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Marketing and the Anime Consumer
By Tena Mastrangelo
Has the way anime been sold and presented influenced the number of female anime fans?
Note: in early December 1999 interview surveys were sent to all domestic anime companies to various contact addresses. Those quoted in this article were the ones who responded.
In the early 1990s, several North American companies teamed up to bring across the ocean a phenomenally popular animated series called Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon. The popularity of the show in Japan gave these companies high hopes it would catch on here.
In 1995, Sailor Moon debuted in the United States and Canada, backed up with a marketing campaign that included merchandising aimed at younger girls. However, the intended market just did not catch on to the show as planned. The show was soon retired after a lukewarm reception. It has since gained much more popularity after Cartoon Network picked up rights to air the series.
Sailor Moon has a special place in anime here in the United States, as it is the first series aimed at a female audience that has had a large mainstream penetration. The show has helped introduce many girls to the anime genre, to search out more titles and explore anime in general.
Historically, anime has been (and still is) a male-dominated genre, with various series that span science fiction, comedy, action films and even hentai. One female fan believes that there is a misconception held by females about anime, that it is just for males, says Riki Le Cotey. She says they are probably bothered by fan service (such as panty shots) in the shows. She is personally not bothered by it.
"I think for girls to really allow themselves to enjoy all anime they have to be very open with that kinda stuff ... (it) doesn't necessarily have to be hentai, but be able to handle breasts. Unless you want to watch shoujo forever ..." says Le Cotey, 19.
"Anime just tends to have characters that female fans would be interested in rather than aimed only towards females," she continues. " ... I like all genres of anime, from Utena, Marmalade Boy (which is apparently for females), while things like Photon and Maze are more aimed for males."
Expanding anime audiences
Despite the number of male-oriented shows out there, more and more females in the past several years have been buying anime, can be seen at conventions and anime clubs. With the growing number of females and children watching anime (for example, the Pokemon craze) several companies have expanded on their products to include these different demographics.
"Our main target for the anime product has recently changed. Before 1997, Pioneer's products appealed primarily to science fiction and fantasy fans that liked a large dose of comedy in their products. However, due to the frequent use of 'fan service shots,' these titles often have more appeal to males than females," says Chad Kime, animation marketing supervisor for Pioneer Entertainment. "Since 1997, Pioneer has targeted two areas for expansion: kids (Dragon Ball Z, Kimba, Pokemon) and girls (Fushigi Yugi, Sailor Moon). While we steadfastly believe that all our products have a wide range of appeal, we acknowledge that mature content will make parents uneasy, and nudity and pure violence have tendency to appeal primarily to males."
Pioneer's current bestselling titles are Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Tenchi Muyo, Armitage III, El Hazard and Serial Experiments Lain. Kime says less than 5 percent of Pioneer's titles have a primarily female appeal, although at least 50 percent have some appeal to the stereotypical female demographic. He guesses that less than 10 percent of titles are aimed at a female audience and less than 2 percent target them specifically.
Shawne Kleckner of The Right Stuf International says Right Stuf's relative increase of titles aimed at a female audience is from 15 to 20 percent. Kleckner also says it is hard to say exactly how what percentage of titles are geared just for a female audience. "We have seen females enter the marketplace all across the board, not just on specific titles."
"Our main target audience up to now have been males, 12-35," says Kleckner. "This has dramatically shifted over the last 12 months, and there are many more females and young people in the mix now, which causes us to redefine our marketing strategies." Right Stuf's bestselling titles include The Irresponsible Captain Tyler and Astro Boy.
It's all in the presentation
On a recent trip to her local Suncoast Video store (in Little Rock, Ark.) the author examined which anime titles were displayed prominently and how they were positioned about the store. Presentation of the product in a store also affects consumer prices, as do cover art and descriptions of titles influence how things are bought.
Placed prominently near the cash register, several anime titles were displayed in both VHS and DVD formats. Among those titles included Perfect Blue (on VHS) and Ghost in the Shell and Macross Plus on DVD. The small anime DVD section was buried between the sci-fi and action sections, featuring mostly science-fiction and action titles, such as more Macross, several MD. Geist and Fist of the North Star, a couple Ninja Resurrection, Crimson Wolf, Armitage III, Queen Emeraldas, Iria and Night Warriors. Box sets included Tenchi Muyo as well as Record of Lodoss War. Several volumes of Lain, one of Battle Athletes and several volumes of Tenchi in Tokyo were also available, but buried behind other things or at the bottom of the shelves.
The VHS section was another matter, however. While all titles were arranged in alphabetical order, titles with female appeal were turned out so cover art could be seen. Among these titles included Fushigi Yugi, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sailor Moon and The Slayers.
While looking at all of these titles, one can't help but be drawn by stunning cover art and read the descriptions on the back of the title. The way these are presented can either make or break if a title is either replaced on the shelf or brought to the cash register for purchase.
Kime says that Pioneer's box art and descriptions have a greater affect on purchases than a widespread advertising campaign.
"We currently market primarily to the hardcore fans (off all demographics) and through in-store promotions. Magazines that specifically target kids, parents or girls are frequently prohibitively expensive. Until the market grows larger and more stable, more general advertising will not be practical," Kime says. "However, we often choose box art with wide appeal that closely represents the title as much as possible to act, in effect, as a mini synopsis for the mood of the show. In the past, it has been determined that, for now, the box art is a greater influence on the number of purchases than a widespread advertising campaign."
According to Kleckner, Right Stuf depends on its advertising choices, such as different magazines, etc., as well as a focus on marketing like or similar products towards all customers.
"We have to market to a more general audience, so these are written in a more general style now, as anime has become more and more popular," Kleckner says.
There are several differences in packaging and product descriptions that are used to attract males and females in different titles.
"Packaging with cheesecake art, or descriptions that hype up the sexy nature of the show or the violence contained within will turn away many female customers. Packages with beautiful boys on the cover and jacket text that plays up the relationships will drive away male customers and have some female appeal. Stereotypically, guys like sexy women and action, girls like character-driven plots and romance. These and other traits can be emphasized to appeal to a specific market," Kime says.
Looking toward the future
Anime is increasing in popularity with more audiences, especially females and children. Several companies are changing their ways to attract customers by adding new titles, changing the way they advertise and trying different strategies. Others, however stay with what fans want and demand.
Robert Woodhead, president and CEO of AnimEigo, says AnimEigo is a specialist company and does not target females. However, he says, many enjoy and buy titles they offer, such as Oh My Goddess, Bubblegum Crisis, Kimagure Orange Road and Urusei Yatsura. It is not financially feasible for them to start targeting a specific audience, he says.
"We have been looking during acquisitions to acquire titles which are more broad-based (such as Kare Kano) that would draw male and female interest," says Kleckner of Right Stuf's plans for the future.
Of Pioneer's plans, Kime says, "At this time we will concentrate on finishing the release of Fushigi Yugi and Sailor Moon, which should keep us busy until 2001 with the respect to female-oriented titles. Should there be a huge increase in the sales of our titles oriented towards girls, I am sure we will make an effort to obtain more titles and be able to justify a more ambitious advertising campaign than we are currently able to enjoy."
© 2000 Tena Mastrangelo and Anime on DVD. No portion of this article may be reprinted, copied or reproduced unless given permission by the author.