Photo/IllutrationYusaku Maezawa’s Twitter account announces on Jan. 5 that he intends to provide 1-million-yen “otoshidama” monetary gifts to 100 people. (From Twitter)

  • Photo/Illustraion

In a "lottery" with only one string attached, the president of online fashion retailer Zozo Inc. offered 1 million yen ($9,120) each to 100 lucky recipients from his own pocket.

The only catch to enter was becoming a Twitter follower of the company president, Yusaku Maezawa, and retweeting the message.

The Japanese billionaire announced the offer on the social networking site at the beginning of the year, provoking both favorable and unfavorable comments on the Internet.

“There are some critics,” Maezawa acknowledged.

However, “It is better to give money away to circulate it in society instead of skimping or saving on it,” the entrepreneur also tweeted.

On Jan. 5, Maezawa posted on his private Twitter account, “I, as an individual, will give out a total of 100 million yen of ‘otoshidama’ New Year's cash gifts."

The number of retweets of Maezawa’s offer exceeded 5.5 million as of Jan. 7, the due date for entries, breaking the world’s record for retweets.

An official of Twitter Inc. said that Twitter users are allowed to post such kinds of message concerning prizes and there was no problem.

On Jan. 8, Maezawa tweeted, “I have sent messages to 100 winners.”

Maezawa was focusing on a “dream,” as he tweeted, “I think what everyone wants is not money, but fulfilling dreams.”

While giving away the money, Maezawa also concurrently promoted a campaign for Zozo.

The number of his Twitter followers exceeded 6 million for a period of time, which is 12 times more than the 500,000 that he had as of Jan. 1.

Some criticized Maezawa’s giveaway, saying, “He bought followers with his money.”

In response to an Asahi Shimbun request for an interview, an official of Zozo declined, saying, “We, as a company, cannot comment because this is what an individual is doing.”

Dump, 22, a TV and radio writer, posted a message to Maezawa, “I would like to use the money to create a program to convey how the other 99 winners are using their 1 million yen.”

He received a message from Maezawa informing him that he would receive 1 million yen with the comment, “A documentary program showing the 99 people should be fun.”

“It is interesting because things, including criticism, are advertisements,” said Dump.

Chihiro Wada, 26, who resides in Kanagawa Prefecture, tweeted Maezawa that he wanted to use the money to set up a hub for artists where they can create and communicate together.

Wada, who also was chosen to receive the cash, said, “Maezawa told me, ‘It is a nice idea.’”

In previous news-making ventures, Maezawa bought an artwork for more than 12 billion yen in 2017 and booked in 2018 a spot on a private trip to the moon for 2023, with both becoming hot topics for public discussion.

Toru Ishizaki, professor of advertising theory at Senshu University, said, “If you see 1 million yen as the cost of advertising, he got a profound return as the project had been significantly covered by media.”

“The number of winners was 100. So, people should have felt like they had a good chance of winning the lottery,” said Ishizaki.

After the recipients were chosen, the number of Maezawa followers quickly started to decrease. It dropped to 5.71 million or so as of 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 9.

“People get easily bored if there is only a news hook. It is necessary to pay attention all the time to whether the action is accepted by society if you want to reap the benefits of advertisements,” Ishizaki added.

Looking at the legal aspect, the law against unjustifiable premiums and misleading representations limits the amount of a prize given by a company as a free gift that is attached to its product or services, to 100,000 yen.

Tetsuji Kawamura, a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the legality of giveaways, said, “This case is unlikely to be officially identified as breaking the law.”

However, if similar cases occur and it becomes a social problem, things will be quite different, according to Kawamura.

“Maezawa can be regarded as a company even though he did it as an individual because he is the president and owner of Zozo,” said Kawamura. “He collected the data posted on Twitter, which is useful for his business. Therefore, the money can be considered an ordinary prize.

“From the beginning, the intent of the law is to put a major brake on companies from inflaming people’s predilection for gambling or impacting the market. Probably, from such a point of view, he is being criticized,” Kawamura added.

(This article was written by Yuji Endo and Kazuyo Nakamura.)