Posts Tagged ‘happoshu’

Yappari Neko Ga Suki

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Yappari Neko ga Suki 「やっぱり猫が好き」 premiered in late 1988 as a “situation comedy” on Fuji TV. The basic set-up concerns three grown-up sisters living, eating, and gabbing in their Tokyo apartment. The show rarely featured meaty plots or even additional characters, but there was something charming about the realistically-meandering dialog of the three lead actresses Motai Masako, Muroi Shigeru, and Kobayashi Satomi. Like The Cosby Show or Friends, the show was filmed in front of a live audience. But without the standard “zing” punchline-heavy scripts or flashing APPLAUSE signs, the audible audience response is more spontaneous and random, giving Yappari Neko ga Suki the feeling of live theater rather than pre-packaged TV.

Airing at 00:40 am on Tuesday nights, the program could have been any other late-night throwaway program doomed to obscurity. Instead, enough viewers stayed up late every week to convince Fuji to do another season of the show, this time in the more reasonable time-slot of 7:30 on Saturday night. While successful for what it was, Yappari Neko ga Suki never transcended a narrow appeal to a specific cult fan base of women then in their teens and 20s. The show, however, has not just become a historical footnote: starting late last year, brewery Sapporo re-united the cast of Yappari Neko ga Suki to be the campaign spokeswomen (in character) for the beer happōshu Namashibori. (On the show itself, they always seemed to be chugging cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon — the happōshu of its times.)

As both a TV program and a cultural phenomena, Yappari Neko ga Suki has a few lessons and insights for the nature of contemporary entertainment and advertising in Japan.

1) There is nothing inherently “Japanese” about bad acting

The contemporary Japanese television drama is so rife with overacting and melodrama that some commentators have started to believe that poor acting is intentional and culturally-mediated — possibly a modern-day reflection of Japanese theater traditions or stage aesthetics. Yappari Neko ga Suki‘s three nimble actresses show what Japanese drama can be if the cast have actual experience and skills as actors. The Yappari format requires long ten-minute recitations of a script (plus ad-libbing) in front of a live audience — little different from more “serious” theatre. Only real actors can pull this off; you can’t fake it. Today’s dramas use a “one line of dialog = one shot” filming style, which fits better with the non-actor “pretty faces” that powerful Japanese entertainment companies discover and provide to TV producers.

Yappari Neko ga Suki is a reminder that Japan is in no lack of capable actors, but that the inner-workings of the entertainment industry and its casting process tend to force experienced players to late-night and other obscure formats.

2) Longer program runs means long-term cultural properties

Modern Japanese television dramas run for a short span of three-months with almost no chance of a second season. Television stations do not like to dedicate more time to these shows, as they are expensive to produce and generally risky. If they flop on the first episode, the sunk costs are a terrible burden. (There is no “pilot” system for early vetting.) Talent agencies appear to like the three-month schedule as well, maybe for the flexibility in allocating stars to different projects since most “stars” are multi-media players.

The problem, however, is that this short format kills any chance of creating long-term cultural properties for the networks. In just two seasons, Yappari Neko ga Suki established itself as a memorable piece of culture that now can be reassembled for nostalgic advertising purposes. Mobile Suit Gundam’s modern day popularity over an equally-landmark space anime like Superdimensional Fortress Macross may come down to the simple fact that Gundam has become a long-term, more expansive franchise than Macross. This may seem like an obvious point to U.S. TV viewers (who lust after the next season of Lost or 24), but the low-risk, industry-pleasing three-month dorama strategy of late is not conducive to thinking about the creation of valuable long-term assets.

3) Pinpoint marketing may work for mass products

At this point, it is unclear whether the Sapporo Namashibori campaign is producing results, but hats off to the brewery for running a mass market campaign centered around a relatively-cult late-night TV show with appeal to a very narrow band of adult women. Most ad campaigns for beer use generically-famous celebrities to transmit a vague brand message (“It’s tasty!”), but these three actresses — especially in this specific grouping — send more of a generational wink-wink to consumers than a broadly warm appeal (although the campaign is very “down home”-y even if you don’t know the Onda Sisters).

The beverage itself is probably not any more limited in appeal in taste than any other beer-like beverage, but with so many near-beers flooding the market, this pinpoint marketing towards a very specific and likely-sophisticated female segment makes the product stand out. Are sophisticated women in their 30s enough of a market to have their specific advertising messages for beer? We’ll find out soon enough.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

Hoppy and Artificial Nostalgia

Friday, August 17th, 2007

In an age where thirsty masses have abandoned Japan’s regal ales and lagers for fake brew happōshu and malty chemical concoction “third-category beer,” there should be no surprise that Hoppy — the Grandfather of Ersatz Beer — has made a triumphant comeback. Originally intended as a cheap substitute for beer amongst the Tokyo working classes in the immediate post-war, the bubbly beer-like soda is made “alcoholic” with an injection of Japan’s standby white liquor, shōchū. The resulting taste is as close to beer as carob is to chocolate, but not necessarily bad. It’s very refreshing in summertime and much lighter than a real beer. (I prefer the rich “Hoppy Black” since its flavor is strong enough to avoid being drowned out by the shōchū tang.)

Hoppy’s comeback has a few key lessons for the Japanese market:

1) Older inferior goods can be enjoyed in a new way when better substitutes arrive in the market. Hoppy is a classic “inferior good” — a product for which demand decreases when consumers’ incomes rise. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hoppy all but disappeared once economic growth allowed even the bottom of society to afford real beer. In today’s less buoyant economy, we again see the need for an inferior good in the beer market, and the more modern happōshu plays that role. Thanks to the powers of science and technology, happōshu tastes much closer to beer than Hoppy ever did. But this is a very good thing for Hoppy, since the “beer” experience has narrowed to a point where Hoppy can now be perceived as a totally distinct beverage — not just an “inferior” version of beer.

2) Japan has gone beyond “constant progress” and is now “reclaiming heritage.” From 1945 to the end of the Bubble, Japanese consumers were so obsessed with going “one rank up” year after year that no one took the time to look back at what they had abandoned. Who thinks about the joys of Suntory Old when you can afford Johnny Walker Black or Blue? These days, however, few still believe in the old narrative of constant economic growth, and many consumers are interested in other roles for consumption besides proof of affluence and adherence to international standards.

No longer in constant self-comparison to a mythically-wealthy and trendy West, the Japanese media and consumers now are digging deeper into the fertile cultural heritage of the own past. The Fifties rock’n’roll dancers of ’80s Harajuku used to be treated as badly-styled delinquents, but they are now perfect models for cigarette ads. In the same way, Hoppy has become a unique bit of Tokyo Showa culture to explore and re-appreciate.

3) Brands must go away to become reborn. This is true almost everywhere in the world. Even if brands have a rich history, they need to completely disappear from public consideration so that laggards and less desirable consumers do not still set the brand image. Otherwise, targeted groups will not be eager to associate themselves with the products. Hoppy’s descent into obscurity was a blessing in disguise: Without any well-known pre-existing consumer groups, Hoppy was able to completely invent a positive brand image of past drinking culture that fits into modern day consumers’ desires to reconnect to past tradition. Hoppy lets the public buy into the bygone glory of the (possibly imaginary) Showa laborers — the “poor” we were before economic growth.

4) Nostalgia does not have to reflect actual past experiences. Like dagashi (old-timey candy), Hoppy is often met with the Japanese expression, “Natsukashii!” — something like “I haven’t seen this in a long time!” but with an evocative, nostalgic longing underneath. Although most expressions of natsukashisa come from the remembrance of actual childhood experience, it is safe to say that almost all modern-day consumers of Hoppy never drank it in their younger days. But with a skillful branding that places the beverage in a setting of “Showa Japan,” users fall quickly into this artificial nostalgia.

Hoppy shows that brands grounded in unique tradition or colorful history can successfully evoke nostalgia without prior experience on the part of consumers. Moleskine did this with their “19th century” leather-bound notebooks — embracing a product narrative of famous painters and writers that may be partially fictional. Japan is full of historical brands with potential for this re-branding and explicit connection with past culture, and I hope that we see more Hoppies in the near future.

(For more information, see this Japan Times article on Hoppy’s management.)

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.