By Graham Earnshaw
TOKYO, Sept 11, Reuter – British pop star Sting takes a swig from a can of Japanese beer and says with great feeling: “Together”.
For that one word, uttered in an advertisement for Kirin beer, Japanese ad executives say Sting was probably paid about 250,000 dollars.
But he is far from being the highest paid of the many Western stars lured into Japanese advertising.
Madonna is probably the current record holder, say advertising people. She recently danced her way through a television commercial for Mitsubishi video recorders in a deal that may have boosted her bank balance by one million dollars.
Japanese companies love to use Western stars to give their products that special appeal. Most of the big names from the West seem happy to oblige, even though many wouldn’t think of appearing in similar ads at home.
There is Paul Newman, blue eyes twinkling, saying “My main card” for Fuji Bank, Sylvester Stallone selling Ito sausages and Miles Davis pushing Sanraku Ocean whisky.
Julian Lennon sells Fuji film, Sean Connery ham and Brooke Shields hi-fi sets. Woody Allen has done an ad for Seibu department stores.
“In the United States they can lose some of their reputation by appearing in such ads, but there is not so much of that risk here,” said Shinobu Ina, a senior ad executive with Dentsu, Japan’s largest ad agency.
Japanese admen choose their Western stars carefully. They must be well-known in Japan, good-looking and free of “image” problems.
Take Boy George, for example. Last year, he was to be seen in adverts everywhere in Japan dressed in vaguely Arab garb and hawking a brand of Japanese rice wine.
Then came his brush with the law in London over alleged heroin abuse. The ads were immediately dropped.
Madonna’s image in Japan, however, was unaffected by the furore over nude photographs published by Playboy and Penthouse magazines.
In fact, in a country where soft porn is everywhere and almost respectable, the publicity probably did her a power of good.
“Those pictures were not a problem,” said another Dentsu executive. “In Japan that is not considered something to be ashamed of.”
The question of why foreign stars are so popular in Japanese advertising is harder to answer.
“Japanese people have a big inferiority complex about Westerners,” one Japanese journalist said bluntly.
Dentsu’s Ina was more circumspect, but seemed to agree.
“There is a sort of complex for the Japanese,” he said.
“For example, as a whole, Japan may have a reputation in the world as being economically very successful. But on an individual basis, the average Japanese consumer does not yet feel that his lifestyle is on a par with that of the West,” he said.
But veteran adman Bernard Barber of McCann-Erickson Hakuhodo Ka, disagreed.
“Inferiority complex? I don’t think so. That is a very Western point of view. Foreigners are used in advertising all over the world. And I’m not sure young Japanese see them as foreign stars,” he said.
“Madonna is just Madonna. She is on their hit parades like she is on other hit parades. The reaction is not that this is an ad with a foreigner in it, but an ad with Madonna in it. These are famous people in Japan just as anywhere else.”
A Dentsu executive had another explanation.
“Foreign is interesting,” she said.
“This is a very competitive market and companies will do anything to stand out. Japan is full of Japanese faces, so a foreign face makes a commercial stand out,” he said.
REUTER GAE AM