Japanese companies enlist 'otaku' culture to reach young people

TOKYO - "Here you go. Ethnic lemon ramen, Vietnam-style," Ryo Saionji whispers gently into the consumer's ear. "I'm glad you liked it. Ah, you're finally smiling! Your smile ... makes me blush."

Saionji is a character in Toyo Suisan Kaisha's Voice Recipe campaign to promote its line of raw ramen noodles. But he is not real; he is an anime character created specifically for the campaign, and played by popular Japanese voice actor Nobunaga Shimazaki. There are three other characters in the campaign, all with sweet voices, and played by other dansei-seiyu, the Japanese word for male voice actor.

In Japan, subculture lovers are called otaku. Named after the fact that they used to call each other "otaku" (a polite way of saying "you"), they have come to be recognised by companies as a pool of young potential customers. And more and more companies are tapping into the otaku market.

Not taking notice

"Young people just weren't buying our raw ramen noodles," said Yusuke Kubo, a member of Toyo Suisan's chilled foods department and the man behind the Voice Recipe campaign. "Compared to instant noodles, raw noodles are more similar in taste to the noodles in ramen shops," he said. "Young people often queue up for hours outside a ramen shop, so we thought if we could somehow reach out to the young, they would become fans of our products."

The campaign itself is simple. On the back of the raw noodle packages is a code, which the customer uses to unlock recipes using the product. The recipes are audio files, spoken by voice actors, in the style of a voice drama. This simple campaign struck a chord with voice actor fans. "I bought it as soon as I found it in the supermarket," one enthusiastic Twitter user said.

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