Shampoo advertising in Japan typically featured glamorous blondes praising imports from Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever.
But ads for Tsubaki, the latest hit from local cosmetics maker Shiseido Co, feature famous Japanese women and an unusually direct slogan: "Japanese women are beautiful."
The message has struck a chord at a time when Japanese women are increasingly looking to role models in their own ranks, rather than stars from abroad, for definitions of their self worth. Advertisers are beginning to recognize that.
"Japanese women are starting to have confidence in themselves," says Yoko Kawashima of marketing company Itochu Fashion System Co.
For decades, beauty standards in Japan were dictated by the West, home to famous fashion houses like Christian Dior and Gucci, which remain extremely popular in Asia.
But now, young people are taking a different cue from Westerners and rediscovering sushi, manga animation, kimono and other elements of Japanese culture, said Kawashima, who has written a book about the success of Shiseido's branding strategy.
"Westerners are saying Japan is cool, and that view is winning acceptance in a kind of reverse import," she said. "Shiseido's advertising didn't even talk about the shampoo's features. Its message, that Japanese women on the go are beautiful, was more about a feeling."
Tsubaki emerged No. 1 in shampoo sale rankings by the business daily Nikkei Shimbun, a victory for the Tokyo-based company used to trailing Unilever, P&G and Japanese rival Kao Corp. The shampoo has chalked up ?18 billion (US$155 million) in sales of 43 million bottles during its first year.
Shiseido pumped ?5 billion into marketing and hired an array of Japanese faces to push Tsubaki. TV, magazine and billboard ads, feature models, actresses and a figure skater. It hired a popular vocal group to perform an original song, singing the praises of Japanese women; the song became a hit.
"Our message really appealed to Japanese women, who are starting to awaken to a sense of self-confidence," said Hiroyuki Ishikawa, who oversees hair care at Shiseido. "Up to now, Japanese women haven't generally been chosen as global symbols of beauty."
Shiseido's campaign also introduced brand loyalty, which in Japan hasn't been linked to commodity products such as shampoo and detergent, said Kazuo Ikegami, business administration professor at Rissho University in Tokyo.
"Shiseido has totally changed the shampoo market," Ikegami said. "Tsubaki has become more like a Louis Vuitton bag."
The Tsubaki story reflects broader societal changes in Japan, and some say future marketing will choose images that are even closer to home.
Kaori Sasaki, who heads a communication consulting firm, said Japanese businesses long viewed female consumers in three oversimplified categories -- the housewife, office worker and schoolgirl.
But that formula is rapidly growing obsolete as more women pursue ambitious careers and more mothers join the work force, she said.
"Marketing is changing to reflect a changing lifestyle," Sasaki said. She noted a recent TV commercial for detergent that depicts a man doing the wash -- something once virtually unthinkable in male-dominated Japan.
Other shampoo makers are following suit. Departing from past marketing featuring Western beauties, P&G hired a Japanese actress to introduce H&S, a new shampoo developed for Japan, based on Head & Shoulders, which goes on sale on Saturday.