Archive for June, 2011

A cocktail of AR and social marketing

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Chivas Regal scotch is making a stir with a promotion campaign that harnesses the power of augmented reality. The campaign, which claims to be the first of its of its kind in Japan, is rather unfortunately named Aroma of Tokyo — not really the association you want to make in these sweaty days of extreme heat and power-saving measures.

Nevertheless, the concept is simple and clever: Users, while out and about in Tokyo, collect points via their cell phone that can then be exchanged for a free cocktail or gift. To take part, participants must first download AR app Layar to their cell phones. The app, which is compatible with GPS-equipped cell phones, then directs a user to one of several locations where points can be obtained. Once at a location you need to check in using Foursquare or Livedoor’s social networking service Rocket Touch to obtain points. After you’ve collected 18 points, you receive a coupon for a free cocktail at one of 18 bars around the city. The Chivas Regal cocktails, which are said to be worth ¥2,000 each, have been specially created by top Tokyo bartenders.

If you manage to collect 85 points, you’ll receive free Chivas Regal branded gifts: either a moleskin wallet or a USB stick. Those who check in with Rocket Touch get entered into a weekly lottery for which the prize is a 700 ml bottle of Chivas Regal.

Though the AR element is not particularly elegant, merely consisting of a blue dot superimposed on your cell phone screen that guides the user through Tokyo’s streets, we think it’s nevertheless a clever marketing gimmick. Utilizing new technology is bound to attract a younger crowd, making them aware of the brand. The number 18 (18 points for a cocktail, 18 participating bars) also underlines the message that this is to promote Chivas 18. It’s also a win-win for Chivas because it drives customers to  bar/clients that stock the alcohol.

In many ways the campaign resembles Facebook’s new “Check-In Coupon” service, with which users can obtain coupons depending on their physical location, with the added, yet rather basic, AR element.

 

Fashion goes sensible in postquake Japan

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Tokyo’s luxurious department stores are seeing a new trend toward sober women’s fashion this summer as a direct consequence of the earthquake on March 11. Comfortable trousers, sensible shoes and muted colors are the order of the day, according to J-Cast, who polled the city’s department stores on sales figures since the quake.

If the shoe fits the occasion ...

If the shoe fits the occasion ...

It’s estimated that about 3 million people had to trudge home on the day of the quake when the city’s transport network came to a virtual standstill. Among them, we remember seeing a huge number of OL (office ladies) painfully making their way home in heels. That memory has stayed with women, many of whom are opting to buy ballet flats and low heels (not sports shoes but shoes that can be worn to the office or out on a date). In Matsuya Department Store in Chuo Ward and Ginza, for example, after mid-March sales of ballet flats shot up 50 percent.  A large department store in Shinjuku also reported a 50 percent increase in sales of walking shoes.

Sales of summer trousers for the misses demographic (women in their 30s to 40s) at Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihonbashi are up 6 percent. “Many customers say that ‘If something happens, I want to be wearing clothes in which I’m free to move in.’ We’re seeing that trend continue,” a sales manager at Mitsukoshi told J-Cast. In Ginza’s well-established department stores, some stores are reporting a 10 percent rise in sales of women’s trousers.

Color schemes are also dampened. This year’s hot colors were expected to be red and orange in line with global trends, but a sales manager at a Ginza department store reports that white, beige and light blue are being favored over bold colors as are natural fabrics like cotton and linen.

Along with casual Super Cool Biz trends, we can expect to see a much more sober style adopted by women this summer as they tackle the psychological effects and practical concerns of a postquake world.

Sassor’s ELP shines a light on energy consumption

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Sassor's ELP module and receiver

Though we’re all doing our best right now to cut down on power consumption, by turning off unnecessary lighting and keeping the air conditioner temperature down low (if it’s on at all), when it comes to finding out just how much energy we’re actually saving, most of us are in the dark. But a new device and app called the Energy Literacy Platform (ELP), developed by startup company Sassor, can shed some light on our personal energy consumption.

Info on domestic power usage can be tracked via iPhone

The ELP, which is on limited release to homes in and around Tokyo this summer, was found to assist in cutting domestic energy consumption by as much as 25 percent in a recent trial run on the NHK morning show “Asaichi.” The ELP package consists of modules that are plugged in between your electric sockets and appliances, a main ELP receiver and software for your computer and iPhone. The modules collect information on power consumption and then send them via wireless signal to the receiver, which then forwards the info to the company’s server. Users can then check their power consumption on their PC or iPhone.

Though devices like Google’s “Powermeter” already allow users to monitor domestic power consumption, Sassor’s system allows users to identify devices, such as hairdryers or kettles, that are causing a huge drain on the power grid. If you’re checking on devices from your iPhone, you can even turn them off remotely via the ELP website. The information is displayed in graph and pie chart form, so you can easily get a handle on your power consumption habits. The app will calculate how much you’re spending on electricity and it’s also possible to compare and contrast your power usage online with friends.

While this sounds great, the device is yet to be mass-produced (only 100 sets are going out), so unfortunately, it won’t realistically be till winter that most people can get their hands on them. The pilot scheme version is called ELP Lite and you won’t be able to monitor more than five appliances with this slimmed-down package, which costs ¥41,500 for the year (or ¥19,500, if you only get one module). The current modules are also rather bulky, a big problem if you’ve got a lot of devices to monitor. However, Sassor are developing a prototype module that fits snugly over a plug socket.

Sassor is the brainchild of CEO Shuichi Ishibashi and COO Takayuki Miyauchi, who submitted their first prototype to the British Council E-idea competition. Now big business is understandably interested, according to Nikkei Trendy, and the company have received capital to get things rolling from Samurai Incubate.

 

Is Facebook’s ‘Check-in Coupon’ a good deal in Japan?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Japan recently became the first country in Asia to get a local version of Facebook Deals, called “Check-in Coupon” here, and Facebook announced the move with an event in Shibuya. (No one who covered the outdoor event could resist giggling at the irony of the local PR staff asking  the audience not to take or share pictures.)

Check in for chicken

The location-based coupons work the same here as in other cities where the service has been implemented. On a smartphone running the Facebook app, the Places feature shows nearby sports where the users can “check in” (i.e., announce to Facebook friends where they are). Shops offering coupons have a yellow icon next to the name. Click on a place with a coupon, and the coupon details appear. If you click again on the shop’s details to check in, you will simultaneously get the coupon displayed on your screen (which you can later show at the register to get your discount) and send a message alerting all your Facebook friends about the coupon. The idea is that it’s a win-win-win: You’ve saved money, the store has gotten a little advertising, and all your friends can congratulate you on your savvy shopping.

That last bit could be where it gets tricky. How many of your coupon acquisitions will your friends comment on before they get annoyed and hide your activity or even defriend you? While anonymous group buying through PomPare and Groupon have proven popular in Japan (though not without great big stumbles), will the Japanese preference for online privacy thwart the extroversion on which the check-in coupon thrives? Of the initial deals offered by the roll-out partners, none is anything we’d risk alienating friends for.

Continue reading about Facebook's Check-in Coupons →

A new flying eye in the sky

Friday, June 17th, 2011

This spherical remote surveillance tool, recently shown on TV Tokyo, has been getting a lot of attention on the web, as fan boys swoon over its futuristic design.“Wow, this spy plane blows my mind. It looks like something from a manga,” comments a user on 2Chan News.

Developed by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, the sphere is reportedly about the size of a soccer ball (though, in the video it appears to be be a bit bigger than that). It can enter through windows, go up stairs, turn sharp corners and reach speeds of up to 60 kph. Landings are easy: It simply rolls over to cushion its own fall.

A video camera can easily be mounted on the device and the self-defense force envisions that it will be used for surveillance by police in situations where they are unable to enter a building. Police in other parts of the world have already started experimenting with aerial surveillance tools, but this is said to be the world’s first spherical design.

A rotary blade powers the flight and the presenter mentions at the end of the video that almost all the parts for it can be bought at Akihabara for ¥110,000. The man operating it says it’s easy to control by remote, but they’re now developing an auto-pilot function.

Another anonymous fanboy on 2Chan explaimed: “This 100 times more amazing than anything I could dream up.” What do you think?

Uniforms flying economy class

Friday, June 17th, 2011

The news that the uniform for budget airline Peach will be trousers for both women and men must have struck fear into the hearts of uniform fetishists and aficionados across Japan. While stewardess uniforms continue to play a big role in the realm of fantasy, the era of daring designs could be said to be in decline.

For our money the heyday of the flight attendant uniform was in the ’60s and ’70s when hemlines were high and designs were wild. Check out these galleries of ANA and JAL uniforms to see what we mean.  Those companies’ current designs now reflect little of their former pizzazz. The only real flair on either of these outfits is the rather ridiculous bow that staff wear around their necks, while the rest consists of a figure-hugging, but ultimately rather frumpy, dark ladies’ business suit. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the “Illustrated Book of Stewardess Uniforms,” showing airline hostess uniforms from around the world, is now out of print.

Despite the frumpy designs, fetishists are still hot for these uniforms as evinced when JAL declared bankruptcy last year and news outlets reported that uniforms were being sold on the black market to sex clubs, such as Osaka’s Air Touch, at high prices. Not wanting to sully the reputation of their uniform, JAL tried their best to prevent them from reaching such establishments.

Books aimed at the “air hostess” fetish (often incorporating the elevator girl uniform fetish) are popular, but the  sexed-up uniforms they feature are strictly fictional. Fictional too are the uniforms worn by pop princesses Perfume in the ad campaign they did for Pino ice cream a couple of years ago.

Maybe Peach is flying in the right direction, but fans of retro chic are most likely hoping that Japan’s airlines will follow the lead of  Korean Air, who once employed Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre to create this spiffy number, which has an incredible sky blue scarf that resembles a plane’s propeller.

How green is your balcony?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

A Tokyo florist sells goya, morning glories and more, perfect for your veranda's "green curtain."

Sloping canopies of lush green leaves are slowly spreading their tendrils across Japan as a campaign to encourage homeowners to cultivate midori no ka-ten (green curtains) gathers pace. Though the Midori no Ka-ten NPO was founded back in December 2006, the energy crisis has encouraged a sudden growth spurt.

Midori no Ka-ten's website shows you how to plant a bitter melon green curtain on your veranda

The idea, which dates back to the Edo Period, is simple: Simply plant goya (bitter melon) or Japanese morning glory seeds in pots on your balcony, then train them up a net to form a natural green shade that significantly cuts down on the amount of heat entering the building. With a green curtain on the veranda, you’ll be a lot less likely to turn on the air con.

A quick search of Twitter revealed a number of tweeters enthusiastic about the campaign. @you_like_beer comments, “Goya is not only a green curtain but you can also eat (it) … wonderful.” The bitter tasting goya, a key ingredient in the Okinawan dish goya chanpuru, is not exactly to everyone’s taste, but it seems to be the favorite of the green curtain options.

Local governments are lending their support, according to Mainichi Shimbun. Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture, for example, is encouraging private citizens to pick up a trowel by distributing goya seeds free to citizens. Midori no Ka-ten are not just targeting private residences with their campaign, they’ve also been encouraging schools and government offices to plant green curtains. This summer Nishiwaki City in Hyogo Prefecture is installing 25 curtains in government offices and schools. The cost of the project is a mere ¥620,000.

The NPO is also lending a hand with the relief effort and is currently planting green curtains at 30,000 temporary housing units in areas hit by the tsunami. (And they’re currently taking donations; check their website for more details).

In addition to the green curtain campaign, there’ve been a few other inspired ideas for bringing some greenery into homes popping up lately, from manga farming to gardening in a book. Hopefully the future will see more and more greenery sprouting up through the urban jungle.

Smartphone support just got smarter

Friday, June 10th, 2011

They're all so smart

In a departure from running single-brand shops, NEC Mobiling has opened an all-carrier, all smart-device store called AND Market Kasumigaseki. The experimental shop hooks up customers with smart phones and contracts from the major carriers, docomo, au by KDDI and SoftBank and EMobile, as well as tablet and notebook PCs. They also have a staff of “smart concierges” who help people choose the right phone, regardless of brand, and help users transition from older to newer devices. They offer paid services such as transferring data or photos and helping people figure out how to load and use apps.

AND Market is the next logical step in the trend of smartphone repair shops. Since the end of last year, stand-alone storefronts and mini-shops inside department stores have done walk-in repairs. For example, Dr. Mobile and sister shop S/MART fix cracked screens and replace batteries at shops in Shinjuku, Akihabara and Fukuoka. A trendy version of S/MART in Shibuya’s Parco department store also has some 2,000 varieties of smartphone covers.

Palette Plaza has also expanded the store’s original business — photo printing — to include a mobile phone dealership. Customers can draw up new contracts or upgrade with any of the major carriers. While some higher-end keitai (non-smart, or “regular” Japanese cellphones) are available, the focus is clearly on smartphones and their accessories. They’ve got a wide variety of cases, from the manly to the bejeweled, for each model and expensive add-ons like phone-docking speaker systems and silicone Bluetooth keyboards that can be rolled up.

Continue reading about smartphone services &arr;

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