81-year-old Tahakasa Omi, a Japanese grandma of four, had spent her day excitedly anticipating the arrival of a package from Do-Co-Mo. Do-Co-Mo, the largest operator of mobile phones in Japan, if not the world, had spent the last two years developing a concept for people just like Tahakasa Omi. It’s not hard to understand why. Japan has the oldest population in the world – and it’s a market worth an estimated $120 billion.
Tahakasa Omi’s package didn’t contain a flashy new mobile phone – what arrived was a picture frame. With a simple click on the side, the frame would immediately connect to the nationwide Do-Co-Mo mobile network and in turn connect with Omi’s four kids. The moment one of her children took, say a photograph of a grandchild, they could press their ‘Grandma’ button, and within a few seconds the photo would appear on the frame in her living room. The 1,200km physical barrier separating her and her children, seeming to vanish in an instant. And, by the way, the picture frame was free.
But this is far from the full story, since there’s more than pictures appearing on the screen. The Do-co-Mo invention is the latest in an ongoing stream of initiatives from mobile operators from Japan – all seeking to explore new advertising channels.
Advertising penetration in Japan is by far the highest in the world – with the average Japanese consumer watching eight hours of TV commercials, seven days a week for seven years! That’s one whole year more than Americans. Step outside any Japanese doors and you’ll see that every space, every square centimeter, contains a commercial message. When you stroll down the streets of Tokyo, even the air is pumped with thousands of sound messages from every display, point-of-sale counter or store. –
With Do-Co-Mo’s picture frame the ads have not only moved inside the home onto the mantelpiece beside the TV screen, they’ve also managed to achieve what the television set has so far failed to do – a steadily growing, in-depth insight about its users. They not only know the users network of friends, but they know that full attention will be paid to each picture when it arrives. Not only that , the cost of the images are all paid for by the mobile phone users – like Tahakasa Omi’s four kids. But even they have a choice – they can elect to receive commercial messages instead.
The picture frame is by no means the only commercial initiative on offer from the telecommunication giant. Geo-position based advertising has become a reality – allowing advertisers the opportunity to push messages to their audiences according to their demographic. Contextual Branding, as I dubbed the concept when the technology first appeared in Japan some years ago, is now offered to every major advertiser. Companies can now communicate with all Do-Co-Mo’s subscribers who opted for the lower subscription rate. And these advertisements are of course targeted directly to the recipients’ profiles, as well as the where they are at any specific time of day.
Do-Co-Mo is not the only company to branch out from conventional communication and distribution channels – the home Gecko is the latest invention converting homes and offices into retail stores. Imagine a hotel mini-bar – then place it in your office instead. The mini-bar is stocked several times a week with new product innovations. So, for the staff who arrive in the morning the mini-bar is stocked with new coffee products from Nescafe, then at lunch there’s the latest Maggi product and as the afternoon wears on, the mini-bar is restocked with energy drinks and snack bars. Every product in the mini-bar is straight out of the test kitchens, and they are distributed to specifically target the description of the office workers they are catering for. Furthermore, the companies are then in a position to determine exactly how their spanking-new product is received, all paid for courtesy of the users.
Now the office Gecko is moving home. There are 20 million people concentrated in the city area of Tokyo, and Gecko is becoming part of many of these homes. Suddenly they all have a mini-bar to supply the latest products. This is by no means a new concept in Japan. For more than 100 years, Japan’s largest pharmacy chain has kept a small cupboard in Japanese bathrooms all stocked with headache tablets, band-aids, and liquid disinfectants.
For brands this means more than another distribution opportunity – it means an instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Whereas most brands in the West rely on research data, focus groups and interview sessions to access the success of a product, Japanese companies have realized that there’s nothing more real than the real thing. They allow the consumer to experiment with their product in their home environment. There are no one-way mirrors or questionnaires to be filled in. If they like the product, they’ll buy it.
This trend is transforming the entire nature of research in Japan. Restaurants, cafes and even bars are offering companies to sample their products in real environments with sophisticated “behind the scenes” monitoring tools. Concepts like SampleLab and SampleCafe – offers thousands of brand-hungry consumers the opportunity to enjoy a cup-of-something while testing the latest anything – from beer to chewing gum. The consumers are aware of it , but are perfectly willing to participate since they are given access to the latest gizmo.
Next week it’s Thakas Omi’s 82nd birthday. She eagerly anticipates what new stuff Do-Co-Mo will deliver. The advertisers are keen too.