A New Paradigm in City Marketing Kumamon Takes the World by Storm

You’ve probably seen it all when it comes to brand marketing for merchandise. You can probably think of solutions like advertisements, PR events, spokesperson and viral marketing. But what if the brand you want to promote is a city?

Kumamoto, a traditional agricultural prefecture in Japan with a population of just 1.8 million, came up with a creative secret weapon – Kumamon. Thanks to Kumamon, Kumamoto Prefecture achieved nearly 90% national recognition, increased tourism by nearly 190,000 people, and sold up to 29.36 billion Yen in Kumamon peripheral merchandise in 2012! Even convenience stores in Taiwan are now getting on the bandwagon by releasing a series of Kumamon merchandise. So how did Kumamon go from the rural countryside to the international stage? Find out with G!VOICE!

The Many Faces of City Marketing

Tourism is a new economy that countries are all rushing to develop. Cities are all trying to be as creative as they can to make their own cultural offerings more interesting. England has made creative industries a key national development. Its art festivals and carnivals have attracted hordes of local and foreign visitors. The Museum of London has even created an app (Streetmuseum) that uses augmented reality to bring history to life when you are walking on the streets. There is also Australia’s working holidays as well as “The Best Job in the World” that generated a huge buzz. The big increase in cities’ visibility helps to stimulate the economy and create local opportunities.

Despite being a rather remote agricultural district, Kumamoto Prefecture wanted to increase its opportunities. Despite having absolutely no background in marketing, the civil servants decided to take advantage of Kyushu Shinkansen’s opening of the Kumamoto Station and launch a series of projects. First, they invited local author Kundo Koyama and designer Hiko Mizuno to come up with the original Kumamon. This was then followed by flash street advertising, handing out of business cards, and research into funny body movements that imbued Kumamon with great humor. While the Tohoku Earthquake prevented Kumamon from making its grand appearance, the street events as well as cute and funny online videos generated widespread interest!  

Free Licensing for Global Dispersion

Having generated the interest, how should Kumamon sustain the momentum and reach more people? Kumamoto Prefecture’s government decided to adopt a strategy of mass exposure. Anything that helped to promote Kumamoto Prefecture was allowed to use the rights to Kumamon graphics for free! The government, in essence, sacrificed licensing fees in return for more Kumamon exposure. Since its inception, Kumamon has built up more than 20,000 licensed products in every area including food, clothing, accommodation, travel, education and recreation. It even recently crossed the seas to become a new favorite for Taiwan’s convenience stores – demonstrating its immense popularity!

Mass licensing actually boosted the value of Kumamon and Kumamoto Prefecture estimated that sales of peripheral merchandise reached 29.36 billion Yen the year before. Many local small enterprises even managed to resurrect their business through licensed Kumamon merchandise!  

▲There are all kinds of official Kumamon merchandise. Japan’s Tamiya’s limited edition Kumamon 4WD racer for example was sold out in seconds. 

From Kumamon to Kumamoto

In the past, most city marketing focused on the actual city itself. Kumamon however created a new paradigm: Fall in love with the mascot first, then learn about the region. Virtual spokespeople for commercial products are everywhere but when it comes to cities, there are few successful examples. The Kumamon team’s bold strategy and exquisite public relations campaign helped make Kumamon a smash hit in Japan that is now going global.

Who says that city marketing must promote traditional culture or special sights? The Kumamon example offers a new possibility. Today, the Kumamon background is becoming increasingly complete. It now has the title “Chief of Kumamoto Prefecture Business Section”, has its own office, fan group, and daily itinerary. Sometimes, it also goes missing so fans can try and find it. A Kumamon Square was also set up in July last year to satisfy its many fans and also add to the local culture. 

▲The section chief office in Kumamon Square

▲Kumamon Square features limited edition peripheral merchandise for sale


Photo source: 

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