Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Advertising by association

The complex relationship between reality and promotion, when advertising gets close to real world-events, is skirted in a recent ad promoting a publishing company.

Takarajimasha – the publisher concerned – printed the ad on Sept 2 in various publications. The ad (above) consists of a photograph of Gen. MacArthur arriving, post-war, at Atsugi airbase, ready to "rebuild" Japan, with catch copy saying: "Let's make a great country, however many times it takes" while the company's name appears small at bottom right. And that's all.

Of course, the deliberate thought-provoking/offensive (take your pick) link is two- or three-fold: was it MacArthur who made the new Japan great; is Japan at an equivalent place, post-the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, as it was post-WWII; should a company promote itself, however clearly/obliquely, above or alongside the rebuilding after a national disaster? Perhaps it includes, do we want to promote a different, "new", even foreign-oriented Japan, in the light of the disaster?

(Apparently, trending on Twitter was critic Machiyama Tomohiro opinion: "I don't think they put much thought into it. They're a company of idiots." While New York Times Tokyo-based reporter Hiroko Tabuchi tweeted, "Think it's an interesting ad, a real snub at Japan's postwar political leadership. Provocative, cynical, in some ways brilliant.")

One thing for sure, I didn't specifically know of this company before this ad (though I'd seen their magazines), so it worked on that level. And the company likes a simple, questioning, "thought-provoking" ads: last year it went with a photo of two dogs and the question "Can a Japanese dog and an American dog talk to each other?"

This one reminds me of Apple's promotion a few years ago – as part of its "Think Different" series which used famous (mostly dead) people to promote Apple via their own unconnected achievements – Apple just wanted to be associated with them. Einstein was an obvious one. Whether, especially posthumously, a person should be promoting your company via an unconnected association is sometimes iffy. The question was brought to the fore by Apple's "honoring" of Rosa Parks (below) – the black woman who refused to sit at the back of the bus in civil-rights era America – just days after she'd died in 2005. (She'd agreed while alive to be part of the campaign and Apple revisited her image immediately on her death.) Apple associated itself with civil rights, free-thinking – and heroism. As for the latter, in reality, of course, Apple is just a business, not heroic.

Has Takarajimasha overstepped a somewhat similar mark here, linking itself to a nation rebuilding and, in this case, using disaster to promote itself as strong? Or is it just some advertorial fun and a legitimate way of promoting yourself alongside a spirited Japan? Or is coupling your company with a questionable link to defeat in war not the bright way to go? Or is the company neatly linking itself with free-thinking (their own "think different"?) by deliberately courting advertising "controversy" and even making, as Tabuchi said, a political point?

Perhaps, on the whole, advertising on safer ground when it steers clear of the real-world, and we can all treat it as the effervescence it, at least usually, mostly is. Though advertisers may think differently.