Friday, May 25, 2007

Static Messages

As is the case with any densely-populated area, if there's a bit of space where someone can hawk their wares to the undulating masses, someone will rent it out and plaster a message. The stations, where people stand as a captive audience waiting for trains to arrive with little to do besides stare at their surroundings or peck at their cell phones, are an ideal place.

The sign above was in Shibuya station and I absolutely detest the message it is offering as it is suggesting we identify with the goods we purchase and see them as a reflection of who we are rather than define ourselves by our actions and thoughts. Of course, no one makes money off of our minds and deeds so it's of no interest to business.

I'm not familiar with the card being advertised here but POS is "point of sale" and I'm guessing the point is to get people to use the card to buy a variety of goods including such mundane items as milk and fast food. In Japan, the average credit card debt per person is only $400 whereas the average in the United States is nearly $9,000 per person. The Japanese don't tend to use credit cards all that often and they certainly don't use them for everyday buying. They tend to use them while traveling abroad or when buying big ticket items like computers or televisions and then pay the balance off immediately upon getting the bill.

I think this ad may be attempting to increase the use of credit cards overall in the hopes that the pesky habits the Japanese have of not paying exorbitant interest rates and letting their debt float can be undermined.

Ads are in the trains themselves, too, of course, as the audience is similarly trapped as they are on the train platforms. This is an advertisement for Nova language school (the McDonald's of schools) which is held to the side of the train (just above the windows and doors) by plastic bands. You'll notice there's a number under the ad. I believe there may be different rates depending on what part of the train the ad is placed on. Ads by the doors probably get read more than those at the ends.

During the worst part of the long recession Japan experienced after the economic bubble burst, it was relatively common to find gaps in the ad spots because fewer companies could afford to place such ads. I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually had to lower their rates as the recession wore on. One other thing I tended to notice while the recession was dragging on was that the advertisements which used to feature 80% foreign models started to use more Japanese models. I'm not sure if this was because the foreign models were more expensive or if the zeitgeist had changed such that the Japanese preferred to see their own faces reflected alongside the goods they might purchase.

Peach John gets the award for dumbest English attempting to come across as sexy or desirable both in this ad and on their web site which says "Very Lingerie, Very Dita." I'm not sure what "Dita" means since it has a different meaning in a variety of languages but the one that makes the most sense is a referral to the model Dita von Teese (who is probably the brunette modeling the overpriced undies on the web site).

Any time I see a striking advertisement (one that was obviously created by an ad agency), I consider the intended audience and the efficacy of the message. Sometimes working out who they're attempting to target taxes the old brain box and sometimes it simply whacks it with a hammer. If the model in the schoolgirl uniform isn't enough to make the message clear, the message (you have to click on the small version here and load the big one to see it) makes it crystal (albeit in poor English). Who else would care about tea making them cute but schoolgirls?

This is an ad for a television show which appears to be called "Operation Love" in English and "Propose + something" in Japanese (the characters are largely covered and are highly stylized and hard to read). From the ad's appearance, I'd guess it has something to do with a skinny, androgynous fellow attempting to convince a woman 120% bigger than him to marry him. Either that or that's a woman in drag on the left trying to woo another woman. The graphical design of the ad is so frothy and stylized that I figure the show has to be targeting dreamy-eyed office ladies, neglected housewives with a penchant for romance novels, and pre-teen girls. This leaves me out.

Advertising in Tokyo is not all big, colorful bulletin boards in well-kept areas. In fact, not all of Tokyo is as clean and nice as one might expect. Believe it or not, this is an area I'm intimately familiar with as the record shop at the top of the hill, Yellow Pop, is a place my husband and I frequented back when I was still collecting Japanese KISS releases. I'm not sure what rules, if any, apply to those posting advertising here. It appears that anything goes but there would have to be some organization involved to paste posters up so high on the building. It looks as if one lot of ads are scraped off (badly) just before another goes up and this process is repeated again and again until a horrific mess is made.

This is a focus shot on another grungy area where "live house" (rock club) adverts have been pasted up. You see a lot of these types of things, particularly around or near used record shops though these postings are in front of a club named Chelsea Hotel. This live house is no doubt named such as an homage to the Hotel Chelsea in New York. You find that a lot of places dealing with music name themselves after famous British or American musicians or places famous for music. I'm not sure if this live house is allowing this mess in front for a "cool" look or if they are just indifferent to cleaning it all up. It certainly wouldn't make me feel comfortable going into such a club but I'm a rigid, middle-aged woman, not a hip, young music lover. My priorities are decidedly different from those who frequent such clubs.


Roy said...

EPOS card was formerly the Marui Card. EPOS is derived from "Epoch" apparently. I have one but don't use it much. It's a pretty good card in that you can pay off the balance rather easily at any Marui Department Store or Marui ATM. Unlike some cards where it's almost impossible to pay off your balance unless you go to the very inconveniently located office.

While I understand what you mean about defining ourselves by actions, deeds rather than things. I think the act of choosing one thing over another and what one owns does tell alot about a person. The ad does seem shallow but I think there's a definite truth about it. But I'm a materialistic guy so I guess my opinion doesn't count ;-)

I think one of the biggest differences between credit card in Japan and US is that by default most US credit cards have a revolving credit system which compounds interest to the unpaid balance, thus if max out your card and just pay the minimum balance you'll be in major debt in no time. In Japan, they do have revolving payment options, mostly with the shimpan credit companies, but generally credit cards go my number of installments which you state at the time of purchase. They charge the interest up front once based on the number of installments. Therefore there is no recurring interest accrued and unless you keep on spending you can quickly pay it off.

Shari said...

As always, you add a lot of good information and your comment is appreciated, Roy.

I can't disagree that what people choose says something about them but I'm wary of the conclusions people attach to materialistic choices since it's common for people to color their conclusions with their own personal bias. The Mac vs. PC crowd and the way they make determinations about each other is an excellent example of this.

I'm also not sure that buying habits say anything meaningful about a person aside from issues that concern marketers and retailers.

The only conclusion about you which I reach based on purchases you describe in your blog is that you have a fair amount of discretionary income and are interested in tech items. I'd be curious what you believe your purchases say about you though.

Roy said...

OK. I'll share with you a bit of my philosophy that I don't even write about on my own blog for fear of alienating my readers. This is where I get a bit metaphysical so it may turn you off.

Whenever I go to a shop and want to buy something there are many variables to a decision. Price, quality, make, fit etc are all the common variables. However, to me one of the most important things is the energy. The energy of the item and the energy of the transaction.

The energy of the item is what I feel about what went into the thing itself and what it brings to me. Can I feel like this thing was made with love and good energy? As an example, have you ever used a Leica before? You will instantly feel the quality and the craftmanship that went into this camera. Engineers must have been really proud of their achievement. When I look at it, it's not just a camera. It's all that energy packed into it and being transferred to me. It's that whole experience of creating some magnificent from nothing. This is very apparent when you go to a restaurant with an open kitchen or a craftsman's shop where you can watch him/her making something. When you see the process involved you can suddenly appreciate (or not) the energy that when into making the item. The item is the end result of all that accumulated energy. Whenever I buy something like this it brings me great joy and I have wonderful experiences with it (e.g. my car) so when I sell it to someone I'm passing on that energy to them too. One of the reasons I love old places, shops and things is because of all the energy the thing has accumulated over the years. It has character, a life that I admire. Things are alive with energy if you look for them. I'm all for getting a good price but I don't buy cheap stuff whenever I can avoid it. For example, whenever I bought something from Uniqlo or Gap or Ikea, I've almost always regretted it. Not everyone is made of money of course and can't afford the quality or goods they may want. It's not want I'm suggesting. I'm saying that material things are alive and do affect our energy regardless of the price. But I do think that every person, even if they can't really afford it, should have at least one or two luxury items. A nice watch, an expensive pair of shoes perhaps. You would be surprised at how your energy level is raised. It's an affirmation that you deserve that energy. It's not about finding your identity from the item and making you feel important because of so and so brand. It's the energy that you gain from it that's important, in my opinion. I used to think it was all about materialism, it is still that way for those that can only see it that way, but for many wealthy people, it's all about the energy.

While the product is the end result of the energy put into it by all the people involved, my money is the end result of all the energy I put into my work. When I circulate that money I think to my myself, it this a good investment of my energy? Will I get a better return on investment? Sometimes, this way of thinking is not practical from a so called "realistic" perspective. For example, we all know that no one really needs a car in Tokyo. Especially, a 2 seater convertible. I had no money when I bought my first car so many people called me crazy. But for me this was a great investment. I've had soo many good times and just driving it puts a huge smile on my face. As a result, I'm happier and more creative in general and this raised energy level gets transferred to my friends and people I come into contact with in a positive way. I've written about it enthusiastically on my blog, as you know, and have made lots of friends around the world who share the same enthusiasm and some of them have even come to Japan to meet with me. Isn't that wonderful? The benefits of "things" are not always apparent. Could I have spent this money in another more practical way? Of course, but for me this was what I needed at this time. Most people look down upon others who spend money on "stuff" calling it materialism or whatever, while it's acceptable to spend money on drinking and travel. Personally, I don't see any difference in the ways people use money. It's all about transferring of energy.

So, getting back to your original questions, I think a person's buying habits say just as much about a person as anything else like what they say or do. As I mentioned in my previous comment, how they spend their money is an action in itself and what people buy or don't buy, how they treat them, tells me a lot about what kind of people they are, what they value and how they see themselves. What a person buys and what a person decides to eat are similar to me. You are what you eat and in the same way "You are what you buy." (See how I cleverly worked that in?) I try not to judge people based on this and there's no right or wrong approach, but it's one aspect that helps me understand people better. Just because we may not like the method doesn't mean it's not valid.

Roy said...

Shari, your questions/posts are always very thought-proking and I ended up rambling in my previous comment without actually answering your question...sorry..

Shari said...

You and I aren't necessarily so far apart on the metaphysical scale. We just reach different conclusions and what you said was interesting and did answer my question after a fashion.

While I believe completely that you buy goods because of how they make you feel, a great deal of consumerism is about status, compulsive purchasing, and empty consumption. I think that you have a deep appreciation for things which very few people have, particularly in regards to craftsmanship. I can see this in your blog posts when you talk about how a coffee shop takes 20 minutes to cool ice coffee so it's deeper and more syrupy. You appreciate the care and effort a person makes and are willing to pay more for it.

However, and here I get metaphysical as well, I believe that the life we live is "but a dream". It is not the true nature of existence but what can be considered "camouflage" which we operate within to gain experience with this sort of sensory-based existence.

I think the way in which you conceptualize consumption would be the most positive interpretation and means of experiencing the camouflage aspects as it is concerned with creativity and emotion. However, I think that people are encouraged to become utterly preoccupied by the camouflage of this reality (material possessions) and copiously and thoughtlessly consume (and you may consume somewhat copiously but you appear to be quite thoughtful).

In fact, everything you say indicates you are not what you buy. You are more than that because you engage in a mental process which expands the experience to one of joy and creativity. You make and direct that energy. Without your active mental participation when consuming, the value of consumption drops to nearly nothing.

I believe that the value of your consumption is entirely made up of the thought processes and emotions you attach to your consumption and not the consumption itself. I believe you will agree that you are a rare person in this regard.

If everyone consumed in the fashion you do, the world would not only be a happier place as the appreciation for craftsmanship would encourage creativity and support craftsmen, but we wouldn't live in a Wal-mart world where cheap mass-produced goods made by machines or slave-wage labor were omnipresent.

So, while I oppose consumerism because it's all about encouraging people to buy without regard for need, I don't necessarily oppose purposeful and thoughtful consumption. However, advertising is about manipulating people into buying as thoughtlessly (because thinking discourages mass consumption) and fearfully (because scaring people into buying things increases the chance they'll be reactive and not thoughtful) as possible.

As an added note, I must say that it's unfortunate that you don't write about these things on your blog as it's very interesting and provides insight into your habits as illustrated on your blog. However, I can't say I don't see why you don't. There are a lot of people with closed minds out there who will attack anyone who thinks too far outside the box.

Roy said...

Yes, I see your point and I completely agree with the idea that reality is "but a dream" it's one the reason why "The Matrix" fascinates me. It's such a great metaphor for how we interpret our own reality. I have written some posts about my thoughts about money and reality etc but decided it was not something I wanted to share with the public. Some people believe that you should put yourself out there and express your opinions. But as you said, I would just get attacked and I don't really want to waste my time defending my position. I knew you would be able to appreciate my thoughts on these things which is why I took the time to write about them

Elec said...

Wow, really fascinating stuff Roy.

A couple of comments: I have a hard time figuring out why trains would have blank ad space; when I sold ads for a bus company I had no problem filling up all available space and in fact I had a massively long waiting list. Of course we were a small-city operation and not, you know, JR.

Funny you should mention "Operation Love"; I'm a 22-year-old male metalhead and I find myself watching it every week.

Still, very interesting overall. As I find myself saying when commenting to Shari things, I wish I had something else to add that hasn't been addressed!