All my life, living with 'Content'  Content Institute Lecture @Aoyama Gakuin University

Crowdfunding changes monetary value

The other day I had a very interesting chat with a young philosopher called Yohei Yamaguchi. He was talking about how surprised he was after a recent visit to the best design university in Helsinki. The students there said, "Japanese people believe in teamwork which makes them effective now, but in the near future we will win. We have a strong sense of individuality, which will be our advantage in the future when we can use CAD to design and a 3D printer to print our own cars. We will be able to print out the cars we want to drive, beating Toyota." I fully believe this could happen. Crowdfunding is a platform for creating products in the smallest lots, and it is very popular right now.
For example, if a stationary manufacturer is holding a meeting to discuss whether or not a new stapler will sell well and an executive says "no", then the product will never be launched. But with crowdfunding, just the minimum level of public support is required to launch a product that could become a big hit in the future. The leading crowdfunding platform is called Kickstarter but 90% of the projects that have collected ten million yen or more are from major corporations such as GE or Sony. Are we to assume GE and Sony cannot afford ten million yen in product development? No, of course they have the money, but they do not know the level of public support. Crowdfunding is a new kind of R&D that provides a platform building new products if enough support can be obtained. As I said before, this stems from the fact that the consumption model has changed, and people no longer want the things other people have. Kickstarter is the world's largest platform, handling about 70 billion yen per year. Makuake is the largest such platform in Japan, and we are involved in all aspects of this new product development, including naming and design, creative services, and production of the videos that are distributed through Makuake's services.

The world's biggest hit among crowdfunded products is a multi-functional cooler box called the "Coolest Cooler" that was planned through Kickstarter, and has raised 1.5 billion yen. It is a cooler box, but it has added charm because it has speakers attached and it dispenses ice. A huge amount of money was raised for a product that we could very well see on the store shelves tomorrow. In the entertainment field also, movie director Spike Lee has funded a movie through crowdfunding. His request was for the equivalent of 300 million yen, but in return the person who donated the most money would be able to sit in the chair next to Spike Lee and watch him direct. The funds were raised in the blink of an eye.

I envision that the value of money will change in the future, even if we use crowdfunding. In Dentsu there is a wonderful department called the "Social Design Office" and the creative director is Susumu Namikawa, who is a friend of mine. Mr. Namikawa thinks that the value of money will probably change in the future. People born in the bubble era are from a generation that thinks everyone wants to own things, so it is important to save money. However, as the perspective of future generations shifts as I mentioned earlier, consumption will change to it being OK just to use things. So we could have situations where a person will stay in the house of a future friend instead of paying money for a hotel room, and then borrow a car that is not being used instead of buying one. If this way of thinking forces its way into the economy, economic activities that are not reflected in GDP will increase. Therefore conceptually speaking, a 100 yen coin may cease to be worth 100 yen. So Mr. Namikawa started working on a site called "Without Money Sale," an online select shop for items that cannot be bought with money. For example, the site may read, "We only have ten of these extremely rare umeboshi [pickled plums], so no matter how much money you have we won't sell them to you." Instead, there are three ways of getting umeboshi. You can "buy with love" (express your love for umeboshi by writing three pages of manuscript paper), "buy with wisdom" (provide three ideas for promoting umeboshi), or "buy with time" (take time to deeply understand umeboshi by listening to the thoughts of the producers and studying how to make them). The site stated that the umeboshi would be given to a winner selected from among the people who submitted entries, and it received an overwhelming number of applications. I encourage you to see for yourself how the website presents the products in a unique way every time. I think this is perhaps an experimental attempt to see what people will do when products cannot be obtained without "sympathy and empathy."
I'd like to tell you about a project that Mr. Namikawa implemented using his excellent understanding of social design. A company called Nepia wanted to improve its sales of toilet paper. Conventional media strategy would have dictated the use of around 300 million yen for television and other sales promotions. As a copywriter, Mr. Namikawa had serious doubts about this method. He was unsure as to whether the toilet paper would sell well even if outstanding advertising copy was written for it. Instead, he researched which country in the world had the fewest toilets, and found that it was a country in Southeast Asia called Timor-Leste. The sanitary conditions in Timor-Leste are so bad that children suffer from a lot of infectious diseases, so Nepia decided to build a total of 9,000 toilets using part of its revenue. This vastly increased the availability of toilets, greatly reduced disease and also vastly reduced the mortality rate of children. Today, Nepia has the top market share in Timor-Leste. This was a very long-term approach that had substantial social impact.