Yesterday, Toyota and Crypton Future Media unveiled a new joint ad campaign. Crypton’s Hatsune Miku character will serve as the official sponsor of Toyota’s Corrola. According to Toyota, both the Corolla and Hatsune Miku are “driven by the sound of success.”
For those that don’t know, Hatsune Miku is a character based on the Vocaloid speech synthesizer engine. Specifically, Miku was released as the first of Crypton’s “Character Vocal Series.” The character’s voice was created by sampling Saki Fujita’s voice, then integrating the samples to the engine. In a brilliant marketing strategy, Crypton pitched Miku’s character as “an android diva in the near-future world where songs are lost.” The market latched on, a cult of fans was born, and countless songs were over-dubbed by a chirpy, semi-monotone voice that streaks through the uncanny valley.
In Japan, the character’s gained its own life, becoming a modern-day Sharon Apple. Fan clubs were started, toys were sold, and full stadiums sold out as people clamored to get more of this virtual idol. She’s starred in video games, been parodied in anime, and became the a darling of message boards and chat rooms. In a sense, the character transcended the bounds of “cute mascot character” and became a phenomenon. Admittedly, the character’s rise has become as fascinating as it is creepy.
In America, the Vocaloid phenomenon has been pretty small niche. Well, a niche of a niche within an niche. Miku fans are typically anime fans, who enjoy anime songs – specifically those who like bad remixes of said tunes. We’re talking about a small segment of an industry that grosses under $200 million per year, as of the most recent estimates. To reiterate: this is a fandom, in which even high performing shows tend to sell in the 2,000-copy range. And Vocaloid fans make up an incredibly small niche within this niche. The only thing that really crossed my mind on the news was “and Toyota expects to sell CARS to these people?”
Now, I won’t go into the whole fact that this is a character that’s become something like 60% wank material, 40% “OMG KAWAII DESOO” stereotype. However, I will again mention that this campaign strikes me as puzzling, given the market. On the anime enthusiast level, it’s always encouraging to see nods to the community. The opportunity to chip away at the stigma that’s grown over the past decades, and hopefully give some (small) broadening of acceptance is a good thing. However, as a cynical bastard, I tend to look at things a bit less hopefully.
This campaign will probably have little traction outside of the niche. Commercials such as this won’t hit TV. Or, if they do, they will be aired on late-night slots that typically show anime like Syfy, or Adult Swim. The average adult views cartoons as inferior, children’s programming. This won’t change due to a 30-second commercial, featuring a green-haired cartoon character and Japanese music.
A more realistic possibility is that this will be a strictly online affair, with the ad showing on streaming networks like hulu, Crunchyroll, or FUNimation video as they tend to appeal directly to the market Toyota is aiming to hit. The Vocaloid fans and hardcore will squeal with glee, they’ll go on and on about how anime is finally being accepted by the larger market. The rest of us will just watch with some amusement as this crashes, burns, and costs Toyota a decent chunk of money, and no real change is made in the auto market nor the anime market.