The rise of social network-enabled experiences requires new brand-thinking.
Unexpectedly, digital natives appear to be falling out of love with social networks in Japan. According to a recent survey by Japan Tourism Marketing into the values of the Millennial generation, consumers in their 20s are tired of social: 39 per cent of male respondents and 48 per cent of females said that they had stopped sharing information on social and now just browse what others are posting.
This is a reaction against the stress caused by negative comments or the anxiety of not getting any reaction at all. Digital natives have mixed feelings: they want to connect with others, but at the same time they don’t want to get hurt or embarrassed, especially in a public environment. Although they grew up online, they now seem keener to connect in the physical world.
Attendances at outdoor events and participation in sports are both experiencing massive growth. According to the Yano Research Institute, sales of sports equipment increased by 103 per cent in 2014 on the previous year. Growth is strongest in categories such as camping and hiking, sports shoes, and football.
Aside from sport, there is also growing interest in ‘social events’: seeing others and being seen with them, and having the photos to prove it. Halloween is a good example: barely existing in Japan a few years ago, it is now hugely commercialised, becoming a 110 billion yen (US$920 million) market in 2014, overtaking Valentine’s Day as the biggest Western seasonal event after Christmas.
Numerous other recreational events such as Colour Run, Electro dash and Ultra Japan have become increasingly popular and are attracting greater sponsorship from brands targeting digital natives. These events have two common themes: participation in groups, and the need for attendees to entertain one other with costumes.
Suntory’s C.C.Lemon targets teens to promote its product via the latest networks, such as Line. They are encouraging consumers to create funny clips with friends and try to go viral among their community. Despite being a digital campaign, having fun and being connected with friends in a real environment is an essential requirement.
A new communications model
This recent trend for group participation has resulted in a new communications model developing. The model’s four stages start and end with online involvement, however the middle two stages require real physical interaction:
1 Invite friends, or get invited by friends via Line
2 Get together in the real world to plan and prepare for the event (buy or create costumes, prepare make-up, and so forth)
3 Physically experience and enjoy the event and select ‘best moment’ photos
4 Exchange photos through Line and spread ‘best moment’ images and videos with a wider circle of friends on Instagram.
To begin with, the motivations may have been primarily to capture and share pictures on social networks, but over time it appears the events themselves and the emotions triggered by these physical connections have taken over. These are real-life experiences that can’t be replicated online. So the first priority of capturing photos has become relegated to a secondary objective.
If we look at this trend as a sign of change in how consumers use social channels, we might have already opened a new chapter in the story of social media. In the future, as our communities become more and more digital, we can expect to see greater value put back on physical connections and places. We expect the rise of participation in physical activities to continue. The surge in popularity of Japan’s video game arcades is an effective measure of this trend. Game arcades had become outdated with the rise of home video game systems such as PlayStation and Nintendo. Today, there are many ways to play games with others online without cost. However, for the past few years, video arcades in Tokyo have started to throng with teens again. Once again, they are happy to pay to play together, interact and share the moment.
After the launch of PS4 in 2014, Sony actively promoted the social networking functions enabling players to create their own channels to share and broadcast with other gamers. While the environment is all set in digital, PlayStation actively hosted a launch event for the players to connect in reality. As a new era of social begins, brands need to consider how they can seamlessly integrate the digital and physical worlds in their communications to make them relevant and meaningful to young consumers.
Azusa Fukai is a senior planner at Ogilvy Japan