Last year, Kit Kat introduced special pumpkin cheesecake flavor for Halloween. Although I liked it quite a bit, I was a little confused as to why the package described pumpkin cheesecake as a “traditional Halloween food.” This year, Kit Kat opted for a new limited-time Halloween flavor, Pumpkin Pudding (パンプキンプリン).
The 2012 Kit Kats have a costume party theme. The front of the packaging reads, “White Kit Kats disguised with cocoa! Devil Pumpkin Pudding Flavor.” The back elaborates,
Let’s costume party! [Literally “Let’s 仮装パーティー！”] The Devil Pumpkin Pudding flavor is disguised with cocoa.
These Kit Kats used to be white pumpkin pudding but have been disguised with dark cocoa paste! The outside is black and devilish, but they’re not bitter! The sweet and mellow pumpkin flavor melts in the mouth. Enjoy these disguised pumpkin pudding Kit Kats!
This flavor features pumpkin powder in the creme filling between the wafers and a coating of pumpkin-flavored chocolate and cocoa paste. The flavor is reminiscent of pumpkin spice but with more of a chocolate than a caramel or cinnamon overtone. Two thumbs up there.
The wrappers and bag have images of children in costume: a vampire, a mummy, a fairy, a witch, a werewolf, a ghost, and a devil. Visual anthropologists, please note that the children are all light-skinned and brown-haired (likely “Japanese by default”) and that the children are gendered: two girls appear in cute costumes with skirts (cute witch, fairy) and long hairstyles; the three short-haired-therefore-boys are all in pants, wear scary costumes of classic cinematic/literary monsters, including a vampire, werewolf, and devil. There are also two trick-or-treaters, a ghost and a mummy, who are gender neutral.
What I find particularly interesting is the gendered positioning of the girls’ vs. boys’ (+neutral) stances. While the boy monsters are active–laughing, pointing, jumping, popping out– the girls are posing, off-balance, demonstrating the body canting that Goffman argues “leave women in a position where they seem utterly defenseless and, in this way, can be read as both an expression and acceptance of subordination, of ingratiation, submissiveness, and appeasement.” (You can watch/read more about this in Codes of Gender, which you can [legally] watch for free here.)
I bet you thought I wouldn’t get into gender studies on this post. I didn’t either when I started. See just how pervasive it is?
Moving on to the rest of the packaging, the front of the bag probably has the best images: a ghost painting chocolate onto the wafer and a jack-o-lantern face in the chocolate being poured onto the pudding. I should note here that this is Japanese custard pudding, purin, not the JELLO pudding cup type.
Regarding the text and images, since Halloween is not a holiday native to Japan and is a relatively recent import, a lot of Halloween-themed items contain visual or verbal cues about how to celebrate the holiday. Here we see that Halloween is geared toward children through the inclusion of images of children; we also see that dressing in costumes (仮装) of Western monsters/creatures (and a fairy that frankly looks like my idea of the Tooth Fairy) is part of the celebration. The Kit Kat, we are reminded multiple times, is also in costume. Yet there is no text about the origins of the holiday in Europe or in the US/Canada, no details on the religious or cultural significance, and no actual explanation of Trick or Treating, though the side panels read “Trick or Treat” in English.
This lack of explanation may indicate that the consumer is meant to know what Halloween is already. As a few of you mentioned in the comments on the Starbucks post, Halloween is taught as part of Japanese ESL courses in primary and secondary school despite the fact that a sizable portion of Japan’s English teachers come from parts of the world that do not celebrate (American/Canadian-style) Halloween. Because of compulsory ESL education from 5th grade on, today’s children are more likely than their parents and grandparents to know what Halloween is. By choosing the images of costumes that children would recognize from Halloween lessons and from international club/festival activities, Nestle seems to be targeting them.* In contrast, the packaging of the pumpkin cheesecake Kit Kats from 2011 also assumed the consumer knows what Halloween is but only indicated that it had something to do with pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. The current packaging seems a lot more culture-savvy and engaging, even if it leaves some adults baffled.
*Conversely, one could argue that Kit Kat’s regional flavors target teens and adults shopping for omiyage.