Major Japanese confectionery maker Ezaki Glico Co. has introduced a gigantic new signboard to the bustling downtown Dotonbori district of Osaka, a major tourist spot, in hopes of attracting foreign customers as part of its ambitious plan to become a global company.
The sixth-generation Ezaki Glico signboard, which shows a runner raising his arms in triumph, is illuminated with light-emitting diodes from the evening through midnight, unlike its predecessor that relied on neon.
The newest version of this Osaka landmark, which dates back to the 1930s, also shows popular spots in Japan and abroad. Every 15 minutes, images including Mt. Fuji, the Statue of Liberty in New York, a pyramid in Egypt and Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple complex in Bangkok, are displayed behind the runner with the LED lighting. Foreign tourists cheer when they see their home countries featured.
Popular world destinations appearing on the new signboard, which was installed last October, reflect Ezaki Glico's attempt to further expand overseas on the back of Japan's rapidly aging population and dwindling birthrate, said Katsuhisa Ezaki, 73, president of the Osaka-based company.
Ezaki Glico was established by Riichi Ezaki (1882-1980), Katsuhisa's grandfather, in 1922 following his development the previous year of caramel candies containing glycogen, a nutrient that stores energy in humans.
Riichi found a clue to the product's development when he saw a liquid overflowing from a kettle used by fishermen to boil oysters on a river bank. Oysters contain glycogen.
He named the product "Glico" and released it in a "running man" package containing a picture card as well. He started giving away free toys, such as metal medals, in a small box attached to the distinctive red package in 1927.
In 1935, Riichi built the first electric signboard almost in the same place where the current board is located near the Ebisubashi bridge over the Dotonbori River. The board, as tall as 33 meters, was 1.5 times the size of the latest version.
As Japan became more deeply involved in World War II, Riichi stopped production of the Glico caramel candies in 1942 because he could not procure enough materials. He dismantled the signboard in 1943 to contribute metal to the war effort.
Osaka, like Tokyo, had been virtually burned to the ground by the time the war ended in 1945. Riichi had to restart his business from nothing, but he was optimistic because consumers remembered Glico's free toys and signboard.
"I believed we could come back to life" because Ezaki Glico's brand image or goodwill remained in the memory of consumers, Riichi later recalled.
Ezaki Glico fully revived the Glico product with free toys in 1949 when the number of childbirths in Japan set an all-time high. It has developed some 30,000 kinds of gift, such as miniature dolls, vehicles and household appliances, and displays about 4,000 of them in a museum at its head office in the city of Osaka.
The company set up its second signboard in 1955.
Along with Japan's population increase and economic growth, Ezaki Glico released "Pretz" pretzel sticks, "Pocky" chocolate-coated biscuit sticks and other popular products. It has also overcome the negative impact of an extortion case in which Katsuhisa was abducted by culprits in the middle of the 1980s.
Faced with the shrinking confectionery market in Japan, Ezaki Glico is determined to go on the offensive overseas, Katsuhisa said.
The company will initially promote the Pocky, which is now available in about 30 countries, in heavily populated countries such as Indonesia and India, hoping to develop it into a global brand like Swiss food company Nestle Ltd.'s "KitKat" chocolate-covered wafer biscuit bar that brings in more than $1 billion in annual sales.
With easy access from Kansai International Airport, which is a destination of many low-cost carriers from abroad, the Dotonbori district is a popular spot for tourists from Asian economies.
Highly recognizable to these tourists, the Glico signboard is expected to serve as a strong marketing tool for the company's overseas strategy.
© Kyodo News International, Inc., source Newswire