The Nippon Foundation welfare vehicles recently got a new look and will soon be distributed to successful applicants later in 2013. The design was created by the global fashion brand, United Colors of Benetton. The rather unusual alliance between a welfare foundation and apparel firm was the outgrowth of a plan by young staffers at the foundation to get the word out about the welfare vehicles and the role they play in improving welfare services and facilities in Japan.
Eager Young Staffers Spark an Unlikely Collaboration
On April 26, 2013, the new design was unveiled at a press conference at the Nippon Foundation’s headquarters in Tokyo attended by around 50 journalists. The new, seven-colored logo took those present at the ceremony by surprise.
The foundation’s original green logo had been used for many years, becoming a familiar sight on Japanese roads. What was behind the decision to change that well-known symbol mark? According to those involved in the project from Benetton Japan Co. and the Nippon Foundation, the main reason for the new design was to make a wider range of people aware of the services available.
In May 2012, Takayasu Udagawa, a young member of the Nippon Foundation’s public relations team sounded Benetton out on the idea of a collaboration, as he explains: “The Nippon Foundation welfare vehicles are a common sight on the road, with more than 30,000 in operation. We thought they could be used to carry a message in addition to transporting people. Benetton has a reputation as a company that has tackled social problems globally through compelling visual images. Though I didn’t know anybody at the company, I looked up its representative phone number, made a call, and asked for their cooperation.”
Udagawa’s call was taken by Hiroomi Inoue at Benetton Japan’s communication division.
“At first I figured it was a request for a donation, because we get asked to help out with social and welfare projects all the time. I was going to turn him down, but when I heard about the foundation’s work in seeking solutions to social issues and creating a new design to change the way people think, I was sold on the idea. The Benetton group has a communications research center called Fabrica, which among other things handles the creation of our social-issues ads. We decided to ask the team to come up with a design, which we would provide free of charge.
Supporting Welfare Organizations, Sustaining Smiles
The Benetton group has conducted global-scale campaigns to fight AIDS, end discrimination, and address other issues, but this was the first time for Benetton Japan to undertake an initiative in Japan. “The executives at our Italian headquarters and Fabrica’s designers took up the cause with enthusiasm,” Inoue explains. “We’re happy to have contributed to the new design. And we have also benefited from the experience of teaming up with the Nippon Foundation on our first philanthropic project in Japan.”
Udagawa and other young staffers at the Nippon Foundation, meanwhile, say the collaboration turned out to be a good chance to rethink the meaning of the welfare vehicles.
“The welfare vehicle donation program goes back a number of years and is one of the projects that all of us at the foundation know about and are proud of,” Udagawa notes. “When I first got in touch with Benetton Japan and described the program, I was forced to put into words ideas I normally don’t give much thought to. It was an opportunity for me to rethink the program. In particular, I realized that even though most Japanese have seen one of the 30,000 or so welfare vehicles on the roads today, there are still many who don’t know what they’re used for, exactly. We decided that our main goal should be to draw attention to the activities of the welfare organizations and clarify how we are supporting them to help bring smiles to the faces of those benefiting from the services. In the process of working on the new design, we made many new discoveries about various other facets of our public relations.”
In June, applications began to be accepted in Japan for the new welfare vehicles made in collaboration with Benetton. Inoue and other Benetton Japan staff look forward to seeing the impact of the vehicles on the road. “Naturally, we want the people riding in the vehicles to like the design,” Inoue explains, “but we’d also be very pleased if members of the public who don’t know about them take notice and try to find out what these eye-catching vehicles are all about.”
Photographs by Kei Kodera; photograph for the article series by Hisayoshi Osawa.