By Yanelis Garcia
From beloved Disney characters to exclusive luxury collections by Tiffany & Co., pop-up culture has found success in Japan.
Pop-ups are temporary trendy shops available to consumers for a limited time. As a form of experiential marketing, brands can connect with consumers through these branded experiences, bringing themselves “to life” in unique ways. By incorporating creative set designs and photographable moments, brands have been able to catch the eyes of Japanese consumers with these fun and unmissable temporary shops.
In this article we break down how businesses make their pop-ups successful in Japan, and how they can help your brand connect with Japanese potential customers, making an impact in the Japanese market.
Pop-Up Culture in Japan
Pop-ups are typically set-up as cafes or retail shops in high traffic areas such as Tokyo’s Shibuya or luxury neighbourhoods such as Ginza and Roppongi. While they are held in-person, they typically include a digital component to spread awareness for the limited-time experience and amplify the “pop up” effect. This can be in the form of a hashtag to use on social media, or a website to access limited merch or content.
These spaces that ‘pop up’ for a limited time are an effective way to introduce a new product, test a new market, or generate awareness as a part of an integrated marketing or PR campaign.
Japanese consumers have an affinity for beloved characters and are willing to go above and beyond to experience something special with their favorite brands, especially if they can capture the experience on camera and can take home something unique with them. Companies with brand entities, such as a trademarked character, and a strong following know they can leverage their purchasing power.
Examples of these include Disney’s Mickey Mouse, the popular anime Jujutsu Kaisen’s Gojo Satoru, and Netflix’s Squid Game. In Japan, pop-ups are either food-based (themed cafés) or retail-based (stores with limited collections), or sometimes even immersive experiences that combine both, such as Netflix’s Only On Netflix Japan pop-up event in Harajuku, the company’s first ever in Asia.
Brands that have found success with pop-up cafés are those that create food and drinks menus themed around popular characters, and there is a significant pop-up café culture in Japan.
For example, to celebrate the movie’s 5-year anniversary, a Zootopia pop-up café was set up in Omotesando for 3 months. Featuring themed foods and desserts based on the movie characters, alongside merchandise which was only available to purchase at the café, it gained strong popularity. Similar events were held in Osaka and Nagoya around the same time as well.
Other successful pop-ups by separate companies have featured Chainsaw Man, Toy Story, Moomin, and countless other popular animated brands. Anime-themed pop-up cafés in particular are common in Japan.
Character cafés are already popular in the Capital, so providing a never-before-seen experience that’s only available for a limited time, will have devoted fans lining up for something new.
Pop-up shops by apparel, luxury, and other types of consumer goods brands have done well in Japan too. Many have featured limited-time collections or exclusive drops just for the Japanese market.
Tiffany & Co. opened their “Lock” pop-up store in Roppongi Hills earlier this year. The opening event featured Japanese celebrities and A-Listers, all wearing their newest “Tiffany Lock” jewellery collection.
The Alexander McQueen pop-up shop at Isetan Shinjuku, featured exclusive items from the winter collection that were inspired by the idea of community and trends from the ‘90s. Other retail pop-ups have featured products for K-pop group BTS, popular anime SPY x FAMILY, and Chanel.
For smaller brands that mainly stick to e-commerce, pop-ups can still be a great way to connect with the diverse Japanese market. Norico Iwanaga’s pop-up was stationed at Tokyo Solamachi and featured the Tokyo-based artist’s latest collaboration of prints, small hand-sewn items and stickers.
Whether your brand has a strong presence in the Japanese market or if you’re testing the waters for the first time, pop-ups are an effective marketing tactic for the Japanese audience. As long as the pop-up provides a unique experience to the consumer, and it catches their eye, many are willing to enter just out of curiosity.
Experiential Marketing in Japan with Immersive Events
Netflix held its Only On Netflix Japan pop-up event which combined both food and merchandise, to provide Tokyoites an immersive event featuring playful set design, instagrammable photo moments, take-home gadgets, and a mini food court themed to shows First Love and Stranger Things. If event-goers wanted to experience the LOVE or ADVENTURE tour, they had to RSVP for time slots on the pop-up’s website.
Experiential marketing is about creating experiences and moments that consumers will remember forever. Netflix featured the taxi from their hit Japanese drama First Love where attendees could enter the vehicle and take photos from the built-in photobooth.
Event-goers could dress up in Bridgerton costumes, “fly” in a hot air balloon like in Emily in Paris, and even solve puzzles in the Wednesday hunt. Afterwards, one could enjoy pizza, ice cream or coffee in the mini food court and shop around for merchandise such as Squid Game plushies, Alice In Wonderland keychains or Netflix-branded apparel.
If your company wants to create an immersive experience to build awareness for the brand, make sure to make it interactive, with localized materials, Japanese hosts, and with plenty of photo-worthy moments.
Planning Your Pop-up in Japan
Even if you don’t have a presence in Japan yet, your brand can find success with pop-ups too.
We recommend the following:
- Include memorable interior design and a photographable set-up.
- Book a small space but in a visible and high-traffic desirable location.
- Provide exclusive or seasonal products that are not available online or in main stores.
- If possible, run the pop-up in several locations such as Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.
- Create eye-catching marketing materials to share with press and media.
With these five creatively–driven requirements, your company can create a can’t-miss sensation with curious shoppers, fandoms, otaku audiences, Instagram enthusiasts, and the many other diverse consumers in Japan! Let the right audience come to you.
Locations for Pop-ups in Japan
In Tokyo there are several locations that are known for their pop-up collaborations. Shibuya Parco is a commercial shopping center in Udagawacho, Shibuya. They are known for their pop-up spaces, hosting hundreds every year.
Two other popular spots in Shibuya include Miyashita Park, which hosts pop-up spaces dedicated to retail and art, and OH MY Cafe in Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku, located in Jingumae.
Shinjuku Station also features spaces for pop-up events, as well as Tokyo Solamachi, the famous Tokyo Skytree Town packed with stores and restaurants.
In Tokyo, as you are walking around town, you will likely come across several pop-up stores and events. There is limited promotion for them and reservations tend to be fully booked, once consumers hear word of their opening. It’s part of the city now, and fun for all types of consumers! The exclusiveness of them and the excitement around their limited availability is what makes this experiential marketing technique a successful one.
Moshi Moshi Nippon, a media site dedicated to pop culture in Japan, has even created a segment for pop-up shops in town. The “blink and you’ll miss it” pop-up trend will continue to boom in Japan, so your company will want to get in on the fun as soon as possible.
Through a creatively-focused execution, a prime location, a photographable set-up, and exclusive offerings, your company can find pop-up success in Japan as well. If you are looking to explore pop-ups and experiential marketing to grasp your audience in Japan, consider letting us guide you to improve your marketing strategy for the Japanese market.
Contact Tokyoesque for your initial 30 minute consultation at no cost.
Alternatively, feel free to get in touch and see how we can help you develop your offering in the Japanese market.