Brands turn to mobile marketing in Japan

13 April 2010

TOKYO: An increasing number of brands are seeking to engage Japanese consumers by using innovative mobile marketing techniques.

The Telecommunication Carriers Association of Japan recently reported that there are currently 111 million mobile subscribers in the country.

More specifically, 92.5 million of this audience – 72% of the country's population – were said to access data services via this medium.

Further estimates from Impress R&D suggested that a quarter of this group only use their handsets to send text messages, while 69 million people regularly log on to the mobile internet.

Advertisers are also taking to this channel, with mobile marketing expenditure – including SMS, display, and production costs – coming in at ¥103.1bn ($1.1bn; 811m; £717m) in 2009, according to Dentsu.

This constituted an uptick of 12.9% on an annual basis, meaning mobile was the only medium to enjoy double-digit growth in this period, although the rate of expansion slowed from 59% the previous year.

McDonald's is one brand owner that has tapped in to rising levels of consumer interest, having first launched a dedicated mobile site in 2003 allowing visitors to receive coupons and promotions via this route.

In 2008, the fast-food chain unveiled an updated version of this portal offering vouchers that could be downloaded straight to phones and scanned directly from handsets in its restaurants.

Some 16 million people have signed up to this scheme to date, reclaiming 4.5 million vouchers, and offering McDonald's detailed data about its customers, lowering costs and boosting loyalty in the process.

Adidas, the sportswear brand, has also developed its own mobile website linked to the forthcoming FIFA World Cup, with users creating a virtual character and forming "teams" with their friends.

Players from Japan's actual international side will "join" the biggest teams, and communicate directly with members of these groups, who also stand to win a range of prizes.

Tokyu Hands, the retailer, has sought to use augmented reality to distinguish its mobile platform, with the Sekai Camera showing shoppers products relevant to their immediate surroundings.

Social networks such as Mixi, mobile ad networks, of which NTT DoCoMo's i-mode is the biggest, and QR Codes are among the other formats gaining ground at present.

Search, which took a 22% share of all mobile adspend last year, is also set to see a surge in demand as advanced services, such as image- and voice-based systems, are launched.

The opportunities for targeting and the comparatively low cost of using this channel – with i-mode offering 15 million impressions a week for just ¥2.8m – are among the medium's other strengths.

Data sourced from Mobithinking; additional content by Warc staff