Marketing Convenience Stores Symbolically: 7-Eleven and Its Spokes-Characters in Taiwan

Marketing Convenience Stores Symbolically: 7-Eleven and Its Spokes-Characters in Taiwan

Hsiang-wen Hsiao (Shih-Hsin University, Taiwan) and Hong-Chi Shiau (Shih-Hsin University, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5778-4.ch013

Abstract

The spokes-character Open-Chan was conceived in early 2000 and a diverse menagerie of other animal characters was introduced to promote 7-eleven in Taiwan. Over the subsequent decade, 7-Eleven has launched a wide range of campaigns and life narratives involving these spokes-characters to enhance the metaphorical image of the brand. This study aims to explicate the semiotic and linguistic texts launched in a series of campaigns between 2005 and 2015 and so to unpack their sociological and marketing implications. As suggested, visual narratives of cartoon spokes-characters perform a representative function that propagates the metaphoric image of the dominant powers as part of the broader concept of brand culture. In Schroeder's seminal studies on semiotic theory and brand culture, he suggests that physical attributes are important in projecting a proper image. The sign value of a proper spokes-character represents a significant asset in branding a retailing space.
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Introduction

The creation and maintenance of symbolic trusts are imperative in the service sector to differentiate competitors and create brand salience (Bargenda, 2013). The 5,000th 7-Eleven convenience store in Taiwan opened in 2014 in the south of the country (Hsu & Wu, 2014), this extraordinary performance being achieved within just 35 years since the brand first entered Taiwan’s saturated, hypercompetitive domestic retail market. This case study delineates the shift in the convenience store business toward high-involvement, content-based marketing communication to build sustainable, long-term brand affinity (Gilboa & Rafaeli 2003; Hoffman & Turley, 2002).

Against this background, which mirrors the ideological transitions in consumer behavior, the communication repertoires and venues have become increasingly attuned to shifting perceptions of identity, culture, place and empowerment that demarcate culturally relevant value systems (Bargenda, 2013). As Shiau (2013) suggested, visual narratives of cartoon spokes-characters perform a representative function that propagates the metaphoric image of the dominant powers as part of the broader concept of brand culture. In Schroeder’s seminal studies (2007, 2010) on semiotic theory and brand culture, it is suggested that physical attributes are important in projecting a proper image. The sign value of a proper spokes-character represents a significant asset in branding a retailing space. In this context, this case study examines how 7-Eleven employs Open-Chan (Chinese: Open 小將) in its brandscapes in Taiwan.

The Open-Chan spokes-character was conceived in the early 2000s. Detsu, a Japanese advertising agency, announced its birthday as of July 11, 2005, in order to symbolically celebrate the iconic 7-Eleven. Besides Open-Chan, a diverse menagerie of other animal characters has been introduced to promote 7-Eleven in Taiwan. Over the subsequent decade, 7-Eleven has launched a wide range of campaigns and life narratives involving these spokes-characters so as to enhance the metaphorical image of the brand. This study aims to explicate the spokes-characters and their semiotic connotations in a series of campaigns which were launched between 2005 and 2015, and so to unpack their sociological and marketing implications.

Western branding history offers numerous examples of the employment of anthropomorphic brand characters. For example, Kraft Peanut Butter launched a line of toy bears, and simultaneously changed its product labels to feature bears. The animals wore a red bow tie for crunchy, and a green bow tie for smoothie. By using anthropomorphic characters for their brands, these symbols have the power to connect differently to people based on simple emotions. Anthropomorphic characters do not carry any definitive meaning similar to what slogans may do. Consequently, Kraft Peanut Butter has a greater affective impact than a peanut butter without a bear. While the banking industry is commonly viewed as intimidating or even worse — a kind of a loan shark that may ransack your belongings — TD Canada Trust connects with consumers via a cushy green chair anthropomorphic character that embraces its customers with a “comfort zone” where lovely bears are seated. The green chair is presented as a comfortable symbol in an industry many consumers find daunting, and attempts to offer a new perspective on the banking industry.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Visual Narrative: A term referring to visual storytelling, comprising news and information (photojournalism, photo essays, documentary films), as well as entertainment (art, movies, television, comic books, graphic novels).

Convenience Store: A small retail business that stocks a range of everyday consumer product items.

Marketing Semiotics: A field of study that attempts to understand how symbolic elements of a brand, such as logos, rituals, cultural symbols, colors, iconic individuals, text, advertisements, websites, physical environments, hospitality and service, tag lines and other “touch points” can be effectively deployed to strengthen their reach to their customers.

Muji: One of the strongest Japanese retail brands in the world whose vision is not to be a brand. It is known as the no-brand brand that emphasizes simplicity, moderation, humility, and self-restraint.

BRAND: A name, term, design, symbol, or other feature that distinguishes an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customers.

Spokes-Character: Also called advertising ambassadors, brand icons, brand-characters, non-celebrity spokes-characters and cartoon media characters. They are used to promote a product, service or idea, and cartoon media characters are used to entertain.

Brand Mascots: They represent a broad range of human or fictional anthropomorphic beings or animated objects. They are the intellectual property of companies and are used in commercial licensing, franchising and merchandising activities to build the antecedents for customer brand loyalty.

Marketing Campaign: An activity that promotes a product through different media, including television, radio, print and online platforms to generate brand awareness and sales.

Kawaii Culture: Kawaii literally means “lovable”, “cute”, or “adorable” in Japanese. Kawaii culture is a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance and mannerisms. This type of culture is also well-received in East Asia.

7-Eleven: A Japanese-owned American international chain of convenience stores, which is owned by President Chain Store Corporation under Uni-President Enterprises Corporation in Taiwan. It is the largest convenience store chain with more than 5200 stores in 2018.

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