This Japanese Company Believes That Renting Space on Armpits Is the Next Great Ad Frontier

Advertising keeps getting wackier

Quite the conversation starter. Wakino Ad Company

Another sweltering subway commute. You don’t notice the people coming and going from your train, or the ads peppering the inside of the car. You’ve conditioned yourself to block it all out. At the next stop, a gaggle of people walks in. Arms go up to hold on to a strap and, BOOM, you’re staring at an ad. In a woman’s armpit. You’re noticing advertising now, aren’t you? And it’s all courtesy of a company in Japan that’s selling ad space on the armpits of young models.

Wakino Ad Company (“Waki” is Japanese for “armpit”) is relatively new and it’s unclear how well stickers placed on armpits will be received or even revealed in the first place. Holding a handrail on the subway or stretching arms skyward makes sense but it doesn’t seem like there are too many options to get some armpit ad impressions in. Additionally, it’s not known whether the Japanese models will be more like brand ambassadors or simply billboards.

This isn’t the first time body parts have been used to promote products in the country. In 2013, young women were seen with stickers on their thighs supporting just about anything including the film Ted and a new release from Green Day. According to the Guardian, more than 3,000 registered to put the ads on their legs.

Wakino’s endeavor is backed by beauty company Liberta which, among its products, markets armpit creams. Per Sora News, Wakino has its first paying customer in Seishin Biyo Clinic, which is using armpit ads to promote its underarm hair removal service. Wakino is currently recruiting models (both men and women) and running a national armpit beauty contest as well.

Though you might shake your head about this quirky tactic, Ted Wright, founder of Atlanta-based word of mouth marketing firm Fizz thinks that Wakino may be on to something.

“I think it’s a great idea if you’re the first brand to do it,” he said. “People won’t care when you’re the third to do it, though.”

Where Wright sees an ample opportunity past the novelty of ads on armpits is in the ability to talk about the products being promoted. In his company’s experience, he notes that the average conversation—people sharing a brand story—is about 32 seconds in the U.S. By engaging the people wearing the ads, there is likely more bang for the investment buck. Rentals of the armpit space start at about 10,000 Japanese Yen (around $90 per hour), a rate that Wright feels is a little high considering that skilled brand representatives in this country engage with the public for around $50 per hour.

“You have to train people to talk about your product for this to work well,” said Wright. “All marketing should be interesting, relevant, authentic and driving conversation. Nobody has seen an armpit ad before, and it will likely make people stop and ask questions.”

Though the practice is starting in Japan, Wright thinks that there is a perfect place for this kind of advertising in the United States and, specifically, New York.

“(New York state governor candidate) Cynthia Nixon should do this,” enthused Wright, noting that New York City’s subway has become a major issue in her campaign. “There could be hundreds of Cynthia Nixon conversations per hour on the subway, and she’s definitely worth talking about.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.