Not storytelling, just koto-tsukuri

Nissan floats latest Japanese export for automotive lexicon

TOKYO -- Japan’s automakers have exported their share of jargon into the global industry lexicon. Consider: kaizen, kanban, andon cord and mono-tsukuri.

Now Nissan Motor Co. is priming a new one: koto-tsukuri.

CEO Carlos Ghosn batted the word about several times during today’s annual shareholders’ meeting, splicing it seamlessly into his English-language address.

He leaned on the word -- loosely translated as “storytelling” -- to encapsulate the new global branding strategy that Nissan launched this year, its first-ever worldwide marketing campaign. Nissan is ahead of its more insular Japanese rivals with such coordinated message-marketing, but it clearly wants to pass it off as a home-grown initiative.

“This example of how we will facilitate the power of storytelling, or koto-tsukuri, to better connect with our customers,” Ghosn said. By using koto-tsukuri to create unified branding, he said, Nissan can deliver “meaningful and lasting relationships with our customers.”

The new campaign was launched April 1 with billboard advertising at 37 airports. Under the catchphrase “Innovation that Excites,” the campaign’s billboard ads feature the same colors, logos and wording. Ghosn showed the latest billboard ad, which juxtaposes Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt -- three-time gold medalist and world record holder -- against the Nissan GT-R sports car.

The tag line reads: “What if the world’s fastest man went even faster?”

It might be a while before koto-tsukuri catches on with Madison or Woodward avenues.

But just as “sushi,” “sumo” and “samurai” have entered the global vernacular, so have specialty words taken from the factory floors of Nagoya and Japan’s hinterlands.

Mono-tsukuri -- a favorite buzzword of late -- refers to the “art of manufacturing” and is a focus of much hand-wringing these days as more production moves off shore.

Meanwhile, the andon cord, pioneered in Japan, is the safety-stop rope that line workers can yank on when they spot a defect, need more help or fall behind.

Kanban refers to the instruction cards telling workers when to replenish components -- a key element of Japan’s oft emulated pull-oriented manufacturing system.

And of course there is kaizen -- perhaps the most pervasive of lingo transplants. Meaning “continuous improvement,” the word was born in Japan but went vogue with management gurus worldwide in the 1990s.

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