I wanted to briefly mention a case about a Japanese girl group whose marketing is thoroughly impressive, as an addition to my last article. If you’re not familiar with AKB48, then you must not be living in Japan. They are the most popular girl group here, and they are managed by marketing experts who make sure they have constant and widespread exposure. The group has 48 regular members (with over 20 trainee members, perhaps soon-to-be regulars), giving them the world record for the most number of members in a music group. Like the longer-running “Morning Musume,” the girls in this group also change from year to year, “graduating” onto new endeavors as they get older. They are plastered all over Japan on billboards, buildings, posters, etc. There’s a lot to mention about AKB48, but the real reason I wanted to write this post was because of their “newest member.” Watch the following video and see if anything looks suspicious…
“Who is Aimi Eguchi” is really the wrong question, because she doesn’t really exist. Maybe the better question is “What is Aimi Eguchi?”
Normally I wouldn’t blog about something so commercial, but I find it interesting to see the progression of graphics technology. Virtual mascots aren’t anything new, but when marketers can capitalize on them as well as they did with this virtual girl, they can really effectively get their name out there. It’s not like AKB48 needed it, though – it’s practically impossible not to know who them, considering you’ll see a giant “AKB48” ad if you walk down a street or turn on a TV here, especially in the big cities. They are based in Akihabara, and since they have so many members, they’re able to spread themselves thin. They initially became popular by interacting with customers on a regular basis (before twitter made this a simple matter of tweeting) and doing various monthly events and shows to their loyal audience. Though they formed in 2005, AKB48 has been extremely popular since about two or three years ago.
Glico, whose commercial Eguchi appeared in, advertised their product “Aisu no mi,” (“ice no mi”) a tasty ice-cream-like treat (it’s hard to explain, but it’s nice when it’s hot outside). AKB48 got tons of buzz, though there were a lot of signs that the star of the commercial wasn’t actually a real person, such as various blog posts by some of the girls which alluded to having recently done motion capture, which were promptly taken down. And then there was Aimi – who got her name from the “Ai” and the “mi” in “Aisu no mi” (which may sound somewhat cryptic but this is a very common practice in Japan, and practically everyone noticed it right away). Aimi is really a creation based on the features of the other girls in that commercial, plus the voice which is provided by one of the AKB trainees (not one of the 48). Listen to a short monologue where she says that she recently debuted in the Glico commercial (though I hadn’t seen this until after it was announced that she wasn’t real).
I think they actually nailed the graphics in general, and the voice worked convincingly. Would you know she wasn’t real if I didn’t tell you? What actually made me suspicious was not the graphics, but the rigid behaviour. The graphics itself basically fooled me. Before the announcement that she wasn’t real on the 20th (they had been advertising that date for a while to effectively drum up hype), I had to rewind a few times to be sure that she was really fake. It was the mouth that gave it away. If you want to fool everyone, seriously, what kind of a mouth was that??
Oops, sorry… This video was released two days ago, showing how the avatar called “Aimi Eguchi” was created. It used facial features from the other girls in the commercial. Skip the first half if – like me – gratuitous cutesy shots of dolled up teens just isn’t your thing.
Ah, the prestigious eyebrows.
[Update: Think you can do better? If you go to the Ice no Mi website, you can create your very own AKB idol by choosing the features you like the most! Have at it.]