As an ad medium, tissues nothing to sneeze at

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People handing out tissue packets to passersby outside train stations have been a common sight for years.

According to manufacturers, around 2 billion pocket-size packets of tissues are handed out annually, usually to advertise a business.

Hiroshi Mori, founder of tissue maker Meisei Sansho Co. of Kochi Prefecture, hit upon the idea of marketing tissue packets in Japan in 1968, inspired by standard-size boxes of tissues — a novelty at the time — imported from the United States.

Banks became the first buyers of Meisei Sansho’s pocket tissues. It was a time when their promotional activities were restricted, said Sadao Morimura of Meisei. Because of their popularity, pocket tissues replaced matchbooks as giveaway items at bank counters, he said.

Giveaway tissue packs that include an advertisement slip are now widely used by businesses ranging from consumer lenders to language schools, restaurants to pachinko parlors.

ADSP Corp., an ad agency handling pocket tissues, said the main reasons the packets are popular are that they can be an effective ad medium at low cost.

“An ad in a packet containing eight tissues is seen every time a tissue is used,” said Mitsuhiro Tanaka of ADSP, noting an order of 50,000 packets costs only 5 yen per packet.

Consumer-loan giant Takefuji Corp., which distributed about 250 million tissue packets in fiscal 2003, passes them out as part of its business strategy.

The firm’s 3,300 employees, including managers, at about 530 outlets nationwide alternately take to the streets to distribute them.

“We are trying to convey our attitude to potential customers while handing out tissues,” spokesman Masayuki Yamamoto said, noting the promotional activity can help improve the firm’s image.

But for the legions of part-timers who pass out the tissues, their only concern is to approach as many passersby as possible.

A 25-year-old woman handing out tissues in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward had the knack.

“Most people will take it if you hold it out to their hands while looking in their eyes,” said the woman, who only identified herself as Mayumi.