by Jared Campion
Managing Director, The Wa Group K.K.
One of the big social media phenomena of last year involved participants willingly pouring icy water over their heads. This online campaign for ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) research was started accidentally, went viral, and brought in over $100 million in about one month.
This is one of the widest reaching social media phenomena to date, as it touched people across the world. In Japan, members of the general public to celebrities & company directors alike accepted the challenge.
Chances are that your company is not a charity, and people are not going to pour buckets of icy water over their heads and send you
money. Still, the ice bucket challenge, along with other examples, show us two things:
1. Japanese are just as likely as others to share interesting content through social media.
Recently there have been some good examples of viral marketing in Japan. One campaign by Suntory had high school girls running around pulling ninja moves, and many viewers did not realize it was an advertisement – until the last few seconds. I’d be interested in seeing how well the video promoted the company’s products, but Suntory disabled commenting on the video, so it is hard to gauge people’s reactions.
Making a video go viral is no small task. While it’s best to connect the benefit of the product with the video content if possible,
sometimes it is easier to leverage an already viral video to get publicity – which brings us back to the ice bucket challenge.
Several brands have “baptized” their products in ice, including Samsung, with its waterproof smartphone. Taking it a step further,
Samsung then challenged Apple’s iPhone to the same dare; nice dig. This leveraged the popularity of the challenge in a way that showed
Samsung’s sense of humor.
However, leveraging buzz from a charity could also be frowned on, which leads to my second point.
2. Viral campaigns in social media may sometimes attract a degree of
negative backlash in Japan.
A friend of mine who directs Japanese TV shows once told me that a new TV program had been canceled after it received fewer than 10
complaints about a character who littered in one episode. The show was then seen as risky, and the producers would have preferred no
feedback at all to the possibility of negative comments.
Companies in Japan want to avoid a damaging social media “firestorm” at all costs. However, I think part of social media marketing is understanding that you cannot please everyone. With the ice bucket challenge in Japan, even though it was extremely
well-accepted, there were grumblings, as there were elsewhere in the world.
Negative comments online were mainly related to: why more people weren’t “giving” instead of “dumping ice on themselves”, the
feeling of “undue social media peer pressure” and “celebrities using the challenge for self-promotion”.
Around the world, marketing teams and company directors closely monitor the effects of their activities. They should be especially
concerned if theirs is a leading brand in the industry, as they have much to lose. But it seems that in Japan, the conservative nature of business is leading to weakened social media content. Japan might do well to take pause and consider what the famous marketer David
Ogilvy said, “You cannot bore people into buying”.
Creating interesting social media content is not a simple task for large companies. In social media marketing, what supports the
message is not the billboard’s screws and bolts, but the people. You cannot pay them to spread your message; they have to want to share
it. So it had better be something new.
The challenge in social media is firstly to make something worth sharing. The ice bucket challenge provided content that supported a
good cause in a highly entertaining manner, turbo-charging the rate of sharing even in normally reticent Japan.
For creative, nimble organizations, social media offers the chance to gain a huge number of customers, without a huge budget.