Trends -- In the Mix

By Rebecca Milner - CScout Japan

Ramen companies are kicking back and letting customers write the recipes in smart marketing campaigns

“Thick and Rich Miso Tonkotsu.“Ramen maker Maruchan’s Yahoo Japan cup noodle “Thick and Rich Miso Tonkotsu.“

When Maruchan introduced the new cup ramen flavor, “Thick and Rich Miso Tonkotsu,” on February 16, nearly two million potential consumers already knew about it. How did the instant noodle manufacturer manage to create that kind of buzz over the introduction of an ordinary convenience store staple? By teaming up with Japan’s most popular web portal, Yahoo Japan.

Noodle lovers were given three weeks to voice their preference through Yahoo’s dedicated ramen site, on everything from broth to seasonings. Whatever came out on top, Maruchan would create as an actual product. This second version of the campaign, under the banner of “Let’s use everyone’s voice to make a new cup noodle,” drew an impressive 1,910,000 votes—a 90 percent jump from last year’s already noteworthy participant level.

Maruchan isn’t the only fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) producer to tap this online, and vocal, fan base: rival noodle maker Acecook recently turned to members of Japanese SNS pioneer Mixi. Through a community established with Mixi’s backing, Acecook asked members (over 5,000 as of January) for input during every step of the production process, not only for new flavor ideas but also for marketing slogans. All items in the collaboration line-up, which included flavors such as “Milk Tantanmen” and “Ginseng Chicken” featured the signature Mixi logo on the packaging.

Instant ramen may be the obvious choice for online crowd sourcing; after all, the product is stereotypically consumed on mass by heavy Internet users. Beverage maker Calpis, however, ran a similar Mixi collaboration campaign, resulting in the new flavor “Mix Fruits Calpis,” which it launched at an exclusive party for community members. While the Maruchan campaign cast a wide net with Yahoo Japan, the Mixi collaborations drew on the niche expertise of specific online communities. These are by no means negligible however; a search for “ramen” on Mixi turns up over 3,000 hits and the largest community, titled “I love ramen,” boasts an impressive 192,666 members.

Trend Impact

Crowd-sourcing FMCGs through influential online channels is a win-win strategy. Like the publishing companies that mine SNS mobile sites for content, confident that online fans will turn into paying customers, manufacturers can expect consumers to feel a personal attachment to the product through their involvement. Meanwhile, Internet participation is increased—and enhanced—as users can feel, and taste, the outcome of those countless hours logged in online.

Rebecca Milner is a trendscout and researcher for Cscout Japan Co., Ltd., part of the Cscout global network. Cscout provides trend research and analysis for companies of all sizes through its Trendpool database, and conducts Trend Immersion Tours in Tokyo and cities all over the world for visiting executives. You can find more information on Cscout’s daily blog: