Thursday, September 27, 2007
Spam, Wonderful Spam
It may be hard to believe but, prior to the 1980's, Spam was known only as an overly-salty meat product. These days, far more people talk about it in its electronic form than eat it in it's pork form. While some products find their sales buckling under the weight of negative associations that form around their names, I'm pretty sure that Spam-brand meat product is not one of them. In fact, I wonder if the association with the Monty Python sketch which (purportedly) inspired the sobriquet "spam" for unwanted messages may actually have made "Spam" kind of cool.
At the very least, the fact that the word became used on a daily basis and became the subject of a good many articles on getting rid of advertising brought the product's name back into the public consciousness. For what it's worth, Spam sales skyrocketed around 2000 after dropping off steadily in the after the 1940's. I'm guessing this had more to do with putting the word out there than it had to do with a sudden and intense spike in a desire for pre-cooked, canned meat.
The picture above was taken in an import shop in Japan. The fact that any store would choose to display such a vast array of Spam products is an indication that they expect there will be a desire for them among Japanese consumers. I daresay that, short of things like salad dressing or seasonings, I have never seen so many varieties of the same type import food on offering. While I don't believe the Japanese adore their Spam, they must like it enough to keep cans on most local market shelves as well as in almost every import shop. I will note that it's also relatively expensive (around $4.50 a can) so it's not being purchased for economic reasons.
I guess the clearest indication that Spam is more popular in Japan or at least less looked down upon as a food stuff is the fact that the fast food chain "Freshness Burger" has a Spam burger on its menus. At 380 yen per sandwich, it's a little more expensive than all the more conventional types of burgers at 320 yen each. I'm pretty sure few people in the U.S. are going to pony up $3.20 for a sandwich made out of canned, processed meat.
As for the other type of spam, when I ask my students about "spam" in it's electronic usage, they have no idea what I'm talking about. They say they know it's a kind of food but were unaware of it referring to unwanted mail promising to increase the size of the tackle in your box or put more ardor in your larder. I guess it's one of those concepts that didn't make the transition in katakana English to Japanese because, while Spam meat product is well-known here, Monty Python and western geek culture are not.