From a marketer’s point of view, that’s a lot of potential consumers. How to grab their attention and keep it? The first wave of Japanese corporate Twitter accounts to play with the medium mostly chatted a bit aimlessly and offered Twitter-only discounts. Many of the accounts replied automatically to messages about the company’s product or shop that were posted in the common format “I’m at FamilyMart/eating udon/drinking coffee now.”
And new moms who had the presence of mind to get on Twitter and announce their delivery on the microblogging site are rewarded not only with a bunch of 140-character congratulations, but with an iPhone app, too. BabyBlog will send a free copy of its photo cataloging app to the first 100 parents each month to tweet 「出産なう！」(shussan nau), Japanese Twitter-speak for “I’m delivering a baby now.”
And hope the iPhone is still nearby when the tweets become a repeated string of “the baby is crying now.” Not surprisingly, some of the top-ranking paid apps in the “medical” section of Japan’s iPhone App store are baby soothers, including Stop Cry Baby Sound, Baby Smile and Baby Sleep.
Getting out of the house might be a welcome idea when the bundle of joy gets a little bigger. The women’s division of Japanese web portal Excite launched a mobile “Mama support” site this week with an “Out with Mama” directory. It lists “mom-oriented” details for about 20,000 entertainment, shopping and health-care venues around the Kanto and Kansai areas where babies are welcome, including vital data like whether there are places to nurse and if strollers can be wheeled in. The site, in Japanese only, is available on on the three main cell phone carriers, and unlimited access costs ¥210 a month.
Could any of these be the elusive population-boosting incentive the graying country’s been waiting for?
Finally, if the kid’s going to cry anyway, might as well make a sport of it. People have been getting a kick out of Asakusa’s relatively new take on the centuries-old tradition of nakizumou, a contest in which young sumo wrestlers compete to see who can make a baby cry the loudest. It’s all for the greater good – the tradition apparently comes from the old proverb “A crying baby grows up strong,” so it’s good luck if your kid cries.
We all know that dogs are more sociable than cats, but recently, our furry friends have taken that to a whole new level by utilizing social networking tools on the Web. Twitter and Mixi are already popular with dog owners keen to share info aobut their pet pooches but, even better, this month saw the launch of the cell phone version of Fur Peace, a Twitter-like site that allows owners to write messages about their days with the doggies. As it’s now available for smart phones, owners don’t have to be tied to their PCs to post and upload messages while they’re out on walkies.
Fur Peace, which was developed by students at Waseda University and launched in February, has stolen the march on doggie-microblogging from Twitter with the addition of canine-friendly extras. Unlike Twitter, pictures can be displayed alongside posts and users can engage in short conversations if they feel like it, upping the awwww factor immensely: “The dandelions are blooming,” barks one dog, accompanied by a picture of said hound with his snout in a patch of dandelions. In addition to uploading cute pictures, owners can use the Fur Peace matchmaking service to arrange amorous assignations for their pedigree hounds.
At the moment, most owners render their dogs barks into intelligible messages, such as: “This is a great place. There’s a river. Perhaps I’ll go for a swim, woof!” But, according to Asiajin, from the summer, owners of iPhones will be able to deliver messages straight from their dog’s mouth with the use of a simultaneous translation app. Bowlingual Voice, which analyzes barks and turns them into written messages such as “lets play,” is available in portable form from Takara Tomy, so some users of Fur Peace, who already have the gadget, may well be already writing in the first person. However, the iPhone app will be designed to allow users to upload messages directly onto Twitter and who knows, perhaps even to Fur Peace too.
While it’s not immediately apparent, the video above is a commercial for Fur Peace and aims to show how the service can strengthen the bond between owner and beloved hound. I love the owner’s final words of love to her dogs, who are cleverly named Obama and Hato (clearly an abbreviated Hatoyama): “Obama and Hato, if you pee, you won’t get any dinner.”
Looking for a bargain on past-life regression or new crystals for your fingernails? Savings could be just a hashtag away. A mashup of the Japanese pronunciation of Twitter and the word for discount gives tsui-wari, anglicized to “twiwari.”
Searching #twiwari on a Twitter page or visiting twiwari.jp is like walking down a restaurant-packed street near a train station in any city in Japan on a Friday night: a non-stop stream of offers for all-you-can eat izekaya, half-price beers or a free dish of nuts to go with a happy hour cocktail.
Places that don’t usually post touts on the streets in sandwich boards are also getting in on the online action. Neighborhood businesses all across Japan are putting up offers on Twitter for services ranging from hair straightening in Hokkaido to pre-summer air conditioner cleaning in Kyushu.
For most of them, getting the discount is as simple as saying “I saw it on Twitter.” Say those magic words to the manager at Higonoya Yakitori, and get an entire ¥2380 bottle of shochu.
Steak House Texas ran a (rather complicated) one-day special where lunch customers could get free extra burgers depending on the number of followers they had. Too much math? They’ve since simplified to a free pint of beer or an extra 100-gram helping of meat to grill.
Dozens of national dry-cleaning chains have joined forces on Twitter to offer a 20% discount for the entire month of April. The name of the promotion – koromogae nau – is pure J-Twitterese, combining an old word for changing one’s wardrobe from one season to another with a snippet of Twitter-only slang that signals what the writer is “doing now.” But in a low-tech twist, the offer is claimed by printing out the coupon and filling it out by hand.
Big Bang: Big in South Korea, yes, but they want a bigger bang
In Japan, the mainstream music industry, and Johnny’s Jimusho in particular, is infamous for unyielding, top-down control of its artists, most notably how and where their images are displayed. Naturally, the explosion of fan Web sites, blogs and social networking sites has threatened to erode that control. In many cases, the industry’s response is to flex its muscles even more. Johnny’s has long forbidden digital photos of their pop idols to be uploaded to even major media sites. We’re talking about official photos that promote a movie or TV show in which the agency’s artist stars.
This set-up works in Japan because, as a rule, the media is beholden to the big talent agencies and labels. But what if, one day, Johnnys’ decides to sell its boy bands to a global market – could it keep the overseas media on a similarly tight leash? When that day comes, the agency would do well to study the track record of Big Bang, a South Korean hip-hop boy-band sensation that has obviously figured out a way to make the series of tubes work to its advantage.
Formed in 2006, Big Bang is determined to milk the Web for all it is worth in its aggressive attempts to market the band’s brand beyond South Korea. While the band has the requisite official sites in both Korean and Japanese, several of the band members have me2day pages where they post tweet-like messages in Korean with attached pictures and video. The band also has an extremely open attitude when it comes to fan sites. Fans around the world run a cavalcadeofsites devoted to the band and gather on “VIP” (the self-applied name for Big Bang fans) forums whose theme is to promote friendly fandom and prevent “claim wars.” A Tokyo-based fan group named Team.Bigbang has made the band particularly visible via a Twitter account, Flickr account, Facebook page and Blogspot blog. These sites and forums traffic in high-quality photos, snapshots of the band from what appear to be personal mobile phones and even bootleg concert video filmed by fans.
Setting the bar (geddit?) even lower for cheap spaces to drink and/or enjoy a quiet cigarette in was this new establishment spotted in Koenji last weekend. Japan Pulse already blogged about standing bars that are offering cheap drinks and no table charge in exchange for enjoying your brew in a no-frills environment. But this place takes that frugal concept even further by doubling as a refuge for beleaguered smokers who can enjoy a ciggie in a quiet atmosphere for only the price of a can of vending-machine coffee.
Alcoholic drinks, which can be bought from a hole in the wall, cost a mere ¥300, while soft drinks can be bought for about ¥130 from a bank of machines lining one wall. The bar, doesn’t have a name (such luxuries as signage were probably seen as frivolous), but it does have wide screen TVs showing sports programs to its penny pinching patrons.
For those who want to further strip away the cost of a night out on the tiles, you might want to set up a Skype nomikai with your friends. That’s right; in the digital age drinking at home alone is no longer considered sad. Plus, you’re economizing even more on travel costs when you don’t have to pay to reach a drinking venue. J-Cast reports that this trend is booming and it’s not just Skype that’s being utilized. Twitter users in Japan are using the hashtags #wanabeer and #twinomi to group together and chat while boozing, be they at home or in a real bar.
Naturally, much of that is the usual chitchat and link-sharing, but Japanese corporations and organizations are playing with the potential for word-of-mouth exposure, PR and retail growth. For smaller companies, Twitter allows them to bypass traditional channels and hawk their wares directly to consumers. The majors are using the micoblogging format to widen their reach and project a friendlier, more casual image.
Many are taking tsubuyaku, the Japanese verb of choice for tweeting, rather literally. The word means mutter or murmer, and that is just what many seem to be doing, often to tens of thousands of followers. While some big-name retailers, such as Muji, are announcing Twitter-only sales, others seem to be aiming simply to foster camaraderie and boost engagement through the so-called “casual tweet.” Udon chain Katokichi sends out personalized replies to messages about the noodle dish. Hamburger chain Mos Burger has about 30,000 followers on Twitter, but with a large portion of its posts commenting on the weather and the time of day, it’s not exactly pushing the hard sell. Tsutaya predictably sends followers movie recommendations, but mixes those with chatter and quickie film quizzes, like “What was the name of the Jedi weapon in the Star Wars movies?” Some restaurants, like are giving discounts to customers who tweet about their meal there on a sliding scale based on the number of followers the tweeter has.
Google has certainly been at the forefront. Their “Translate this page” links are now built into Japanese search results, and the dedicated Translate application has made huge strides in turning select phrases, web pages and PDF documents into your preferred tongue. Google Reader has opened the blogosphere even further with the option to change RSS feeds into English or other languages. Twitter, the year’s other web darling, continues to grow in popularity here, and the Tweetie iPhone application‘s translate function is helping more non-Japanese speakers to keep better track of the country’s 140-character community.