Twitter’s little blue bird has landed in Japan and looks like it might stick around to build a nest: The microblogging site had almost 10 million views in April from Japan. Ninety-five percent of people polled in a recent survey said they knew about Twitter. Granted, goo Research and japan.internet.com surveyed 1,077 people who were already online, so we’d expect higher recognition than if they polled people on the street. But still, a huge increase from 12% in a similar survey taken at the same time last year. The tweet designated as the 15 billionth this past weekend was in Japanese. For the final nudge, Twitter will come pre-installed on 13 of SoftBank’s new phones this summer, and a free Twitter app for NTT DoCoMo’s keitai has just been announced.

From a marketer’s point of view, that’s a lot of potential consumers. How to grab their attention and keep it? The first wave of Japanese corporate Twitter accounts to play with the medium mostly chatted a bit aimlessly and offered Twitter-only discounts. Many of the accounts replied automatically to messages about the company’s product or shop that were posted in the common format “I’m at FamilyMart/eating udon/drinking coffee now.”

Now, these holler-back Tweet bots are so last month. The new campaigns are more imaginative, creating characters, entire story lines and complex feedback and interaction.

Coca-Cola Japan has made creative accounts for a few of of its drinks. A samurai drama unfolded one tweet at a time to promote Espresso Blux, one of Coca-Cola’s Georgia brand’s two dozen canned coffee varieties. Jumping on the popularity of Ryoma Sakamoto and historical dramas, the campaign ran subway ads and cliffhanger TV commercials depicting Nobunaga Oda under his final siege and the tagline “continued on Twitter.” The custom Twitter site posed the question “What if Nobunaga had survived the attack on Honno-ji in 1582?” via an alternative history story tweeted by a cast of characters with hand-drawn avatars. The connection between the drink and Twitter is in the catchphrase: Good things should be savored bit by bit.

Coca-Cola also turned to Twitter and J-pop to help promote its new “self care” drink LOVEBODY, a slim-bottled flavored water that contains “health- and beauty-enhancing ingredients” such as ginger and whey protein. The campaign has pop singer Hitomi soliciting lyrics for new songs via Twitter. In an earnest making-of video she says wants to tap into her audience’s “real feelings” and write lyrics about truly taking care of oneself and thereby encouraging women. Right. Next?

KDDI’s IS Twitter Parade makes animated Twitter avatars parade across the screen to electronic music. Not just any avatars – it’s a parade just for you, Twitter-champ: Put in your handle and it generates a parade out of your followers (or your key word of choice), with their most recent tweets popping up above their heads. Although the link to the page is still marching around the Twitterverse at a good clip, we have to wonder if anyone actually realizes that it’s meant to be a promotion for the IS smartphone, a new release for au by KDDI, Japan’s second largest mobile carrier. (The link to the product is as subtle as can be, hidden at the lower right of the noisy parade.)

Yellowman2010 is a character created by CalorieMate, the food-like nutritional supplement block from Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. (Not knocking it – they keep us from starvation on a worryingly regular basis.) Yellowman is an affable, slightly pudgy guy in a bright yellow track suit who polls followers with lifestyle or nutrition questions, like, “What did everyone have for lunch today?” A few hours later, numbers based on the responses are crunched, analyzed and presented on a dedicated website purporting to show, for example, how well balanced the averaged followers’ lunches were. (Too much protein, not enough calcium, guys.)

The Lawson chain of convenience stores is represented on Twitter by “Akiko-chan,” part of the “Lawson crew.” (Her cartoon avatar wears the blue-and-white-striped Lawson uniform, and, true to Japanese social networking protocol, hides her face.) Not just your everyday shelf-stocker, Akiko is a fortune teller. (She’s also an automated bot, but nevermind.) Send a message that says “Akiko, tell me my fortune” in Japanese and she’ll tweet back your fortune for the day. A bad fortune is accompanied by a tip to counteract it. Like, “Hit the enter key hard while you’re typing to increase your luck.” The Lawson Twitter page includes a brief introduction to some of the other characters in Akiko’s world. So far, they don’t seem to tweet on the job.

Finally, fast-fashion retailer Uniqlo is on a Twitter roll.  While hundreds of real people were lining up at Apple and SoftBank stores around Japan to get their hands on the season’s hottest slab of tech awesomeness, Uniqlo’s “Lucky Line” campaign attracted a queue of over 100,000 Twitterers vying for a chance to get a ¥1,000 coupon – a 1 in 26 chance, to celebrate Uniqlo’s 26th anniversary. Clicking on a link to get in line sent out a Japanese auto-tweet, “lining up now, I got number x,” which became one of the few Japanese phrases so far to have made it to the international trending topics list. The idea of standing in a line that long, even virtually, stressed us out. But 130,000 consumers can’t be wrong – it was a hit.

The line had hardly dispersed when they rolled out their next meme, Colortweet. Similar in feel but more intricate than Utweet in March, a user name or search word fills the screen with an animation of related tweets, manipulated avatars and dancing mosaic images. Both are nifty ego boosts, as long as they don’t induce some kind of epileptic reaction.

With the number of Twitter views now exceeding the number for social neworking site Mixi, we think this stuff is just the beginning of Twitter creativity.  Spot any other interesting Twitter campaigns? Let us know in the comments.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.