National

‘Unappealing’ Ibaraki steps up PR campaign to boost survey ranking

Kyodo

Ibaraki Prefecture is developing a series of new PR strategies after struggling for years to move up in a private think tank survey that ranks the appeal of all 47 prefectures.

Ibaraki has ranked lowest in the survey for six years in a row despite various attempts to improve, in a situation that alarms Ibaraki Prefectural Government. “We are afraid that everyone will think Ibaraki’s appeal is the worst in the country if the situation doesn’t improve,” prefectural officials said.

“We are getting so much attention now as Ibaraki has been ranked at the bottom for six years in a row,” Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa said jokingly to reporters at an Oct. 25 event celebrating the interior remodeling of a prefecture-themed satellite shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district. The satellite shop, called “IBARAKI sense,” is aimed at promoting regional goods to attract visitors to the prefecture.

But behind the joviality, prefectural officials are distressed. When the annual ranking was announced last month, they were again disappointed. “We honestly don’t know what to do to move up the ranking,” an official said.

Since 2009 the Brand Research Institute, Inc., a Tokyo-based think tank, has annually released an appeal ranking based on criteria such as each prefecture’s degree of recognition and visitors’ experiences.

In this year’s ranking, Hokkaido was No. 1, earning 59.7 points, whereas Ibaraki only received 8 points. Apart from when it ranked second from last place in 2012, the prefecture has been at the bottom every year.

In a bid to raise its profile, Ibaraki has tried various campaigns. In 2013, it came up with the catchphrase “don’t mess with Ibaraki” to raise its name recognition, but the prefectural assembly criticized the tag line as “degrading.”

Last year NHK aired a drama series “Hiyokko” set in Ibaraki, and when prefecture native sumo wrestler Kisenosato — an Ibaraki native — was named Yokozuna, a promotional poster was made featuring him along with the catchphrase hitamuki, maemuki, Ibaraki (devoted, forward-looking, Ibaraki). But Ibaraki still placed trailed in last year’s ranking.

Akio Tanaka, president of the Brand Research Institute, has pointed out that the prefecture may not be doing enough in its advertising campaigns.

“Ibaraki hasn’t been able to adequately show its appeal,” Tanaka said, adding that despite the prefecture being the largest producer of melons in the country “not many people know about it, because the producers haven’t branded the melons as ‘Ibaraki melons.’ ”

This year, the prefectural government launched “a sales strategy division” to promote itself more effectively. It has unveiled new efforts, such as advertising Ibaraki-produced melons and releasing promotional videos featuring Hiyori Ibara, a computer-designed female character recognized as a virtual YouTuber.

The Ibaraki satellite shop in Ginza, which the prefecture regards as a trump card in boosting its appeal, has redecorated the shop’s interior to offer a sense of high quality.

It has also reduced the range of products being sold to about 500 items — including shawls made of Yuki-tsumugi, silk cloth produced in and around the city of Yuki in Ibaraki. The store additionally offers lunch and dinner using ingredients from Ibaraki.

“I hope that people will get to know Ibaraki’s appeal — which is not that well-known — at the shop, and visit Ibaraki to feel the real sense of it,” said Hideo Horie, the sales strategy division director.