Jean mentioned this on his blog last week, but giant publishing company Magazine House recently put out a special mook all about the Japanese mass-fashion brand Uniqlo assembled by the editors of Relax. Japan’s trendy lifestyle ‘zines tend to sell their cover-stories to the highest bidder, but there’s no ambiguity this time between editorial and advertising: This is just a paid promotion in magazine-form with a price tag of ¥680. Inside are all the usual suspects wearing Uniqlo (Hi again, young creative female artist Kiyokawa Asami!) and hiding their bags of endorsement money somewhere off camera.
Most “adult” Japanese fashion magazines greatly resemble the “aspiration book” style of American glossies like Vogue and GQ — pages of arty spreads and consumer products requiring income one step above the reader’s current level. The teen lifestyle rags, on the other hand, are consumer guides with concrete information on brands, stores, and constructing certain fashion styles — here’s where to buy earth music & ecology in Sendai and how to combine Mode-kei with Street-kei, etc. The functional need for raw info displaces any attempts at opinions or artistic fantasies and makes this media a perfect target for producer cooptation. And with no political content in the teen fashion market, the editors don’t particularly care what kids actually buy and wear: If a brand wants to pay ¥500,000 for special treatment, hey, that’s just more money for the publisher’s entertainment budget.
In this light, Uniqlo buying a whole magazine makes perfect sense, whereas an issue of Esquire all about Sean John would raise a lot of eyebrows. I do find it hilarious though that Uniqlo made a whole magazine dedicated to itself and then has the balls to sell it.
Uniqlo’s also created a very interesting advertising campaign to go with their new re-branding. The ad poses the question: “Do you hate Uniqlo?” and then lists quote after quote of Japanese kids talking about all the things they hate about the brand (paraphrase of one — “I got a Basquiat shirt, but then realized that everyone else had the same one, so I stopped wearing it.”). At the end, Uniqlo chimes in and says, If you agree with the opinions above, be prepared to have your mind blown by the new ultra-fab Seleqlo boutique. Marketing textbooks often recommend advertisements that admit a brand’s weaker points in order to create consumer trust, but most brands fear discussing possible drawbacks in the public sphere. Uniqlo’s treading safe waters with this one, because the complaints are only those of trendy kids, and not the brand’s large chunk of older, price-oriented consumers. Admittedly Uniqlo’s self-mockery in the ad comes off as pretty slick.
All this hypercommercialism kitsch, however, must have some sort of limit. When Tokion did its McDonald’s issue back in the ’90s, that seemed tolerable, but when will we all figure out that it’s now just the largest companies directly purchasing huge bulks of once-independent editorial space and indirectly limiting exposure to smaller companies who lack the capital to play the payola game?