Pocky vs Pepero and the battle for November 11th: Japan and South Korea.
In 1963 Osaka’s Eizaki Glico Confections Company (known at the time for its caramel candies) released “Pretz,” a butter-flavored pretzel stick-like snack. Three years later, they released a sweet version of Pretz called “Pocky,” a chocolate coated biscuit stick. The name “Pocky” was chosen for its similarity to the Japanese onomatopoeia “pokkin” which expresses long stick-like objects breaking or the sound Pocky makes when it’s eaten.
Pretz would evolve to be sold in a variety of flavors like pizza, salad, and sweet corn, and Pocky would eventually come in almond, strawberry, green tea and many more flavors - enough in fact to rival Japanese Kitkats. While both Pocky and Pretz grew to be popular in Japan and around the world, Glico “overlooked” the South Korean market.
That allowed the South Korean confectionary company Lotte to “develop” their own version of Pocky, the functionally identical “Pepero” in 1983. Glico considered bringing Lotte to court for trademark infringement, but Pocky’s not being on sale in South Korea (it didn’t go on sale there until 2013) permitted Lotte to defend “Pepero” as a product developed on its own without any inspiration from Pocky.
Around 1994, November 11th emerged as “Pepero Day” in South Korea. There are a number of stories about the origins of Pepero Day, but the most popular holds that two junior high school girls exchanged Pepero on November 11th in 1983 as a wish that they would both grow tall and thin like the Pepero. The 11/11 of November 11th was chosen as the date because of the figure 1’s resemblance to the Pepero.
From there Pepero Day evolved into a second Valentine’s Day in South Korea with people exchanging Pepero to show their affection for one another. Lotte cheered the holiday on and marketed to it. In 2009 Lotte reported that up to 65% of their 2008 Pepero sales occurred in the run up to Pepero Day, including the day itself. By 2012 Lotte was earning 50% of its yearly revenue from Pepero products.
Outraged that their seemingly copycat rival was making such huge windfalls, Glico decided to introduce “Pocky & Pretz Day" to Japan in 1999. The year 1999 happened to be the 11th year that the then Emperor (Akihito) had been sitting on the throne, giving November 11th of 1999 an auspicious air of extra “1’s” and in Glico’s eyes, a fabulous marketing opportunity.
Glico has continued to market November 11th as Pocky Day every year since.
It has even gotten the holiday registered as a “memorial day” with the Japan Anniversary Association. In 2012 Glico rallied its fans to help it set the Guinness World Record for “Most mentions of a brand name on Twitter in a 24 hour period.” They set the record by garnering 1,843,7334 mentions that year and broke it the following year with 3,710,0445 mentions.
Glico has also launched rockets, set up live streaming concerts and live concerts, and in 2013, sent Pocky to infiltrate the South Korea and promote Pocky Day there. On Pocky Day people in Japan eat, exchange and decorate Pocky, and play silly games like Jenga and the Pocky Kiss Game - picture the scene in Lady and the Tramp when both characters are eating the same spaghetti noodle.
Japan’s Pocky Day has not yet achieved the same level of success that Pepero Day has in South Korea, but if Glico keeps its ad campaigns up it’s only a matter of time before it does. The 2016 campaign was a world wide affair that lasted from November 2nd until January 31st and featured localized dedicated webpages, product tours, live streaming and live concerts and more.