Advertising you can wipe your nose with

Virgin, J&J jump on Japanese trend of branding tissue packs

By Published on .

It's become part of Japanese culture for consumers to collect free packets of tissues emblazoned with advertising as they walk down the street.

Now Japanese conglomerate Itochu is betting Americans would like to be handed free tissues, too, and the first U.S. marketers to work with Itochu's new subsidiary, AdPack Group, are already tweaking the model for consumers here.

AdPack's first big customer, Commerce Bank, has added a $20 coupon for opening a new account to the pocket-size pack, and is handing them out in at Commerce-sponsored events like football games and in front of bank branches, rather than accosting random pedestrians.

at the doctor's

Another marketer, a Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical brand, will focus on doling out tissues to visitors to doctors' offices, said General Manager Steve Jacobs, a former sales-promotion executive who came out of retirement to run AdPack. And Virgin Mobile is supplying entire boxes of branded tissues to schools, which don't usually budget for tissue buying, to reach classrooms full of the runny-nosed junior- and high-school students the cellphone marketer targets.

Depending on volume, advertisers can expect to pay between 17› and 35› per pack of tissues, he said. In Japan, where about 4 billion packs are given away every year in a $1 billion industry, tissues hardly exist as a retail product since almost everyone expects to get them free, he said.

Americans really will accept tissues from strangers on the street, Mr. Jacobs said. Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya opted for Asian-style street handouts and gave out more than 20,000 tissue packets in midtown Manhattan in just four hours one afternoon, he said. More than 75% of passersby took the tissues offered and the redemption rate for the enclosed restaurant discount coupons, redeemable at Yoshinoya's three Manhattan restaurants, was above 4%, he said.

Itochu is peculiarly well-suited to giving away paper products. The Japanese trading company does about $100 billion a year in international trade and its forest-products division owns the eucalyptus pulp that tissue products are made from.

Since American marketers are showing an interest in going beyond street distribution, Mr. Jacobs said AdPack is starting to talk to car-rental companies and hotel chains about supplying free, branded tissues to their customers.
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