Japan’s marketing baits go cute and cuddly



In the battle for a slice of Japan’s 8.1 trillion yen ($72 billion) retail electricity market, the country’s biggest power companies are lining up against a cuddly bear, a fluffy white dog and a gorilla in a suit.
As the country starts fully liberalizing its power market in April, new entrants are using so-called yuru-kyara to lure new customers from the country’s 10 regional monopolies. Tokyo Gas Co. has introduced a yellow and white bear character named Denpa-cho, while wireless mobile carrier SoftBank Group Corp. is employing Oto-san, a white dog whose name means “father.”
“In the West, adults tend to avoid cute characters that seem childish, but in Japan these characters are thriving,” Tatsuya Yamamoto, a Tokyo-based character consultant with the advertising and public relations company Dentsu Inc. “Businesses use them because children, as well as adults, recognize them.”
In the land of Hello Kitty and Super Mario, mascots promote everything from motor fuel to the military. Now they’ve been enlisted in the fight for a piece of Japan’s shrinking electricity market amid Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to boost the country’s competitiveness. Power usage last year fell to a 17-year low as households and businesses conserved electricity amid stagnant growth and a falling population.

JX Holdings Inc. is represented by Enegori, a gorilla wearing a suit and tie. The company, which is also Japan’s largest oil refiner, has more than 1,500 megawatts of power generating capacity from thermal, solar and wind sources and its considering adding more.
Jupiter Telecommunications Co., which has a stake in Japan’s largest home shopping network, has rolled out advertisements featuring its marshmallow-like ZAQ character holding a light bulb. While the company doesn’t have any electricity generation of its own, it can take power supplied by a subsidiary of its parent, Sumitomo Corp., that operates wind farms and coal plants.
About 3 percent of Japanese households are likely to change suppliers if they’re offered rates that are 5 percent cheaper, according to a survey from Nomura Research Institute Ltd. As many as 16 percent may switch if rates fall by 10 percent, according the report.
While just a fraction of its 29 million customers, the amount of power customers who have signed up to switch from Tokyo Electric Power Co. to rival suppliers has nearly tripled in the last two weeks to 90,000, according to Organization for Cross-regional Coordination of Transmission Operators.
“The increase in choices is ultimately good for the consumer,” Syusaku Nishikawa, a Tokyo-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Co., said by e-mail. “They’ll be able to purchase electricity not only from Tokyo Electric, but from Tokyo Gas, telecom companies and various others.”
Tokyo Electric Power has announced plans of its own to offer discounts and service bundles. The company is still deciding whether it will enlist the help of its mascot, Denko- chan, according to Rieko Sato, a corporate officer at the company.

epa02985789 A trio of mascot characters poses for photographers at the observatory of the Tokyo Sky Tree, Japan, 30 October 2011. Tokyo Sky Tree, a telecommunication tower under construction, reaches the 634-meter tidemark. The new Tokyo landmark, the world's tallest self-standing structure with two observatories and commercial facilities, is scheduled to begin operating in spring of 2012. It is expected to bolster television and radio transmissions in the capital region.  EPA/TOMOYUKI KAYA

epa04256091 Japanese mascot character Funassyi, unofficially representing Funabashi city in Chiba prefecture, poses on the red carpet upon his arrival for the MTV Video Music Awards Japan 2014 in Urayasu, near Tokyo, Japan, 14 June 2014. Japanese and foreign artists receive awards for their songs and music videos in the event comprising 17 award categories as the award winners are selected through online voting by the fans.  EPA/KIYOSHI OTA

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