wouldn’t really affect Godiva’s sales. If anything, it might actually be a good thing for Godiva, since the sudden disappearance of giri choco expenses would open up more of women’s budgets to spend on Godiva’s chocolates instead.
Still, being freed of the obligation to buy giri choco for coworkers they’re indifferent to or perhaps even dislike would be a weight off some women’s shoulders. It’s unclear whether or not Godiva’s ad will actually affect the practice this month.
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