Japanese ads, what belongs?

An EXILE promotional ad.

Japanese advertisements – damn they’re crazy. Every time I see a particularly interesting one I can’t help but feel amazed and baffled at the same time. Take this Exile poster as an example. I saw this advertisement 6 months ago, but only today did I learn that Nesmith(the black man center right) is actually a member of Exile. Call me racist if you want, but rather than that it’s just that I’ve come to expect random placement of foreigners in Japanese advertisements.

A SoftBank advertisement for Ultra Wifi.

Take a look at this SoftBank ad – what is the significance of the man and the robot? If I’m not mistaken that’s Dante Carver, a very popular commercial star in Japan. He’s been included in many of the Softbank campaign advertisements. Reading the first few paragraphs of a CNN article about Dante gives some context:


 “It’s a tried and true method of gaining attention in the business world: try something visibly different. For Japanese mobile phone company Softbank, “different” is in the form of 33-year-old Dante Carver.


Carver is a member of the quirky Japanese family that fronts the ad campaign for Softbank. If you haven’t guessed by his name yet, he’s not Japanese. He’s an African-American from New York. Granted, he’s not the only non-Japanese member of the advertising campaign: there’s also the dog, who is the father of the family.


The ad campaign is certainly nonsensical. But it has been a popular and successful ad campaign, running for four years on Japanese television.”


Just like the article suggests Dante is ‘different’, it’s a way SoftBank can rapidly capture the attention of the consumer without having to hit the bank too hard. Even if this inclusion makes little to no sense it does the job – it’s an attention grabber. Here’s an advertisement he stars in, advertising the SoftBank White Family 24 plan.

This technique is by no means anything new, celebrities from the world over have been japandering for quite some time. The difference being that these are existing celebrities, whereas Dante made his break into directly into Japanese advertising. The last time I was in Japan there was a fairly extensive BOSS coffee marketing campaign that made use of Tommy Lee Jones. Make no mistake, these campaigns are hilarious. That I cannot deny.

After writing all this it makes me wonder, are there many foreigners in Japan that have a bright future in the advertising world? Or are we all just destined to be English teachers? One thing is for sure, on streets like these you can’t escape marketing – sensical or not.

Osaka streets at night, littered with billboards.

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