Highlights of Nissin's long and unusual ad history include a 1993 Cannes Grand Prix for its "Hungry" campaign, and a Cannes Advertiser of the Year citation in 1997. Last September, the noodle maker undertook the ultimate location shoot: filming a commercial on the international space station. And surely only a handful of marketers have a series of ads starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in their libraries.
So, Nissin, which sells a staggering 25 billion packs of noodles a year, had to do something special to celebrate Cup Noodles' 35th anniversary this month (I think the traditional gift for 35 years is actually ramen).
Hence, the Freedom Project. The creative mandate of the Nissin Freedom campaign is to position the humble Cup as a symbol of freedom, since the pour-and-eat meal has "brought about a worldwide revolution in food culture." There's something that's at once so over the top and so gorgeous about the all-in creativity exhibited here by Nissin and its partners that it merits a look.
The campaign includes a series of commercials and longer films, as well as posters and a range of multimedia elements, all based on an animated tale created by Katsuhiro Otomo, the legendary manga artist and anime director. Otomo's "Akira" started as a 2,000-page manga saga and was made into the 1988 film that stands as a towering achievement in animation and is widely considered to be the vehicle that launched anime into Western consciousness.
The films and other Freedom components live online (freedom-project.jp) and on a nifty mobile site accessible on handsets through a code located on print ads and the noodles label itself. After the six installments of long-format films play out over the next year or so, Nissin will make them available for purchase on DVD.
The project is a collaboration between Dentsu, Otomo, mobile company D2C and interactive shop Bascule. And here's the point in the story where I just get completely sidetracked (as will you if you are following along online), because there's no way to continue without addressing the sheer mind-expanding spectacle that is the Bascule website.
A few months ago, at the D&AD show in London, Leo Burnett Canada walked away with the rare and coveted Black Pencil for its own pencil-driven website, a study in elegant design and intuitive interface. Judges, God bless their open minds, also bestowed a yellow pencil on Bascule's website (bascule.co.jp), a study in ... something entirely different. For those of us who like our designs clean and simple, it's so wrong that it becomes its own kind of right.
The look, the colors, the navigation, are all uniquely Japanese and all startlingly different from just about any site you will encounter in your daily online travels. The entire site sort of happens in one page; you just keep scrolling down past levels and layers of weirdness and information and images and games that are revealed to those patient or clever enough to find them. At the end of it all is a genie with a pot and, well, I won't ruin the twist ending.
So while we're all subjected to vague appropriations of Japanese style here everyday-let's take a moment to enjoy the unfathomable beauty of the original and to salute the lowly freedom noodle.
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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and AdCritic.com. E-mail your big ideas to her at email@example.com.