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Japan at 8am this morning was really on another planet. From the looks of it, the Japanese really love the iPhone.

What struck me was that the three Japanese carriers have taken a different approach in marketing the iPhone .

These carrier philosophies were quite glaring at the iPhone launch events they held in Tokyo.

DOCOMO, glitz and emotion

The newcomer when it comes to the Apple device, went for two approaches. The first one: a very aggressive pricing strategy. The second is a mix of glitz and emotion. After personally delivering pastries and, appropriately, apple juice to some of those who had queued for the iPhone, the carrier’s president, Karuo Kato, stood in front of the Marunouchi store, shaking the hands of the first buyers. Standing next to him was no other than Ken Watanabe, the famous Japanese actor that rose to an international recognition with movies like The Last Samurai and Inception. Horikita Maki, a mix of TV actress and tarento, was also all smiles.

Kato shared his excitement to the press, telling how he almost teared when customers were thanking him to finally bring the iPhone to DOCOMO , even affirming his legs shook.

The launch event had a feeling of enduring loyalty, a bit paternalistic. It’s as if DOCOMO was peacefully saying Welcome Back Home to those who had strayed .

SoftBank, familiarity and reassurance

One could feel that SoftBank was a bit on the defensive this time around. Representing the carrier was Ken Miyauchi, the Executive Vice President. No Masayochi Son around. Was it because SoftBank has nothing really new to offer? Or was it because it was business as usual?

The latter was the intent. The message was clear: SoftBank knows the iPhone, it has carried it first, customers should feel comfortable . The carrier’s customer care is the best and longest trained for the device, many employees certified by Apple itself. "It’s a familiar phone for SoftBank, trust us" could have been one tagline.
Miyauchi touted how smartphone users were satisfied with the carrier: it has won first place in smartphone satisfaction and LTE satisfaction in a recent Impress survey1.

And, you guessed it, a tarento was there too—no Japanese event truly goes without—Aya Ueto . Just that she maybe wasn’t an enough diversion to cover a perceptible anxiety. Reassurances about the LTE network were hammered to the crowd.

SoftBank has always had a relatively bad reputation about its network quality, something that cruelly feels sometimes more like a narrative than reality2. Miyauchi even downplayed the low-frequency band—essential for a better building penetration— the competition was deploying for LTE. He has no choice, SoftBank’s 900MHz band is used for 3G and won’t be transitioning towards 4G until next summer.

Of note, SoftBank chose Ginza, the tradition, over Omotesando, the up-and-coming, to launch the iPhone. A reflection of where the carrier stands.

au/KDDI, 800, and 800, and 800

It’s in trendy Harajuku in its no-less trendy "Design Studio" event space that KDDI’s President, Takashi Tanaka introduced the two new lines of iPhone.

The presentation slides carefully explained what was exactly 800MHz. Show Aikawa—the Japanese actor who impersonates KDDI on advertising—carried a giant sign that read 800MHz. The hostesses wore T-shirts with a big 800MHz printed on the back. A newspaper-like printout headlined with 800 was handed out to those waiting outside. Even the bottled water was branded with 8003.

It is not reported if Ayame Gouriki, the tarento of the day, had a secret 800 tattoo.

Yes, au/KDDI was all about LTE, LTE, LTE. An otaku-like obsession about 800MHz, almost eclipsing the iPhone unveiling.

It’s true that the carrier has been touting its supposedly faster and better LTE deployment for months now. It has rolled 4G out on multiple bands—800MHz, 1.5GHz and 2.1GHz—and understandably wants to bet big on reliability and capacity of its network. One couldn’t however miss reading the veiled attack towards SoftBank—the carrier that has been eating its cake since 2007.

 

So there you have it, the new persona of the Japanese carriers: the comforting father, DOCOMO, the fresh graduate, SoftBank, and the geek, au/KDDI.

 


  1. a Nikkei survey also had SoftBank faring well

  2. various speed tests in Tokyo seem to show that, for the moment, SoftBank holds very well in the capital, if not beats the competition. 

  3. the lower band has been nicknamed Platinum in Japan: the bottles of water supposedly contained platinum 

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