It is easy to say the least that brands and organizations, especially in Japan, have long utilized mascots as a way to make the brand more “approachable” to the general public. Mascots, or generally referred to as yuru-chara in Japan, have been on the rise in across Japan to represent everything: from Kumamon-Japan’s most famous mascot representing the Kumamoto Prefecture, Domo-kun for the NHK, and Miraitowa for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. And in more recent years, brands are tapping deeper into new ways of engaging with users and customers, especially online: through Virtual YouTubers (or Vtubers for short).
Through recent years, the VTuber community has seen its rise by 2020, influenced directly by the pandemic that brought us inside our households. Data from UserLocal states that by 2021, there have been around 16,000 registered VTubers only, and it is expected that the number will continue to rise, be it from home-based indie VTubers to agency-held talents.
Part of the new wave of VTubers are seen from the rise of large agencies that have proved to have a global reach, such as Hololive, NIJISANJI, and VShojo. And with that large influence, there is a high chance for these virtual talents to be tapped by brands for their own marketing and advertising campaigns. Kizuna Ai is tapped by Japanese conglomerate Softbank for the promotion of iPhone XS, and Gawr Gura gets a cameo appearance in anime-packed ad by American fast food chain Taco Bell. VTubers are slowly getting integrated as part of mainstream corporate endeavors.
But there is one facet of the VTuber community that has seen a rise as well, and that is the debut of brand-affiliated VTubers. What started out to be a Japan-centric thing has expanded as well to global brands and entities. They serve various purposes, ranging from being the brand’s representation for their product or services, to creating a new form of engagement to online users.
In this feature, we take a look at some of the brand and entity VTubers, and learn about their content offerings and endeavors.
What’s In This Feature?
The emergence of Japan-based brand/entity VTubers
We are all familiar with the fact that VTuber culture all started out in Japan, popularized in 2016 by Kizuna Ai. And with the continued rise of VTubers, there are local businesses and organizations that have tapped into the VTuber industry.
One of those early adopters is Japan-based multinational pharmaceutical company Rohto Pharmaceutical, with the debut of their VTuber Nebasei Cocoro who debuted June 8, 2018. Her content is a mix of typical “Let’s Play” content, but also sharing video tips about health and lifestyle, including tips on avoiding UV rays when going outside and tips for a white skin. Cocoro’s content style is part of the company’s aim to promote their expanding product line-up across new consumer demographics.
The same goes as well with Suntory Nomu, the VTuber of Japanese beverage company Suntory. Aside from the typical content creator videos such as gameplay, karaoke streams, and releasing popular song covers, she is also active on Twitter promoting and reviewing Suntory’s diverse product lineup, from its green tea to coffee products.
While the two aforementioned VTubers have been all about fast-moving consumer goods, VTubers Hinata Hino and Mahiru Shirayume are brand VTubers of–get this–a solar energy company called Looop. Aside from their content, they also promote the company’s objective of promoting clean green energy through solar power.
Even Taiwan-based gaming hardware brand MSI has its Japan-based VTuber: Mei Mihoshi, who aims to promote MSI’s latest gaming hardware to the Japanese market. She debuted on December 4, 2021. Meanwhile, Sanrio, the popular wholesale company because of Hello Kitty, has tapped into the VTuber market with its own talent Natsume Renge. He debuted on October 15, 2021 and is part of Sanrio’s virtual marketing division.
In Japan, not only brands are tapping into the VTuber scene: Even its own prefectures have their own VTubers, often referred to as ‘virtual ambassadors’. These include talents such as Ibara Hiyori of Ibaraki prefecture, Kasukabe Tsukushi for Saitama prefecture, and Sachiko for the Iwate prefecture. These VTubers primarily function to promote tourism for their respective places, mainly appearing on social media campaigns.
Brand VTubers go global: An overview
As the VTuber industry began to expand globally to markets such as in Southeast Asia and North America, global brands have seen the opportunity to tap into this market in a bid to cater to a rising, younger audience.
Take for instance streaming giant Netflix, who surprised most of us with the debut of their official VTuber and virtual ambassador called N-ko Mei Kurono, or aptly N-ko. Described as a half-sheep, half-human character, she appears mostly on Netflix Anime’s YouTube channel, where she promotes upcoming anime series on the platform, as well as non-anime Japanese live-action series.
Crunchyroll, the anime streaming service, has its own brand mascot, Crunchyroll Hime, debuting as a VTuber on October 12, 2021. Long known to be a recognizable brand asset of the streaming service, Crunchyroll Hime’s VTuber debut aimed at making the brand closer to the millions of fans globally using their service.
Meanwhile, multinational video game company SEGA has two of its well-known characters, Sonic the Hedgehog and Miles “Tails” Prower, debut as VTubers in 2021, in a way to interact with Sega’s large video game fanbase casually, just like how other large VTubers do so to their growing fanbase.
Last but not the least, Airasia, the multinational low-cost airline based in Malaysia, recently ventured into the VTuber space by launching an agency called Project Kavvaii and releasing its very first talent, Aozora Kurumi on May 8, 2021. While the agency is currently focused on developing the talent itself through regular content releases and streaming, Kurumi has been integrated as well with some of Airasia’s campaigns, including the recent 20th anniversary celebration of the company.
So, there you have it: Our take on listing down some of the diverse brand VTubers we can think of. By the way, our very own brand character, Tsukimi Lune, is a VTuber as well! Aside from making regular content, she also interviews VTubers and agencies from the VTuber industry to learn more about this up-and-coming community.
Feature Image: (From left to right) Crunchyroll Hime from Crunchyroll (© Crunchyroll, Inc.), N-ko from Netflix (© 2022 NETFLIX), Aozora Kurumi from Airasia’s Project Kavvaii (©2022 AirAsia Group Berhad), Suntory Nomu from Suntory (© SUNTORY HOLDINGS LIMITED), and Mei Mihoshi from MSI Japan (© 2022 Micro-Star INT’L CO., LTD)