What’s a cat in a tiny hat got to do with a clever (albeit accidental) ploy to save a train line and start a booming local economy? I read this article and thought it makes for a fascinating insight about how pop culture and brand come together to make powerful business outcomes.
The Stationmaster of Kishi Station
The Kishigawa railway line connecting Wakayama, a rural area of Japan, was threatened by closure due to financial problems and a low number of passengers. A regular at one of the stations was a cat, named Tama by her fellow station goers. Well loved, they jokingly referred to her as the station master. Charged with trying to revive the railwayline, railway president Mitsunobu Kojima visited the station where he met Tama. Immediately taken with her, Tama received the offical title ‘The Stationmaster of Kishi Station’, along with a custom made hat. She “manned” the station with a special ticket booth built just for her.
No one could have predicted what was to come next from Japan’s first ever cat stationmaster. Quite the attraction, Tama appeared in national media and promotional material as the face of the line. This continued to expand – souvenir shops, merchandise, her portraits (or pawtraits) on the wall of the station – a feline frenzy! Suddenly the station was redesigned to look like the face of a cat, and the trains interior and exterior made to be cat themed. Slighty outrageous, but it worked. Over eight years, Tama attracted around 800,000 additional visitors and contributed 1.1 billion yen to the economy.
Perhaps only in Japan could a cat create such outcomes, however Tama provides an interesting thought into incorporating pop culture into brand.
Japan loves cats, and they’re strongly embedded in their culture. In Japanese folklore, they have protective powers and symbolise good fortune. Cartoons, museums, cafés, theme parks and islands are some of the many things dedicated to them. Entire brands are built on purr power.
How can you tap into culture and express it in your brand in order to resonate with consumers? Incorporating pop culture makes your brand more relatable, or can trigger feelings of nostalgia: both things that make consumers more likely to choose you.
Building hype around a train sounds to be a tough task, but building hype around a train run by a cat wearing a stationmaster hat? Easy peasy.