Opinion: Can the yakuza learn from large corporations and rebrand themselves overnight?

Work / Opinion

Opinion: Can the yakuza learn from large corporations and rebrand themselves overnight?

This week James Cartwright wonders whether it’s possible for the yakuza to rebrand themselves overnight after the recent revelation that they’ve launched their own website. As ever your comments are encouraged below…

Earlier this week we posted this gem of a video from McSweeney’s that took down global brands a peg or two, lampooning their tendency to make heinously transparent promotional videos that paint them as tree-hugging, seal-befriending everymen. There’s all the staple visuals thrown into the mix – a train moving at speed across breathtaking landscapes, families planting trees with broad smiles across their faces and the all-important stop-motion footage of cities at night – and they’ve all been gathered from stock footage website Dissolve.

For most viewers this film resonates perfectly as a parody of the utmost skill, but then this news piece cropped up this morning and we started to wonder.

It transpires that Japan’s largest organised crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, has decided to turn around its tough-nut image and reputation for gang murders in favour of something altogether more approachable. And how do they intend to do this? With a promotional website, a corporate song and a series of videos showing gang members clearing litter and engaging in all manner of friendly cultural activities (like pounding rice cakes).

Unlike the Mafia, the Yakuza are a legal organisation in Japan, tolerated by authorities and permitted to conduct their business relatively unhindered. But their popularity is reportedly in decline, with membership dropping to its lowest ever level and their public image on the wane.

So this wholesale corporate rebrand seems a timely attempt to win back the public’s favour, with a strong anti-drugs message, a comprehensive online presence and a winning set of corporate films to match. But is it that simple? Can the Yamaguchi-gumi do a Llloyds and change their public perception overnight with a 90s-style site full of dubious film footage? Very probably, though we’d recommend they get in touch with a proper brand consultancy first. That logo needs an update for sure.