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Travel to Japan has grown at record numbers since 2012, setting record highs in the last six years and is expected to reach 40 million visitors annually by 2020. While cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are the traditionally-popular destinations for inbound visitors, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) sought to capitalize on the increased interest in Japanese tourism by bringing awareness to more “off-the-beaten-path” destinations such as the scenic Tohoku region.


It’s true that most Americans traveling to Japan haven’t visited its northern region, but Tohoku, with its expansive countryside, mountains and lakes, boasts unmatched impressive natural beauty. As noted in a January 2018 editorial in The Japan Times, “...some prefectures and municipalities have succeeded in attracting more tourists to their areas through their own clever promotional efforts, such as ‘branding’ campaigns that are aimed at overseas tourists and by inviting low-cost carriers to launch services in local airports.”


With studies showing that Millennial families are driving growth in travel, JNTO counted on Piranha’s expertise in getting the word out to this growing target audience. And what better way to do this than to send real Americans to experience the region firsthand?

Piranha, a proven leader in forward-thinking marketing practices, cast four American micro-influencers, each of whom had their own significant reach through various social media outlets. The four visited Tohoku and filmed their adventures documentary-style, which was then released as a web-based miniseries to audiences on Facebook, Youtube, a campaign microsite, and a second phase of distribution on Lonely Planet.


The key was Piranha’s use of an authentic cast: camera-charismatic digital natives comfortable expressing their feelings. The four ultimately selected were located by meticulously searching social media platforms to find micro influencers who were truly engaged in key communities: foodies, creative-types, and outdoor enthusiasts. The goal was not to find commercial spokespersons, but rather authentic natural leaders within these key constituencies who have established credibility and respect among their fans and followers. What better way to boast all that Tohoku has to offer than by providing real people with a real experience that can be shared among the thousands of potential travelers already within their reach?

The selected four were sent to enjoy Tohoku with a small production crew for a week of adventure. The crew gathered footage of the American travelers exploring breathtaking natural landscapes as they learned about rich local history and unique culinary traditions.


After returning to the States, Piranha’s post-production team was able to create a professional miniseries documenting the experience in only six weeks. Episodes were released at once on the website and YouTube to encourage binge watching, but serialized for Facebook by releasing one new episode each week to drive traffic to the microsite.


Piranha’s campaign helped grow JNTO’s social media influence across all platforms, with their Instagram followers increasing by 17x, or 15,328 followers, and the number of Facebook followers grew by 4.5%. The videos were most popular among the key 25-34 demographic and and garnered over 3.5 million views over Facebook and YouTube Overall, the campaign reached over 10 million people across, Facebook, YouTube, and Website traffic.

Go: Tohoku

Getting Americans to Japan

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