62. Magic Road

I forget how I came upon these pictures, but I found them just a few days ago.

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They’re taken by Japanese photographer Nagano Toyokazu, and I think they’re all simply fantastic! His dream is to one day photograph Korean Pop girl group Girls’ Generation. Most of the photos are of his daughter, taken on an empty road. While it’s empty, his adorable daughter and all her props bring this road to life! A viewer commented that Nagano’s photos transform this ordinary road into a “Magic Road.” I love it! Every picture is unique and has its own special feeling. They definitely make me feel inspired to work on my own photography.

Short post – just wanted to share. I hope everyone checks out his Flickr page!

53. 日本のシーエム!Daily dose of Japanese advertising.

AdFreak is one of my favorite sections of Adweek‘s website. Today, this post caught the attention of the Japanese major in me. I proceeded to spend 5 minutes with a big grin on my face. I most likely displayed a slightly confused expression for the other 51 seconds…

Crazy? Normal? To Americans, it probably seems a little chaotic! I’ve spoken with Japanese ad students before, and they generally agree that Japanese commercials are a bit quirkier and more bizarre than American commercials. I think it depends on which commercials you’re looking at. Who could forget American commercials like the dancing hamsters and robots? Definitely quirky.

With this particular compilation of current Japanese commercials, there were a few that jumped out to me. The ユニクロ/UNIQLO ad that begins at 2:19 is very similar to any other trendy clothing brand commercial in the US. The music is in English and the models are all of different ethnicity. Is this because UNIQLO is an international brand? I wonder if Japanese consumers who shop at UNIQLO are more internationally curious. This ad was also the most revealing of all the ads, showing the models in undergarments as they slip on their jeans. Also – just a fun side-note – I totally tried on a pair of the jeans in the  commercial when I visited UNIQLO in New York City earlier this month. So nice~

The ad at 4:05 for the Japanese rock band, Ace of Spades, is also interesting. It’s all in English! Other than their song, that is. All the text is in English, and the narrator speaks only in English. Could Ace of Spades be trying to attract an international audience? The mood of the ad reminds me of some sort of ad for a metal rock band in the US.

Quickly skipping over the creepy soda gum ad (toddler bodies with grown-up heads…appealing?), starring massive pop girl-group AKB48, we get to the Coke Zero ad. Featuring a soccer team, the ad is all about living on the wild side! Hence the slogan “Wild Health.” This ad reminded me of Chevy Sonic’s skydive ad, upside down shots and all. I noticed in the bottom right corner in tiiiiiiny text, there is a little message urging people to recycle. In Japan, recycling and garbage disposal is something fierce. When I studied abroad there, figuring out which can to put different trash items in was a challenge. Also, the background music is in English. Other Japanese Coke Zero ads use English songs, like this one. Fun fact: The song in that commercial was performed by Terry McDermott, a current contestant on this season of The Voice. These Coke Zero ads also display just how popular soccer is in Japan.

My favorite commercial in this compilation is definitely the one for the job recruitment company with the panda. It’s just plain cute.

I would love to someday be able to learn the strategies behind these Japanese ads, especially the ads trying to appeal to a more international audience. Are they trying to imitate other American ads to draw in consumers who are attracted to the US or other cultures? The more I watch, the more curious I become. While it of course depends on the brand, what does this mean for American companies who want to advertise in Asia? How much should they alter their advertising when many Japanese brands are advertising like American brands? How far can they afford to stray from the brand message/identity? And who are we to say that these Japanese ads are weird or bizarre? In Japan, it’s just normal television. Perhaps Japanese people find our ads boring and plain.

I leave you with more questions and musings than answers…and my favorite collection of Japanese commercials. These Fanta commercials were done by ad agency Hakuhodo. またね!

45. Jiro – serving succulent sushi with a side order of insight.

“You have to love your job. You must fall in love with your work.”

Two nights ago I saw the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Some viewers might see it as just an hour and a half of sushi food porn (which, I’ll be honest, it totally was), but I saw it as so much more! While Jiro made it very clear in the film that you cannot order appetizers or side-orders at his restaurant, I still walked away from the film with a belly…er, mind full of cultural insights.

Hearing an 85-year-old man who has worked in the sushi business for 75 years speak about not having reached perfection in his work could be taken in a few different ways:

1) It could be humbling.

2) It could be inspiring.

3) …it could be discouraging.

When it’s Jiro, it can only be humbling and inspiring. Jiro Ono is a recognized national treasure by the Japanese government. His dishes start at 30,000 yen (around $300 US dollars). Customers of Sukiyabashi Jiro have to make reservations at least one month in advance. The restaurant has received 3 Michelin stars, which basically means it’s a restaurant worth traveling to Japan to eat at.

You’d think all this success would really go to someone’s head! And yet Jiro still rises with the sun every morning, taking the same route to work he’s taken for years and continues to perfect his craft while training his two sons and a handful of already-talented Sukiyabashi employees.

Training with Jiro is difficult. One interviewed employee said he cried when he finally received praise from Jiro after years of training. All the employees loved what they were doing and didn’t seem to want to be anywhere else.

These attitudes from Jiro and his employees definitely gave me some general insights into the Japanese culture and its people. These are of course generalizations and not true of everyone, but still very insightful!

  • People are humble.
  • They understand the responsibility and value of hard work.
  • Jiro was encouraging yet strict with his employees when it came to the quality of their sushi.
  • Praise was given when it was deserved – no over-praising in Sukiyabashi Jiro.
  • Hierarchy in and out of the workplace is very important.
  • There seems to be a deep appreciation for simplicity and beauty. Jiro and his staff took great care in how their sushi was presented and displayed, only serving guests one simple piece of sushi at a time on a spotless, shiny black dish. In between each piece of sushi served, they would wipe the dish clean.
  • People are optimistic, possessing a fighting spirit during difficult times.

Finally, Jiro said that “you have to love your job. You must fall in love with your work.” Even if you’re at a job that might not be your favorite, try and find something about it you enjoy. You can learn something from every job you have if you’re open and willing. And without love, the work you produce will be missing something. Find that passion and pursue it! See how far it can take you.

33. Disruptive Fashion?

Seeing what an outfit might look like on you without actually having to put it on would be a pretty sweet deal, right?

In this Japanese spot for Google Chrome by Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo, a group of friends are able to model clothes for each other…using a projector! Take a look.

While watching this ad, all I could think about was how something like this could be a disruptive business idea for a clothing store.

There could be a booth in the store that has a simple computer set up inside. Customers could search through an online catalog of sorts that displays all the clothes currently available in the store. They could put together an entire outfit, including shoes and accessories! They could even choose their size. Once the outfit is all put together, it could be projected onto a wall, just like in the Google Chrome ad. People could see whether or not they liked the outfit they’d put together. If they did, they could print out a little image of it (hey…a good use for the Little Printer we talked about in class) to reference while they shopped. They’d also be given the choice to swap articles of clothing and create a different outfit. To tie digital into the mix, from the booth in the store they could take a picture of themselves in the projected outfit and upload it (using the booth’s computer) to their social networking sites to share with their friends! It could be a simple one or two click process to do this.

I’ve seen this projector technique used in a furniture store before, but it was at least 12 years ago, leaving quite a bit to be desired from the technology. They had a white couch set up in a room opposite a wall that had a projector in it. The projector was full of image slides that had different couch fabric patterns. You could stand and watch the different fabric options change as the projector flipped through the slides. I always loved going to this store with my parents just to hang out in the room with the couch. Because it was quite a long time ago, the colors from the projector didn’t show up nearly as well as the clothing colors do in the Google ad, but the idea is definitely similar.

Nordstrom’s has done something similar to this idea in the past by creating a photo booth in the girls’ dressing room.

I love this idea, but I think they could have taken it one step further by giving girls the option of uploading their photos to the web directly from the machine. Zeus Jones even mentions how their research taught them that young girls use social networks to express themselves. It would have been the perfect final step.

Because this projector idea is already being used in the ad, I don’t know if I’m allowed to call it disruptive; however, I think this fun technique of being able to get an idea of what an outfit would look like on you has the potential of being a great addition to a clothing store that is up to the challenge of creating it.

24. The Hallyu wave.

As I’ve mentioned in various past blog posts, I’m interested in international advertising, foreign cultures and music. Mix those three things together and you get things like the Hallyu Wave.

The Hallyu Wave, or the Korean Wave, is the name given to the rapid spread of Korean entertainment culture throughout Asian countries and now parts of Europe.

More recently, Korean entertainment companies, specifically music labels, have been testing the waters of the American music industry. A few of the top “Kpop,” or Korean pop record companies in Korea have been promoting their artists around Europe and traveling to perform in a few big cities in the US. Because of the Internet, fan turnout for these concerts has been extremely impressive. While very few Korean musicians have made an official US debut, some artists are able to sell out Madison Square Garden in New York City without any problem. How is this happening? First, what’s appealing about Korean entertainment to people in Europe and the United States? Second, what are these entertainment companies doing with advertising and promoting that is causing such success?

First. An example of a Korean music video.

I decided to do a little qualitative research and talk to six of my friends who, like myself, are riding along on the Hallyu wave. What’s the appeal? All my female friends at least made one comment about liking Kpop because of the “beautiful boys,” to quote one of them. Another mentioned that the groups remind her of groups she listened to during her childhood, like Nsync and Spice Girls. Korea has definitely taken the 5-member boy band formula of the 1990s US music scene and perfected it. While for some people (myself included) boy bands are definitely nostalgic, I’m curious if the United States is done with them. There might be a reason why boy bands and girl groups aren’t popular here anymore. Could the boy band formula make a comeback in the US? Another friend said it’s the bright and vibrant colors of their clothing and videos (and vibrant colors of products in Asian countries in general) that catch her attention. She finds that the majority of American artists dress in rather toned down colors.

There definitely are some popular Kpop artists who don’t shy away from bright colors…and yes, this photo is from within the last couple of years.

Another friend says she likes that many Korean stars are multitalented. Record labels and management agencies put their stars-to-be through rigorous training programs  before debuting them; something that’s unheard of in the United States. Musical artists are trained in singing, dancing, acting and academics before they debut. You can have someone who is a singer and dancer in a Kpop group, but also has a successful career in acting as well. This definitely gives fans easy access to their favorite stars. Finding as many opportunities for their talent is definitely a promotional strategy for labels and agencies. This ties in to what another friend said, which is that she likes Kpop because they promote and sell an entire package: Looks, talent, dance, videos, fashion, etc. “It’s more than just music, it’s a whole package…” she said. I would even add personality to the package list. Korean pop stars, also known as “idols,” are expected to be model citizens, as opposed to American celebrities. Some training programs even require their artists to do community service before debuting. By creating role models, there is much less negative press compared to the US. With hardly any negative press to be seen, it’s probably easier to promote artists and help them be successful. Of course the way people behave is also related to cultural differences as well.

I also asked my friends about the language barrier and their response to someone who might say, “How can you like this music? You don’t know Korean…” Five of them said something to the effect that you don’t need to understand a language to understand music. Music is universal. One even said that not knowing Korean could be considered a benefit. She can focus solely on the sounds of the music, saying that “liking the music has nothing to do with speaking the language.”

I interviewed one of my Korean friends with a separate set of questions. First, I asked why he thought Korean culture and music was suddenly becoming popular in America and why the media is starting to take notice. He thinks that it’s just the order of things. He explained that “for most…Western people, Asia is just Japan or China.” Until recently, not many Westerners paid much attention to the entertainment coming out of Korea. Because Korean entertainment has been popular in other Asian countries for a longer period of time, people who are interested in Japan or China tend to find out about Kpop because of its promotional activities in those countries. This, in turn, sparks their interest in Korea. The “Kpop boom” as he calls it definitely did not happen over night in the Western part of the world. Major record labels in Korea realized how difficult it would be to succeed in the US, which is why they moved from Korea to China to Japan to all other Asian countries to the European market and finally, the US market. The popularity of Korean entertainment has had many years to grow.

I also asked for his thoughts on whether or not Korean stars should make official US debuts. While there is already a niche market for it, would there be a big enough audience to be beneficial?  He thinks not yet. His opinion is that Americans have a very low tolerance for language barriers, and therefore Kpop artists would need to be proficient in English and release all-English songs to succeed. While they can definitely sell out a concert arena in the US, releasing American music and videos might still be a few years away.

As far as the language barrier goes, there are some record labels who are attempting to break the language barrier for us! SM Entertainment, one of the top record labels in Korea, recently created a facebook page, directed specifically at international fans. SM’s facebook page translates ANYTHING that they post in Korean into English. With all their posts, they post the English first followed by the original Korean, showing that the target audience for their facebook page is definitely international fans. They give fans a reason to “Like” the page by posting news, videos and photos of their signed artists. Whenever the company or a group travels to do a concert, there are always behind-the-scenes photos uploaded for fans. The company is also holding worldwide auditions this year, further advertising themselves to foreign countries. They also have YouTube channels for all their artists, all written in English.

Some Korean artists have already made a big enough impact in the United States to gather attention from American musicians. Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas has taken an interest in Korean girl group 2NE1 and has been working on an album with them. Creating a connection with an American musician is a great step towards promotion in the United States.

As a side note, I’m also a fan of Japanese rock music. While there are fans of this music all around the world, unlike the Korean record companies, Japanese record companies don’t seem to be making an effort to break the language barrier and successfully promote music internationally. If I didn’t understand Japanese, I think it would be a lot more difficult to find information about bands and artists. This could be a reason that Korean music has a greater following outside of Korea than Japanese music has outside of Japan.

Along with the great Facebook fan pages the record labels are providing, there are plenty of people helping promote Korean culture to non-Korean speakers. One of the biggest Korean entertainment news sites is www.allkpop.com. Based out of New Jersey, it’s run by Korean-American’s and is often in contact and conducting interviews with Korean artists. All their content is written in English, making it extremely easy for non-Korean speakers to get their news and find out about CD releases, new videos, concerts, etc.

One of my favorite sources on all things Korean is a Canadian couple named Simon and Martina. Creators of Eat Your Kimchi, they are English teachers turned bloggers. They’ve lived in Korea for about 3 years and cover all topics from being foreign and in Korea to finding weird things like inflatable boobs at the store. What they’re most well known for is their weekly reviews of new Kpop music videos.

Simon and Martina have received media attention in Korea and have even made appearances on a few variety shows. Not only are they a great promoter of Korean entertainment for American fans, but they’re also a representation of foreigners who love Korean entertainment, showing people in Korea how many people are fans. They’re also a great way to introduce Korea to someone. I’ve shown family members their videos in the past, and they love them!

To me, it seems the language barrier is the biggest roadblock for promoting and selling Korean culture in Western countries. The record labels and agencies seem to be doing everything else they can by having a prominent social media presence, continuing to constantly update media for fans, and by taking care of the hardest part for most Westerners (translating) by releasing so much information in English.

As an American, I’d love to see more Korean artists debuting and having activities in the US; however, as a fan, I want to see artists do whatever it is that will make them the most successful (and happy!). If that means waiting a few years to let their companies continue to improve promotions so their transition into the US market will be more successful…well, I guess I can hold out a bit longer.

9. The power of brands and fashion faux pas.

I had a bit of an “ad major learning about brands” moment while shopping with a friend over the weekend. We were perusing the sales rack in forever 21 when my friend spotted this jacket.

Pulling it off the rack, she said, “It has an A for Alissa! You have to get it!” I was in desperate search of a coat (I still am!), but the style and cut definitely wasn’t for me, despite the cute “A” patch. Just as she was about to place it back on the rack, she noticed the price tag was written in Japanese, yen symbol and all. My friend and I are both Japanese majors, so this probably excited us more than your average forever 21 shoppers. After noticing the tag, it was as if a switch had been flipped in my mind. Suddenly the jacket was much more adorable and something I could totally see myself in. Pulling it off the hanger, I tried it on. It fit okay. Just okay. The cut was wrong for me, but the fact that it came from Japan made me want to like it.

Before taking Creative Strategist, I may not have realized exactly why I wanted the jacket. I would have thought, “I like Japan! That’s why!” But is it that simple? If I look at Japan as a brand for a moment, it makes more sense. People want to associate themselves with the ideas and emotions of brands they like. They want to be associated with other people who consume the brand. As Debbie Millman puts it in her book, “Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits”, when she was younger she “believed that by the sheer virtue of acquiring these objects, they would magically convert [her] into a dramatically different person – the person [she] longed to be.” In no way am I implying that I long to be Japanese, but my interest in the country, language and culture makes me want to purchase things from there or things that Japanese people purchase, even if it may be something I might not normally purchase. I know I’ve done it in the past. At times I stop myself and think, “Wait a minute. Why am I buying this?!” In Dan Levy’s article about personifying brands, his interview with Jeff Pulver leads him to the realization that “people often extend their love of the brand directly to the person who represents them without any indication of who that person really is.” While I’m not comparing the Japan brand to a person here, his idea also represents how people who are loyal to a brand have a higher tendency to buy whatever the brand produces, no matter what it is. For me, simply the fact that it came from Japan was enough to grab my interest and make me take a second look.

Scott Bedbury may refer to this phenomenon as my desire to feel a deeper connection and sense of belonging with a country I’ve invested the majority of my college career in. In his book “A New Brand World”, he discusses the importance of belonging and how it affects our decisions to invest our time and money in a particular brand.  He explains how “the mere possession of a product can make consumers feel as if they are somehow deeply connected to everyone else who owns the product.” Owning a jacket that was most likely sold in Japan and purchased by Japanese customers would definitely give me some sort of feeling of having a closer connection with Japan.

Thankfully I resisted all these urges and put the jacket back, knowing all too well that if something doesn’t fit me perfectly in the store, I’ll never wear it at home. Besides, it’s not the clothes I wear that let people know of my love for Japanese, right?

With all this new knowledge about the strength of brands, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to ignorantly shop again! Turns out I can’t escape my ad-major mind, even on the weekends.


4. Handbag Interviews

A new Japanese ad campaign I came across today seems to satisfy that urge you might get when you’re in someone else’s house to look through their desk drawer or cabinets. Everyone is always a little curious like that, right?

Japanese phone service provider NTT DoCoMo and fashion and lifestyle magazine, “Tokyo Graffiti” have teamed up for the “Handbag Interviews” campaign. The campaign brings together 57 different girls from all walks of life with professions ranging from doctor to waitress at a café. The girls were asked to empty the contents of their purse and display them on a table. See? Like the desk drawer.

When I clicked through to the site to see what this campaign was all about, I loved what I saw right away! Vibrant colors, jingling bells and upbeat music and videos of real girls with their handbags. After the opening video is finished, we get to take a closer look at all 57 girls, their handbags, and what’s inside.

The focus of this campaign collaboration is to show why different girls buy certain cell phones and how they use them in ways relating to style and fashion. It’s interesting to see how many girls have items in their purse that match or compliment the look and color of their cell phone. The campaign also surveyed the girls, asking them different questions about their phones. It turns out that most of the girls chose the phone model they did because of the way it looked, as opposed to something like practicality.

The site uses digital and interactive media BEAUTIFULLY! It’s easy to navigate through. You can either watch a slide show of the bag contents of all 57 girls and see them lay out the items themselves in a quick video, or you can click “View” and see thumbnail images scroll by and choose which one you want to see.

If you spot a girl’s handbag contents you find interesting, you can click on the thumbnail and zoom in for a closer look. From there, you can click on individual items such as make up, writing utensils, or cameras to see why she carries it with her or why she likes it. You can share her bag contents with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, and mixi (a Japanese social networking site). You can vote on how かわいい (kawaii/cute) her bag contents are using a “Three ❤ system.” You can even click the “More About Her” button to see her name, her picture, and her answers to some interview questions, such as “What do you use your Smartphone for the most?” In this section, you can get a closer look at her phone as well. Clicking on it then takes you to the DoCoMo website. Another option is you can organize the thumbnail images by age of the girl, her profession, or the model of phone she has.

Depending on how long this ad campaign continues, I think people would really respond well if Japanese celebrities were brought into the picture. I know I’m curious about what celebrities I like always carry around with them, and I’m sure fans would want to have a cell phone like their favorite celebrity if they could!

Not only is the website set up in a wonderful way, the idea for this ad campaign is very smart. It ends up being an ad for much more than Tokyo Graffiti and DoCoMo. It becomes an ad for any of the products or brands the 57 girls take out of their handbags. In today’s advertising world, where consumers are starting to listen to what their friends have to say about a product more so than they listen to an ad, this ad plays up the idea that these girls are just like every other consumer checking out the campaign. With such a wide variety of girls, a future consumer of DoCoMo is bound to find one she can connect with. NTT DoCoMo is trying to say that they have a style of phone for anyone and everyone. They want to create that feeling of understanding their consumer’s needs. If a successful brand is a lock, creating a meaningful connection with a consumer is one of the many keys.