I’m always heartened when corporations decide to embrace cosplay and pop-culture.
With corporate backing, cosplay has evolved from mere hobby into a viable career for those who have managed to distinguish themselves through their craft.
Some companies have done this well, engaging cosplayers as ambassadors and endorsers for their products and services, allowing them to tap a previously untapped niche in their marketing efforts.
Sadly, there has also been an alarming trend in companies jumping aboard the cosplay bandwagon, a bandwagon that, if poorly handled, could easily crash and burn.
Enter the Otaku House Fiasco
At about 3 am today, the Facebook page of Singapore-based costume retailer Otaku House shared an image link disparaging a plus-sized Chun Li cosplayer.
This was picked up by Lyeric, a respected cosplayer, costume maker and CrunchyRoll Ambassador from America, and disappointment began to spread.
Source: Image replicated from Lyeric’s cosplay page.
Shortly after, in a move reminiscent of Amy’s Baking Company, Otaku House issued an apology in poorly worded English, claiming that they had been hacked.
Source: Otaku House Facebook page.
They made no retraction for their initial post, and insisted in a later comment that it was a management policy to review the standards of their online Otaku House Cosplay Idol competition (see attached image).
Source: Otaku House Facebook page.
As of 9 am this morning, the company has yet to recant it’s stance or issue another formal declaration. It seemed like it was business as usual, with routine posts (likely scheduled) of Cosplay Idol finalists appearing on Otaku House’s Newsfeed.
Otaku House isn’t the first company to commit a PR faux pas that could alienate it’s target market.
Between 2007 and 2008, Odex was embroiled in a PR disaster that anime fans in Singapore have lovingly termed Xedo Saga. Prior to that, Singapore Cosplay Club, through SCC Square, had attempted to trademark the word ‘cosplay’ in a classic case that’s now considered textbook material, resulting in unhappiness both locally and abroad. Traces of the debacle can still be found on SGCafe.
Otaku House is a a retailer of entry-level cosplay costumes, weapon replicas and anime-related knick knacks. They claim to be, according to their website, “the leading retail chain selling cosplay costumes in Singapore, offering the best priced and quality cosplay costumes in town, fusing Japanese toys, anime collectibles, cosplay products and other nonsensical gifts under one roof. We have a complete range of gift choices for all occasions.”
Marketing language notwithstanding, Otaku House has indeed gained prominence in the past three years, having implemented an online Cosplay Idol competition which has not only broadened their reach, but also carved a fair niche in the cosplay scene.
The Cosplay Idol competition is an online competition where cosplayers submit their photographs. These photographs are then shared through Otaku House’s social media channels and website, and voted on by the public, who must ‘Like’ Otaku House’s social media channels to do so.
Numbers on Otaku House’s social media channels have ramped up exponentially since it first ran this annual contest. Now, Otaku House’s Facebook page alone boasts more than 500,000 followers comprising both cosplayers and their fans.
It’s a healthy number, and all it takes is for a simple lapse of judgement and poor management decisions to send all the hard-won goodwill crashing down.
From an academic standpoint, this case proves an excellent study in the application of public relations and marketing strategies to a niche audience.
In a cosplayer and event organizer’s perspective, it’s also a cautionary tale for the future.
It’s undeniable that cosplay is a fundamentally visual hobby, but standards and valuation should be placed entirely in the hands of cosplayers and the community, not defined by the management of a company that has, heretofore, announced no particular criteria for the competition.
This sudden change, which comes after several years and a sizable milestone is nothing if not alarming. Already, cosplayers are questioning the motives of Otaku House and their competition in the first place, with some even wondering if cosplayers are just statistics or numbers to pad their page ‘Like’s. The statement has not only been deemed generally offensive, but also discriminatory when they have, until this morning, included finalists who were males cross-dressing as female characters.
This also exacerbates a perennial problem in online cosplay competitions, which are little more than popularity contests reliant more on face value, the number of friends you can mobilize and the size of your wallet, as opposed to the nature of cosplay as a performance art and a craft.
We will be certain to watch the developments with interest, and posting our observations as it unfolds.