Anime is a massive opportunity for Southeast Asian marketers to build brand equity and relevance, and Culture Group’s Acacia Leroy explains how to leverage it.

In February 2023, Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe released its third (and final) limited edition line in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, featuring characters from the 2004 anime film “Howl’s Moving Castle”. The collection sold out almost immediately.

In the same month, Mobile Legends Bang Bang (MLBB) partnered with “Jujutsu Kaisen”, giving players the chance to obtain special skins based on the hit anime series’ characters. The activation saw one YouTuber prepare a budget of 30,000 MLBB diamonds (around US$550) to obtain the highly coveted skins.

Most recently, Singapore-based Secretlab launched a collection of Demon Slayer gaming chairs, one of which has a brand new colour-changing technology. Demon Slayer is also a wildly successful IP – its most recent film, “Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train”, was the highest grossing movie globally in 2020 with over US$504 million.

The common thread among these three examples is obvious – they are all anime-related brand collaborations.

However, what might not be as obvious to many marketers is the massive opportunity that anime presents as a cultural powerhouse in Southeast Asia, and as a way to build brand equity and relevance with a new generation of consumers in the region.

The rise and rise of anime

While certain anime titles have become household names (think Pokemon), until very recently, the genre was still considered highly niche. Anime fans were labelled as “otaku” or “weeb” – terms that loosely refer to anime and Japanese culture enthusiasts, often with a negative connotation not dissimilar to “nerd”. As a result, marketers looking to engage consumers through culture would often bypass anime for other more well-accepted and therefore more well-activated passion points – like streetwear, K-culture or gaming and e-sports.

But sentiments are changing. OTT platforms are bringing a wider range of titles to SEA consumers, who have been region-locked out of their favourite anime content for too long. Wider accessibility means more anime for existing fans to enjoy, as well as easier exposure to the genre for new fans.

Meanwhile, millennials and older Gen Z who grew up with anime now have the purchasing power to indulge in their passion points. This is driving the demand for – and subsequently, availability of – anime content and collaborations for old and new fans alike. Brands, especially luxury houses, looking to stay relevant with younger consumers have started doing so through anime partnerships.

Easier access to anime titles, combined with increasingly common collaborations with mainstream brands and other popular passion points like gaming, are resulting in a general perspective shift. There is now a greater appreciation for anime as a sophisticated medium of art, storytelling and social commentary to be enjoyed by everyone.

Anime’s outsized popularity in SEA

Anime consumption data illustrates the mainstream appeal of anime in Southeast Asia, where it is perhaps more popular than most marketers would intuitively expect. Based on Google Trends, three out of the top five countries ranked by anime popularity globally are in Southeast Asia – the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Other SEA countries ranked high on the list as well, with Myanmar coming in sixth, while Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were 10th, 11th and 12th respectively, according to Google Trends.

Zooming into Indonesia, data from ampd shows that two out of the top 10 titles in Indonesia in 2022 (by number of unique viewers) were anime titles – “Spy x Family” and “Attack on Titan”. By total minutes watched, “Attack on Titan” raked in a spectacular 830 million minutes, higher than Fifa World Cup 2022 with 800 million minutes.

Additionally, by current viewership and share of minutes on Netflix, anime is 60-70% as popular as American and Korean titles – despite the fact that anime titles are still not as widely available as American, Korean or local content.

The role of the brand

Marketers looking to harness the power of anime first need to identify the key reason for their brand to enter the space. This will help ensure their brand activations are genuine enough to resonate with fans and add real value. Marketers can consider four potential brand roles:

  • Enable access to the world of anime via practical gateways. Sony Bravia TV remotes now include a Crunchyroll button, which makes it as easy as possible for viewers to watch anime.
  • Facilitate experiences that help fans enjoy anime in new ways. Domino’s Pizza partnered with Genshin Impact to give gamers new ways to enjoy the world of Teyvat.
  • Celebrate and validate anime fans’ passion for the genre. The past year has seen multiple interactive exhibitions around SEA celebrating tentpole anime titles, including “Attack on Titan”, “Demon Slayer”, “Naruto” and “One Piece”.
  • Cultivate the anime community by empowering key players. Chinese platform Bilibili hosted a Professional Creator Program to help anime, comics and games (ACG) content creators across SEA improve their skills and grow their audience.

Why anime is an effective marketing tool

Anime is an effective marketing tool as it allows brands to more deeply resonate with consumers through harnessing a passion point important to them, carving out mental availability among new audiences, as well as unlocking a modern way of “mascot marketing” and creating distinctive brand assets.

Here are three actionable opportunities for marketers looking to activate anime:

  • Remix culture. Create offerings – IP, content, products, experiences and more – taking inspiration for anime while highlighting local Southeast Asian culture. Adapted from a Filipino comic and filled with “kapres” and “aswangs”, “Trese” was the first Southeast Asian anime-influenced series to debut on Netflix. The six-part series made it to number one on Netflix’s most-watched list in the Philippines.
  • Create collectibles. Elevate your products from commodity to collectible through anime collaborations, borrowing on beloved anime IPs to appeal to specific fandoms like Loewe’s collection with Studio Ghibli or simply the general anime aesthetic. Ho Chi Minh City-based Headless is a local streetwear brand that draws design inspiration from anime, manga and robots.
  • Harness characters. Bring your brand communications and your consumers’ favourite IP to life by turning characters into brand ambassadors and spokespersons. The Singapore Tourism Board enlisted Ultraman for a tourism campaign and the video series racked up one million views within three weeks of launching.

Most importantly, marketers seeking to own a cultural platform through anime must respect the genre and its fans. Marketers will do well to genuinely add value to anime fans and communities, while building their brand and reaching new audiences.

For a deeper dive into anime and how marketers can harness this passion point, read Culture Group’s report “Culture Drop: The Anime Impact”.