Here is a topic that I gave a group presentation in the Media Theory class. It's a bit long, but I hope you enjoy reading it.
1. Background information about the ad
First, I’d like to tell you about the background of the ad since some of you may not know the present mobile-phone business situation in Japan. The ad I'm going to analyze is this.
I put the English translation on it as follows.
This is Softbank's ad for family discount plans. Softbank is one of the three biggest mobile phone companies in Japan. This ad was released on their website, but the same kinds of TV commercials were also made at the same time. It was first shown on TV in June, 2007. Softbank has also used other celebrities such as SMAP, Brad Pitt, and Cameron Diaz for their mobile-phone ads, but the company had to make an ad that related to its new family discount service for Softbank users. The other two competitors also made the same kinds of ads at the same time to attract family users. The family discount campaign started with this ad four years ago and still continues today. So far more than 100 different TV commercials have been made featuring these unique family members.
Let’s watch the first commercial so that you'll get the atmosphere these family members produce (I put the subtitles in English so that you can understand what they say).
2. Breaking down to the elements
Next, let's break this down to the elements.
・Medium: it was on their website, but the same kind of ads were also on TV, magazines, newspaper, and posters.
・Targeted audience: Japanese families (parents, children, grandparents, and couples) whose family members may still use a different company's mobile phones.
・Layout: White background with a few sales copies and the portrait of the family. They stand out because of the white background. The color of the background is white probably because the name of the discount plan was called "white plan." The family name “Shirato” or “howaito” also comes from this.
・Mood of the ad: Formal as if the family portrait was shot in a photo studio.
・Commodity being sold: Family discount plans for mobile phone users.
・Elements in the ad: Sales copies and the family members in a formal looking clothes with the company’s logo at the upper right and links to the other web pages on the lower left.
・Locale for the scene: Probably in the photo studio (white background and all the members are posing and staring at the camera in front of them).
3. Analyzing the ad
Now I'm going to analyze this ad and find what it means to the viewers. First, let's see each character in the ad again. Two Japanese women (young and elder) are easily considered as a mother and daughter since the sales copies on the left suggest it. Then why is a black male actor casted as the brother of a family? Does it mean anything to ordinary Japanese viewers? Is there any racial or unconsciously racist perception involved in this ad? In regard to this topic, I happened to read an academic paper that deals with the racial representation in this Softbank ad.
As the commercials evolved, they continued to challenge viewers' expectations, part of their immense popularity owing to their nonsensical playfulness which presented the character as a straight man in a bizarre fantasy tableau where boundaries of race, ethnicity, and even species no longer apply. - "Race as Ricorso: Blackface(s), Racial Representation, and the Transnational Apologetics of Historical Amnesia in the United States and Japan" (2011) by John G. RussellIt was written by John Russell, who is the professor of Anthropology at Gifu University in Japan and researching the representation of race in the U.S and Japan. In this paper, after examining many racial or sometimes even racist representations in Japan including the examples of foreign talents on TV such as Bob Sapp and Bobby Ologun, Russell says that the black character in this ad is a few notable exceptions from the other stereotyped black male images in Japan such as entertainers, athletes, and criminals. He says, “Aside from his black face, he could be any race” and “what is coded is his non-Japaneseness, and even that is problematized by his Japanese name and un-gaijin-like demeanor.” This analysis coincides with what the actor playing the role in this ad says about his career in his interview.
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