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Chapter6   Just Try It

Just Try It


  • The cheerful and hardworking Ohsone (right).
Had this project gone through the conventional planning, approval, testing, and other development stages, it might never have seen the light of day. Sony might have just concentrated on developing a smaller version of the Densuke stereo tape recorder instead. However, Ohsone encouraged his staff to try their ideas before they had time to think about the difficulties that might arise. In this case, as Ohsone's team managed to materialize Ibuka's idea into a prototype, Ibuka and Morita provided the encouragement to turn this prototype into a product.

Once the Tape Recorder Operations Division had promised Morita that they would create a product before the beginning of the summer vacation, the team really set about the task. Thanks to Morita, the objectives of the project were made crystal clear. Although there initially was some feeling in the division that a record function should also be included, Morita focused specifically on a playback-only, small headphone stereo unit to be launched before the summer vacation, and he inspired the members of the project team with his vision and resolve.

Ohsone believed that if you think too much about a project before doing it, you could always find faults with it and too much discussion just creates delays. Ohsone, Shizuo Takashino, and other members of the development team worked through the night two or three times a week and they kept each other motivated by constantly cracking jokes or having a few beers after work.

In developing this unique and revolutionary product, Ohsone believed that the first model must be reliable. The shape and style of the product could be improved in subsequent models. However, if the first model received a reputation for breaking down easily, then it would put an end to the entire project. The main job of the development team was to establish the value of this new concept. Given the tight time schedule, Morita told the team not to worry about the external appearance of the first model. So, Ohsone decided to use the same mechanism as the Pressman, half a million of which had already been manufactured.

The technologies involved in making the novel product were not new, but merely assembled in a new way. What the team had to focus on was producing a reliable product, one that did not break.

" Why No Record Function? "


  • The logo was walking too.
With no real technical problems to concern themselves with, the team concentrated on ways to promote the concept of music on the move to ensure the product would be a hit. First, a group of young members led by Toru Kohno of the Publicity Division racked their brains to come up with a suitable name for the product. After much time and effort, and the rejection of many alternatives, the name "Walkman" was finally chosen. Factors influencing the decision included the popularity of Superman at the time and the fact that the new product was based on the Pressman. The name "Walkman" contributed to the dynamic, fun image of the concept.

Despite protests that the name was a strange mixture of Japanese and English, Morita praised it. Most buyers would be young people, and Morita believed that the young staff members who had come up with the name were in tune with their own generation. He supported the enthusiasm and boldness that had gone into the creation of the name. In addition, packaging and posters bearing the name "Walkman" had already been printed and there was no time to change them.

Morita took one of the test models home to try. His first idea was adding an extra jack so two people could listen to music at the same time. His second idea was designing a talk button to enable people to carry on a conversation while wearing the headphones. Yasuo Kuroki of the Product Planning Center worked with the product engineers to incorporate these features and create a simple, functional, yet attractive design.

Nevertheless, the first Walkman received much criticism even before it was launched. People said that a tape player, which could not record, would never catch on. Morita, however, refused to be swayed, staking his own reputation on the success of the Walkman. Although he could not definitely say it would be a hit, Morita trusted his judgment. He knew that the first thing his own children did when they got home was to turn the stereo on, and he firmly believed that the Walkman would further deepen the connection between young people and music.

The idea for the Walkman had come from Ibuka, who was over 70 years old, and Morita, himself approaching 60 enthusiastically supported it. Not content to rest on their laurels, both kept looking for new ideas and strove to understand what kind of products would meet the lifestyle needs of young people.

When Sony sales people tried to explain the concept of the Walkman to retailers, they met considerable skepticism. Retailers were not convinced they could sell a tape player that did not record. What kept Sony sales people and product engineers motivated in the face of such uncertainty was the enthusiasm of Ibuka and Morita as well as the fact that the young women working on the Walkman production line wanted to own what they were producing.

Morita ordered an initial production run of 30,000 Walkman units. Considering that monthly sales of the best-selling tape recorder averaged 15,000 units, this was a bold decision. Amid considerable uncertainty, the project went from development through production to preparation for launch. Finally, on June 22, 1979, it was announced that the "Walkman" would go on sale on July 1, only ten days after the original target date and just before the beginning of summer vacation.

" Please Listen to this! "


  • The Walkman being shown to the press.
The Walkman was a truly original product, and Sony used innovative methods to launch and advertise it. The staff of the press and public relations divisions wanted to emphasize that Sony was introducing a totally new and fun concept. To do so, they decided to hold the launch event outside and included demonstrations of people listening to the Walkman while roller skating or cycling. They thought that as well as giving impact to the launch; this novel approach would appeal to the journalists attending. It was decided to test this launch style first on a group of magazine journalists.

On June 22, when the journalists arrived at the Sony Building located in the Ginza area of Tokyo, they were escorted onto a bus and each handed a Walkman. They were taken to Yoyogi (a major park in Tokyo) and, after disembarking and receiving a brief greeting, they were instructed to put on the headphones and push the play button. The journalists listened to an explanation of the Walkman in stereo, while Sony staff members and students hired for the launch carried out various demonstrations of the product. The tape the journalists were listening to asked them to look at certain demonstrations, including a young man and woman listening to a Walkman while riding on a tandem bicycle. All staff members and students who were involved in the product demonstrations wore Walkman T-shirts to add to the overall effect of the launch.

As they listened to an explanation of the Walkman, the journalists were able to sample the audio quality of the new product, while seeing what people could do with it. They saw that the 33,000 yen TPS-L2 model enabled people to listen music of their choice, wherever and whenever they liked. For onlookers, a lack of any public announcement or audible sound was rather puzzling. The journalists were surprised at the unusual nature of the Walkman launch event, and this was apparent in their expressions. The response from the press was cool. Although the Walkman went on sale on July 1, as planned, by the end of July only 3,000 units had been sold and doubts about the product resurfaced.

After the launch, staff of the publicity and domestic marketing divisions took a Walkman and spent a day riding busy trains around the center of Tokyo in an attempt to advertise the product. Also, it was decided that people needed to listen to the Walkman to understand the quality of its sound. Consequently, young recruits who had joined Ohsone's division in April of that year were asked to walk around the busy Shinjuku and Ginza districts on Sundays, offering passersby the chance to listen to the Walkman. High school and college festivals and other events were also targeted, and when young people put on the headphones and listened, their skeptical expressions were replaced with ones of delight. In retail outlets, staff was asked to carry around a Walkman with a demo tape and offer customers the chance to listen. And while serving to demonstrate the quality of the sound, Sony made great efforts to overcome the negative public image associated with headphones.

In addition to such grassroots marketing efforts, Sony presented a Walkman to various celebrities and asked them to try it. Magazine photographs of young pop stars listening to a Walkman certainly helped to popularize the product.

There was no large-scale television advertising campaign, but thanks to various publicity strategies, the popularity of the Walkman spread by word of mouth. The initial batch of 30,000 units sold out by the end of August, and thereafter production levels had to be constantly raised to meet consumer demand. For the next six months, shops were consistently selling out, and retailers' previous skepticism over the salability of the Walkman was replaced with pleas for more supplies.

At first, the main buyers of the Walkman were music fans in their mid 20s. However, the popularity of the Walkman spread very quickly to a wider young audience, and it became a fashionable new way to enjoy music. This success had been foreseen not only by Morita but also by some outsiders. When major electrical retailers were showing little interest in the Walkman, young buyers at Marui Department Store, a very popular store among young people, were convinced it would sell and placed an order for 10,000 units.

" Mr. Morita, I Would Like a Walkman! "


  • First stereo cassette player "Walkman", the TPS-L2.
From the outset, the plan had been to sell the Walkman worldwide. It was decided to launch the product overseas six months after its Japanese debut and promotional plans were made accordingly. However, earlier doubts about the name resurfaced and various other names were suggested by Sony's overseas subsidiaries. Consequently, plans were made to call it "Soundabout" in the United States, "Stowaway" in the United Kingdom and "Freestyle" in Sweden.

But when Morita went on a business trip to Europe prior to its overseas launch, he met parents in both France and the United Kingdom that had been told by their children, "When you meet Mr. Morita, please ask him where I can get a Walkman." It seemed that many tourists who had visited Japan had taken a Walkman home with them and as a result the name was already known outside Japan. The name Walkman was easy to understand and had spread quickly, especially among people from countries where English was not the native language. Therefore, although it may have sounded a little strange, the team that had created the product itself created the name. Morita called Ohsone in Japan to recommend selling the Walkman worldwide under its original name.

Despite some initial resistance in certain regions, it was later recognized that this strategy had been correct. The name "Walkman" became virtually synonymous with "headphone stereo" products and it even appeared in respected dictionaries abroad as well as in Japan. In 1981, Walkman was listed in Le Petit Larousse, a well-known French dictionary, and in 1986 the name was included in the Oxford English Dictionary. Morita said that nothing made him happier than the fact that "Walkman" had been accepted around the world as an English word. Moreover, Walkman manuals containing explanation in nine different languages were distributed worldwide.

The Walkman created a totally new market for portable stereo systems, and it became a much-loved product around the world. In June 1989, 10 years after the launch of the first model, the total number of Walkman units manufactured had exceeded 50 million, and in 1992 this reached 100 million. In 1995, total production of Walkman units reached 150 million. Including a special 15th anniversary model, over 300 different Walkman models have been produced to date and Sony has remained the market leader.
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