Mascots Enegori, Denpa-cho, Oto-san compete for a share in Japan's retail electricity market

By Staff Writer

Feb 23, 2016 02:04 AM EST

Japan's retail electricity market has the top power companies, along with new entrants, vying for a piece of it. The 8.1 trillion yen ($72 billion) market is soon to be liberalized, for which the companies are trying everything from a suited gorilla to a cuddly bear to gain an edge in a country where mascots play a vital role.

The new entrants are doing what is locally known as yuru-kyara to lure customers away from the top monopolies in Japan. A yellow and white bear character named Denpa-cho is representing Tokyo Gas Co., whereas top mobile operator SoftBank Group Corp.'s white dog, Oto-san (meaning "father") is giving others stiff competition, reports Bloomberg.

Japan's leading oil refinery, JX Holdings Inc. has Enegori, a gorilla in a suit and a tie, wooing the citizens. The company is said to have a power generating capacity of more than 1500 MW from thermal, wind and solar sources, and is planning to add more. On the other hand, a marshmallow-like ZAQ character holding a light bulb is employed by Jupiter Telecommunications Co.'s to represent the home shopping stakeholder. While this company doesn't have own power-generation capacity, its parent company, Sumitomo Corp. that runs wind farms and coal plants, can supply power through Jupiter.

Japan, unlike the West, is known for its mascots doing the trick for children and adults alike. The land of Hello Kitty and Super Mario has thus taken this route to get a slice of the trillion-dollar retail electricity market. As per Yahoo Finance, Tatsuya Yamamoto, a Tokyo-based character consultant to Dentsu Inc., very aptly stated, "In the West, adults tend to avoid cute characters that seem childish, but in Japan these characters are thriving. Businesses use them because children, as well as adults, recognize them."

Now, with so many power companies keen to get a share of the market, a Nomura Research Institute survey shows that it is a good thing for the consumers to get so many choices. They say around 3% of the households should change their operator if offered 5% cheaper rates, and almost 16% may make the switch if the rates drop by 10%. The proof of this theory is somewhat justified by Tokyo Electric Power Co. losing almost 90,000 consumers to rival companies in the last two weeks.

"The increase in choices is ultimately good for the consumer," said Syusaku Nishikawa, a Tokyo-based analyst at Daiwa Securities Co., according to Daily News. "They'll be able to purchase electricity not only from Tokyo Electric, but from Tokyo Gas, telecom companies and various others."

Tokyo Power Co. is now restructuring its marketing ideas to save its market share amidst rising competition. Along with discount offers and service bundles, the company is also contemplating the launch of its mascot, Denko-chan, in a market where consumers seem to be only responding to these funny characters.

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