Fur Out! Canine Idols Woo(f) Tourists to Akita
- Client :
- Akita Inu Tourism
As the world’s population moves increasingly from rural towards urban living, Japan’s provincial communities face serious socioeconomic issues that threaten their very existence. This campaign represents a fresh, unique approach for the revitalization of rural economies by tapping into overseas markets for alternative revenue streams.
Identifying Taiwanese tourists as a key market, the team’s research into essential aspects of Japan’s Northern Akita region, and the relevant preferences and interests of the target group, looked beyond conventional tourist attractions. The resulting campaign strategically combined the fame of Akita dogs with the popularity of Japanese idol groups among the Taiwanese public.
Though the Akita dog breed is globally loved, its namesake Akita Prefecture—449 km northeast of Tokyo—remains largely unknown outside Japan. Despite its pristine forests, stunning mountain vistas, and rich cultural heritage, the Northern Akita region in particular has struggled to capitalize on increasing international tourism to Japan, hindered by its distance from major cities, and the lack of a local airport or easy access via public transportation.
To address this, in April 2016 the municipalities of Odate, Kitaakita, Kosaka and Kamikoani formed Akita Inu Tourism (“Akita Dog Tourism”), a cooperative regional Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), for whom this campaign was conducted. Having identified Taiwanese tourists as a key market, the aim was to encourage repeaters to venture away from tourist favorites such as Tokyo and Kyoto, to destinations in Northern Akita.
Despite increasing international tourism to Japan, many first-time visitors stick to the most popular attractions in urban centers such as Tokyo and Osaka, and well-known historical and cultural attractions in cities like Kyoto and Nara. Furthermore, efforts to attract tourists to more remote destinations are often hindered by poor transport access, along with a general lack of awareness on the part of potential visitors as to what the region has to offer.
For this campaign, the hints that eventually led to a focus on Taiwanese visitors came initially from government tourism statistics. In 2015, The Japan Tourism Agency’s (JTA) Tohoku District Transport Bureau (responsible for the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Aomori, Iwate, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima) found that Taiwan was the leading source of visitors to Tohoku, with some 176,480 arrivals to the region. Moreover, further JTA research showed that 80% of Taiwanese tourists in Japan had visited at least once before.
Not only do repeat visitors tend to be more interested in journeying to places that are off the beaten track, Taiwanese nationals often hold a positive view of Japan, and actively follow Japanese popular culture. Idol girl groups are especially popular, even gaining frequent front-page coverage in the Taiwanese media. The decision was taken to create a campaign video that combined such themes with essential elements of Akita Prefecture.
As both Akita dogs and Japanese idol girl groups are well-known and popular in Taiwan, the plan called for a way to marry these two themes to boost Akita Prefecture’s profile among Taiwanese tourists with a view to attracting more visitors and boosting the regional economy. And because popular Japanese trends often go on to gain a following in Taiwan, the planned campaign video also had to resound with Japanese audiences in order to first generate the necessary hype at home.
This concept led to the creation of Mofu Mofu Dogs (“Fluffy Dogs”), a singing, dancing idol girl group with the heads of adorable Akita dogs. The group’s debut track “Waiting4U” was produced by blending catchy electro pop with vocals composed from samples of dogs barking. By circumventing the language barrier, this contributed to a song that was easier for all nationalities to enjoy, with added assistance from subtitles in Japanese, traditional Chinese, and English.
The accompanying music video, produced for an online audience, showed Mofu Mofu Dogs singing and dancing their way around leading attractions in northern Akita Prefecture, introducing the sights, cuisine, and other aspects of the local culture.
The campaign was launched on November 1 (11.01), a date known as Inu no hi (dog day), due to the phonetic similarity between the number “one” and the Japanese onomatopoeia for a dog’s bark (“wan”), and to further boost the likelihood of media coverage by extending the canine connection, 11:01 was selected as the time. A press release was issued in Japan to coincide with the video’s release.
At the same time, a trilingual (Japanese, traditional Chinese, and English) website was also launched, offering travel itineraries and recommended Northern Akita attractions, several of which appear in the video, including the Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway (a picturesque route established in 1930, and still running classic diesel locomotives); the Korakukan Theater (built in 1910, this officially designated National Important Cultural Property of Japan is the country’s largest wooden theater and one of the oldest surviving wooden Kabuki theaters); and the Kosaka Mine Office (another National Important Cultural Property of Japan, built in 1905).
Once the video hit one million views, with the assistance of a local PR agency a press release was issued in Taiwan, introducing Mofu Mofu Dogs as an Akita dog idol group currently trending in Japan. As Taiwanese travelers often rely on bloggers rather than guide books for their travel information, a blogger tour was organized, with Taiwanese travel influencers visiting locations that appear in the music video and blogging about their experiences to convey Akita’s appeal to followers back home.
The music video achieved over one million views in just two weeks, reaching 1.2 million views as of February 2017. The campaign also generated 299 earned media stories as of December 2016: 199 in Japan, 67 in Taiwan, 12 in English-speaking nations (including the USA and Australia), and 21 in other countries, including Indonesia, Chile, Italy and France.
The campaign produced a tangible impact on tourism to Northern Akita. In 2016, 8,203 overseas visitors stayed overnight—well above Akita Inu Tourism’s goal of 6,500.
The number of overseas passengers on the Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway also went up, exceeding 10,000 for the first time in the route’s history. Of 399 groups travelling on the train in 2016, 397 came from Taiwan, with 839 individual Taiwanese passengers in December 2016 alone, a 4.6-fold increase year-on-year. December 2016 saw the railway experience a 300% year-on-year increase in group reservations. The number of Taiwanese travelers visiting local attractions like the Korakukan Theater (upon whose stage Mofu Mofu Dogs are depicted dancing in the video) and Kosaka Mine Office grew from a few dozen in 2015 to 1,400 in 2016.
Accommodation facilities also enjoyed a significant increase in Taiwanese guests staying in 2016. Hotel Crown Palais Shuhoku (Odate City) hosted 30 Taiwanese guests, up from 19 the year before; Towadako Shinzantei (Kosaka City) saw an increase from 281 to 418; and Matagi No Yu (Kitaakita City) hosted 65 Taiwanese guests, up from 9 the previous year, with 65 more Taiwanese visitors staying between January and February, 2017.
The video’s popularity also became a factor in the decision by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to collaborate with Akita Inu Tourism in arranging a promotional tour of Northern Akita for representatives of Tokyo-based foreign embassies. The one-night trip welcomed 23 participants from 17 countries, including Singapore, Thailand, Romania, the Czech Republic and Germany, drawing an overwhelmingly positive response for the local scenery, and tourist attractions including the Korakukan Theater.