Monday, April 4, 2011

An Inside Look at the State of Advertising in Japan: Post disaster

Where is our ad industry in Japan right now? Are we within a state of solidarity and unity? Do we possess a state of common resolve with a plan as to how to maneuver this trying time? Sadly enough, it seems that such notions despite being inevitable are somewhat premature. I think the one common element most ad professionals could agree on at the moment is that we find ourselves in a complete state of uncertainty and confusion.

This tragedy which took place just under a month ago has certainly impacted many on both the personal and professional level. In so many ways, this disaster has been unprecedented in scale and reach. On a business front, we are alerted each day of new challenges that many industries—both domestic and international—face as disrupted manufacturing schedules wreak havoc.

To this point the ad industry has not had a lot of press coverage as to it's state. However, the effects are quite clear to anyone living within Japan at the moment. Television CM’s are just starting to make their way back aside the social messages brought to us by AC (Japan Advertising Council) .

Digital signage which had been one of the hottest media tools within Japan has been virtually wiped out for the time being due to power conservation issues.

OOH ads, posters and billboards as well have been affected too. For quite some time it has been common place on any major train or subway line to be presented with an array of ads within the stations or even in the train carriages themselves. However, this has been severely curtailed too. One reason for this lies with the over-reliance on key supplies in affected areas. Hydrogen peroxide is a key ingredient in paper bleaching amongst other things and two companies which supply this key substance were severely affected. This is in addition to six paper plants and a Maruzen Petrochemical factory—a major supplier of the nation's printing ink—which were rendered useless after the quake and tsunami. For a solid take on the over reliance of companies on limited suppliers see:

It is not hard to see how and why the advertising industry has been affected simply based on these cold and sobering facts. However, there is another reason which is just as pervasive and powerful at the moment. This one however, lies with a cultural explanation.

The Japanese people unfortunately have experienced devastatingly hard times before and one has to look no further than post WWII and the re-building efforts that took. The psyche of reserve, restraint and a pure willingness to dig in and re-build were qualities which certainly helped Japan to recover. Once again, these qualities will be put to the test.

How this affects advertising is that such unnecessary or outward displays of excess or distraction to tasks at hand are generally frowned upon. According to many, it is or should be a time of restraint and self control out of respect for those suffering and/or lost and also for the task at hand of re-building. This explanation explains why the few ads we are starting to see trickle out are based more around low key FMCG such as beverages and other everyday goods. It is safe to say that agencies are putting those luxury goods campaigns on hold for the moment.

Of course as we all know, time is a healer and things will come around again. The question for all of us in the ad industry right now is a matter of when? When will it be okay to return to normal advertising campaigns? When will it be safe to advertise without running the risk of offending target audiences? For many agencies, these questions move into things like, “How do we effectively target whilst also contributing to charitable efforts. How can an advertiser tie in its own altruistic efforts for the common good?” These are all questions which are being tossed about by many brands and agencies at the moment.

Make no mistake it is a time of confusion and uncertainty within advertising. The next few months will be a challenge for all of us. The one thing we must all tap will undoubtedly be our ‘creativity’ in balancing and navigating around these issues. Thankfully, that is an intrinsic quality all of us within this industry should have in abundance.   

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