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Happy Valentine’s Day! A Character Development Story Brought with Love

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Introduction

This article is about the creation process behind our mascot in Japan. This initial phase recounts the journey since we received the character creation request until we gave it form.

Hello, I am Sugimoto from the Creative Office. To explain our team briefly, the Creative Office is in charge of overseeing the communication with customers of the KINTO Japan vehicle subscription service, and using their feedback for planning and generating outputs. To elaborate a little, we are in charge of understanding the communication issues existing on the project side (We have the power to do this because we develop in-house!), coming up with tangible solutions through them, and communicating all messages from the business side in a consistent manner (= branding).

With the above in mind, I will talk about how we created the KINTO mascot by us leveraging our circumstances and knowledge. Keep in mind that this of course is not a guide on how to make cool characters. I hope you read this with a light heart, as a mother would with her child’s health journal, or maybe more like reading your illustrated diary when you were in elementary school, with your exciting summer vacation project.

Embarking on the Character's Origin Story

The creation of our official mascot kicked off in November 2021. I was the Creative Director (CD), another team member of the Creative Office was the Art Director (AD), and we were joined by members of the PR and Branding Team from the Marketing Planning Division. Together, we formed the “mascot character project” (hereinafter referred to as PJ). While calling it a project might sound grandiose, our intention was to start small and grow it gradually. Our aim was to appeal to young people and women to counteract the trend of them falling out of love with vehicles. Initially, it was not conceived as corporate branding project with corporate commercials and posters right off the bat. That said, all of the members were eager to create and raise their own “child” who would be loved by everyone.

Although it was not an official one, we already had an illustration of a character on the service's website. Everyone in the company called him Kuroko-kun. Kuroko in Japanese refers to stage assistants in traditional theater plays. First, we had a meeting to discuss how to use Kuroko-kun. Kuroko-kun would appear throughout the KINTO website and quietly support people who are thinking about owning a vehicle or have concerns about driving, but does so from behind the scenes. Although we were attached to Kuroko-kun, many of us thought that it would be better to start from scratch and create a new KINTO character, so the new goal of the project shifted to being about creating one.

Kuroko-kun
Kuroko-kun Works Hard!

Where Did We Start?

First, we decided to make our purpose clear when developing our new character.
[Aim: To turn consumers into fans of KINTO].

We wanted people who have never purchased a vehicle or are not yet interested in vehicles to learn how enjoyable having a car can be. We thought it would be best to have a character to accompany you in the joy of driving, rather than a character that teaches you about driving. Instead of going straight to an illustrator, we decided to let employees get involved and come up with their own character ideas. This had the added benefit of working as internal branding. We expected the engineers and business team members who were involved in creating the service to come up with rich ideas from an inside perspective of the company, and we were excited and nervous about the feedback we would get. During this proposal period, the team came up with character ideas to create a basis for characters to pick. For these ideas we gathered, we decided on the direction of the character using the below three steps.

1. Check that the character follows an archetype

This was the first step of the output process, and the Creative Office took the lead.

KINTO Japan has its brand personality, which I will talk about another time. It personifies the brand and describes what elements and personality it has (an archetype). The personality elements that make up the KINTO brand in Japan, or KINTO-san if you will, are the Explorer which seeks a free driving style, the Every Person which is familiar and has the ability to empathize with others, the humorous Jester, and the Sage that gives others specialized knowledge. At first it may sound all over the place, but it all comes together if you see KINTO's personality as someone curious, who likes to entertain people around them, and wants to be useful with their knowledge. Of course, the new character would be a major representation of the brand, so we decided to make sure its concept matched its personality.

2. Character characteristics and motifs

We organized our character ideas into “roles/attributes” and “motifs”, and we extracted the characteristics.


These are some of the ideas

3. Making character ideas that could solve our problem

We divided the characteristics and motifs we organized in point 2. into four directions.
A: A "character that represents the very DNA of KINTO" that represents the fun and freedom of driving and tells the brand story
B: An approachable "character that represents friendliness toward drivers"
C: A "character that symbolizes the elements of freedom and moving forward"
D: A “character that embodies innovation and intelligence”

Lovable Characters Gathered Throughout the Company


We put up posters throughout the company asking for submissions.

While the PJ members discussed the character concept, we collected 24 character proposals from volunteers from October to November 2022. During the screening, we did a survey throughout the company asking, "Which character do you like and think fits KINTO?" Incidentally, during the process of making the mascot character, we wanted to use as many of the KINTO and KTC employees' hopes and wishes as we could, and we collected a good amount of survey responses. Thinking about it now, I think the employees were already starting to get attached to the characters at the time.

Getting back on topic, the results of the initial survey showed that the idea with the "cloud" motif was popular, and clouds were also related to the origin of the company's name, KINTO. So, we decided to go in the direction of a cloud character. From there, we compared the opinions of the judges (the project members) with the responses to the survey, found similarities and differences, and summarized what elements to add to the character. This was the core part of deciding what kind of appearance and characteristics we wanted our child to have.

I will end today's article here. In the next article I will tell you more on how our character took shape!

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【PjM】プロジェクト推進G/東京

プロジェクト推進グループについてプロジェクト推進グループでは、​TOYOTAのクルマのサブスクリプションサービスである『 KINTO ONE 』をはじめ、国内向けサービスのプロジェクト立ち上げから運用保守に至るまでの運営管理を行っています。

【部長・部長候補】/KINTO ONE開発部/東京

KINTO ONE開発部 について下記3つのグループにて編成しております。 新車サブスク開発G TOYOTAのクルマのサブスクリプションサービスである『 KINTO ONE 』のWebサイトの開発、運用をしています。