Tears of Victory:
How Text Posts Can Be Monetized

Qi Chen

Between 3:43 a.m. on January 15, 2012 and 4:08 a.m. on January 18, 2012, something unbelievable happened in Japanese social media. On the text-board website 2channel, also known as 2ch, someone wrote a story in real time, and captured hundreds of thousands of listeners’ hearts. The story was so long that it broke the 1000-posts limit, and was published in two boards. The author wrote eloquently, and took breaks to work shifts at the convenience store. Readers, however, stayed up overnight to wait for the author to come home and continue with the story, and by the end, everyone was crying.

“We can’t be the only ones reading this story, it must be shared with everyone,” wrote one commenter.

The story is a romantic tale of “A Strange Girl at the Arcade,” which chronicles a college-age man’s encounter with a young woman who likes to play arcade video games. They fall in love, but tragedy strikes as the woman falls ill, and passes away. The young man then promises himself that he would regain his focus and move forward in life. The story was moving, but its premise was very simple, clich√©, even.

And then it blew up. In the week the story was posted, an estimated 300,000 people read the story. All of the author’s words were then posted onto “Tetsugaku News,” a website that summarizes entire 2ch boards, and received more than 2 million views in the next week. People also turned the story into a text slideshow and uploaded it to YouTube. As of today, the exact title of the story has more than 70,000 unique mentions on Twitter, and more than 1.8 million Google search results.

“Strange Girl” recalled Densha Otoko, also known as “Train Man,” another 2ch story that had a huge impact in Japan. Originally posted on 2ch in 2004, the story about a geeky man protecting a woman from harassment on the train and marrying her became a cultural phenomenon. It was adapted into a book, a TV drama and a feature film, which became No. 1 at the box office.

Unlike “Train Man,” which is based on a real life encounter, “A Strange Girl at the Arcade” is completely fictional. The author, who uses the pen name “Tomizawa,” revealed the secret last November on another forum, where he was writing another story in the same format.

Tomizawa’s success could be attributed to a number of things: By posting his novel in the span of three days, he limited the supply of content and regulated his audience, which wanted more. In the meantime, the readers shared the story, and brought more people to his thread.

But more importantly, whether knowingly or unknowingly, Tomizawa’s story incorporated many brands, including the video game software company Square Enix, the rock band Fujifabric, and even the online artist, CHANxCO. The latter two’s works were used to add atmosphere to the story. Since “Strange Girl” is a fictional story, Tomizawa could have referred to any number of brands.

What we can see here is a great marketing opportunity. By referring to companies and products in a captivating text narrative, brands can reach out to a very engaged audience in a set timeframe. Companies would be happy to advertise in these stories where 300,000 eyes would read about the company’s product used in an ideal setting. It’s like product placements in movies, but far more subtle and cost-friendly.

More traditional forms of social media, like bulletin board services and text-boards, should not be forgotten. Like any other medium, text-based online storytelling runs on great narratives and marketing opportunities lie in the most unlikely places. It is really up to the savvy social media marketer to spot these stories, and make every word count, literally.


Qi Chen is a multimedia journalist based in New York. He holds a BA in visual studies and is currently completing graduate studies at Columbia University. He is interested in social media interactions between East and West. Follow him on Twitter: @qchenn.