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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Low Cal Slut

Let’s compare TV commercial styles, keeping in mind that generalizations are hard to make – and that if they apply more than 25% of the time, you’re doing really well!

I’m going to break this review into two parts --  two posts.

The first CM is for Asaha Slut…er….Asahi “Slat” (pronounced “slut”) in Japanese, a low calorie canned cocktail aimed at young women.

It’s “typical” insofar as :

a.)    It is very short
b.)    It uses a popular “talent” for “face” value
c.)     There is no dramatic action – no  “story”
d.)    It has limited (if any) intellectual content.
e.)    It is designed around a single image
f.)     The voiceover is excited, a little high pitched,  a kind of rah-rah banzai announcer thing .

Our second CM is the one we downloaded earlier.

a)      It is a big longer
b)      It does not uses a celebrity for “face value”
c)       It has dramatic action – a “story” (or stories)
d)      There is a theme, a  clear concept, a “twist”
e)      It is designed around a single concept with multiple images
f)       The voice over is familiar, natural, persuasive
g)      It’s funny.

We’ll deal with this one in our second post -- next time.

Now –  the “Slut” CM – which to many Westerners will look like a waste of money as far as persuading any budding ...uh....slattern to buy the product.   

It’s easy to dismiss both the product and the advertising at one go – and Japanese branding and marketing in general.  Keep in mind that Americans are always so savvy .  There are lots and lots of really bad TV commercials in the US.  And branding?  Think of Holiday Inn’s logo “Think again” (I definitely will!) or the Hilton’s “Travel takes you places”  (Duhhh….).

But I digress.

This Slut CM actually works.

It’s going to catch the eye, if not the ear,  of many young Japanese women who spend a lot of time not only looking the mirror but obsessing about beautiful “talento” with perfect makeup. And it makes a simple association between beauty and health   – beautiful girl “mirrored”, that is times two -- and the grapefruit juice in the chuhai  and low calories.  Want to be “in”?  Drink Slut/Slat. Want to be beautiful?  Drink Slut/Slat.
Who wants to be “in”?  Everybody.  Who wants to be beautiful? . Everybody.

Who wants applause --as with the dreadful voice-over?  Everybody.

Keep in mind that TV CM are “low attention” vehicles.  We generally don’t want to “think” about them --  they're a necessary evil although they provide time to go to the fridge.

The Japanese strategy is to keep CM short (less expensive anyway) and “embed” an emotive or performative image in the consumer’s mind before she/he notices it.  Hit and run.

OK… the messages are minimalist. Take a look at your Facebook page.  What are people mostly talking about?  Simple, day to day to stuff.    The philosopher Heidigger once wrote  -- with disdain – that the second fall of man is the quotidian.  Of course, he was right – but he also wasn’t happy.

Next time… western TV CM.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Medium is the Maker. Letter to Julian...

Dear Julian,

The Medium is the Maker --yes, in the simplest terms, TV commercials are propaganda

 Back in the 1928, Edward Bernays wrote 

“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”  

A little over the top?  Not really.   Bernays and his ideas caught on.  They permitted marketers to convince American society that a woman could not be a real woman unless she smoked.  A few years before a cigarette dangling from her lips would have marked a woman as a whore  --but  suddenly it was a mark of education and sophistication.  And this “triumph of advertising” was accomplished without television or the internet!

On the other hand, it could not have been achieved without advances in photography, printing, paper making – and of course – radio.  The combination of photographic images and voice provided an illusion of immediacy that had huge emotional – and emotive – impact.

Impact is the key. It aint what you think – it’s what you feel.  

Marketers know that you are an animal before you are “human”.  “Thought”  is a recent addition to the cortex – in computer terms – a kind of buggy add-on to the browser we call a brain, most of whose mechanisms we don’t understand.  Logic, reason, and the like constitute a kind of interface.  It all changes with a bit of fiddling with the operating code.

That’s why people in the US and Canada and elsewhere routinely elect governments that act against their real interests.  Logically – it’s crazy.  But the Medium is not just a Maker -- it is the Maker – which means your Maker –or maybe your Re-Maker.  Technological marketing  (aka propaganda) programs and re-programs your codes -- your "self"  using emotion as energy.

Ah, but I can choose you say!  

So often you will hear :  “You choose” or “you decide”.    But how do you choose?  On what basis?
 Oh information?  There is so much of that out there . Then,   which is correct?  Ah…a feeling?  You believe x, y, z?  
Descartes wrote, cogito ergo sum – “I think there I am”

But the French philosopher Merleau Ponty is more up to date. “I see, there I think there I am”. Americans like to say (proudly), "what you see is what you get".  Exactly.  And the Mass Media determine what you see.

Julian -- we are all in deep shit.

A comment by The Oracle

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Medium is the Maker

Most people in the West are familiar with the phrase “The Medium is the Message”, coined by Marshall McLuhan. 

Not so, in Japan!  

Here,  people are inclined to take many things -- including technology -- more at face value. Good thing Socrates was not Japanese – he wouldn’t have found anyone to debate. Then again, he would have lived a longer life!  “Critical discourse” is just not that big here.

 I once had a job writing the rationales for about 30 Japanese submissions to the Clio Awards.  To do this, I had to interview the directors who had made the TV commercials – none of whom could really explain how their ads worked or why. Each had just gone with an idea -- in more than a few cases proposed by a junior member of their team -- and worked it out cinematically because it felt good.  Now, no one said anything like, “it just felt good” but that was the general idea.  There was no critical thinking here.  No consideration of the psychology of the viewer. No “logic”.   

I couldn’t just say that the TV commercials had just sort of “happened” – that they evolved.   In the end, I just analyzed the commercials myself and wrote them up as though some deep thinking had gone into the process –some “intelligent design”.

Three of those commercials won awards.

The fact is that the nature of a medium -- in the case of TV commercials – multi-medium – does shape the message.    McLuhan wanted to entitle his book not “The Medium is the Message” but “The Medium is the Massage”.  His publishers disagreed I guess.  “Message” was catchier I guess.
However, it might be better to say, as J Hillis Miller does in his book on Browning, Derrida and Freud, that the “medium is the maker”.  Yes, mediums do frame messages, often changing the original concept – or – in case of our those Japanese TV commercial directors I mentioned – helping generate it –but beyond that they are “performative” – they make things happen .

This idea (“performative”)  is clearly seen in TV commercials which are an art form but primarily intended to influence someone to do something.

The CM is funny .  It cleverly – shall I say “artfully”?  exploits its time constrained, nominally low viewer attention TV medium --but its purpose is to make you do something  visit the website.
Did I go to  Yes, I did.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Voices Here -- and Over There

This video showcased on the TV Commercial Blog is interesting for a number of reasons.

First of all -- it's just funny and creative.

Notice the voice.  It's a  baritone -- not too low --recorded very much "on mike" with just a hint of "rasp", a subtle nasality.   And it sounds pretty much like a real person.  That's where that subtle nasality comes in.  The voice is not too pure or "sweet" --it has "character".

In Japan, a problem is that Japanese do  the choosing, as far as  voices are concerned.  They want the effect -- the  impact - the naturalness -- the  intimacy -- that voices like this have -- but since English is not their native language it is difficult for them to "hear" the voices that are presented to them.  And of course Japanese directors will inevitably try to get a "Japanese" sound,  ending up with something purer and sweeter -- and over-pronounced, a sort of ei-kaiwa thing on steroids. Something everything is exaggerated.

You will also notice that the voice-over artist has full control of intonation and uses pitch, stress, and juncture artfully, phrasing perfectly.

The Daily Show -- and You

     I was watching the Daily Show and – as usual – John  Stewart’s crew was making fun of news announcers.  I am not talking about TV voice-over artists – who do TV commercials and the like –nor about documentary narrators – just that CNN Bimbo or the Fox News manikin who stares robotically at the camera and recites from the teleprompterl.

      It’s fun -- to make fun of such people – especially recently – they dress alike, look alike – and most important of all (to me, as a “voice”) they talk alike 


      We say, “Who really talks like this?”

      But then the question arises?  Why do we take CNN or Fox News people et al as “natural”?

      Why aren’t there TV talking heads who talk like people?

     Well, you say, because most people just don’t talk that clearly. Your average Joe or Joe-Anne mumbles. And announcers have to be clear, so we can get the nitty gritty of the lies and distortions we call news. Granted--but it aint that simple. If only because it is obviously possible to be both clear and natural. Which brings us to the mechanics of articulation, specifically intonation.  

    (Modern) English intonation – despite what Japanese “ei-kaiwa” books like to say -- has four degrees of stress, pitch, and juncture –  the so-called “suprasegmentals” --accompanied by euphonic changes such as the lengthening of vowels and the addition of semi-vowels, elision and reduction.  In this respect, English prosody is much more complex than, say, Japanese which is works with two degrees of everything. 
TV announcers characteristically simplify intonation. 

    Listen carefully and you will hear a mostly binary suprasegmental system.  The movements of the mouth and its articulatory organs are also simplified.  This makes it physically  easier to read without mistakes and with maximum intelligibility.  It also robs the voice of emotion.  No mistakes. No feeling.  Smooth, authoritative delivery.    Underlying everything– this is objective; it is pure information ; it is the truth.
 So, John Stewart’s  “fake news” announcers can say the craziest things – but using standard delivery.  That’s how the comedy works.   It makes us laugh – but then  the whole notion of the “objectivity” of news is laughable.

   If you want someone to really understand you – talk with feeling, use the full potential of the language – be natural. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Feedback. Test and Rehearsals 2

Feedback!  Somebody actually read the blog!

Of course, they disagreed with what I had written.  Which is good – because you (I, at least) never get anything quite right the first time.

One thing I did not mention is that I charge overtime if I have to stay in the studio longer than the allotted time.  So, if the client and the production and the translator have problems they have to pay me extra – just like they have to pay the studio extra too.  Time is money.

Now, it is commonplace to reserve 2 hours for a 15 minute video.  However, if the script has been done properly I have done a 15 minute video in as little 20 minutes!  In all these cases I either wrote the script myself -- or one of Tokyo’s (very few) actually professional writers had done it -- making sure of exact sync between images and text –and getting client approval in advance.   If I have written the script myself – or read it carefully in advance – I just don’t need a rehearsal – and I don’t make mistakes. I get it right the first time.
For a professional voice person,  as the feedback pointed out, all you need to do is a simple voice check at the beginning, say the first 30 seconds or a bit more , if you want to establish “mood”.    If you make a mistake or want to change phrasing or emphasis you just stop and do it again. 

This is the way it should be done – in the best of all possible worlds.

My point in my previous post, however, was that Tokyo is not the” best of all possible worlds” for English language PR work. So – inevitably compromises have to be made.

Now, savvy companies recognize that they can save time, trouble and money – while producing a better product by careful scripting, which I call “un-translation” (which I will deal with in another post), good client management, and meticulous preparation in advance of a recording.    But this requires a.) a certain skill set  b.) an understanding by the client of what is involved in the process.

Also--before I forget – it has been mentioned that white text on black is pretty awful.  I agree.  And I have changed that.