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Home  > Article

Street Smart Marketing

By Atsushi Miura
Talent Zoo

Marketers, especially marketers to young people, have to be street smart. They need to spend time on the streets where young consumers live, work, play and shop. They should see for themselves what young people are wearing, where they like to shop, and how they move as they walk, sit, even lie down.

This isn't something you can ask about and understand the answers. Especially in this, the age of experience marketing, you have to have been there to know what's happening.

That said, the next best thing might be a book of photographs like igocochi, the book I published this April. Subtitled TOKYO STREET FILE 1998-2006, it is the byproduct of research that took me repeatedly to streets popular with young Japanese consumers in the greater Tokyo area, places with names like Harajuku, Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, Koenji, and Kichijoji. In the case of Koenji, for example, I made more than 80 visits between 1999 and 2001. The 110 photographs in igocochi are selected from a collection that now numbers more than 20,000.

The title igocochi is taken from a Japanese phrase that means a cozy, comfortable place, a nice place to live. I took these photographs and wrote this book to show the world the kinds of places in which today's young Japanese feel most comfortable. The research was reported in My Homeless Child, a book that I published in 2001. My Homeless Child is a collection of essays written for newspapers and magazines. It contains eight pages of color photographs, but, at the end of the day, it is still mainly text. There was so much more in the original photographs that I wanted people to see. I was especially delighted, then, when San-ichi Shobo agreed to publish the photographs in a separate volume.

But what do these photographs show us? Few are concerned with places that cater exclusively to young people or focus on what young people are wearing. The style is documentary, but the book is not about street fashion. Instead many show the facades of cafes, knick-knack shops and boutiques. These are not high-end stores. They are very small, personal, cheap. Most, however, are creative; they are filled with art. You can't escape the feeling that these are the kinds of stores that young shopkeepers like to open.

Other photographs show graffiti, benches, the sorts of things that appear in the interstices of a place. I am interested in how young people defile the sacred spaces of streets, make them messy, and, thus, in effect, customize them for themselves. Through these photographs of shops and graffiti, we get a real sense of the textures of places that young people find most comfortable. This is, perhaps, igocochi's greatest strength.
Another theme is the ways in which young people behave. There are numerous photographs of young people sitting or sleeping, putting on cosmetics or using cell phones. We can see how comfortable and relaxed they appear.

That is why, while subtitled TOKYO STREET FILE, igocochi also includes photographs from Berlin and Ho Chi Minh City. Why? Street corners in Berlin resemble those in Koenji. Those in Ho Chi Minh City resemble those in Shimokitazawa. I find that interesting. It appears that young people all over the world like the same kinds of streets, the same kinds of shops, the same kinds of things. These preferences appear to transcend national or ethnic boundaries. That is something I also wanted those who read the book to notice.

Finally, igocochi also includes conversations with Hiroshi Narumi, who is associate professor of sociology at Kyoto University of Art and Design, and photographer Maki Miyashita. For the sake of non-Japanese readers, these have been translated into English. Here marketers and advertisers may find insights into what large numbers of young Japanese consumers are thinking and feeling these days.

In 2004, when I lived in Paris and lectured in the graduate school of the University of Paris, I made the rounds of bookstores every day. But the only thing I found about contemporary culture in Japan was collection of bizarre street fashion titled FRUITS. Besides that, there were only manga. To non-Japanese FRUITS may have seemed exotic and thus interesting. The non-Japanese who read igocochi may find manga, anime, and otaku appealing. Alternatively, they may like the wabi-sabi of traditional Japan. But strategies created by marketers whose awareness of Japan is confined to these stereotypes may miss large segments of the market or miss the mark entirely. Igocochi offers useful hints of where else they might be looking.


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