It was very "refreshing" to be asked the significance of manga in Japan recently. So I decided to think a bit more about this genre.
I grew up with it as a child, and while I was recruited into the translation team to create an English version of the Economic White Paper in the late 80s, I knew that more people would buy the manga version than the English version we were so intensely working on. Yes, the Japanese government actually issued a manga version of its Economic White Paper.
Manga in Japan became "mainstream" or legit thanks to great artists like Osamu Tezuka and international hits like his "Atom Boy." I used to think as a student that while we are taught about literary greats like Ryunosuke Akutagawa or Soseki Natsume, Yukio Mishima, and the only Japnese writer to win the Nobel Prize, Yasunari Kawabata, as the writers that shaped modern Japanese literature, in future, we would have Osamu Tezuka and manga meisters in our textbooks, too.
In November 2008, I was surprised to see a new form of marketing occur with manga. Dr. Ci: Labo, a cosmetics brand, teamed up with Shueisha's "Chorus" manga monthly magazine read by working women and young home makers to create a manga series that takes place in the offices of Dr. Ci: Labo. Through the struggle of the newly appointed PR assistant, readers learn about their products and development processes as well as how PR works (in part) for this cosmetics company.
The series ran for 6 months (6 episodes) and has since been made into a book that can be purchased. (Great way to recover some marketing investment dollars - imagine selling your marketing collateral in this way!)
Dr. Ci: Labo created a special campaign site for the manga series as well, and on the site, the actual products that are introduced in the story are featured with a web site only short comic strip posted to explain their benefits.
I have yet to see any other businesses jump on this bandwagon, but Dr. Ci: Labo has certainly taken the application of manga one step further than just using manga characters instead of real models and celebrities.
Another interesting topic, which came to my attention in a timely manner, is the launch of the TV Drama Series "Real Clothes, " which is based on Satoru Makimura's manga of the same title.
Kansai Television's official web site for the drama series is a great platform for those who paid top dollar or whatever was required to do product placement. "This Week's Fashion Check" page shows which item worm by the lead characters is of which brand. Louis Vuitton, Lanvin, JAYRO, DEARER & Gabrielle seem to dominate for now.
We have yet to see any promotions for these brands linked to the drama, but since the original manga series started in 2007, and is still ongoing, there defenitely is a longer life span to being involved for sponsors than a full feature film like "The Devil Wears Prada."
In the past, Hermes has published a manga book on its history with Moto Hagio as its author (they wanted someone who was good at drawing horses), and manga charisma-come-opera singer Riyoko Ikeda had a seried titled "Mijyo Monogatari" (The Tale of an Attractive Woman) that educated readers about haute couture and luxury brands as well as diet and taking better care of oneself. (Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton were featured) But manga seems to remain a very experimental marketing medium.
It is a very unique format to Japan and something that has a long history and a strong following. I am sure there will be other, more creative applications to come.