It’s said that sales is not a science but an art. No one really believes that salesmen are only as good as the product they’re pushing. They basically sell themselves. Their art is the art of self-promotion, and often the product is beside the point.
Things get really hairy when the product is intangible, like advertising. An ad salesman has to convince a potential advertiser that his publication has an audience the potential advertiser wants to access. Normally, we tend to think it’s the size of the audience that matters — the circulation, the ratings — but a really good salesman will make a customer see beyond the numbers.
Ichiro Kishida, editor of the men’s magazine Leon, talks more like a salesman than a writer. In a profile in the Oct. 11 issue of Aera magazine, he explains that his publication has absolutely no “intellectual” content, nor does it attempt to give “lifestyle advice.” Most men’s magazines do both, because their editors want to convey a measure of respectability, which Kishida believes is a load of nonsense. Men can “see through” such editorial content, he says, since all they really want to do is get laid.
Consequently, most men’s magazines aren’t doing very well in Japan. Leon is doing exceptionally well. Only three years old, the glossy monthly rakes in 300 million yen in ad revenues each month. Leon’s circulation is only about 70,000, so obviously it’s the quality of the readers that interests advertisers, not the quantity.
Leon’s target is men who make at least 15 million yen a year, which is another way of saying successful men over 40. On the cover, Leon says it “supports attractive, middle-aged men (moteru oyaji).” This support, according to Kishida, is completely in the appearance department — and what purpose would a middle-aged man have for looking good except for picking up younger women?
Well, there are probably at least a few reasons, but for the purposes of advertising sales, this strategy seems to work. Leon’s features are almost all about nice clothing and accessories that give one an advantage with the opposite sex. In April, they did a feature on small presents that men can give their dates. One was something called a Bijou Ring, made by the Swiss watchmaker Swatch. Throughout Japan, the rings sold out in two weeks.
Even altruism has its romantic advantages. Leon suggests that its readers occasionally postpone sexual assignations for higher purposes, such as “volunteer work to save sea turtles” (naturally, there are proper accessories for such work), because young women “think volunteer work is kakkoii (cool).”
Kishida’s success has prompted him to expand, and this month he launched a companion women’s magazine called Nikita. Moviegoers will immediately see the connection — both “Leon” and “Nikita” are the titles of action movies written and directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson, who, it could be inferred, embodies Kishida’s concept perfectly, since he’s over-40 with lots of money and dates women half his age.
Nikita’s target is females who make about 8 million yen a year, but the real purpose of the magazine is to cultivate women who will go out with the men who read Leon. The inaugural issue delineates the demographic: “Tactics to Beat Komusume” is the general theme, komusume being women who are no older than 22. That would mean the target readership is competing with younger women for the favors of the moteru oyaji. But Nikita readers are still much younger than the oyaji, presumably around 30 or 35.
A casual flip through Nikita (which, like Leon, weighs about 1.5 kg) will raise suspicions: Can a person who makes 8 million yen a year afford this stuff? But one understands the real purport of the ad strategy on page 336, which includes items “you can buy for yourself right now,” like, for instance, lace lingerie. Obviously, everything else in the magazine is meant to be bought by the older guy you’re dating.
A word that’s used a lot in Nikita is “adejo,” which was apparently made up by the editors. Adejo combines the Chinese characters for “amorous” and “female” into a neologism that describes a woman who doesn’t mind being referred to as “sexy.” Most Japanese women, even those in their 30s, still prefer to be called “cute.” Nikita wants to bring sexy women out of the closet, ostensibly for their own self-confidence, inostensibly for the benefit of those oyaji looking for a good time, but ultimately to catch the attention of advertisers.
Whether or not this demographic actually exists may be a moot point. The racy American sitcom “Sex and the City,” for example, is a huge hit in Japan among women in their 20s and 30s, who, like their Western counterparts, appreciate the show’s frank girl-talk and runaway consumerism. For all its sexual candor, “Sex and the City” is the ultimate fantasy show, especially in terms of fashion. Only a Romanov could afford those wardrobes.
It makes you think. At one point in the Aera profile, the reporter wonders why he has never met the kind of moteru oyaji that Leon targets. Even Kishida, who has the 3-mm stubble, the monochrome wardrobe and the wallet chain that characterize the “Leon man,” professes to be happily married. Moreover, not one of the models in either magazine is Japanese. There may, in fact, be no such thing at the Leon man or the Nikita woman, but that doesn’t mean editors and advertisers can’t dream about them.