TOKYO: Brands operating in Japan are having to recognise how consumer values and behaviour have changed in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, with greater openness and increased use of smartphones and social media evident.

Masashi Kawamura, founder of the Party agency, noted how the outlook of the marketing community had changed. "Brands are trying to tap into a form of social goodness," he told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

The sentiments were echoed by Phil Rubel of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon, who observed that "astute brands are trying to become more integral, more of a facilitator in people's lives".

As an example of this, he cited the practice of running shoe companies providing shower and changing room facilities at a popular running location. "That's a much better way to integrate themselves into people's lives than simply showcasing footwear at a one-off event," he suggested.

In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, people turned to Twitter and Facebook in the search for information which they were unable to get from television or by phone, and this trend has subsequently continued.

Japanese reticence about making personal information available in the public sphere had held back sites like Facebook, but since the earthquake the number of accounts has risen sixfold, while Line, an instant messaging application, has gained 100m users in 18 months and in April 2013 was one of the top five revenue-generating apps globally in Google Play.

"The beauty of social media is that it's proactive, as opposed to websites, which are becoming more like catalogues or brand communication tools, said Kaz Maezawa, founder of the Naked Communications agency.

In reference to a recent campaign he was involved with he explained that consumers had been encouraged to post information about themselves.

"What brands are trying to do is engage," he explained, while warning against becoming too pushy. "They [brands] have to balance between what they want to say and listening to the customers."

An increasing amount of this engagement is taking place via smartphones, use of which has risen sharply.

"Up until the disaster the phone wasn't used for web browsing, it was used to make payments or watch TV," said Antony Cundy, business and strategy director at Beacon Leo Burnett in Tokyo.

"The smartphone penetration through 2012 has been astonishing," he added. "Now you can't have a campaign without a mobile element to it in Japan."

Data sourced from Campaign Asia-Pacific; additional content by Warc staff