CategoryG05. Cultural Insight
Idea Creation 2 DENTSU INC. Tokyo, JAPAN
Production 2 PICT Tokyo, JAPAN


Name Company Position
Ai Asada Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Hitomi Katarhira Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Saaya Suzuki Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Eisuke Osawa Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Dayeon Kang Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Ayumu Namiki Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Kunhiro Saito Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Masahiko Kashiwagi Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner
Mayuko Ogura Dentsu Public Relations Inc. PR planner

Why is this work relevant for PR?

This launch campaign for a new product from Japanese laundry detergent manufacturer Lion Corporation broke with convention for its sector by forgoing the use of TV or print advertising. Insights from consumer surveys were used to coin a new concept: “zombie odors” (“zonbi-shu” in Japanese––unpleasant laundry odors that refuse to “die” despite repeated washes and are easily spread to other garments). The campaign successfully leveraged social and earned media to promote this novel concept, securing increased market share, with numerous consumers switching brands from rival products.


Though home washer-dryers are increasingly common in Japan (with ownership among 50% of 20- and 30-somethings surveyed), most still prefer to hang their washing outside to dry. Even on rainy days (common in Japan, with average annual precipitation of around 1,690mm––twice the global average) many avoid higher energy bills and long dryer cycles by hanging their washing indoors. And, with more and more busy dual-income households, this tendency has extended to sunny days too, as consumers try to preempt sudden changes in weather. According to data from Euromonitor, the liquid category that accounts for 60% of Japan’s laundry detergent sales has long been dominated by P&G and Kao. In a bid to expand market share that was stalled at 20%, Lion Corporation developed Top Clear Liquid Antibacterial, a new detergent that tackled local consumers’ three leading odor concerns: garments dried indoors, improperly dried, or left too long after washing.

Describe the creative idea (20% of vote)

The creepy creative concept “zombie odors” was inspired by the way these problem odors return despite repeated washing and can also (as confirmed by Lion’s own experiments reflecting Japan’s famously long commutes by recreating the conditions onboard a cramped, humid rainy season train carriage) be passed to other garments in as little as 10 minutes of incidental contact. The idea was brought to (un)life through zombie movie-inspired content including an online video in which Lion Corporation mascot Lion-chan battles the “walking damp” using Top Clear Liquid Antibacterial. To boost reach and engagement, this content also evoked nostalgic memories of “Gokigenyo” (in English: “Have a nice day”), a classic daytime TV show that for many years was sponsored by Lion, as well as taking advantage of Japan’s ongoing fondness for zany mascots, bringing in several popular regional and sporting characters whose plush costumes are especially vulnerable to zombie odors.

Describe the PR strategy (30% of vote)

Having identified working couples and others who struggle to find the time for laundry as the main target audience, Lion set out to deliver resonant, relevant content inspired by the frighteningly familiar torment of persistent odors. They chose to forgo TV or magazine advertising in favor of on- and offline initiatives that leveraged existing assets to generate buzz in both traditional and social media. These assets included cuddly mascot Lion-chan, face of the brand since 1983, and fondly remembered daytime TV show Gokigenyo, sponsored by Lion throughout its 1991–2016 on-air lifespan. Survey data and KOLs were another key part of the approach, with extra gravitas provided by laundry expert Kensuke Kanzaki. As well as offline events, the official Top Clear Liquid Antibacterial Twitter account and a dedicated section of Lion’s website were used to distribute Kanzaki’s anti-zombie odor life hacks.

Describe the PR execution (20% of vote)

To generate traction in both social and traditional media before the damp rainy season began to spread across Japan in May, the campaign was launched in April 2019. Zombie-themed teaser videos showing mascot characters falling prey to zombie odors were followed by a longer online movie in which Lion Corporation mascot Lion-chan and TV presenter Kazuki Kosakai reprised their 25-year partnership as co-hosts of popular daytime TV show Gokigenyo, using Top Clear Liquid Antibacterial to battle stinky spooks. The inclusion of popular mascots like Bari-san (2012 winner of Japan’s Mascot Grand Prix), and Yakult Swallows baseball mascot Tsubakuro helped engage diverse fan groups and further amplify the videos’ social media reach. Online, the videos were supplemented with expert laundry tips and zombie-odor themed comic strips, while offline initiatives included laundry seminars hosted by mascot characters.

List the results (30% of vote)

Despite the lack of TV or magazine ads––unusual for the detergent sector––consumers latched on to the campaign’s humorous angle and relatable portrayal of their own discouraging experiences with smelly laundry. Social media traction brought over 120,000 tweets, including comments like: “It got rid of the zombie odors from my daughter’s baseball socks,” and “With one wash it removed the smell of summer sweat and barbecues from my laundry.” Meanwhile, zombie odors became the top trending topic on Japan’s leading web portal, Yahoo. Over 400 items of media coverage included 11 TV appearances focused on rainy season laundry woes, as well as a spot on zombie odors from public broadcaster NHK’s flagship morning show Asaichi. In just one month, awareness of zombie odors grew from 0% to 24% among those surveyed, with 50% of those who knew the term also being aware of Top Clear Liquid Antibacterial, and half of those having actually made a purchase. Sales of the product outstripped the maker’s expectations by some 50%, with bottles selling out quickly across Japan even four months after the launch. Furthermore, the campaign led to an increase in market share that not only established Top Clear Liquid Antibacterial as a go-to detergent for combatting “zombie odors,” but also gave the new product a key place in Lion Corporation’s portfolio.

Please tell us about the cultural insight that inspired the work

In Japan, despite widespread dryer ownership, energy bills and long dryer cycles underpin a preference for hanging laundry up to dry, traditionally outdoors. But ever-busier lifestyles due to a steady increase in dual-income households (continually rising since surpassing the number of single-income families in 1997) can preclude this approach because nobody is on hand to bring washing in if the weather suddenly changes. Indoor drying is increasingly the norm, but this gives rise to so-called “zombie odors”: unpleasant damp smells which are easily transferred to other garments (especially problematic in urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka, where many workers are thrown into close prolonged contact in crowded train carriages on their one-hour average commutes). A February 2019 consumer survey showed that 563/600 respondents had experienced laundry odor concerns themselves, with 97.6% of them having encountered zombie odors, 86.1% taking measures to counter them, and 68.6% failing, despite repeated washing.