The Dark Side of Anime Marketing – Are We Crossing Ethical Boundaries?

Now research has shown that the use of these characters can perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women and promote heteronormative notions of masculinity. Credit: jsks from Wikimedia Commons image.

According to a recent study, the use of “moe” anime characters in tourism advertising can have negative consequences.

In Japan, using anime characters in advertisements is a common tactic for promoting goods and services. This marketing approach exploits people’s emotional attachment to these characters, a feeling that is often described using the Japanese slang term “moe”. Derived from the Japanese verb “moeru” which means “to sprout”, “moe” has evolved to express fans’ affection for anime characters, also known as “moe characters”.

However, the use of “moe characters” in marketing strategies, especially to promote local tourism through a practice called “moe-okoshi”, has raised eyebrows due to the depiction of women. This caused controversy, prompting Yasuhito Abe, an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Communications at Doshisha University in Japan, to conduct an in-depth study. The focus of the study is on the Executive Committee of the Daughters of Chita, or CMJI (Chita Musume Jikkō Iinkai, in Japanese).

This initiative aims to develop tourism in the Chita Peninsula in Japan, thus presenting an interesting example of the use of “moe” based marketing. The study was recently published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies.

“I sought to gain a deeper understanding of the social and cultural conditions in which the public sector promotes the practice of moe in collaboration with the private sector in the field of regional promotion,” explains Dr. Abe.

Founded in 2010, CMJI uses content featuring moe characters to promote regional tourism. Much of the content produced by the CMJI project revolves around a group of young female characters, the “daughters of Chita”, each representing either a city or town on the Chita Peninsula. In promotional YouTube videos created by CMJI, moe characters represent famous places on the Chita Peninsula, hinting at interactions with viewers. For example, a CMJI YouTube video that Dr. Abe carefully studied shows a virtual date with a young girl named Mihama Ren, who introduces viewers to Mihama City as the best place to date.

Mo’s characters cater to a predominantly male audience and often perpetuate the harmful way in which women are portrayed as sexualized objects, infamously known as the “male gaze”. In his research, Dr. Abe examined two aspects of CMJI’s tourism promotion campaign: how the regions of the Chita Peninsula were portrayed as “viewpoint” sites, and how it encouraged the consumption of moe among its audience.

He found that while CMJI has attracted considerable attention with the use of moe characters, the practice tends to reduce the rich history of a city or town to a simplistic narrative aimed at a certain audience’s feelings towards the moe characters. “The practice of Moe-okoshi can promote the colonization of each area through the male gaze, thus turning local places into dating sites and limiting the scope of regional promotion to a matter of visibility for a certain audience,” notes Dr. Abe.

He also found the use of moe elements in the CMJI project to be ethically questionable as it portrays young women as objects to be looked at and promotes heteronormative notions of masculinity among its audience. In addition, moe-based marketing campaigns run the risk of alienating some of their audience who find moe ideals unacceptable. This study is one of the first to take a critical look at moe methods used in marketing to examine their long-term and far-reaching implications. Because regional promotional strategies using moe-like content can have negative impacts, Dr. Abe concludes that “a variety of regional promoters, local governments, and mainstream media in Japan and beyond can highlight the concept of gender, to critically evaluate and shape the development of regional promotion strategies.”

The study is an important contribution to understanding how gender can not only influence the effectiveness of regional promotion, but also raise inherent ethical issues. This is a strong argument for further research to better understand moe-related regional advancement and its unintended social consequences.

Reference: “More Than Just Regional Promotion in Japan: The Case of Chita Musume”, Yasuhito Abe, March 23, 2023, International Journal of Cultural Studies.
DOI: 10.1177/13678779231160568

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