Companies look to teenage girls for product ideas

Kyodo

Teenage girls around the country, often regarded as trendsetters with a strong word-of-mouth network, are increasingly becoming a reliable source of ideas for developing and marketing products in the corporate world.

From building bicycles to designing stationery, more and more businesses are turning to female junior high and high school students for their opinions in hopes of creating hit products.

Some schools are even cooperating with corporations on this, seeing the collaboration as useful hands-on work experience for students and assistance in helping them weigh future career opportunities.

Bridgestone Cycle Co., for example, joined hands with popular teenage girls’ magazine Seventeen to find nine female students ranging from the eighth to 12th grade — so-called reader models who appear regularly in the magazine as trend markers — to take part in developing a limited edition of its new motor-assisted bicycle.

The model was designed both to appeal to that demographic and be practical based on the students’ suggestions.

Despite a decline in overall demand for bicycles in the domestic market due to a shrinking population, motor-assisted models have continued to see growing sales. But their popularity has been concentrated mainly among homemakers and the elderly, prompting Bridgestone to reach out to the teenage girls for ideas on how to win younger customers.

Although only a limited number of the bicycles have been built, Mao Ushiroku, a Bridgestone official in charge of product development, expressed confidence that it will prove popular with its intended target because it incorporates the opinions of junior high and high school students.

Similarly, stationery maker Zebra Co. worked with another magazine targeted at teenage girls, Pichi Lemon, in developing a special limited edition of its popular Sarasa Clip gel ink pen series.

Zebra listened to the opinions and suggestions of several of the magazine’s popular reader models, students ranging from eighth to 10th grades, and came up with the new pen, which went on sale in January. Among the eight types launched this time for limited sale, one features mint-scented ink and skull marks dotting its pink barrel.

“The sensitivity of these (female student) models, who are the trend leaders, is worth as much as the opinions of several hundred consumer monitors,” said Kanae Nakamura at Zebra’s product development section.

In hopes of expanding the market for its long-popular Sarasa Clip series to the younger generation, the company is considering using the same approach in turning out more products in the future.

Some schools are meanwhile showing themselves keen to collaborate in product development projects.

Takagi Gakuen Girls’ High School in Yokohama had its students work with Kiyoken Co., maker of Chinese “shumai” dumplings and also headquartered in the city, to design a boxed lunch favored by high school girls.

Last year, 20 students from the school engaged in a similar project with Morinaga Milk Industry Co. to develop a new product for its popular Cheerio ice cream series. In after-school sessions and during summer vacation, the students gathered to discuss product ideas and effective sales channels.

“I enjoyed creating a product from scratch through the joint efforts of so many of my classmates,” said 17-year-old Moeka Araki, a second-year student at Takagi Gakuen who took part in the project.

Akiko Takagi, the school’s director, said these experiences have prompted some students to major in product design after going on to university. “I believe it makes them increasingly aware of their future career paths,” she said.