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Softening power: Cuteness as organizational communication strategy in Japan and the West

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cuteness, kawaii, character branding, strategic organizational communication

Abstract (summary)

This paper describes the use of cute communications (visual or verbal, and in various media) as an organizational communication strategy prevalent in Japan and emerging in western countries. Insights are offered for the use of such communications and for the understanding/critique thereof. It is first established that cuteness in Japan–kawaii–is chiefly studied as a sociocultural or psychological phenomenon, with too little analysis of its near-omnipresent institutionalization and conveyance as mass media. The following discussion clarifies one reason for this gap in research–the widespread conflation of ʻorganizational communication’ with advertising/branding, notwithstanding the variety of other messaging–public relations, employee communications, public service announcements, political campaigns–conveyed through cuteness by Japanese institutions. It is then argued that what few theorizations exist of organizational kawaii communications overemphasize their negative aspects or potentials, attributing to them both too much iniquity and too much influence. Outside of Japan studies, there is even less up-to-date scholarship on organizational cuteness, critical or otherwise. And there are no such studies at all, whether focused on Japan or elsewhere, that integrate intercultural insights. In a preliminary contribution toward such knowledge, we discuss the understudied, longstanding, and increasing use of this strategy by western companies. Points of comparison and contrast with Japanese kawaii are highlighted, in both its organizational and pop-cultural aspects, drawing also on sociological studies of the west’s current cuteness craze. Guiding insights are offered and future research directions specified, both for those seeking to advise western organizations in communicating cutely, and for those concerned that such softening power will be abused.

Publication Information

Macpherson, I., & Bryant, T. (2018). Softening power: Cuteness as organizational communication strategy in Japan and the West. Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies, 10, 39-55.


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