Video service provider Crunchyroll took a unique approach to marketing last year by reaching out to their most devoted and talented fans to promote their services. Crunchyroll, a company that allows its members to stream over 20,000 different Asian Entertainment videos including anime, manga, and drama on its website, Crunchyroll.com, created a program where those devoted fans with interests in cosplay, photography, and otaku culturere act as brand Ambassadors, promoting the Crunchyroll name and showcasing their personal talents.
The Crunchyroll Ambassador Program was created by Victoria Holden, a member of the Crunchyroll marketing team. Holden’s own enthusiasm for anime and cosplay helped her get a job with Crunchyroll when she was asked to be a guest on The Live Show, Crunchyroll’s late night program on anime and otaku. That appearance impressed enough people and Holden quickly moved to being host of the show, landing an internship, and then moving up through the company to her current position as Social Media Marketing Manager.
“I came up with the Ambassador Program in order to give passionate fans the opportunities I have been given,” says Holden. “Before I was a part of the anime industry, I only DREAMED of meeting my favorite voice actors, Japanese celebrities, and many other icons in the Otaku culture—and now, I break bread with them. Crunchyroll Ambassadors are given Industry powers at events, giving them the same access I have.”
While the Ambassadors are tasked with promoting Crunchyroll through their own skills and outlets, having the support of one of the largest anime communities helps to give each ambassador plenty of exposure. Holden recognizes the benefits for both sides and admits she created the program “in order to help talented, passionate fans be seen and heard.”
The opportunities to be seen and heard have been greatly enhanced due to the success of Crunchyroll’s business model. Often referred to as the “Netflix of anime,” Crunchyroll not only allows access to thousands of titles, but viewers can also stream new content within hours of the initial airing in Japan. The business continues to grow in popularity, which is good for both Crunchyroll and the Ambassadors. “Crunchyroll has an accumulated traffic of over one million unique visitors every month, and all social media platforms,” Holden says. “That’s a huge audience our Ambassadors stand before!”
The role of ambassadors extends beyond the online community and social media sites, as conventions are one of the best places for cosplayers to interface with fans, potential customers, and friends. Holden and Crunchyroll provide the ambassadors with passes to many Anime Conventions. “In exchange for these passes, we ask that they help Crunchyroll by passing out convention assets, such as T-Shirts, Wristbands, Fliers, and other Crunchyroll goods,” Holden explains.
In addition to their other benefits and compensation, Ambassadors can also earn an hourly wage working at a convention where Crunchyroll has an exhibition booth. Many choose to do so in costume, but Holden stresses that ambassadors are not obligated to either cosplay or work the booths. “Ultimately—we want them to have FUN and represent themselves in the best possible way they may doing what they love to do, whether it be cosplay, or as press writing articles and [taking] convention coverage photos,” she says. “We give them the tools they need to be successful, and their success is our own.”
One way for both the Ambassadors and Crunchyroll to be successful is by increasing subscriptions. On every Ambassador’s website or social media page there is a link for a free trial of the Crunchyroll services. When customers enjoy the service enough to continue their subscriptions, the Ambassadors receive a paid bonus for bringing a new member in. The program has been very successful, and Holden reports that in the first year over 3,000 regularly paying Crunchyroll users were brought in by the Ambassadors.
While highly talented cosplayers fill the majority of the Ambassador ranks, Holden stresses that Crunchyroll is always seeking highly passionate anime reviewers, photographers, and videographers. Ambassadors have their reviews published on the Crunchyroll site, and some of the videos created by reviewers have been made available as well.
In addition to earning some extra money, having a lot of fun, and meeting many new fans, representing Crunchyroll has had other added benefits, as the exposure has helped some Ambassadors gain recognition in the entertainment world. Reviewer The Insane Game Freak has gained publishing rights since becoming an Ambassador, and cosplay star Maridah recently started hosting AX Live, a weekly webcast on anime, manga, games, and other fun and geeky things.
Crunchyroll and Holden just wrapped up their most recent, and extremely competitive, round of Ambassador selections. Over 300 fans, cosplayers, otaku, and other enthusiasts applied for the coveted role of representing Crunchyroll, but only 36 of them were selected. With those three dozen new members, the Ambassadors now number over 100, and the possibility for a later round of applications might still exist.
For those who dream of the opportunities available for the Crunchyroll Ambassadors, Holden ultimately looks at an applicant’s passion and attitude. “We look for people that are already fans of Anime and Crunchyroll,” Holden says. “We love anime, and we love people who love anime. Applicants send in their ‘portfolios’—which can consist of cosplay photos, reviews they have written or videos they have made—anything they can show us to lets us know just how INSANE they are about their fandom. We also ask that they include a cover letter explaining why they would love to be a Crunchyroll Ambassador.”
The Ambassador program has been fundamental to Crunchyroll’s efforts to expand and reach out to new markets. As the company seeks to reach more gamers, specific Ambassadors have been selected and tasked with interfacing with a particular community. For example, Holden recently selected League of Legends enthusiast and player Missyeru to get to know gamers from the quickly-growing MOBA arena. “A League of Legends player might not know about Crunchyroll and what we have to offer our users, and I think they would MUCH RATHER talk to a well-known icon in the LoL community like MissYeru, than an anime-obsessed girl like me who has never played LoL in her life,” Holden says.
Now as Crunchyroll looks to expand into major markets such as Brazil, the Ambassadors will again play a key role in the company’s unique marketing strategy. Holden is currently training the Crunchyroll.es team to develop their own Ambassadors, but she won’t have as much contact as she’d like. While she has enough on her plate managing the 100+ North American Ambassadors, her love of anime is what draws her to the South American cosplay community. “I simply DIE not being able to manage them, because half the time they are Saint Seiya cosplayers and Saint Seiya is my favorite thing in the universe,” she laughs.
While much of Crunchyroll’s success is due to the amazing service they offer, they owe much credit as well to their extremely devoted community. Many Crunchyroll members cannot be viewed as mere customers; there are many devoted fans who view Crunchyroll as a place to make friends, discuss their favorite hobbies, and meet some of their favorite cosplayers. The Ambassadors have all been those fans of anime and otaku, and they still are. Holden treasures these special members, and says, “I want everyone to know that Crunchyroll is honored to have such talented and amazing people acting as Brand Ambassadors. I myself can never thank them enough for the work they do, it has been a privilege working with them, and I hope the Crunchyroll Ambassador Program flourishes enough to have the capacity to give them even more benefits.”