One of the more clever concepts in awareness marketing in Japan is starting to get attention in the United States, advertising on the front of small packs of tissues. Advertising agencies have stuck logos on just about everything imaginable, but how many times in the winter do you wish you had a small packet of tissues handy to take care of a runny nose?
This concept creates an authentic value exchange with the customer – the advertising is giving something to the customer and in return the customer has the option of reading the advertisement, possibly many times. According the an article in Japan Times, over four billion tissue packs are handed out in Japan every year.
In a recent Internet survey of over 100,000 Japanese consumers conducted by Marsh Research, 76 percent said they accept free tissues. (That’s a much higher acceptance rate than for leaflets.) When asked if they look at the advertisement accompanying the tissues, slightly more than half said they either “definitely look” or “at least glance at” the advertisement. When asked why, many respondents said they hoped to find a coupon or special offer. Yet others displayed a very Japanese sense of obligation for having received a gift, giving answers like “sekkaku kubatte kuretakara (because they were so kind to have given me something)” and “yappari moratta ijo minai to shitsurei ni naru ka na to omo tame (given that I accepted them, I figure it would be rude not to look).”
As you surmised, the concept of tissue-pack marketing was indeed developed in Japan. It dates back to the late 1960s, when Hiroshi Mori, the founder of a paper-goods manufacturer in Kochi Prefecture called Meisei Industrial Co., was sniffing around for ways to expand demand for paper products. At the time, the most common marketing freebie in Japan was boxes of matches, often given away by banks and used primarily by women in the kitchen.
Figuring tissues would have wider appeal (because everyone has to blow their nose, and carry insurance against public toilets with no tissues), Mori developed the machinery to fold and package tissues into easy-to-carry pocket-size packs. The new product was marketed only as a form of advertising and wasn’t sold to consumers. Even now, pocket tissues hardly exist as a retail category in Japan because everyone expects to receive them for free.
Japan is still the main market for tissue-pack advertising, but the practice is beginning to spread overseas.
Off Campus Media, a integrated marketing company focused on the college demographic is planning to use the tissue pack marketing concept on several college campuses this fall. “We have student ambassadors that are often distribution funny postcards and promotional items to increase awareness for our advertising partners”, said Mark Sawyier, CEO. “I think the tissue pack marketing idea is great.”