Did Belgium just rock the chocolate world? On February 1, in a full page ad in Japan’s leading business newspaper, Nikkei Shimbun, Belgian confection maker Godiva called for an end to the practice of giving obligation chocolate.
Jake Adelstein reports: In Japan, even Valentine’s Day is done differently. It’s women — and women alone — who are expected to give chocolate to their partners. But it doesn’t stop there. Women are also expected to give chocolate to their colleagues, friends, bosses and sometimes family members. These are called giri-choko (義理チョコ) or “obligation chocolates.” It’s not very romantic and it can be quite expensive.
In Japanese, giri (義理), meaning honor or duty, is a word beloved by the yakuza, who associate it with risking their lives or paying huge fees. The word itself gives an idea of the burdensome nature of giri-choko.
On February 1, in a full page ad in Japan’s leading business newspaper, Nikkei Shimbun, Belgian confection maker Godiva called for an end to the practice of giving obligation chocolate. The response was tremendous, provoking online debates and numerous articles in the Japanese press. According to the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan, more than $500 million is spent by Japanese consumers each year on Valentine’s Day, so the economic ramifications are not small. While Japan is increasingly fond of good quality chocolate at a reasonable price, chocolates sales are also heavily influenced by Valentine’s Day.
The Japanese text of the advertisement, credited to Godiva Japan president Jerome Chouchan, states: “Of course, it’s good to give chocolates to the person you really love, but there’s no need for obligation chocolates. In fact, in this modern era, it’s better not to have them.” It notes that there are many women who dislike the practice and holiday.
The text also contains a meditation on the true meaning of the holiday. “Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you confess your true feelings. It’s not a day on which you’re supposed to go out of your way to keep good relations at work.” The ad then encourages Japan’s top business executives to essentially enforce a ban on obligation chocolates.
Reactions to the ad
The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading liberal newspaper, summarized the public response as generally favorable. It noted there were also voices of opposition. Some accused Godiva Japan of stealth marketing, pointing out that the more expensive Godiva brand goods were rarely bought as obligation chocolates, so if the practice stops, the impact for them is minor and might even benefit their sales. On Twitter and other social media, there were many voices calling the ad, “yokei na osewa,” a Japanese phrase meaning “unwanted kindness” but one that also has the oblique meaning of “buzz off” when used in conversation.
Daniel Fath, a public relations consultant with over a decade of work experience in Japan, had mixed reviews for the campaign … (read more)