Pocky, a popular snack food in Japan, set a new Guinness World Record on November 11th, 2012. It was just another day for most of us, but for Pocky and their fans, it was THE day. Pocky Day, as it is known falls on November 11 (11-11) - presumably as the snack resembles sticks or the numeral one.

At 12 midnight, messages tagged with #pocky1111 exploded all over Twitter, and there were soon over 1.8 million tweets celebrating the chocolate-coated biscuit's day - dethroning iPhone5 as the most tweeted brand name in 24 hours.


It is not like the famous snack brand was offering a car or the latest gadget to the public, Pocky was just doing what they have been doing for the past 13 years - organizing an event every November 11th. In 2011, Pocky organized an event with the four biggest towers in Kansai, giving away its scrumptious chocolate-coated snacks to 1111  visitors (see, there are the sticks again!). Thanks to these annual events, Pocky has succeeded to market their anniversary, almost doubling their sales in 2012 and giving their followers an opportunity to take part in setting a new Guiness World Record - as well as a lot to share after some stores run out of the snack. 

What was their secret to a successful Twitter promotion? Continuous effort and involvement.

It may be a little too late to take part in the 2012 record-setting event, but we are definitely looking foward for the 2013 event.

And do not forget to buy your snack on November 11th! It's Pocky day!

Since at least 2006, established media advertising (TV commercials, train posters, newspaper ads, etc.) began incorporating mock-up search boxes with keywords into the creative. These search boxes feature keywords encouraging viewers to search for those terms online to learn more about the product/service in the advertisement. This call for ad viewers to search has steadily permeated throughout many traditional advertising channels. Indeed, you can walk into almost any train in Japan and find many (if not a majority) of the ads incorporating this feature, urging you to search for the associated keyword for more information. Similarly TV ads often inject an animation of the search term being entered into a search box.

The strategy of driving traditional ad viewers to search for more information makes a great deal of sense in Japan. The country has 80% of the population connected to the Internet, and a similarly high percentage of the population with mobile Web access. Upon seeing an advertisement featuring a product or service of interest, the logical next-step in most cases will be to seek more information - and the fastest, most convenient option would be to head to the information site/page immediately on your smartphone, mobile or, perhaps a little later, on your desktop at home or work.

Rather than relying on ad viewers remembering a specific URL, or guessing what search terms that an ad viewer may use to locate the online content, giving a clever, easy-to-remember keyword string for viewers to search in your above the line advertising campaigns allows marketers to focus on one search term (and perhaps near match alternatives) for SEO and PPC search marketing efforts. However, it can also be somewhat tricky as there is no way to guarantee for top position in organic search, and the ads featuring the keywords may attract heightened competition in organic and PPC search.


Ad Viewer Response to Search Boxes in Ads

 A 2007 survey by japan.internet.com and Goo Research of 1,099 Internet users, revealed that over 60% had seen the mock-up search boxes in advertisement, and, of those, over 32% had searched for the keywords in the ads. Another survey in 2011 by japan.internet.com and Goo Research looked at mobile search on smartphones and feature phones. Of the 1,091 respondents, 92% (1,018 users) said they had noticed ads in search results/Web sites on their phones. Of those, 41.7% said they had performed a keyword search on their phone based on a call to search in TV, posters and other advertisements. The vast majority (96%) of those who used the keyword searches suggestions from advertisements say they were able to either locate or roughly locate the information they desired.


 Example of Above the Line Ads Calling Viewers to Search

Just to give you an idea of how this works, let us take a look at recent train ad by Pfizer promoting its smoking cessation treatment:

pfizer.jpgAs you can see, the ad includes a search box in the lower right-hand corner with the keyword すぐ禁煙 (stop smoking now). You will also notice that the ad does not provide alternative paths to gather more information on the treatment (URLs, phone numbers, etc.). If a commuter seeing the ad wants to find more information, the only clear step is to head online to their search engine of choice (Yahoo! and Google make up 90% of searches in Japan) and search for すぐ禁煙.

Upon searching for すぐ禁煙 on Yahoo! Japan, you can see that the Pfizer smoking cessation site (sugu-kinen.jp) appears in the top position for sponsored links, and has the top three positions for organic search.

Yahookinen.jpgSimilarly a search for すぐ禁煙 on Google.co.jp has the Pfizer site at the top of both the organic results and the PPC results.


Finally, the graph below displays search trends for the search term (すぐ禁煙) in 2012. The graph shows that searches for the term were quite low for most of the year, but suddenly spiked in November-December, which would be the time the ad campaign was launched. This indicates that people are not only noticing the keyword search boxes in mainstream advertising, but also searching for those keywords online.

This is a quick follow up to a blog entry last year on the Japanese government's plan to tax online digital content (e-books, music, etc.) sold in Japan from overseas. Now it appears that the government is now planning on shelving the idea for the time being.

The original plan was to revise tax codes in 2013, allowing taxes to be imposed on digital products delivered online from overseas vendors. With Japan's consumption tax increasing from the current 5 percent to eight percent in April 2014, and eventually 10 percent in October 2015, the imposition of tax on overseas digital content vendors, such as Amazon.com, was seen as leveling the playing field for local vendors. There are also arguments that without the tax, local vendors may find it advantageous to move content delivery bases outside Japan to avoid the consumption tax - thus eroding tax revenues (not to mention the effect on business and jobs).

News reports indicate that officials were unable to work out the details of the plan, due in part to the recent leadership change that saw the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) come back into power after general elections in December. The language of the reports suggests that the plan has been postponed (rather than scrapped), so we will keep an eye on developments.

Source: Kyodo via Mainichi Shimbun

LINE ready to go global

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January 18th 2013 - NHN Japan announced its mobile instant messaging application, LINE, has reached 100 million users, and is now planning to take its international marketing strategy to the next level.

Launched in June 2011, LINE was originally an idea developed in response to the communications chaos experienced after the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and has been growing in popularity extremely quickly since then.

LINE's most innovative feature is its "Stickers" function, where users are able to purchase virtual stickers depicting original or well known characters such as Snoopy and Hello Kitty. The stickers feature blends well with Japanese culture where people often use cute characters in their daily communication - taking the emojis, or emoticons, to a whole new level. 

Is this the next "standard" for text messaging?

We don't know yet, but NHN Japan plans to not only continue marketing its application in countries where LINE is already popular, such as Taiwan and Thailand, but also promote LINE through TV ads and blogs in the United States and other English-speaking countries, China and, in the future, Spanish-speaking countries including Latin America.

Crazy as this may sound, but this writer already has a number of Latin American friends using LINE. Their favorite character? Probably "Moon."

2.pngMoon from LINE

What's next for Mixi?

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With an increasing number of Facebook users in Japan, it appears that Mixi, Japan's leading local SNS, is planning is to expand its business from just another SNS site towards innovating new roles for social networks in Japan.

In September 2012, Mixi established its "innovation center" department, and since then, has been launching multiple online services, including the mobile app development site, Deploygate, recruiting website, Findjob, and even a subscription-based e-commerce site, PetitJete, targeting Mixi's F1 users. F1 (20-34 year old females) and M1 (males from 20-34) comprise 62.1% of Mixi's user base.

The once-struggling SNS site, is also focusing on strenghtening its O2O (Online to Offline) campaigns.

In 2011, Mixi launched its Christmas Stocking promotion, succeeding in connecting 560,000 Mixi users online when Mixi TV ads went live over a three-day period.  In 2012, one of the biggest shopping malls in Japan, Daimaru Matsuzakaya, together with Mixi launched another successful O2O Christmas campaign where answers to a quiz on Mixi's Christmas site were displayed at the shopping mall's entrances. Customers who answered the online quiz and made purchases of more than 1,000 yen at the mall received digital gifts and mobile accesories. This campaign, helped drive more than 20,000 users to the shopping mall during the Christmas season, showing Mixi's strong potential as a Social Network capability to help drive the retail market. 

Going forward, Daimaru Matsuzakaya and Mixi aim to not only carry out future O2O campaigns, but also promote multiple purchases from users in Japan. 

Source: Nikkei Digital Marketing


Facebook in Japan 2012

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In case you did not already know, Facebook has invaded Japan. From a relatively humble 1.5 million users in early 2011, Facebook in Japan grew to over 15 million monthly active users (MAUs) by September 2012, challenging the dominance of local social network giant, MIXI, which reported around 14 million MAUs in August 2012.

Lifemedia conducted its second annual survey on the usage of Facebook in June 2012, which shows a number of marked changes on perceptions and usage compared to its 2011 survey (covered by us last year).

The study was conducted on people between the age of 10 and 69, with 150-180 respondents for each gender per decade (e.g. 160 males and 180 females in their 20s).

From the 2012 survey, some 30.3% of respondents said they had signed up for Facebook, a huge leap from 13.3% reported in the 2011 survey. Keep in mind that Facebook's penetration in Japan is currently around 12-13% so there is some skewing in the survey's sampling (possibly conducted in a major urban area, online, etc.). Awareness of Facebook is extremely high with only 2% of respondents saying they did not know Facebook, compared with 14.4% in 2011.

Overall membership rates indicated more men (35.3%) than women (25.3%) had joined Facebook. However it was actually women in their twenties that had the highest membership rate (43.9%), followed by men in their twenties (41.9%). For men in their 30s, 40s and 50s the Facebook account ownership was around 34-35%, while rates for women dropped off markedly as age increased (25.3% for women in their 30s, and 17% for women in their 40s and 50s).

For those who did not sign up to Facebook, the top reason for not joining was that the service was seen as unnecessary (48.1%), followed by people not wanting to use their real names (43.6%). The real name requirement for Facebook could prove a factor in limiting the company's penetration of the Japanese market, where people are more sensitive to privacy issues than most other markets. It could also be a key factor in determining the fate of local rival, MIXI, which does not have a real name requirement for registration. Currently 81.5% or those who use Facebook in the survey use their real names, and 25% use recognizable pictures of themselves as their profile pictures.

Of the respondents who use Facebook, 80% said they used it once a week or more. The two most common activities for users are checking friends' status updates (58.5% total - 67.7% for women) and updating their own statuses (48.8%). According to the survey 38.2% of people upload photos and other content to Facebook.

An interesting addition to this year's survey involves how people access Facebook. The vast majority of users accessed Facebook via PC (84%) as can be expected, but what is interesting is that 41.6% accessed Facebook using smartphones (46.6% for women), while only 9.2% accessed on feature phones. Smartphones got off to a late start in Japan (around 2009) due to the prevalence of highly-advanced feature phones. However, this survey points to the rapid conversion of Japanese mobile users (or at least those who are active online) towards smartphones - certainly a point worth considering for those looking at mobile marketing in Japan.

At the end of November, Yahoo! Japan, the nation's biggest search portal (although their search results are powered by Google) released its 2012 Keyword Search Rankings. The rankings are derived from search traffic from January 1st through to October 31st this year.

This blog entry follows search rankings on smartphones, but I have also added an entry for overall rankings.

Japan has had a long relationship with mobile technology with almost as many mobile phone subscriptions as people. Smartphones did not really take off until 2009, largely due to the prevalence of highly advanced cellphones (feature phones). However, smartphones have rapidly permeated society and are projected to have over 50% of the mobile phone market in Japan by 2015 (MM Research Institute, March 2012).

Considering this, knowing what people are doing on their smartphones is vital for developing effective strategies to engage them online. Following the rankings of top searches on Yahoo! Japan, a number of themes for smartphone search came out.

Social Media
Four out of the top 10 searches are for social media. Facebook moved up from 9th to take top place, underscoring its rapid rise in Japan since 2011, with Japan's local social giant MIXI taking third place. Twitter also feature prominently in 8th spot. 2 Channel (ni-channel), more a large-scale bulletin board, ranks at number 6.

Mobile Gaming
Gaming on-the-go is popular with two entries in the top 20. Mobage and GREE, which are gaming focused, but have social functions, come in at 13 and 14 respectively.

Shopping is another big player in mobile search with Amazon in 2nd spot, Rakuten at 5, Kakaku.com at 9, and Rakuten Market in 19th place.

Accessing video via smartphones was popular in 2012 with searches for Youtube ranking in at 4 and FC2 Video coming in at 11th spot.

As with overall search rankings, searches on smartphones for shared/hosted blog services could be found in the top 20 with FC2 ranked at number 10, and Ameblo coming in at 12.

As with the overall search rankings people continued searching for Google (7) on their phones. Pop idol group AKB48 came in at 15, and former group member Atsuko Maeda was 18th on the list. Searches for earthquakes and weather forecasts came in 16th and 17th respectively.

Yahoo! Japan Smartphone Keyword Search Ranking 2012.
1 (9) Facebook
2 (2) Amazon
3 (1) mixi
4 (3) YouTube
5 (4) 楽天 - Rakuten
6 (5) 2ちゃんねる - 2 (ni) Channel
7 (8) Google
8 (6) Twitter
9 (7) 価格.com - Kakaku.com
10 (12) FC2
11 FC2動画 - FC2 Douga (video)
12 アメブロ - Ameblo
13 Mobage
15 AKB48
16 地震 - earthquake
17 天気予報 - weather forecast
18 前田敦子 - Atsuko Maeda (AKB48)
19 楽天市場 - Rakuten Market
20 DMM

Yahoo! Japan, the nation's biggest search portal (although their search results are powered by Google) has released their 2012 Keyword Search Rankings.

The results were accumulated from search traffic from January 1st through to October 31st this year. The rankings were broken down into a number of categories including Overall, Celebrities, and Entertainment.

This blog entry follows the overall rankings, but I have also added an entry for smartphone searches, as I see mobile engagement as crucial in Japanese online marketing.

The overall rankings help give a picture of the kinds of content and themes that Japanese searchers are looking for. They also provide indicators of which properties to focus on in key areas (such as social, video media, etc.).

Below are a few major themes to emerge from the rankings.

Coming in at number 1 was Youtube, which has maintained the top position for several consecutive years. Local video-sharing site, Nico Nico Douga came in at number 8, dropping slightly from last year.

For shopping experiences, the top search was Amazon (3), followed by Rakuten (4) and price comparison site Kakaku.com (10).

Social Media
In searches for social media Facebook jumped to second spot, usurping local social giant MIXI (7) in the rankings. This reflects Facebook meteoric rise to prominence on Japan's social landscape since early 2011. In terms of monthly active users (MAUs), Facebook had caught up (and passed) MIXI with around 15 million MAUs claimed in September 2012 (MIXI reported 14 million MAUs for the same month). As number 9, Twitter maintains a strong presence in Japan. Other searches along social themes were bulletin board-styled 2 Channel ("ni-channel") at number 7 and virtual world Ameba Pigg (11).

Reflecting the country's penchant for blogging, Ameblo came in at number 16, and blog/web hosting service FC2 was at number 20.

Other notables in the rankings include Google at number 5 (searching for a search engine?!), recipe/cooking portal COOKPAD (12), mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo (13), Google Maps at 14, pop idols AKB48 (18), and government employment agency Hello Work at number 19.

Yahoo! Japan General Keyword Search Ranking 2012.
1 (1) Youtube
2 (9) Facebook
3 (3) Amazon
4 (5) 楽天 - Rakuten
5 (4) Google
6 (2) mixi
7 (6) 2ちゃんねる - 2 ("ni") Channel
8 (7) ニコニコ動画 - Nico Nico Douga
9 (8) Twitter
10 (10) 価格.com - Kakaku.com
11 (12) アメーバピグ - Ameba Pigg
12 (13) クックパッド - COOKPAD
13 (15) NTTドコモ - NTT DoCoMo
14 (22) Googleマップ - Google Maps
15 (16) DMM
16 アメブロ - Ameblo
17 ANA
18 AKB48
19 ハローワーク - Hello Work
20 FC2

This article is not really part of Japanese SEO/SEM, but for overseas companies marketing digital content in Japan this may represent a major issue in the future.

This story has been brewing for a while with the Japanese government considering imposing sales tax on overseas online content providers since June 2012. The issue moved up another notch in mid-November with the government looking at concrete measures to implement such a taxing system.

Currently, Japan's consumption tax rate is five percent, but is set to increase to eight percent in April 2014, and reach 10 percent by October 2015. Because the consumption tax can only be levied on domestic sellers, it is seen as placing local vendors at a disadvantage to overseas competitors, particularly in the online content market.

Through the introduction of a tax for overseas online content sellers - such as e-books, music and related digital products - it is thought this will level the playing field for operators within Japan. There is also the issue that without implementing a tax for overseas-based operations, domestic companies may find it advantageous to move their content delivery bases outside Japan as a means of avoiding the consumption tax burden.

Japan's Ministry of Finance is looking to levy the consumption tax by introducing a compulsory registration system for foreign firms selling online content in Japan. Through this system overseas vendors will then need to pay the sales tax for purchases from customers in Japan.

The full extent of such a tax system is currently not very clear, with news providers talking about e-books, music and "etcetera." The big question for overseas content sellers will be "What kinds of products will the "etcetera" encompass?" Will this take into account such items as software downloads, online media and service subscriptions, downloadable games, and so forth - it has the potential to have far reaching implications for companies selling digitally-based products in Japan.

While this is in its early stages with a panel being setup to study the issue, it is certainly something for overseas online content vendors to keep an eye on into the future.

For an in-depth discussion on the digital content taxation issue, and the challenges facing the Tax Office in implementing such a scheme take a look at How to Collect Tax on eBooks? by Tokyo-based entrepreneur Terrie LLoyd - definitely worth a read.

Greetings everyone!

We are proud to announce the release of the latest version of the our Website. Information on both the Japanese and English versions has been dramatically expanded to provide visitors with a much more detailed view of wasabi communications' capabilities and services.

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The Team @ wasabi communications


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