Tom Graus, London
Japanese products are synonymous with quality among Arabs, a recent poll by Arab News and YouGov has found.
The poll asked residents across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to rank Japan, China, South Korea and the US in terms of the quality of products they produce.
Among Arabs 71 percent listed Japan first, with the US, South Korea and China ranked second, third and fourth, respectively.
In many ways, the result is unsurprising. Japan and its products are highly regarded in the region, with many Arabs having a positive view of the country and its people. When asked by the same poll to list the attributes they most associate with Japanese people, a large majority of respondents selected “hardworking,” “organized” and “punctual.”
The poll found that the most recognizable Japanese brand among residents of the MENA region is Sony, with 60 percent of respondents correctly identifying it as Japanese. The figure was notably high among those aged over 40, of whom 78 percent recognized Sony as a Japanese company.
According to the poll’s findings, the second most recognizable Japanese brand among Arabs is the retail company Muji, which 32 percent of respondents identified as Japanese. Muji was especially recognized among women and younger people, with 40 percent of women selecting it as Japanese compared with only 28 percent of men.
If Muji’s high level of recognition as a Japanese brand is notable, especially in comparison to Nintendo, which only 19 percent of respondents recognized as Japanese, it is not exactly surprising. In recent years, “fast fashion” companies such as Muji and Uniqlo, which was not listed in the poll, have become one of Japan’s most successful and fastest-growing exports. In February 2015, there were three Muji stores in the UAE. Today, there are seven.
The strong reputation of such brands and their clear identification as Japanese among Arab consumers no doubt contributes to Japanese products’ reputation for quality in the Middle East.
Uniqlo is one of the only clothes retailers in YouGov’s 2019 Global Brand Health Index
Top 20, which tracks brand perception across a range of metrics.
The poll also found that Arab consumers have positive misconceptions about the quality of Japanese products. A substantial number of respondents — 22 percent and 24 percent, respectively — mistakenly identified the South Korean brands Samsung and LG as Japanese.
Such mistakes are interesting because they show the extent to which Japanese products have become synonymous with quality products in the eyes of Middle Eastern consumers.
Samsung and LG are both seen as high-quality brands in the region — Samsung is placed third on YouGov’s UAE 2019 Brand Index, and both brands are in the 2019 Global Brand Health Index Top 20, with Samsung ranked fourth, higher than any Japanese brand.
Given that Arabs rank Japan first in terms of the quality of its products, and South Korea third, it is tempting to conclude that many Arabs perceive Samsung and LG to be Japanese rather than South Korean simply because the associations with quality are so much higher for the former country.