How female millennials drive photogenic consumption in Japan

Jun. 1, 2017
  • Reportage

Source: Campaign Japan (available in Japanese only)
Writer: Chisato Takigawa, Hakuhodo Career Woman Lab

Instagram, a social media platform for sharing photos and videos, is hugely popular among Japanese women in their twenties. It even greatly affects their lifestyles and the products they use.

I am with the Hakuhodo Career Woman Lab, an independent project team of Hakuhodo and Hakuhodo DY Media Partners. There I research the consumer attitudes and lifestyle perspectives of Japanese working women in their twenties and thirties, and apply the results to marketing and promotional planning.

I am particularly interested in social media use among women in their twenties. According to figures from the Hakuhodo DY Media Partners Institute of Media Environment, 98% of Japanese women in their twenties use social media. Instagram usage averages 16.3% for all age groups, but it stands at 68.5% among women in their twenties. Thus Instagram is particularly suited to that demographic.

The changing information behavior of women in their twenties

Let me describe the characteristics of information behavior among Japanese women in their twenties as revealed by a series of in-depth interviews conducted by the Hakuhodo Career Woman Lab.

The first is the visualization of their wants. Whether in the hallway or in the washroom, these women are constantly viewing Instagram. As they scroll through all the photos on their timeline, they decide intuitively which are “kawaii” and whether they want any of the items in them or would like to visit any of the places they show. And they click one “like” after another. Thus their wants are aroused not verbally but visually, by intuition, and that intuition operates faster than ever.

A second characteristic is the increasingly borderless nature of the information they access. There is virtually no limit to the genres women follow on Instagram, which encompass everyone and everything from fashion influencers to music artists, moms, dogs, and recipes. Because most Japanese are not very good at English, few bother to look at overseas websites, but Instagram is another story. Women happily follow overseas accounts because the photos tell everything, so there are no barriers of nationality or language.

Further, there is a tendency to use Instagram as a search engine. Increasingly women use it in place of a conventional search engine when trying to track down information. One reason for this is that Instagram gives you the latest information, unlike a search engine, which returns results in order of search volume. For example, if you are planning to visit New York next month and you want to know whether you should take a coat, Instagram can tell you. And Instagram lets you search for places and people simultaneously, so looking at the pages of people who post photos from a particular location will tell you whether that location is where cool people go. Accordingly women now use Instagram to find the coolest restaurants.

Travel spending at the mercy of Instagram

Particularly noteworthy is the way Instagram has transformed how women travel.

In the old days they would first decide where to go and buy a guidebook, and then take photos when they got there. But now that they are on Instagram all the time, they save images of the kind of photos they would like to take, and share them with friends in a group folder on Line. They then decide where to go based on what photos they want to get. “These are the kinds of shots I’d like to take, so let’s go here.” They check out the place online, and if it appears to attract fashionable people, they can be confident it is a fashionable destination.

Thus they already know what shots they want to get by the time they decide where to visit, and they go on a shopping spree prior to departure. They may take six bathing suits with them, for instance. Once they arrive, if they have three hours to spend on a beach, they will spend two and a half of them taking photos. They may even change bathing suits midway through. It truly is an on-location photo shoot.

In some cases the women who travel together are not even great friends. If you are not that good-looking yourself but take a bunch of photographs with a bevy of gorgeous girls, you can enter the ranks of the beautiful people on social media; hence women sometimes make a point of traveling with attractive, photogenic companions (even if they do not get on well together).

Everyone uploads the photos they have taken during the trip to a Line folder so they can decide which to post, and those that get the green light are shared on social media. If all someone posts are beautifully touched-up photos of herself looking great, people will think her obnoxious. Women therefore try to win the approval of friends with a self-deprecating hashtag.

The deciding factor: whether it’s photogenic

Instagram has a significant influence on young women’s everyday behavior. It engenders what could be described as a need for self-branding arising from the desire for approval.

First, they buy stuff with the goal of building a photogenic personal brand (what we term “photogenic consumption”). They love anything colorful or elaborate, along with bric-a-brac to jazz up the home, hence the growth of the retail home fashion market over the past few years.

They then relentlessly perfect that personal brand. They lead life in conformity with it and use a single filter. They also review their Instagram page and delete anything that is out of place.

But it is not enough simply to post eye-catching photos on your timeline. One of the women whom we interviewed in depth was planning to visit Osaka but then switched her destination to Kyoto on the day before she left on her trip because “if we’d gone to an Osaka theme park, we’d have looked like party people in the photos. They wouldn’t have been photos of the real me.” Kyoto was the better choice for taking photos of “the real her.”

Thus young women’s everyday behavior is determined not by how they want to spend their lives but in light of how they will be seen on social media. That reflects their desire for approval in the form of likes.

Using different social media platforms for different purposes

Women in their twenties use different social media platforms for different purposes. Facebook is for special occasions. Instagram is for self-branding. Twitter is for letting off steam by saying what you really think.

One reason for this fixation on social media is that they belong to a generation that has been communicating on social media since junior high—so-called social natives. What they confide in is not their diary. Another factor that encourages their use of social media is Japan’s distinctive culture of tatemae (not saying how you really feel in so many words).

If, therefore, you are a company thinking of conducting a communication campaign or promotion, don’t be pushy and tell young women to post your product on social media; rather, simply show it to them while hinting that it might help them with self-branding. If, for example, you share the story behind the product, such as the culture based on which it was designed, they might identify with that story and decide to post your product on social media because they feel it lets them express who they are.

Chisato Takigawa is a member of Hakuhodo Career Woman Lab. She spent eight years in marketing at Hakuhodo and is now with the Magazine Division of Hakuhodo DY Media Partners. (Edited by Ryoko Tasaki)

Link to Japanese version ⇒

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