Marketers in Japan Drop Ads for Donations

Execs at Tokyo Agency ADEX Nihon Keizai Advertising/ICOM Talk About Relief Efforts, PSAs and How Social Media Is Helping People Cope

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With advertising in Japan mostly switched off (except for public-service messages) and public transport unreliable due to electricity cuts, Tokyo shop ADEX Nihon Keizai Advertising/ICOM is letting some staffers work from home after days of struggles to get to and from the agency. "Over the weekend all clients postponed their advertising and have not started again," said Kazu Sugimoto, general manager of the 400-person independent agency. "Companies here do not think they should be advertising when so many people have not been accounted for. Many have donated money, and the media are encouraging donations from the general public, too. We believe advertising will start up again in a month or so because companies know that advertising is good for business and to get the economy going again."

Ryo Matsuzaki, a young account manager at the agency, described to Ad Age the latest social-media developments as Japanese search for useful information, and try to encourage each other:

"It was truly a phenomenon how fast information, both true and false, has been spread instantly through Twitter, Facebook and Mixi, the biggest Japanese social-networking site, ever since the earthquake occurred. However, now just a few days later, there is a lot of false information on the internet and in social media, and people are comparing information from TV and the internet trying to determine what is true and what is false.

"Today, on Wednesday morning, the fifth day since X-day, we have felt a number of small- to medium-sized aftershocks. Meanwhile, we are seeing on TV and the internet repeated showings of the tsunami disasters. Despite the terrible images, I see light among the darkness. Some can be seen in the hopeful messages spread around via social media. For example, this link is a collection for heart-warming tweets that show the courage and unity of Japanese citizens. This appears to be one of the most-shared links that is helping to improve the spirits of those who are depressed and traumatized."

An example of such a tweet, from @fujifumi, on Prayforjapan says: "On my four-hour walk home, a woman was standing out on the sidewalk holding up a sign that read 'Please feel free to use our bathroom!' Japan is the most heartwarming country in the world. I just cried and cried." In another, @hirata_hironobu tweets "My two-year-old was putting his shoes on himself saying 'I'm going to go arrest the Earthquake!' I realized that inside a tiny body, there is a lot of courage and Justice. Everyone, lets stand strong and get through this."

Satoshi Akata, a young planner at ADEX Nihon, shared his account of surviving the quake and seeing companies donate everything from Uniqlo clothing to Bic mobile phone chargers:

"I was in a meeting with a business partner at a small building in the Suidobashi section of Tokyo. It started as a long, rolling quake. We quickly left the room and cowered against a wall in the corridor. The walls waved, and the floors rolled as if we were on a ride in an amusement park. After the quake, we checked to see what was happening by looking at video on our mobile phone. The terrifying news came in one minute followed by even worse news. Since then, we have been threatened by continuing aftershocks, ongoing damage and even radiation leakages.

"These extraordinary events have affected everything in Japan, including the advertising industry. Almost every television station has switched to airing public-service ads of the Japan Advertising Council. Newspapers are filled with ads of well wishes to all. Portal websites have cut back advertising and are instead providing the latest news. Out-of-home ads that use electricity are restricted to save power. Events and trade shows have been canceled for safety reasons. Many advertisers have postponed campaigns and have stopped doing business pitches. Some ad agencies have stopped normal business, and employees are taking furloughs.

"Although we unfortunately are still missing thousands of people, we are recovering quickly on another front. Even I as a Japanese am surprised by the cooperation and solidarity of our people during this time. We are told there are very few crimes such as thefts or riots. Many people are ready for whatever kind of savings will be necessary. Yahoo has set up a foundation, and thousands of people have donated. Uniqlo has donated billions of yen to charities and sent vast amounts of clothing to devastated areas. Bic camera has provided mobile-phone battery chargers for free. Many influential celebrities such as [musician] Gackt and [theater-based idol girl group] AKB48 have appealed for donations. One student in an evacuation area has opened a website filled with encouraging messages. Takehiko Inoue, a famous comic artist, keeps posting heartwarming illustrations on twitpic. Ultraman tweeted get-well wishes towards children. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. In the worst situation, countless good actions are happening right here, right now. The people will never give up. The country will never be abandoned. We will overcome.

"We are indeed overwhelmed by anxiety and insecurity. However, advances in communication technology have certainly helped allay fears. When the quake happened, most telephones stopped connecting. Social-media sites such as Facebook became an effective way to confirm the safety of one's family, friends and colleagues and to exchange information. Twitter has been an active part of finding missing victims and has been important in locating areas that needed to be evacuated. People are using decorated characters in their texts to others as a means of encouragement. Social media has also been important in dispelling false and negative information that has been spread. Even some traditional media, such as radio, are helping victims. Radio personalities not only keep listeners informed but also try to spread some cheer with music."

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