The World: Insider's view - Korea/Japan

Daryl Arnold takes a look at how the two digital pioneer nations are adressing falling birth rates online.

Over the past 30 years, both Japan and South Korea have enjoyed dynamic periods of growth, which have in turn caused social changes and increased these countries' global influence.

Nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the digital world. These two markets have led the way in using digital means for social networking as well as online dating. Yet the virtual promiscuity in these communities is accompanied by diving birth rates. For example, in South Korea, where one-third of the population are members of the social networking pioneer Cyworld (cyworld.co.kr), birth rates have fallen to 1.08 per family - the lowest in the developed world.

If these figures do not start rising then, by 2050, both countries will have a median age of more than 50. This causes a serious problem for both government and big business. For example, FMCG companies have spent millions of ad dollars to reach into families that no longer have a guaranteed and lucrative second child. The governments look to a future of a nation of retirees unsupported by young, energetic workers. So how are they using digital means to address these trends?

In Japan, the government seeks to maintain a low profile in encouraging childbirth. This is partly because it fears the response of bloggers who seek to criticise a welfare system perceived as weak in its support of mothers. It is left to the corporate world to take up the mantle, yet the response has been poor here too. One exception is P&G's Womama (womama.co.jp). This site shows a fresh approach for the usually staid Japan. Whereas previously one might expect images of a happy mother at home with her family, Womama takes a modern approach, focusing on the working mother.

In contrast, South Korea is focused and energised in its efforts. Perhaps this is owing to the fact that, like China, the birth-rate decline was government-engineered and, again like China, perhaps too successfully. Government-sponsored sites and specialist-content sites join a good selection of branded services from FMCG companies such as Nam-yang (namyangi.com) and Johnson & Johnson (johnsonsbaby.com). All media is rich in video and interactivity and participation from professionals and consumers seems frantic and extraordinary.

It's dangerous to draw easy conclusions but it seems that of these two nations, South Korea seems to have made more use of digital channels. Strong government support encourages companies to get involved and engage the public.

In the age of Cyworld communities, those who manage to harness that power will have greater success in achieving their goals, and in terms of making babies, even offline activities become online concerns.

- Daryl Arnold is the founder and chief executive of Profero Group.

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