Make Haste Slowly

I Watched a 28-Minute Commercial For Soy Sauce and It Was Worth It

Kikkoman USA is taking corporate storytelling seriously, and I was as shocked as anyone else when I was not only intrigued by a 30-second bumper on Hulu.com, but fascinated by the 28-minute documentary beyond the click.

Make Haste Slowly: The Kikkoman Creed  is a branded documentary explaining why and how the Kikkoman company works, directed by Academy Award-nominated director Lucy Walker. Kikkoman is demonstrating some of the core ideals of non-fiction transmedia storytelling in a way that is startlingly appealing.

What did they do that got my attention as someone who by all accounts should be utterly inured to advertising? They told me a story.

“Started by a woman, in a time when women didn’t start companies…”

Based on “a set of 16 articles that have guided Kikkoman for over 300 years” this ad campaign does more than talk to you about a product or its unique selling proposition, it invites you into a world. By pulling back the curtain on their company, Kikkoman is letting its audience get to know them in a much more personal way than a 30-second spot about liquid beans and salt.

In an age where brands are scrambling to connect and engage with audiences as quickly and intensely as possible, seeking eyeballs on smaller and smaller screens, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. What Kikkoman has, and what they have done, is attempted to build toward a long-term goal: consumer trust.

One of the most powerful assets a brand has with it’s customers is trust. Fred McClimans, in his panel at 2013’s SXSW “Trust, The Social Glue” outlined four big enablers of trustworthiness for experience:

  • Context – which frames it
  • Perpective – Which makes it unique
  • Predictability –What comes next
  • Reliability – consistency of what comes next

“If You Don’t Share with People, They Can’t Trust You” – Fred McClimans

To trust someone, you must first get to know them; to understand who the person, or group of persons in the body of a corporation are, and why they do what they do. If someone knows who you are, as a person or as a brand, that trust can ensure the health and profitability of an enterprise over time. While ad campaigns come and go, raising sales or, heaven forefend, offending audiences in a moment…the hope is that your company, brand and product lines will endure.

So how does Kikkoman USA’s Make Haste Slowly build trust?

  • Context

Kikkoman is presenting the larger history of its brand, and it’s commitment to the quality of its product, employees and customers.

  • Perspective

The 16 tenets it espouses give a lens through which the outside observer can begin to understand the mentality of the people who make decisions, from hiring to materials sourcing to putting the sauce into the bottle in your kitchen cabinet.

  • Predictability

In establishing the idea of a 300-year-old tradition of excellence, and drawing direct, human examples of that methodology; the customer can expect a specific experience when they partake of the products of Kikkoman.

  • Reliability

If this, fairly ubiquitous product, the soy sauce you expect to see on the table in any take-out or fine Asian restaurant has done this for this long, you can expect that that quality will be maintained…you can trust your future experience with the brand.

To establish and maintain trust, people must see your endeavor as larger than the person running your Twitter feed. Customers need to trust that the people in your company, those at the helm of the brand have their eye on quality, on something meaningful, so that they can expect consistency and predict that their next experience will be positive.

Consider the recent spates of social media fiascos that become headline news: Maker’s Mark’s attempt to water down its product, for example. If a brand has a relationship that is longer than 140 characters with its audience of consumers then a Twitter glitch, a misquote, or even a bad business decision becomes a hiccup rather than a hurricane.

While there is an expectation on the part of the audience for advertisements that they are being lied to—that advertising communication is at the best of times, exaggerated to sell a product—sincerity is disruptive.

At the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards Panel, “Can American Capitalism Save Itself?” Richard Edelman, President & Chief Executive Officer of the public relations company Edelman, posited that people have to see a news story five times before they believe it.

Only 18% of people believe a CEO is a trustworthy source of information in a crisis
      –Richard Edelman

People have the expectation that businesses and marketing departments are lying to them regularly. Amidst all the loud wizz, bang, pow advertisements that people are regularly exposed to; a calm, clearly thoughtful attempt to open up the history of a company, even when that history focuses on the best points of its history starts to let the audience know who they are dealing with.

Trust between people starts with getting to know one another, Trust between people and brands begins with getting to know the people inside that organization and what moves them. Businesses and brands have a long way to go towards transparency and building trusting relationships with customers and consumers.

Instead of trying to explicitly sell a product, building an understanding of who you are and why you sell this product is the first step to creating the trust that will keep people returning to you in the future. Taking the time and energy to do it in an advertising space that still relies on 30-second spots and viral videos, sets you apart from the crowd.

Discussing what is best about a company’s history, what internal credo dictates its choices and what the company hopes it can be is a universally aspirational driver.

To be part of a company that strives to achieve a higher goal, beyond simple profit and loss is a powerful dream. To make one’s daily tasks meaningful in some way, an ideal that people can relate to, and seek to emulate.

It gives me hope that my purchase is met with an attention to quality and a consideration I appreciate.

While I already chose Kikkoman regularly, I did join their Facebook page—a rabbit hole of recipes and new ways for me to use the soy sauce I already buy.  I also have actually clicked back to their website to look at the virtues they espouse, because the artistic and aesthetic way they presented their ideas combined with stories from their personal and commercial histories is compelling.

By opening up their company history, Kikkoman USA can be seen as a company that wants to maintain trust with customers now and in the future, and I can expect a similar level of intention from them in their product.


Caitlin Burns is a Transmedia Producer with Starlight Runner Entertainment and has worked on properties ranging from Pirates of the Caribbean for The Walt Disney Company and James Cameron’s Avatar, to Halo for Microsoft and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Nickelodeon. She is a Board Member of the Producer’s Guild of America’s New Media Council and an Advisor to the Tribeca Film Institute’s New Media Fund. Find her on Twitter: @Caitlin_Burns

Special thanks to Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment: @Jeff_Gomez for his editorial input into this piece.

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