Ke’ai, the Taiwanese term for cute, which is most likely a derivative of the Japanese term kawaii, is thought to have been exported to Taiwan and China in the 1980s from Japanese manga and other animations. The characteristics of ke’ai include ‘cute’ features such as big eyes and heads, fat body and exaggerated expressions. While the catch-all term can be perplexing to many, the pervasive nature of the cultural phenomena should not be ignored when attempting to expand business into the region.
Researchers and psychologists continue to probe the reasons that ke’ai culture is so powerful. One theory is that ke’ai culture lends itself to the Confusion teachings of Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. Sexism might be at the root of the success of the multibillion dollar industry. Women were expected to be wives, meaning to be humble, considerate and reverential towards their husband.
However, women no longer need men for their economic stability. Ka’ai culture might be perceived as non-threatening female empowerment by presenting women as ‘cute’ While for many Western women this very concept is contradictory and sickening, perhaps for these women who want companionship but who do not require the ‘man’ to provide, this is a way to appeal to an insecure sense of masculinity. Women can maintain their position of independence without seeming threatening to men.
This explanation is limiting as people of all ages, genders and backgrounds participate in the culture of ‘cute’. What started in Japan with Hello Kitty in the 1970s is now most prevalent in Taiwan today. Ke’ai has a range of different meanings. While some say that it is a reflection of sexist culture, where women are expected to be soft and vulnerable and men are expected to take care of them, others claim that it is a respite from the competition and pressures of daily life; that cuteness offers comfort. Some advertising executives go as far as to say that the use of ‘cute’ characters helps communicate mundane messages to a stressed and busy public, such as on airport signage for customs control.
So, should it be included in your B2B marketing campaign in the Asia region? If you have spent time in Taiwan, you will notice a very fine line between the ‘cute’ advertising of ke’ai culture and the sexualisation of young women, which for a Western woman, can seem borderline suggestive of the acceptance of the sexual exploitation of young people.
Using a ke’ai character created for your specific campaign is common practice in Taiwan. From politicians having manga style characters of themselves created to the armed forces using dolls to recruit people, there are no boundaries when it comes to using ke’ai culture. In fact, when you enter any official building there are cartoon characters with large heads and doe eyes to direct you on signage, so you would not even be mocked or thought of as not taking business in the region seriously.
What is important about using such a strategy is understanding glocalisation. If you do choose to launch a ka’ai styled campaign, you need to understand the elements of the creation of your character. Appealing to your customers through a concept of cuteness is entirely acceptable in Taiwan, Japan and even in China. Your clients might even appreciate that you have taken the time to research and understand the culture.
The great part about ke’ai is that you can’t really get it wrong if you include the big eyes, a big head and fat belly. It is not considered unprofessional, and the strategy could give you the edge in a fiercely competitive B2B market where the right connections still count for more than the right marketing campaign.
Know Your Market
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