One of the most curious icons of the early 21st century is Domo. A large, brown creature with a wide open mouth stuck somewhere between a growl and a guffaw, Domo is the mascot for Japan's public television station, NHK. He came to life in a television spot back in 1998 and, by 2004, had appeared in over 400 spots. By that time too, Domo, also known as Domo-kun, was venturing outside of Japan, quickly reaching meme status across the globe.
These days, Domo is almost a household name. His face has popped up on everything from Halloween candy at Target to 7-11 Slurpee cups. This week, the intriguing character is stationed in the Los Angeles area as part of his "Hungry Thirsty Sweaty Tour," which is taking him down the West Coast. Two nights ago, he was at Spencer's inside the Lakewood Center Mall. Today, he'll stop by Spencer's at Northridge Fashion Center. He'll also spend some time at the Sunset Strip Music Festival this weekend.
So, what's the secret to Domo's success? Rich Maryyanek, Chief Marketing Officer of Big Tent Entertainment, the company that licenses Domo here in the States, says that it's because the character is a "blank canvas."
"I think people put a lot of themselves into him," Maryyanek explains. "You can look at Domo when you're in a good mood and he looks really happy. If you're in a bad mood, he can look very angry."
Big Tent Entertainment stumbled across Domo at a television conference several years ago. The company's CEO, Rich Collins, was meeting with NHK when he noticed Domo on the binder of one of the station executives. Back in the Big Tent offices, the team researched Domo and found out that he was already an Internet sensation.
"People were creating images, videos, odes to Domo," Maryyanek recalls. "That's the best thing you can say about a brand, that [fans] made it their own."
Once they acquired the license, Big Tent Entertainment launched the brand in the U.S. simply, with a single t-shirt sold at Hot Topic. "It was sales of that one t-shirt that blossomed into the program we have today," ays Maryyanek.
Domo's presence here now extends far beyond the Internet, but his following is still strongest in the realm where so many teens and young adults first discovered him. Just this week, the official Domo Facebook page surpassed 2,000,000 fans. At this time last year, it had less than 1,000,000 fans. At the moment, the company is in the midst of a massive Facebook contest where fans can submit videos of themselves with their Domo goods for the chance to win a branded Nissan Cube. Earlier this month, Domo Photo Bomb hit iTunes. The photo-sharing app is a nod to the fan-made images that first popularized Domo as it allows users to add the character to photos.
Big Tent's approach to marketing Domo is to give fans the power to adapt the character to their own lives. "Our audience does a great job of making Domo their own," says Maryyanek. "We don't want to put hindrances on creativity and stuff like that."
Their method is working. In fact, it's working so well that one can't help but wonder if Domo will follow in the footsteps of another famed Japanese mascot. Could Domo maintain his popularity thirty years from now, much like Hello Kitty?
Maryyanek answers, "That is our goal."
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Update: Big Top Entertainment just revealed the Domo mural that has gone up in Los Angeles for the character's tour stop in the city. The mural, a progress of which you can see in the above photo, is by street artist Teknyc. If you want to check it out in person, it's at 1801 Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park.