Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sex and reputation

I see from ads hanging in the subway today a major manufacturer has at last taken a flyer on Kōda Kumi.

Until now the popular Kōda has been considered radioactive from a marketing standpoint. She is huge in recorded music and has appeared on several teen fashion magazine covers. She has a Diet Coke commercial, supposedly.

But big-name manufactured goods and services — no.

There is nothing startling or new about multinationals using the starlets of popular music for marketing campaigns. Manufacturers, particularly their male executives, seem almost eager to have fetching, nubile young women in various states of undress hawking their (that is to say the company's) goods. From Namuro Amie to Utada Hikaru to Hamasaki Ayumi—with many other, lesser lights in between—the relationship between young female sexuality and commerce has been intimate.

Toshiba's collaboration with Vodaphone in offering a Kōda Kumi-promoted mobile represents a foray into new territory, however—and not what one could call virgin territory.

Kōda's image is, to be frank, that of a cheap harlot.

Really cheap.

For an illustration of what I am talking about, here is a Kōda Kumi ad for a jewelry chain. Warning: even though this ad was broadcast on commercial television, it is not worksafe.

Now it is unclear how large the target "young women who dress like and want to be mistaken for Roppongi sex workers" market may be, but I cannot imagine it to be a particular lucrative market.

Then again, such young women probably use their mobile phones—a lot.

I cannot conceive of where the Toshiba folks think they will be going with this association. For Vodaphone, however, there is nowhere to go but up.

Someone will have to fill me in on the conventional wisdom in the business press explaining Vodaphone's staggering loss of market share and eventual ignominious retreat from the Japanese mobile market. I certainly hope it is not ascribed to "they did not understand the corporate culture" or "they did not fully understand the consumer market" or similar rot.

I have been heretofore more than satisfied with a simple observation:

Vodaphone Japan conducted the most inept, insulting and self-destructive marketing and advertising effort ever.

After hiring as their spokesgirl the porcelain ingénue Itō Misaki, white-hot from her turn in Densha Otoko, Vodaphone managed to produce a string of the ugliest and most baffling commercials in recent memory. Bad with a capital “B”, they left behind an indelible impression—that they had been commissioned by Vodaphone's competitors.

I wish Vodaphone/Softbank Mobile (and Toshiba) lots of luck with their new...their new...campaign.


Here's the video version. I guess Toshiba et al decided to keep things under control by making Koda stand still and by shooting her from a distance...well at least until they chance a closeup of her kissing the mobile phone...suddenly, we're right back in Harlotsville.

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