OMAKE REVOLUTION

Candy firms jump on CD bandwagon

by Yoko Hani

Giveaways attached to packets of candies and chocolate are nothing new in Japan. Recently these omake have commonly taken the form of wonderfully detailed little toys and figurines in themed, collectable sets such as animals, anime characters, dinosaurs, birds, cars or motorbikes.

This year, though, omake have mutated to include something that’s not only collectable, but usable — specifically, mini CDs of original 1960s and ’70s pop songs.

It’s all a far cry from the first simple little bronze medals with pictures of historical figures or animals stamped on them that began to be included as incentives to buy packets of candy about 80 years ago. Since then, the market has steadily grown to the point where it’s the omake that often seem to be filling the shelves of convenience stores and supermarkets — not the actual confectionaries they are supposedly promoting.

With this latest move into 8-cm-diameter CD omake, however, the genre has taken a bold new step away from appealing to the childlike of all ages through a small, attractive object. Now, it’s obvious that makers are consciously targeting young music-lovers and people in their 30s, 40s and 50s old enough to remember the songs first time round.

Leading the CD-omake charge is the candy-maker Ezaki Glico Co., one of the first to offer omake with its products back in the 1920s. Its wide-ranging Time Slip Glico line of retro-omake started marketing the audio-omake last summer. Company spokesman Takahiro Yoshimura explained, “We have been marketing Time Slip Glico under the theme of ‘nostalgia for the 20th century’ since November 2001. So then we came up with the idea of using CDs to give customers a feeling of nostalgia for ‘the good old days.’ “

Plummeting birth rate

Behind this strategy — which Yoshimura also referred to as “nostalgia for the Showa Era” — lies the nation’s plummeting birth rate, which has had a serious impact on the sweets industry. Consequently, candy-makers have actively been seeking to widen their target customers to include adults as well.

“Our sales have suffered the effects of the falling birth rate,” Yoshimura said, adding that as a result, “in order to boost sales, ‘nostalgia’ has become a key word behind the creation of products that appeal to adult customers.”

Indeed, looking back to the Showa Era (1926-89) is something of a social trend in Japan just now, judging from the number of popular television programs featuring old TV anime and popular singers from the ’60s and ’70s. Similarly, among the omake items already featured in the Time Slip Glico series have been miniature replicas of old cars such as a 1955 Toyopet Crown and a 1956 Mazda T-2000; household goods such as Matsushita’s black-and-white TV from 1952, a 1953 refrigerator and popular TV series characters such as Ultraman and his monster foes.

“Coming after our other Time Slip Glico items, the candy package with a CD omake has sold far better than we had expected,” Yoshimura said.

He added that by the end of December his company expects to have sold about 6 million of them at 300 yen each — nearly twice what they expected when they launched the line in June.

Aiding their sales, is what Yoshimura calls Glico’s “tradition” of randomly packing its omake with its products and offering buyers no clue beforehand which one they will get. “This unpredictability,” he says, “adds to the customer’s excitement at finding which one they have got.” With 18 different CDs in the current “playlist,” and many people keen to get them all, Glico’s tradition clearly will do no harm to its sales either.

Turning up the heat

But Glico no longer has the CD-omake market to itself.

In September, toy maker Bandai Co. began marketing a similar product with an omake CD of songs from popular TV anime programs from the 70s in a product range called “Natsukashi no Hero and Heroine Hit Kyokushu (Hit Songs of Good Old Heroes and Heroines).”

Then in October, Bourbon Corp., the sweets maker that first introduced CD-omake, turned up the heat when it began selling packets of five sticks of biscuit with a CD of ’70s J-pop in a series it calls “J’s Pops no Kyojintachi (J-Pop Giants)” — priced at a competitive 330 yen.

Due to the trend, production of the mini CDs has skyrocketed. According to data from the Recording Industry Association of Japan, 3.63 million 8-cm CDs were produced in September alone — 6.6 times more than in the previous September.

Varying its winning formula, from November in western Japan (and from January nationwide) Glico also began selling candies with CD omake of broadcast recordings of some Hanshin Tigers’ 2003 games. Featuring some of the baseball team’s famous gyakuten (come-from-behind victories), and titled “Gyakuten Gekijo (Gyakuten Playhouse),” the maker says these 400 yen products are targeted at “Tigers fans drunk with ecstasy after their team won the Central League pennant for the first time in 18 years.”

So, where is this new omake craze heading? Ironically, at present these products sometimes seem to be hard to find as ever more customers snap them up — though the makers’ will no doubt be working to up the supplies. And with Glico planning to market a second series of “Time Slip Glico” song CDs there scarcely seems any limit to what makers might decide to put on their omake CDs in the future.

As Yoshimura put it: “We might put almost anything on our CD-omake products in the future, such as a collection of songs, for example, which is themed toward particular emotions. Or, we could make collections of anime songs, or . . . “

So, to the growing legions of CD-omake fans out there: Watch this space — and hope it’s not the one where your longed-for novelty candy used to sit on the shelf of a shop.