A small theme park “Photo Sticker Machines”-a look into the world of “beautifying”- Part 3

Photo Sticker Machines are an important tool in the communication arsenal among mostly high-school aged young women. Allow me to guide you through the vision of FURYU, the company which holds the largest share of the Photo Sticker Machines market.

■FURYU’s Strategic Vision

Currently, the market for Photo Sticker Machines is stable at about 22.5 billion yen (195 million US dollars). FURYU Corporation, based in Shibuya, is the market’s biggest players.

FURYU’s Offices

The Playroom at FURYU’s Offices

GIRLS’TREND LAB Director, Ryoko Inagaki

FURYU got its start in 1997 as a new company called Omuron Corporation. They entered the Photo Sticker Machines market a year later in ’98, one of the last makers to do so. At the time, Photo Sticker Machines was riding a wave of popularity, and competition in the market was fierce. It was in this environment that FURYU began to sell their first product, a portrait sticker machine, making use of a level of technological skill unavailable to their competitors. Unfortunately, the portrait sticker machine was nowhere near a hit. Learning from time and experience, FURYU rebuilt the portrait machine as a Print Sticker Machine, thereby creating a machine that users were able to get behind.

Then, in 2006, a year which was to become a turning point, current GIRLS’TREND LAB director Ryoko Inagaki, as a project leader, created a machine called “The Princess and the Little Devil”, which went onto become a huge hit. Until that point, the customization offered by Photo Sticker Machines was totally left up to the user. These customization options included things like makeup, clothes, or backgrounds. Many users would throw together elements that didn’t mesh, producing haphazard end results. This new machine, however, allowed users to choose from different courses, such as ‘Princess Pastels,’ coordinating everything from backgrounds to photo effects in order to create a unified aesthetic. Users could still freely customize, but now there was an easy path for them to select the backgrounds and effects that matched their own favorite style in terms of makeup and clothing. In other words, suddenly even users without a fine aesthetic sense could create aesthetically pleasing pictures since the machine is “Aesthetic Sense Included”. After that, as the Photo Sticker Machines business was hitting its stride in 2007, FURYU was established as its own company after a management buyout from Omuron.

2006 ‘The Princess and the Little Devil’

‘The Princess and the Little Devil’ image

Also, in 2002, a new Photo Sticker Machines service was started. Pictlink, or, as it was called at the time, ‘Raku Puri Shot’ , lets users download and view Photo Sticker Machines’ pictures. When users took pictures with Photo Sticker Machines, members of the service could transfer the pictures to their smartphones. Free members could select any one picture to transfer, while paying members could transfer all of their pictures. The newest machine, ‘Winc,” even allowed users to assemble their pictures into collages or animated ‘Purichoco movies.’ Of course, members of this service began to prefer the FURYU machines.

A ‘Puricho movie’ from the Winc

■The GIRLS’TREND LAB is Established!

Later, in 2012, the GIRLS’TREND LAB was created. The lab was tasked with strengthening the already thorough market research targeting young women, with an eye towards developing plans for new Photo Sticker Machines, as well as sharing the results outside the company, and expanding into new areas. According to Ms.Inagaki, the lab frequently made time to interact with users directly by conducting group interviews, not only to ascertain what kinds of things users thought about, or what things they thought were the cutest, but, essentially, to bring themselves walking in the shoes of the young women who made up their user base. To illustrate this with an example: Suppose there is a girl who says that she uses Photo Sticker Machines for “self-satisfaction.” Even a girl like that might possibly feel, beneath the surface-level fun, that she uses Photo Sticker Machines (and Photo Sticker Machines sharing services) because she wants praise and recognition from others. The Lab’s goal was to become adept at reading the hidden motivation behind user’s self-reports.

Not only that, but “Proposing new beautifying for Photo Sticker Machines after analyzing trends is too slow. It’s crucial that we always synchronize our offerings with whatever is ‘now’ for young women,” Ms.Inagaki says. To do that, in an environment where most companies release a new machine an average of once per year, FURYU releases new machines 9 times annually, including version updates to existing machines. By understanding the young women who make up their market, and coming up with new ideas one after another, they’re able to keep pace with rapidly changing trends.

In this way, FURYU steadily increased their marketshare, resulting in the current market, where 7 out of every 10 Photo Sticker Machines is a FURYU product.

the Lab spends its days researching ‘girls.’

■Sharing the Market with Mobile Photo Apps

Today’s smartphones have a wide variety of apps that let users decorate their photos with crisp and colorful effects. We asked Ms.Inagaki if these apps posed a competitive challenge to FURYU’s machines.

“We welcome the current mobile app environment,” was her response. Due to the spread of these photo apps, more people than ever have made taking photos a part of their daily lives, something that drives the desire of many to take even more and even better pictures.
※※It’s a bit of a digression, but in the past, these pictures had a tendency to focus on nightlife, as a sort of proof that the photo-taker was out there enjoying their life, but more recently, as sharing photos on social media becomes more common, photos of nightlife, which is difficult to get good shots of, are declining. Taking their place, lunchtime barbeques, house parties, morning get-togethers, and other more ‘wholesome’ pastimes have become popular as photographic subjects. ※※
Plus, when it comes to beautified features offered by the apps, many users will prefer a Photo Sticker Machine. A divide is developing wherein users may choose to use the app when they want to beautify something quickly and easily, and come to a Photo Sticker Machines machine when they really want to make sure their picture is properly embellished.

■The Beautifying of the Future

Per Ms. Inagaki’s analysis, the current trend of ‘Natural’ beautifying will continue for a while longer, continuing to splinter into sub-trends with ‘Cool,’ ‘Healthy,’ and ‘Your True Self,’ being keywords worth watching.
It’s another sign that the user base is growing just a little bit older.

In addition, such ‘beautifying’ isn’t limited to pictures. FURYU’s GIRLS’TREND LAB is collaborating with Daiso Industries to offer a range of merchandise targeted at young women. Using the marketing strength they’ve cultivated through their years of experience, they’re expanding their development of real beautifying. GIRLS’TREND LAB is centered around the idea of “Helping every GIRL be HAPPY,” says Ms.Inagaki.

Goods from the third FURYU GIRLS’TREND LAB and Daiso collaboration

■Epilogue

The history of Photo Sticker Machines, the changes that beautifying have undergone over the years, both are part and parcel of young women’s own unique culture, itself constantly shifting and changing. It seems to me that the strength of FURYU, taking in the latest news as young women change their preferences in very short trend cycles, is their ability to specialize in these trends, with research that always has one hand on the cultural pulse and the planning power and technological knowhow to turn that information into something real.
Finally, to conclude with one last thought, one thing that left the most lasting impression: Although quite a bit outside the targeted age range for these products, when the author tried out the latest Photo Sticker Machines machine, the one takeaway from the experience was, “This is really fun!”

FURYU Corporation website
http://www.furyu.jp/english/

Articles related to FURYU:
Comic Market 91
http://goo.gl/y1qm3A

>>Part 1
>>Part 2

(Article by: Kenichi Nakamura)

Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.

 

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