Archive for the ‘Clast’ Category

Cucumber Soda and Other Short-Term Flavors

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

At this very moment, the internet is ablaze with curiosity and mockery towards the new Japanese Pepsi flavor for summer Ice Cucumber. Not since Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray has a vegetable-cola concoction captured the imagination of the world. For those assuming that cucumber beverages have a long history in local cuisine, I have to sadly report that this drink sounds equally bizarre to Japanese and non-Japanese alike. But judging from the fact that the soda is almost sold out at our local Sunkus, Pepsi seems to have pulled off a certain level of success with its gasp-inducing product.

The cola giant would not necessarily complain if the Japanese masses suddenly demanded a permanent place for Ice Cucumber in the Pepsi product family, but the birth of this “cucumber-inspired” (not cucumber-flavored) soda has much more to do with short-term tactical retail considerations than attempts at long-term product success.

The high competition for limited shelf space at convenience stores in Japan means that food and beverage manufacturers must produce an ever-changing repertoire of new products to secure retail real estate. In their book Can Japan Compete?, Michael E. Porter, Hirotaka Takeuchi, and Mariko Sakakibara explain:

One of the drivers of…meaningless product proliferation is Japan’s peculiar distribution channels, which expect each company to introduce a fresh lineup of products almost every month to maintain its shelf space allocation (80).

A perfect example of this practice is Nestlé Japan’s KitKat — a product brand that simultaneously sells a rotation of four to five implausible flavors. To win space on the prominent and prestigious “seasonal items” shelf right in front of the cash registers in convenience stores, KitKat produces limited-edition versions like Cherry Blossom in March/April, and currently, Yubari Melon — which fits perfectly into Family Mart’s nationwide “Dosanko” campaign in celebration of Hokkaido. (10 yen from each Yubari Melon Kit Kat purchase goes directly to the famously-bankrupt city of Yubari.) KitKat currently has Orange and Pineapple flavors prominently displayed in the front shelves at 7/11 although I doubt that consumers had been long demanding a citrus or tropical twist on the famed wafer franchise. These products’ short-term sales may not make up for the development costs, but they keep the KitKat brand fresh in shoppers’ mind and prevent rival companies from stealing away precious territory at key retail locations.

Considering this retail environment, Ice Cucumber may be the most elegant solution to these distribution needs in recent memory. By choosing a flavor as improbable as cucumber, consumers will have no choice but to buy a bottle to quench their curiosity. And the total brazenness of creating a cucumber soda has managed to give Pepsi an amazing amount of free worldwide publicity that your standard “Double Cherry Diet” would not. Even amongst guffaws and cackles, the Pepsi name gets out there, and convenience stores will happily dedicate space in the soda rack to Ice Cucumber that may have otherwise gone to a rival soda. Compare the Ice Cucumber launch to the concurrent Coca-Cola Zero campaign, which looks outright staid in its practicality, sophistication, and serious long-term aspirations. Coca-Cola Zero has zero sugar, but also zero cucumber fun.

The next logical step is for manufacturers to create even stranger flavors that cannot possibly be ignored. How could anyone deny a beverage with the flavor of “Raw Umber” or “Universal Suffrage”?

Postscript, The Taste: Ice Cucumber does not taste like a green salad. The mouthwash-colored soda is very sweet with a light aftertaste of honeydew melon. In Japanese, the word for cucumber  黄瓜 (or 胡瓜) contains the character 瓜 — meaning “melon, gourd.” (Suika — watermelon — can be written 水瓜 or “water melon.”) Considering the etymological connection between melons and cucumbers in Japanese, a cucumber taste seems much less wild or ridiculous as previously believed. Bright green “melon soda” is standard in Japan, and Ice Cucumber makes sense as a second cousin.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma of Cool Biz

Friday, June 8th, 2007

In 2005, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment launched the quite admirable Cool Biz campaign to convince white-collar businessmen to shed the suit jacket and tie in the summer months so that companies can reduce the energy wasted in excess office air-conditioning. The campaign has been somewhat successful, but diffusion seems to have hit a wall. Two years in, Cool Biz has yet to become the “standard” for the business world in July and August.

The barriers to Cool Biz’s widespread adoption can be explained with the Prisoner’s Dilemma model as originally developed by Merril Flood and Melvin Dresher at the RAND corporation in 1950. (A simple explanation of the Prisoner’s dilemma can be found at Wikipedia.)

For our Cool Biz example of this classic game theory model, let’s say there is a face-to-face meeting between representatives from Firm A and Firm B. The workers at these companies have two options: They can wear a dark wool suit in summer to the meeting or wear a Cool Biz-approved button-up shirt with no tie and jacket. There are two factors in this decision. The comfort of the worker and the propriety of appropriate uniform to convey respect for the other company. Let us assume that each worker would be more comfortable wearing Cool Biz attire but wants to show proper respect to the other company in order to create favorable conditions for commerce. The second factor is much more important than the first, however, because the worker in Japan has traditionally prioritized being a good representative of his company over his own personal comfort.

We will use a theoretical scoring system to demonstrate the reasoning using in the endeavor — with 0 points being the status quo and positive or negative points being better or worse than the status quo, respectively. Wearing Cool Biz nets the worker 5 points compared to 0 points of the standard expectation to sweat through the muggy heat of the summer in a suit. The propriety factor is more complicated: an asymmetry of uniform causes chaos in the meeting and an asymmetry of power in negotiation. If both workers show up in the same uniform, everything is normal and there are no points scored on either side. However, the worker scores -10 for showing up in Cool Biz if the other worker is in a proper suit. The suited worker, on the hand, gets +10 points due to the improved position in utilizing the disrespect of the other party to his company’s advantage.

If both workers show up at the meeting in Cool Biz attire, both workers gain 5 points — they are comfortable (5 pts. each) and they show each other equal respect by wearing the same kind of clothing (0 points). If one worker shows up in a suit and the other shows up in Cool Biz, however, the worker in Cool Biz nets a -5 points (5 for cool biz, but -10 for disrespect) while the worker in a suit nets a score of 10 (0 for suit but 10 points for the advantageous power imbalance). If both show up in normal suits, the net score is 0 for both.

In table form (the first digit is the score for the worker from Firm A, while the second is the score for the worker from Firm B):

Firm A
Cool Biz Suit
Firm B
Cool Biz 5,5 10,-5
Suit -5,10 0,0

The solution to this problem is that they will always wear suits, because they would both rather wear be uncomfortable in suits than risk the penalty of showing up in Cool Biz at a meeting with a suited employee from another company.

Face-to-face interaction is still very important in Japanese business culture, and Cool Biz is not seen as a clothing style that demonstrates proper respect for meetings. Currently, Cool Biz does much better in the non-sales departments because of the absence of this inter-firm interaction dilemma. But since most Japanese companies still direct the majority of manpower into sales (営業), Cool Biz will never make inroads until it is condoned for outcall sales teams as well as for office workers.

How could Cool Biz be better promoted now knowing how the dilemma works? If companies had a better idea of which partner firms adopted Cool Biz, there would be less confusion in the decision to wear a suit or Cool Biz to a meeting. There could then be silent coordination to go towards the solution of both workers wearing Cool Biz: a net gain. Greater promotion of the style could also reduce the misunderstanding that wearing Cool Biz to a meeting is a form of disrespect. With the current psychological conditions, however, most workers will decide to go for suits even if they know they should be doing Cool Biz for the good of the environment and their own temperature control.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Fashion Magazines and Regional Readership

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Tokyo so overwhelmingly dominates the transmission of media messages related to fashion both inside and outside of Japan that it is easy to ignore the regional differences in style across the archipelago. Osaka fashion sense, for example, is often said to be more “individualistic” and “flamboyant” than Tokyo fashion sense. While there are some Kansai-based fashion magazines produced exclusively for Kansai-area readers, the editorial departments of fashion magazines with national distribution are almost completely based in Tokyo. Since fashion consumption follows magazine direction to an extremely close degree, the Japanese capital possesses an unrivaled authority in this market. A trend may start in Nagoya or Kobe, but unless it gets picked up and legitimized in the Tokyo media, that trend will find a hard-time becoming “national.”

The Magazine Advertising Fee Table (雑誌広告掲載料金表) published by the Japanese Magazine Advertising Association provides demographic statistics for the readership of Japan’s major fashion magazines, breaking down geographical spread by individual prefecture as well as larger regional area (i.e., Kinki, Chubu, Kanto, Tohoku, etc.). In order to understand the regional biases of fashion in Japan and which magazines (and subsequently, which fashion market segments) are “regional” and which are more “Tokyo,” we first have to compare each magazine’s readership distribution against the national population distribution to locate the areas of over- and under-representation for certain titles. We used official population statistics from 2003 in the following analysis.

The graphs below illustrate the difference between the readership distribution percentage and the population breakdown for each region. The X-axis indicates the region, and the Y-axis measures the difference between the percentage of readers in a certain area and the standard population breakdown for that area. (For reference, Tokyo and Yokohama are located in Kanto, Nagoya is located in Chubu, and Kobe, Osaka, and Kyoto are located in Kinki.)

magreggraph2.jpg

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Notes:

1) Fashion is primarily an urban phenomena. No surprise in that statement, but the high-population density, relative wealth, and high media usage for urban populations creates the much deeper needs for living up to the proper fashion standard that drive magazine readership. As a result, most fashion magazines are generally biased towards a Kanto/Tokyo readership. Fashion magazines with readership distribution similar to the total population (a flatter line on the graph) are relatively non-Tokyo in focus.

2) Fashion magazines for men are more Tokyo-centric than those for women. In general, men’s fashion magazines have significantly lower readership than women’s fashion magazines, and the males who show high involvement with fashion appear to be primarily located in the Kanto area. That being said, there are regional differences — with Tokyo men being more interested in high-fashion than their counterparts in the country. The “hi-end style magazine” Huge has over 50% of its readers just in the Kanto area. However, a “rougher” and more masculine magazine like Men’s Joker has only 26.2% of its readers in the Kanto area. On average, however, men’s magazines have greater Tokyo-centered readerships than their sister publications.

3) Fashion magazines become more Tokyo-centered as the average readership age increases. Adolescents have little in the way of personal mobility, but those in their 20s and 30s who have an interest in fashion or have jobs requiring more fashion sensibility are likely to relocate to the urban centers (especially Tokyo) after graduation from high school, university, or trade school.

CanCam, for example, is directed at office ladies in their early 20s at large companies, and needless to say, these firms are mostly located in Japan’s big cities. The magazine’s readership spikes around the main urban hubs of Kanto and Kinki. Despite such a limited geographical appeal, however, CanCam is still the best selling female fashion magazine. This reiterates our obvious insight that “fashion is an urban phenomenon,” but it’s important to not to overlook how much consumer needs for fashion weaken for women in rural areas once they reach their 20s. It is also important to note that women’s access to the brands featured in CanCam or JJ decreases as they move away from urban areas, although internet retail sites like FashionWalker.com are dramatically changing this.

Magazines for women in their 30s like Oggi, Domani, and Nikita have readerships comprised of 53.5%, 54%, and 44.5% Kanto residents, respectively. Although values towards gender roles are changing, we can assume that the traditional expectation for women to leave the workforce after marriage to become mothers and housewives — something that happens earlier outside of urban areas — means that there is an inverse relation between age and high involvement in fashion for Japanese women. Those still with high involvement towards fashion in their 30s and 40s are likely to be professionals in Tokyo. (Women in their 50s and 60s in high income households most likely return to high levels of fashion consumption, but it is unclear whether they are as dependent upon the media for making product choices as much as young women are.)

4) Readership distribution for teenage girls matches general population distribution, but there are regional differences in style. For the teen fashion magazines featured in the bottom two graphs, readerships of all three stick very close to the national distribution average — meaning they are relatively un-Tokyo-centric compared to the magazines for older women. The “gyaru” look of Cawaii!, however, tends to be even less urban than the more artsy style represented in CUTiE and Zipper. The gyaru look does relatively well in Kanto, but underperforms in Kanagawa and Tokyo (see the bottom graph) — which are understood to be the most expensive residential areas in the region. This lends credence to the stereotype that “gyaru” fashion is primarily a lower class subculture. The colorful alternagirls of CUTiE have much greater presence in Tokyo but this look has almost no traction in the Kinki/Kansai region. While the Cawaii gals seem to be living in the less wealthy suburbs outside of Tokyo, the CUTiE readers increase in proportion the closer you get to the capital.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

The Non-Story of Bottega Veneta’s No Logo

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Bags from Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta (part of the Gucci group) have recently moved into the pantheon of iconic accessories for women in the Japanese market. According to Nikkei, Japanese sales in 2006 increased almost 70% to reach ¥12 billion. In the June issue of CanCam, BV were tied with Hermès for the No. 4 spot (only behind LV, Gucci, and Chanel) in a poll of 100 readers about their favorite handbags. These objective numbers back up the anecdotal evidence of seeing the woven-leather bags pop up more and more across Tokyo over the last year. In an environment on the brink of Gucci and Louis Vuitton fatigue, brands like Bottega Veneta and Goyard have managed to win the hearts and minds of young women looking for fresh new possibilities in luxury.

The media spin on Bottega Veneta is that the brand’s success heralds a new era of no-logo luxury. BV bags do not brandish initials or logos, and this is an intentional strategy: A sign with the message “When Your Own Initials Are Enough” is located behind the cashier desk of their huge Ginza flagship store. The management claims to emphasize quality over easily-recognizable markings, and they are happy to announce that this is at the root of recent success. Japanese consumers, the conventional wisdom is barking, have lost interest in something as base and vulgar as logos.

The success of Bottega Veneta, however, says very little about new developments in Japanese consumer behavior. The logo vs. no logo debate is a red herring. The most representative and best selling Bottega bags feature a consistent woven texture that gives the brands a very unique visual identity. Even without logos or initials, the pattern/texture alone is able to act as asignifier for the bag’s make.

With the bags receiving so much press attention in women’s fashion magazines, the woven BV visual signifier has reached a wide enough social penetration to make the products “safe” for consumers. To be fair, logos themselves are never the appeal of a brand like Gucci of LV: It was always the safety in knowing that the signifier implied in that logo had widespread recognition. So the innovation of BV is not a change in consumer psychology as much as a slight expansion of the means of brand representation. Bottega Veneta may be more classy in its subtlety, but the company is not making a product that cannot be recognized.

Also, the success of Bottega Veneta resembles Japanese female consumer esteem for Hermès in recent years. The main lines of Louis Vuitton and Gucci have been unfortunately defined by their mass fans, and a certain group of well-to-do, upwardly-mobile women want to set themselves apart from the “luxury standard.” Bottega Veneta has been well-positioned to fill this need, and although the prices are slightly high for the important clerical sector, the prices tags are nowhere as exorbitant as Hermès. Like Chloé, the BV bags hit a price-range that creates distinction from the mass luxury sector without proving an impossible buy.

Of course, there are some Japanese female consumers who are not interested in whether peers can recognize the make of their bag, but the acceptance of Bottega Veneta with the CanCam set says that those who need social legitimatization for their products are as fine with a distinctive pattern as they are with a logo.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Intentional Rudeness in Japanese Retail

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

In books like Robert M. March’s Honoring the Customer: Marketing and Selling to the Japanese, Western observers often proclaim the existence of a “Japanese” style of over-polite customer relations. This is seen as a natural outgrowth of Japanese culture and not based on marketing management decisions. March’s idea suggests that the philosophy embodied in the famous expression “the customer is God” (「お客様は神様」) drives sales clerk behavior at an unconscious level. Certainly, this ethic materializes in most retail experiences in Japan: The shopping pageant usually opens with the staff screaming out the welcoming phrase “Irasshaimase!”

While this may be the conventional mode of consumer relationship, the theory above has little explanation for the large numbers of high-end fashion boutiques and brand shops in Japan where intentional rudeness is a well-honed strategy. Walk into the Comme des Garçons boutique in Aoyama, for example, and breathe in the deep, stylish silence of calculated alienation. Not only do the staff sternly hold back on verbal greetings to customers, the managers often flash you a look of utter disbelief — as if your presence caused massive disruption in the spirit underlying the brand ethos. I can partially blame this treatment on my own insufficiencies in living up to the proper sartorial and styling standards, but the frigid atmosphere and Medusa gazes are also curiously directed towards the store’s largest consumer base: fashionable young people.

A Bathing Ape and some of the other Ura-Harajuku street brands famously followed the same rudeness strategy in the 1990s, which worked to add an adequate cachet of elitism to counter any detrimental image effects resultant from the relative low price of the clothing. This was unlike the typical antipathy of American street brand store staff, however: Bape employees were never surly as much as they seemed like worker bees programmed to not appear too helpful.

There is something decidedly uncool about deconstructing this practice of cold silence and service deficit. Viewed within the context of that deep-seeded conviction that “being cool” comes naturally to a privileged few and involves no rational decision-making, assuming that marketing policy sets the tone of staff behavior is outright presumptuous. Greeting the customer with smiles and offers of help implies that (1) the store/brand wants to assist customers and (2) the store/brand is interested in playing that dirty, low-rent game of “selling” things. This attitude is common across the entire global high-end fashion industry, but perhaps its presence is much more striking in Japan where the “average” level of service is so consistently high.

The technique of customer alienation apparently went mainstream in Japan the mid-1980s when the super-elite artistic designer brands were suddenly swamped with “average kids” who threatened to weaken the retail environment’s appeal to the original core of up-scale consumers from the art and fashion worlds. Although few brands could resist the huge increases in revenue by expanding market reach downwards, they had to devise a way to take the sales of unideal consumers with one hand while continuing to maintain brand integrity with the other. As a solution, the staff was instructed to treat the young consumers with total derision.

And it worked. First, the treatment reinforced the fact that the kids were being into something “above them” rather than on their own level. Second, specifically-targeted customers would very clearly receive better treatment, bestowing on these special consumers a sense of importance. As long as the cash-heavy young consumers do not interpret the neglect as arrogance, the strategy makes sense. Moreover, this customer relations style has become so internalized within the high-end sector that being nice has ended up being a strange, contrarian measure. (I can anecdotally state that it sometimes works well to be polite and attentive to customers who expect to be contemptibly ignored.)

As we saw with the consumer demand driving the Tokyo Girls Collection, younger Japanese women do seem to be put off by the elitism at heart in high-end brand’s rudeness. They want comfort and ease, and one of the appeals of the brands located in the Shibuya 109 shopping complex is that the staff generally resemble the shopper. Relations are friendly — not just in terms of politeness, but the shop staff is positioned to act as the best friend or older sister of the customer.

At this point, high-end brands and restaurants would gasp at the idea of abandoning the alienation strategy since it is hardly within the reach of intentional decision-making. But brands on the border — those looking to entice mass Japanese consumers with a high-quality product — may want to reconsider the effects of making average customer feel like he is illegally breaking and entering into the retail space.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Arnold Palmer: Youth Fashion Icon

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Although globalization slowly expands the number of cultural references transcending borders, misunderstandings and strategic alterations of icons and symbols in specific regions still thankfully manage to defeat a staid universalism of stable meanings. For example, you Anglophones may know 77-year old golf legend Arnold Palmer as “The King” of his sport and a hero to the contemporary American elderly population. In Japan, however, Arnold Palmer’s name graces a popular youth fashion brand.

That’s right: apparel-makers Renown — who have owned the “Arnold Palmer” license in Japan since 1961 — now use the man’s signature and multi-colored umbrella logo as part of a brand targeting “a youthful generation with a new kind of sensibility” (「新感覚の若い世代」). The brand’s preppy female line gives Mr. Palmer a cuter edge by shortening Mr. Palmer’s full name to just “arnie.” The men’s line nominally reconnects to the sporty-ness of being on the green, but “Arnold Palmer Timeless” on the other hand is a total “lifestyle line” of basic and casual goods.

Walking through perennially hip youth fashion boutique La Foret in Harajuku the other day, I did not expect to see an “Arnold Palmer Concept Store” in the same retail space as Bernard Wilhelm and Theatre Products. But guessing that the name recognition of Mr. Palmer among Japanese young people is statistically equivalent to zero, the better question is, why not use the license as the backbone of a casual line for girls? The umbrella mark is objectively adorable. “Arnold Palmer” might as well be the name of a foreign designer — like “Paul Smith” or “Paul Stuart” or “Geoffrey Beene.” And with so many Japanese brands appropriating real personages’ birth names — like (Gabriel) García Márquez, Gertrude Stein, or jazz bassist Cecil McBee — Renown looks pretty classy in actually having the formal approval for usage.Just as Kentucky Fried Chicken invented a successful marketing campaign around the outright lie that “Americans traditionally eat KFC at Christmas,” the team behind Arnold Palmer youth apparel have skillfully made up for the lack of familiarity in a new generation by creating a brand new story more convenient to their positioning needs. But hey, Arnold Palmer could have been the go-to guy for basic, casual youth fashion in America as well. We just suffered a failure of imagination, locking him inside a prison of his golf prowess and half-tea/half-lemonade beverages.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Dokusha Models and Charisma Clerks: Transferring the Aura of Authority

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

In a very large number of cases, Japanese mass consumer culture diffuses in a top-down manner. Manufacturer conglomerates work closely with oligopolistic ad agencies and shadowy production companies to determine the It Girls and Hit Products of the Year. There are, however, many contradictions and complications that challenge the singularity of that conspiratorial narrative. Very little may rise straight to the top in a grass-roots manner, but the presence of dokusha model (読者モデル) and charisma clerks (カリスマ店員) shows that the top needs to recruit those at the bottom to speak their message more directly to the target audience.

Dokusha models (literally, “reader models”) are amateur models used in youth fashion magazines. They are either scouted on the streets or chosen from readers who have sent in letters to editors offering their services. Dokusha models are as likely to be aspiring hairdressers, stylists, and artists with good fashion sense as aspiring “models.”

Magazines like to use these models for several reasons. First, they are much cheaper than “real” models. Second, they usually lack management, which makes them much easier to work with. Third, they give readers “life-sized” idols onto whom they may project themselves. Fourth, they can sometimes break these models as “stars” which reflects very well back upon the status of the magazine.

Charisma clerks are members of a popular store’s staff (usually sales, but sometimes PR) who become famous from their appearances in the media. This became a particularly big boom in the young women’s fashion based around Shibuya 109 — with girls flocking to stores to meet these minor celebrities in the flesh.

Some dokusha model and charisma clerks have been able to make the leap from amateurs to professionals. Most famously, the charisma clerk Yoco Morimoto went on to form her own brand Moussy and several other spinoffs. Kaela Kimura became the face of Seventeen and then a successful Sony recording artist. Visual artist Asami Kiyokawa was often seen in issues of CUTiE in the late 1990s.

Even those dokusha models and lowly clerks who do not end up using their sudden fame as a way to jump to the big time generally experience a very intense celebrity with magazine readers. Part of the idea of “charisma” is that kids show up at stores and ask the charisma clerk to pick out their wardrobe — relinquishing most decision-making to the famed store employee who could not possibly do them wrong. In this way, “charisma” has little to do with the Western meaning of “being charismatic” and is more about the possession of petite authority within a specific sphere.

The charisma clerks and dokusha models generally benefit everyone in the commercial chain. The semi-celebrities themselves enjoy the respect and fame, especially those in trendy low-level jobs that do not offer high financial rewards. (Here is a guide book for aspiring dokusha models hoping to be “discovered.”) Young consumers like having normal, “everyday” celebrities who they have a good chance of meeting in person and asking for shopping advice. Or at worst, they can least steal practical styling tips from afar.

Manufacturers and brands also see the value in giving the dokusha models celebrity status. Senken Shimbun reported that popular male dokusha model Yuya Nara can no longer go into his favorite stores without the staff offering to give him items for free (4/18/07 「親しみ覚える選択眼」). By using these readers as human billboards, brands hope to legitimize their own products through these free agents without dipping into the promotional budget. Media always win points for identifying trend-makers before they blow up, and they get extra points for creating fame out of thin air. So by picking individuals who embody the styles they champion, they can create an army of closely-related comrades who keep the magazine’s curatorial ethic alive and well within their target audience community.

Everybody wins, but it hinges upon a consumer base accepting these non-celebrities as possessing a certain amount of authority and stature. This may seem somewhat difficult to achieve in the West, but in Japan, the dokusha models and charisma clerks fit nicely into a systematic hierarchy of style and consumption.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

AneCan: Media Leads Production and Consumption

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

The auspicious launch of AneCan magazine may have appeared at first as the simple spread of CanCam‘s conserva-cute culture up to an older female demographic. But the inauguration did not just concern the birth of a single publication: AneCam worked with apparel makers and department stores in a coordinated effort to create a whole new market segment.

Last year,  CanCam‘s publisher Shogakukan released a special Oneesan-kei CanCam (Older Sister CanCam) issue to test the waters for starting a more “elegant” version of the magazine that would target women in their late 20s. Sales were superb, and decisions were made to push towards a regularly-publishing separate monthly magazine for this audience. The effort culminated in AneCan‘s March debut.

While Shogakukan experimented with an older audience, domestic apparel makers who supply the specific brands featured in CanCam started working towards a new set of brands that would represent  the AneCan style. For example, the following companies created the new brands:

The first issue of AneCan apparently sold almost 90% of its projected 320,000 copies in five days. To correspond with the magazine launch, Isetan department stores held a special exhibition of the main “AneCan” brands for a week period in their seven stores across Japan. In just that short time, the six brands sold ¥35 million. Between other stores and online sales, the brands all reported amazing sales (Arpege had ¥7 million sales in just one week), and many reported that their items specifically featured in AneCan sold out completely. From the perspectives of the publisher, the apparel makers, and the retailers, the AneCan launch was a massive success, and they gave form to a new market segment to which they could continue to sell products.

General lessons to learn from this successful media-manufacturer-retailer coordination:

  1. Japanese magazines often define markets rather than respond to them. In this case, a successful magazine did not “curate” or style its own look out of pre-existing brands but instead coordinated the creation of new brands appropriate for its readership.
  2. Consumers will gravitate towards the purchase of specific items featured in the magazine as these are seen as perfectly “safe.”
  3. Consumers want clarity in branding: i.e., these brands are “AneCan” brands featured in an “AneCan” retail space. Everything from all angles lined up to make the purchase an easy choice.

Sources: 『売れる「姉キャン」系ブランド30代もつかむ』繊研新聞平 成19 4月4日

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Model Agency Media

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Can Can may have skillfully connected with the most important consumer trends in the Japanese market to achieve its amazing success, but I find it hard to ignore the fact that its three most famous exclusive models — Ebihara Yuri, Yamada Yu, and Oshikiri Moe — all come from the same powerful entertainment production company K DASH. Yamada is officially a K DASH talent, but Ebihara and Oshikiri are managed by a subsidiary modeling agency called Pearl. (This connection may not be openly admitted, but the Wikipedia site on Pearl states that the agency’s official registration indicates a direct capital relation to K DASH.1)

The fame and ubiquity of these models has been one of the main appeals of Can Cam to readers, and K DASH’s power in the general entertainment world has allowed the girls to become “celebrities” rather than mere “magazine models.”

Looking casually at the current Can Cam line-up, the models do seem to be drawn disproportionately from the K DASH family or smaller-scale agencies without relation to K DASH competitors. Maybe this is why rival model firm Oscar Promotion teamed up with publisher Kodansha (rival to Can Cam‘s Shogakukan) to start its own fashion magazine STACOLLE using the Oscar roster of star talent as the models. For the first issue, popular model Ueto Aya graces the cover and provides an exclusive interview. A fashion feature shows how Oscar model Mori Izumi wears her Louis Vuitton so well. Other girls model outfits and demonstrate make-up tips.

This Oscar Pro/Kodansha collaboration proves that magazines in Japan can no longer gain readerships based solely on their own authority as independent media with interesting or helpful content. A successful magazine now needs exclusive “senzoku models” (専属モデル) who will also do enough inter-media work to bring fans from TV and film back to the actual print issues. Flipping traditional editorial direction on its head, STACOLLE starts with a pool of model talent as its core asset and then adds appropriate content around the personalities.

When viewed through the prism of global trends, there is no real surprise that celebrity culture has also become dominant in Japan. STACOLLE shows, however, that magazines now need exclusive partnerships with power players in the entertainment world to supply total media strategies for making the model pool into the well-known celebrities who can win the hearts and lead the tastes of readers. Models are not blank slates for styling: They must be protagonists for the lifestyle narrative. Whether this new magazine succeeds or not, the appearance of STACOLLE alone has a lot to say about how the media industry is reorganizing and what participating firms believe the secret to success with readers/consumers to be.

1 Further evidence for relations between the companies: the Pearl website was created through help of two Burning Production sub-companies – Proceed and Sweet Room. Burning is widely recognized as the most powerful force in the Japanese entertainment sector. K-Dash’s founder and chairman Kawamura Tatsuo was in the same high school class as Burning CEO Suho Ikuo, and the two companies are often assumed to be operating an informal alliance.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Tokyo Girls Collection

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

The Fourth Annual Tokyo Girls Collection was held on March 3 at the Yokohama Arena, attracting an audience of almost 22,000. Press and members of industry organizations may have been well represented, but the majority of the crowd was normal everyday women in their late teens and early 20s. These nominal “fashion shows” have the energy of rock concerts, but not just because of the guest musical performances. Girls congregated from all over Japan to see their heroes — models Ebihara Yuri and Fujii Rina etc. from their beloved fashion magazines (Can Cam, ViVi and JJ) — prance upon the stage in real life.

Created in 2004, these events intend to give proper exhibition to domestic brands that supply the “real clothes” worn by Japanese girls in their daily life. In this, they are challenging the idea that runway shows and collections are the sole property of European import brands, domestic high fashion, and indie avant designers. And in this bottom-up rebellion, they are wildly succeeding.

Participating Brands in Tokyo Girls Collection:

ALBA ROSA JAPAN alicias Apuweiser-riche CECIL McBEE
DELYLE DOUBLE STANDARD CLOTHING gMALOUSE HbG
JAYRO Joias Jolly Boutique Kai Lani
L’EST ROSE LIP SERVICE LITIRA
MAISON GILFY
Noble Birth Private Label
RADEESSE Ravijour
rich rienda SWORD FISH UNIVERVAL MUSE
VIERGE

Some History

Over the last several decades, there has been a growing synthesis of two major conceptualizations of “fashion” in Japan. High fashion — “designer brands” in local parlance — started to become a familiar aspirational item to Japanese middle-class consumers in the 1960s. At first-rate department stores like Seibu, shoppers were able to browse European luxury apparel in the same environmental space as their everyday household goods. Although mostly unaffordable at the time, high-end brands became convenient symbols of economic success for the society as a whole. Incomes and taste standards rose up to a point in the mid-1980s where the DC Boom (DC = Designer/Character) swept Japan and made domestic designer brands the fashion standard. With the Plaza Accord doubling the value of the yen in a short time, “normal” consumption of the world’s greatest luxury brands followed in tow. An important note: The locus of legitimacy for the high fashion stream is clearly overseas — especially Europe (Paris and Milan). Even the dominant domestic brands like Comme des Garçons or Issey Miyake won most of their local esteem after widespread international recognition.

Running parallel to high fashion has been the street brands which range from the casual Ivy League fashion of Van to the myriad subcultural looks of social delinquents and their middle-class imitators. In 1988, after a few years of being displaced by the DC Boom, casual anti-fashion made its way back to the top through the Shibu-Kaji (Shibuya Casual) trend. Epoch-making street brands have mostly been domestic, and while Japanese fashion may take influence from foreign trends, the codification of style usually happens at the hands of Japanese actors, whether bottom-up subcultures or top-down magazines.

The 1990s explosion in street-wear — especially the brands geographically based in the Ura-Harajuku neighborhood — saw a synthesis of the two trends in the form of high-priced casual brands that won foreign recognition. These brands used limited-edition supply to build an aura of exclusivity similar to high-fashion. On the Men’s side, several brands like Under Cover, Number Nine, and N. Hoolywood have managed to win high-fashion approval for clothing that began life within a street brand association (although you cannot deny that these brands boast superior concepts and loftier aspirations than their meat-and-potatoes t-shirt-and-sneakers peers.)

Stealing the Thunder from High Fashion

The Tokyo Girls Collection is a new type of synthesis between street brands and designer fashion. Rather than the “exclusive” street fashion of the 1990s, TGC fashion is a group of low-priced domestic brands — mostly sold at the “gal” (gyaru) culture center of Shibuya 109 rather than in snobby boutiques or upper-crust department stores. These brands are appropriating the language and actions of the high-fashion world, and like H&M and Topshop, many of the ideas as well. In order to throw their enormous fashion show each year, this coalition of brands join forces with their media partners in the internet sales sector, the publishing world, powerful modeling agencies, and now also, the Japanese government. The end result is a very impressive and un-ignorable “media-mix” event that creates a new sort of unified promotional front for a tier of clothing once perceived closer to commodities than “fashion.”

The organizers describe the clothes as “real” — implicitly creating a dichotomy between their products and the “fake” or “imaginary” apparel on display at traditional fashion industry shows. Tokyo Girls Collection models are not tall and skinny high-fashion regulars nor foreigners, but instead, the “cute” and familiar girls from Can Cam and the other popular fashion consumption bibles. While on the runway, the models wave to the crowd in a friendly way instead of sternly projecting ice cold stares. There is no frozen and rigid hierarchy between participants nor polite silence at TGC. Most importantly, all the clothes featured are within the realm of possibility — nothing is experimental. The female commentator notes that ensembles featured in the show are perfectly styled to give specific direction to the girls “studying” this fashion look. TGC attendees should feel as if they could immediately buy the pieces and wear them the next day.

In the video above [now removed], the commentators use a few choice words to describe the event: soft (柔らかい), safe (無難), and easy-to-understand (分かり易い). Designer fashion has become perceived rightly or wrongly as a product group opposite of these three critical descriptors. The vast majority of young Japanese women no longer aspire towards international designer culture and couture. High-fashion and typical runway fare is seen as the exact opposite of our three key descriptors — conceptually-difficult, socially-risky, and “hard” in its often confrontational stance. The central focus on the designer/auteur in high fashion is seen as selfish and not allowing the wearer to insert her own “individuality” (個性) (even though girls are really asking for a mediated and safe individuality that will not cause social friction rather than a completely inimitable differentiation from others.) The young women have explicitly refused to be impressed or interested in the artistry and intellectual ideas behind contemporary fashion — because neither “intellectualism” nor “artistry” (as they are being widely defined) can serve this demographic’s social intention for apparel.

As the female commentator notes [in the removed video above], these girls want to be popular with boys (モテる) and that means curiously (1) no glasses and (2) no designer fashion (mode, モード). This romantic angle on consumption could end up being a very big problem for international luxury brands in that the average young Japanese girl believes her consumption of expensive and trendy clothing to be a serious impediment towards meeting boys rather than a tool for better self-presentation.

Populism and National Interests

From a populist angle, the Tokyo Girls Collection is a triumph. Girls can feel that these once “low fashion” brands are “fashion” — complete with runway shows and media attention. And honestly speaking, these brands are for the most part designed and sold by young Japanese women very similar to their consumer base. From a certain perspective, this is fashion by the people for the people — with the financial backing of some big local corporations, but not necessarily the usual suspects.

This trend towards populist fashion could lead to a serious disaster for the international brands that dominate the Japanese market if the TGC manages to challenge the Euro luxury brands or design school graduates’ sole possession of the “fashion halo.” By proudly proclaiming “soft” and “non-challenging” and “domestic” as the most important characteristics of a “good brand,” the Guccis and Chloés could hit a serious philosophical discord with their biggest consumer demographic. Over the last two decades, import luxury brands have gone from providing the entire outfit for trendy girls to now just the expensive handbag accessorizing a wardrobe constructed from cheap domestic product. And if this TGC conglomeration of brands and influential media organizations finds it necessary to redefine handbags in a more “accessible” and “real” way, things may get hairy. Coach and Samantha Thavasa are already creating an authoritative position with a much cheaper product than the traditional luxury standard.

On March 26, the TGC organizers threw a version of their 2007 Japan show in Beijing at the CHIC (China International Clothing & Accessories Fair). The Japanese government is fully behind helping these domestic brands export to the enormous Chinese market, and with Japan at the top of the fashion and entertainment hierarchy in Asia, they may be able to succeed in mass exports. In terms of national interest, the success of these brands may become a higher economic priority than the continued success of the European luxury houses. Whether this will impact how top-down trends are started remains to be seen.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.