All Behold the Monolithic Beauty of the Mobile Ad Monopoly

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We all know that DoCoMo (NTT), au (KDDI), and SoftBank (once Vodaphone) are fierce rivals in the Japanese mobile phone market. So who is behind their cutting-edge campaigns trying to win consumers over to their side at the expense of their enemies? Let’s take a tally.

DoCoMo = Dentsu
au = Dentsu
SoftBank = Dentsu

Yes, Dentsu — the world’s largest ad firm — runs the advertising for all three! Not going to see a lot of competitive advertising for mobile phones. Catch copy coming soon:

“Go for a difference with au (different does not necessarily imply better).”
“SoftBank has Cameron Diaz — but au and DoCoMo also have nice celebrities.”
“DoCoMo, au, and Softbank — all reliable, world-class communication devices!”

This development may also mean that a single firm controls all the ad space on the three proprietary mobile internet platforms (i-mode, ezweb, etc.), but I have not heard a confirmation on this yet.

Dentsu has been in the news lately for helping Japan’s ruling party orchestrate fake town meetings across the country to manipulate public opinion about policy. Not only does Dentsu have a huge hand in creating the country’s entertainment and advertising content, the company also finds the time to perform duties as a government organ for national information transmission. (Good trivia for all your dance music fans: Dentsu was also the once-employer for Ken Ishii, Captain Funk, and Moodman.)

Why did the semi-rebellious SoftBank go with Dentsu? Details remain muddy, but it is best to remember that SoftBank’s goal is to create its own monopoly keiretsu to rival the other huge vertically-integrated conglomerates. And if you’re going to play in the big leagues, you have to use the one supplier of chewing tobacco, right?

Over on Mutantfrog Travelogue, Aceface wrote: “I would say that the real problem in this country is that monopoly taken as a virtue.” Indeed. Let us touch the black Dentsu monolith with outstretched arms and progress from apes to tool-wielding men. (Cue one of the Strausses.)

W. David MARX (Marxy)
December 4, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

95 Responses

  1. Johan Says:

    That’s really interesting – I did not guess that. Seeing as the three companies’ advertising have very different styles and all.

    Further, it’s also interesting since Softbank themselves are heavily focusing their message on how much cheaper and better they are than au and Docomo. It seems Mr.Son will maybe lose some of the wanted edge to his marketing campaigns then by using Dentsu. Some of it could be seen from the big marketing event Softbank held the night before MNP-day (10/24) where his message was very anti-au and docomo presenting his new price plans “a” (au price -100 yen) and “d” (docomo price -100 yen) but noe of these two competitor-focused plans have been given much space in the regular media advertising as far as I have seen.

  2. Carl Says:

    So why can’t one of them switch? Is there no other company able to get airtime on Japanese TV?

  3. marxy Says:

    Dentsu just got SoftBank, so maybe they will cut back on that competitive stuff now. Maybe they went with Dentsu because of the mess they made by making those original claims.

    “Is there no other company able to get airtime on Japanese TV?”

    I have this TV prime-time schedule of the five networks, and I started to do data analysis on who owns what media. Dentsu can be up to 75% of all ads on a single station for a day, but then be 35% somewhere else. It’s not a total monopoly, but they are the dominant player with no real equal.

    The other question to ask is whether Dentsu basically made SoftBank a super cheap bid in order to take total control of the industry. In most other countries (and even with small firms in Japan), getting a big contract with a firm in a certain industry ABSOLUTELY means dropping all other work with similar firms.

    Why is Dentsu different? Why are companies not concerned about information sharing that ultimately happens? Is being aligned with the monolith have value in legitimacy that outways practicality?

  4. Momus Says:

    It’s worth saying that there would not necessarily be more negative campaigns referencing competitors if the Dentsu monopoly were broken up and ad accounts shared between hundreds of smaller agencies. Price-emphasizing campaigns aside, the acceptability of aggressive competitor-knocking ads is a cultural matter, not a commercial one. If these are perceived as nasty in the culture, they’ll be counter-productive. Also, there’s no connection between competitiveness of clients and competitiveness of agencies — in other words, a monopoly agency could easily be running campaigns in which one of their clients was made to look as if it were knocking another… if that were culturally acceptable in Japan.

    There are significant differences between the US and Europe on comparative advertising: “While in the United States comparative advertising has been a well-recognised and acceptable form of advertising… the majority of European countries have been hostile to such advertising for a long time and this form of advertising was considered as a per se unfair market practice.”

    Péter Miskolczi-Bodnár
    http://www.uni-miskolc.hu/uni/res/kozlemenyek/2004/DEFINITION.doc

  5. Momus Says:

    Also, you may be overstating Dentsu’s involvement in the campaigns, making it look more monopolistic than it is. The creative parts of campaigns tend to be handled by small independent shops — designers, copyrighters, directors and so on. But again, this has nothing to do with whether direct comparisons are used.

  6. marxy Says:

    “Price-emphasizing campaigns aside, the acceptability of aggressive competitor-knocking ads is a cultural matter, not a commercial one.”

    But how can you distangle the culture from the industry in this case? If Dentsu has ALWAYS had control over the market and prevented comparative advertising (which most academic works state is the case), consumers would grow accustom to never seeing them, and therefore, when they did see them (which rarely happens), would be somewhat turned off on the idea. Is this “cultural” in terms of Japanese politeness/indirectness (unless top-down of course) or a product of having been raised in an commerical climate where these ads are not allowed (PLUS the Nihonjinron superiority of “We don’t like these ads here in Japan.)?

    At least you can say, the primary reason for a lack of comparative advertising in Japan is Dentsu’s controlling multiple brands in a sector. Then, the consumers’ reaction would be the secondary reason. If Dentsu wanted to do something contrary to consumer tastes and change those tastes to its agenda, it could probably accomplish it in most cases.

    Why doesn’t the paraplegic walk? “Paraplegics have a long cultural tradition adverse to walking.”

    “Also, you may be overstating Dentsu’s involvement in the campaigns, making it look more monopolistic than it is.”

    This is speculation on your part, and no matter who physically makes the ads, the SoftBank strategy will be filtered at the top levels of Dentsu – perhaps even on the criteria: would this message harm our other big clients – NTT and KDDI?

  7. Momus Says:

    There was a little burst of aggressive comparison ads in Japan in the early 90s, mainly between Coke and Pepsi:

    http://www2.gol.com/users/kilburn/colabubbles.htm

    It actually shocked Japanese people, but, after the initial ripples, disappeared — a different thing from being “not allowed”, or being the product of a monopoly. And yes, politeness plays a part, but so does a taboo on boasting in Japan, especially boasting which vaunts an individual’s merits at the expense of another individual’s, or the group’s.

    Your paraplegic metaphor is pretty provocative. If Japan differs culturally from the US on something, you problematize the difference, make it a disability. The difference becomes guilty until proven innocent. Rather than looking at the history of comparative advertising in the US — for how long has it succeeded? Why? Will it always? Does it only succeed because Americans haven’t been exposed to alternatives? — you ask these questions of the difference, which is seen as a sort of sickness which can be corrected by increased business competition. The same old story.

  8. Momus Says:

    Also, on the monopoly point. It’s a more complex picture than you’re allowing. Unlike in the US, big companies manage to flourish in Japan without destroying the ecology of small companies. You see this in the vast numbers of small retail businesses which exist alongside big chain or department stores (whereas in the US the Walmarts etc tend to put Mom and Pop stores out of business), or the way big car manufacturers use a variety of small suppliers for parts. This is also how Dentsu works with regard to bringing in outside creative teams, and it blurs the “monopoly” picture you’re trying to paint.

  9. marxy Says:

    My metaphor was about “constraint,” which must also be considered before attaching meaning to the decision made. Without identifying the appropriate constraints, every choice looks like a perfectly free action.

    What’s interesting about that link is the fact that the companies considering comparative advertising are 1) not Dentsu and 2) joint ventures with Western firms or those on the fringes without a bunch of clients in the same industry.

    Also, you so much disparage the idea of free markets and competition as inherently evil things, but never really sing the praises of their opposite – monopoly? Can’t we get your “Ode to Park Place and Boardwalk” soon? Or how about an honest defense of NTT’s old pricing schemes?

  10. trevor Says:

    i’ve read momus’s comments a couple time. trying to understand.
    and i’ve concluded, there is nothing there to understand. its just the same old, don’t critique japan, cause who’s to say its not perfect?. if there is no god prove it, but i dont have to prove there is one. kinda of talk. vague ideas. half points, and zeo facts.

  11. Momus Says:

    Being an indie sort of person I obviously like small companies, and I think one of the things I love about Japan is the small stuff — the liveliness of the ekimae, all those little shops with their eccentric graphic design and window displays. Family businesses. These exist because the government has made a point of protecting them:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government-business_relations_in_Japan#Small_Business

    But they also exist because big companies support them too.

  12. marxy Says:

    “This is also how Dentsu works with regard to bringing in outside creative teams, and it blurs the “monopoly” picture you’re trying to paint.”

    There are no “mom and pop” Sonys or Mitsubishis. In a very calculated way, some industries are left uncompetitive and protected, and others are nudged into international-competitiveness. You are “blurring” the entire economy.

    Dentsu of course outsources most of their grind work. Same with TV stations. But final decisions are Dentsu’s and market power is all held in one location and used when necessary. The other big difference is that no truly competitive firms can enter on equal terms as Dentsu. Can all ad firms create legitimate-sounding “booms”? No, only Dentsu can, really. Maybe Hakuhodo. If parts of that “boom creation” work is outsourced, the central idea is still a Dentsu plan. On the micro level, some Dentsu materials would be designed by “outsiders,” but on a macro scale, the industrial organization plays a big part in the way information/ideas are disseminated.

    What is also interesting about this debate is how traditional progressive ideas of “trust busting” (gov’t regulation to “open” the economy up for the benefit of consumers) is being cast as an evil “free market” conservative idea, and the “true Left” is advocating monopoly over competition. How dare the Americans install the totally New Dealer “Anti-Monopoly Law” on the Japanese nation! Were the New Dealers also wrong to guarantee equal rights for women in the Japanese constitution?

  13. marxy Says:

    I like “small companies” like Apple Computers.

  14. dotdash Says:

    I can see how the Dentsu monopoly has a negative effect on smaller advertising agencies in the sense of absorbing all the juiciest contracts, but I don’t see how it impacts the three-way Softbank, au, Docomo race. Surely the final decision isn’t a central decision within Dentsu, because ultimately it’s the mobile phone companies, the clients, who call the shots. Even if Dentsu isn’t in competition with other advertisers, the phone companies are in competition with each other and Dentsu’s first priority is going to be to please their client. Am I being naive? If so, why would Softback screw themselves by signing up to a scam? Is it like the Luciano Moggi scandal in Serie A, where even the smaller teams signed up in the hope of picking up the scraps?

  15. DJ Says:

    hi marxy. found your page while searching for the latest on koki kameda. i was blown away by your mixes on here and odeo. Hope to hear a new mix soon. do you play out in tokyo clubs? if so I would like to catch your set. off topic I know but you don’t have comments box on your radio show but felt a need to tell you my “thoughts about the music” keep rocking out!

    peas

  16. marxy Says:

    Ad firms usually create the concepts/visuals to go with strategic decisions – if not, help out the company in figuring out its marketing strategy. How can Dentsu give impartial advice when it also makes decisions on its rivals?

    Also, does Dentsu make decisions knowing the contents of the other campaigns? There are all sorts of areas of conflict.

  17. marxy Says:

    ” i was blown away by your mixes on here and odeo.”

    Thanks! My club DJ days are over, I am pretty sure, but hopefully I will get a new MXUT up in Spring. Just too many other things on my plate these days and the cuts/edits take a lot of manual work.

  18. DJ Says:

    your track selections are wicked. would love to see you blow some minds at 渚音楽祭・秋 2006-nagisa music festival- トップページ. preferably at one of the little tents as they have the best sound systems, “jazzy groove” or “rainbow gay mix” i believe. dj days over? you’ll be doing the tokyo dance scene a favor. be looking out for ya

  19. dotdash Says:

    “How can Dentsu give impartial advice when it also makes decisions on its rivals?”

    Perhaps, and it certainly seems unusual by Western standards, but unless Dentsu has some particular favourite among the three, surely their best interests are served by doing the best they can for each individual client. If the Softbank team’s campaign is successful, that won’t harm the section doing the Docomo campaign – if anything, it’ll provoke Docomo into spending more money on their own next campaign.

    “Also, does Dentsu make decisions knowing the contents of the other campaigns?”

    If there are decisions being made based on knowledge of other campaigns (and in a company the size of Dentsu I’m not convinced that there is all that much information sharing between sections) I still don’t see that this would benefit one side over another. The advantages to each would just cancel each other out.

    The main victims in this seem to be the smaller advertising agencies rather than the giant mobile phone corporations.

  20. Yago Says:

    My guess would be that the three companies are encouraged not to compete too much between them, and share the market in a friendly manner. So very nice japanese style, right?

    The discussion over at mutantfrog was amazing, very instructive. Also funny to notice the way marxy writes, feeling kinda betrayed by the japanese system which he thought to be something else, or at least minimally just. Good he noticed, unlike Momus or others that just chose not to think about it and love the ‘liveliness of the ekimae’. I’d bet Tailand’s shopping streets are very much lively, but people don’t usually praise their economics.

  21. marxy Says:

    ”feeling kinda betrayed by the japanese system which he thought to be something else, or at least minimally just”

    Well, I think we are all taught that Japan is a “democracy and free-market” at first and then have to start looking a bit more into it to see what is really going on. (Well, actually maybe people read Chalmers Johnson before Reischauer these days.) Betrayal seems a bit extreme, but I do think a lot of the system will strike most people as “unfair” – even to the Japanese not in the top levels. There is a reason most of these topics are not talked about in polite company.

  22. Momus Says:

    “you so much disparage the idea of free markets and competition as inherently evil things, but never really sing the praises of their opposite – monopoly”

    That’s because monopoly is not the opposite of free markets and competition, but precisely the final result and crowning achievement of it. Why else did Dentsu work hand-in-glove with the deregulating Koizumi government?

    The opposite of free markets and competition is responsible government regulation and planning.

  23. marxy Says:

    “That’s because monopoly is not the opposite of free markets and competition, but precisely the final result and crowning achievement of it. Why else did Dentsu work hand-in-glove with the deregulating Koizumi government?”

    I don’t mean to be patronizing, but go read a history of 20th century Japan and then come back to this discussion if you want to know where Dentsu’s monopoly comes from.

    “The opposite of free markets and competition is responsible government regulation and planning.”

    Like planning to have state monopolies that charge consumers the highest prices in the world for average service. This “free market” vs. “state planning” dichotomy doesn’t work so cleanly as “bad” vs. “good” in Japan – which very proudly is an anti-Red capitalist state. You can have right-wing “planned” governments, you know.

  24. Momus Says:

    Telling me to go away and read the history of Japan isn’t very helpful or even relevant to my comment, though it might buy you some time. But let’s cut to the relevant bit — here’s where the Dentsu monopoly came from:

    “Dentsu was founded in 1901 by Hoshiro Mitsunaga, a journalist from Osaka. Mitsunaga actually founded two closely related companies: his Telegraphic Service Company was an international news wire service, and his Japan Advertising Ltd. brokered advertising space. Mitsunaga often took payment for his wire service in the form of ad space in newspapers, then resold the ad space to his clients. The two companies merged in 1907, under the name Japan Telegraphic Communication Company (Nihon Denpo-Tsushin Sha). This compound name became shortened to Dentsu. Dentsu secured monopoly rights to distribute the United Press wire service in Japan, giving the company unique leverage over the newspapers it serviced. Dentsu was able to use its influence to get favorable rates for advertising space, and as early as 1908, the company was the acknowledged leader in Japan’s communications industry.”

    http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Dentsu-Inc-Company-History.html

    It’s a classic rags-to-riches capitalist fairy tale, a clever entrepreneur who finds a way to stitch up the market. It’s what Bill Gates did. And as you said yourself, it’s exactly what SoftBank want to do too. And it doesn’t contradict my point at all.

    Or do you have another story about how the monopoly came about? Do tell!

  25. marxy Says:

    “It’s a classic rags-to-riches capitalist fairy tale, a clever entrepreneur who finds a way to stitch up the market. ”

    I am not sure your saucy retort really deals with the nature of Japanese capitalism in the pre-war, the zaibatsu mentality, the use of Dentsu during the war, MITI control of industry in the post-war, nor Dentsu’s role in the introduction of television.

    You may also want to look into things like, I dunno, books, which were like the Google search of the 20th century to put it in terms easy for you to understand. But it really depends if you want to be right or if you want to learn something.

  26. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    “big companies manage to flourish in Japan without destroying the ecology of small companies”

    Momus you ignorant slut. Japan’s Ekimae’s are not limited to Shimokitazawa and Daikanyama. Most of em that I’ve seen in my fair adopted homeland are filled with small chain stores. The “mom and pop” places are limited to the shotengais and are in fact being displaced by chain shops. As for your Walmart example, please tell me how that applies when big box retailers are kept out of the market here? The closest thing here is Cosco and they are kept far outside the cities. The knock on growth around Coscos? Chain stores.

    marxy,

    this here is an interesting fact youve posted. I dont know what it “means” but its food for thought. I’m willing to bet that the Brewer and Nash model of compartmentalization just isnt real big here. I know that in finance, the “Chinese Wall” is only ever put up when the FSA comes a visiting.

  27. check Says:

    “Responsible government regulation and planning.”

    Responsible to whom?

    Consumers? Or big business?

    It was my understanding you purposely did not move to Japan because you felt things were too expensive.

    But, I know, I know… you use exotic sensibilities as a form of self-marketing, so as to accrue cultural capital, which you eventually exchange for profit. And, as our CMO said two weeks ago, when speaking in terms of marketing, logic never needs to enter into the equation.

    So, by all means, feel free to contradict words with actions, and simply argue for the sake of arguing.

    Stay hip, mischievous God of unfair criticism, etc.

  28. Mitsuko Says:

    Momus, you seem to be contradicting yourself al over the place. On the one hand, Marxy has made Dentsu look “more monopolistic than it is,” since the creative aspects are farmed out to small independents. It’s a “more complex picture” than Marxy is allowing, because big companies in Japan don’t actually create monopolies at all, on the contrary they allow small businesses to flourish, unlike in the Evil Empire. And yet at the same time, it seems the Dentsu story is “a classic rags-to-riches capitalist fairy tale, a clever entrepreneur who finds a way to stitch up the market. It’s what Bill Gates did.” Dentsu is both a warm cuddly corporation that lets a 1,000 small businesses bloom, but it’s also as rapacious and monopolistic as Bill Gates.

    I’ll bet you knew absolutely nothing about Dentsu before your five-minute Google. Your knowledge is all glosses of glosses of glosses. But of course, you can’t actually read Japanese, can you?

  29. Tania Says:

    The less Momus knows, the easier it is to fit it into a ready-made paradigm.

  30. dotdash Says:

    It’s interesting how many discussions on here are predicated on the assumption that the Japan is basically a capitalist country and that deviations from this are automatic grounds for criticism. Japan’s system is more like a kind of market socialism, where the state monopoly of a socialist state is shared out among a few key private monopolies. Judged by free-market standards, Japan fails, but that’s not the only set of standards there is.

    The arguments here so often create a false dichotomy between the Japanese and the American systems, with Marxy criticising Japan from an American perspective (naturally, since he’s American), and then others defending Japan based entirely on its own terms as if these were the only two countries in the world. It would be interesting to see the view of someone from Sweden or Germany — both have a lot of economic and demographic similiarities with Japan that make them relevant comparisons in quite different ways to America.

  31. Momus Says:

    I’m finding dotdash the most sensible and lucid person on this thread. The market socialism comment aligns with Kojin Karatani’s idea that Japan is basically “capitalist communism”. (By the way, I’m based in Berlin and think of my perspective as very much a European one. When I talk about the benefits of planning and regulation, my model is the EU. And, talking about comparison advertising, I noted that here in Europe it’s historically been frowned upon).

    I’d like to add that, on a less economic, more anthropological level, the semantic opposite of competition is collaboration. Here’s what one management handbook says about it:

    “Collaboration is the opposite of competition in most ways: you
    share information instead of concealing it, you focus on the other side’s concerns over your own, and you sit side by side instead of negotiating at arm’s length. Collaboration requires rich, ongoing communication, and it relies on joint problem solving.”

    Now, collaboration gets a bad press here, being seen as collusion, conspiracy, oligopoly and so on. But again I think dotdash hits the right tone:

    “Perhaps, and it certainly seems unusual by Western standards, but unless Dentsu has some particular favourite among the three, surely their best interests are served by doing the best they can for each individual client. If the Softbank team’s campaign is successful, that won’t harm the section doing the Docomo campaign – if anything, it’ll provoke Docomo into spending more money on their own next campaign.”

    There speaks someone who really understands how things work in Japan — someone without a vested interest in seeing dysfunction and decline in every possible vista.

  32. alin Says:

    Dotdash’s comment. Spot on.
    I’d like to see some constructive criticism of japan vs Sweden, the systems are conceptually not dissimilar, quite socialist. but say where education is concerned while sweden sees it as a noble enough goal in itself in japan it’s perversly sacrificed to the economic bootstraping machine, itself socially rather than greed motivated. (hello marxy, i agree with many of your criticisms as much as i disagree with your solutions) .

    so is it because of centuries of monopoly and zaibatsu that most people equally enjoy the yoshinoya and the matsuya buta-don or if they do prefer one they don’t have to hate the other ??? not too sure

    to convince me how exactly cultural behavour is entirely determined by economic factors i’d like to see more stuff like say like a thorough analysis of the game of Shogi (japanese chess and a quite poignant microcosmic symbol of ‘culture’ at its more aggressive). There’re no Pepsi-colored pieces and Coke-colored pieces like in chess. Although there are two opposing camps this is only understood by the direction they’re pointing, once captured it will point in the opposite direction.
    True for all pieces save the kings (王). This is somewhat similar to the situation here and the question would be is the king (Dentsuu) a tyrant or an empty signifier. etc

  33. dzima Says:

    >The arguments here so often create a false dichotomy between the Japanese and the American systems

    I’ve been trying to stress this point for ages now but Marxy is no David Bryne (another one of the “anthropologists”) when it comes to blogging.

  34. dzima Says:

    i mean David Byrne

  35. marxy Says:

    Sweden has had a explicitly SOCIALIST gov’t, no? Again, and I don’t know why people are so hesitant to this idea, but Japan is a right-wing planned economy. Its goals are more about national wealth and central control than income redistribution to the lower classes. You know the famous quote “Rich Japan, Poor Japanese”? Yeah, exactly.

    I would want to know what Karatani is talking about, because he should know better that non-capitalism does not automatically mean communism.

  36. der Says:

    I was almost starting to feel sorry for the Momster after the previous round of comments, but in the meantime team Moral High Horse has come to the rescue, wielding the “Marxy sees everything the American way (and “American” equates “bad”)” club.

    I’m repeating myself here, but I think that Marxy’s position is infinitely preferable insofar as it is indeed a position, and hence something that can be attacked, out of which testable predictions can be extracted, and not just argumentative Jell-O made out of the milk of human kindness with a dash of Respect The Other that just billows around every counter-argument.

    But anway, a couple of points:

    – “responsible government regulation”. Responsible to whom? Without explicating the ways the responsibilty is instituted, this sounds muchly like “benevolent dictatorship” to me.

    – “market socialism”. What’s that? A system “where the state monopoly of a socialist state is shared out among a few key private monopolies”. I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is any way to make sense out of that statement. Private monopolies, with private ownership of the means of production, that somehow execute the (proletarian) state’s, i.e. the community’s, monopoly, i.e., ownership of the means of production? Does not make sense. It feels warm and nice, though, thinking that something like that is possible.

    – you can’t have your relativist culture cake and eat Marxism, too.

    – “are predicated on the assumption that the Japan is basically a capitalist country”. I thought they were predicated on the assumption that it was a democratic country (from which may or may not follow the other). If you all came out and said that you think it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, then the discussion would be a lot more productive. (I guess that is what Marxy wants when he demands a pean to old-boy networks, organized crime, and one-party power, etc.)

    – if I were Momus, I would have put a [sic!] in the quote above.

    – “democracy is not an absolute concept, but needs to be culturally situated, and implemented differently” [not a quote, I’m channeling here]. Fine, then not only Marxism is out as a point of reference, but also the EU. If it isn’t, then I’d say that the reference is incorrect, the “responsible government regulation” seems to be implemented in a fundamentally different way within the EU member states, filtering from there to the EU, than in Marxy’s (largely uncontested) description of Japan’s implementation.

    – As to comparative advertisement, in Germany it was indeed frowned upon, even illegal as far as I know; this at least it is not anymore, but it’s still rarely used. But that’s of course not the issue here. The issue is whether a situation would be possible in Germany where one ad firm was so dominant that it would serve the interests of companies competing in the same market best to hire that one same firm. And I would say it isn’t, that’s what anti-monopoly laws are for. (Which are attacked by big companies as an example of over-regulation. But the inconsistency wrt. monopolies has already been pointed out.)

    An ad firm being hired to fake (and bill) council meetings — that would provoke an outrage in Germany. And Sweden, too, I would guess; any Swedes here? (People merely living in Sweden need not apply. We need embodied culture here.)

    – As far as I know the term cooperation doesn’t cover cases where one party can dictate the conditions.

  37. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    dotdash,

    Actually I think that idea is well established here, but thanks for pointing it out anyways.

    If the dead hand were so smart, what ever happened to Yamaichi Securities, or all the little/medium sized banks that are now a handfull of megabanks? If the megacorp & family subcontractors worked so well why are the family subcontractors going out of business and production moving to China? (how long till Dentsu starts offshoring creative work?) Where is the fabled lifelong employment system when large companies are getting rid of seishain in favor of insourced contract labor?

    Its not that the American model is “right” its that the Japanese model shows too many signs of breaking down. Some of us have a vested interest in this country and want things to keep going in a way that benefits more than those at the top.

  38. marxy Says:

    I also want to point out that Japan announces itself to the world as “free-market democracy” and many within Japan also criticize the obvious mislabeling. In the same way, the United States should be roundly criticized for saying it “spreads freedom around the world” when for the most part, the U.S. has continually backed non-Leftist dictatorships and other misc. allied bad guys. Who enabled the LDP-mafia-uyoku state in Japan? The U.S., of course. Things are complicated.

    “Momus, you seem to be contradicting yourself al over the place.”

    No, no, no. All his arguments make perfect sense when you realize the goal is to prove me wrong from any possible angle rather than actual deal with the issue at hand.

    “I’m finding dotdash the most sensible and lucid person on this thread.”

    Read: dotdash agrees with me.

    “Marxy is no David Bryne”

    Well, Dr. Byrne is a world famous scholar. I can’t really put myself on the same level.

    A bonus question for those interested in the topic rather than the meta-commentary: is there an analog for Dentsu or the multiple-clients-in-same-exact-sector style anywhere else in the world?

  39. Mulboyne Says:

    Momus: “Family businesses…exist because the government has made a point of protecting them”

    The Wikipedia reference used to support this assertion is taken wholesale (with attribution) from the Library of Congress country study on Japan. While the data in the study dates to 1994, the text dates back to 1992 – the Calder quotation is from his 1988 work. Much is lifted from the original 1983 study, including the first paragraphs of the Wiki excerpt. The writers of this description of small businesses in Japan don’t even know the bubble has burst.

    This is clear in the reference to the 1973 Large Scale Retail Store Law “amended in 1978”. This law was subsequently “improved” (i.e weakened) in 1990, revised in 1992 and repealed in 2000, being replaced by the Large Scale Retail Store Location Law. The protections for small and medium sized businesses were largely removed. Mom and Pop stores are one the worst examples to cite in support of the idea that Japan nurtures small family businesses.

    Regarding the support that large companies give to their subcontractors, it’s worth noting that such an arrangement is a risk management tool. These companies do not, in fact cannot, work for more than one big customer. They would certainly lose their contracts if they tried to do so. If a Japanese corporate is a family then these are the poor relations. Large companies do not have to bear the responsibility for salary, benefits and investment but they demand exclusivity. The bursting of the bubble saw a major breakdown in this relationship and is one reason why the issue of income inequality has become a cause for concern.

    Sweden is sometimes described as “market socialist” because it has long had a system of social safety nets. (now, incidentally, proving to be expensive which was a factor in the defeat of the Social Democrats in September and the victory of a centre-right coalition). There have never been many public safety nets in Japan. Insofar as any protections exist they have mainly been provided by private companies. Find yourself outside this system and you are on your own. Take single mothers: at nearly 90%, a higher proportion of single mothers work in Japan than in any other developed country but their income amounts to only around 40% of the average household income. Increasingly, though, people at the bottom end of the scale within the system are also feeling left behind.

    None of this directly relates to Dentsu but if we are going to describe the economic environment is which Dentsu operates and speculate on its role, we may as well deal with an up to date depiction.

  40. marxy Says:

    No, I think all that info was very pertinent to the conversation. Thanks.

    Another important point about the subcontractor system, which you kinda allude to but probably forgot to specifically say, is that they are the first to go when times are tight. Instead of laying off internal employees, big companies “layoff” their subsidiaries. We have mentioned this a lot here, but “job protection” in Japan is only for white-collar workers.

  41. alin Says:

    [marxy’s] … is indeed a position, and hence something that can be attacked

    doesn’t this freakishly resemble a different situation. i remember not so long ago a time when momus and marxy were facing each other here in a sort of equally armed MAD kind of dynamic. Now all resistance, dispute had been reduced to guerilla like, disconnected, seemingly self-contradictory fragments. well that’s allright as long as the position can still be attacked.

    I think the bottom line here may be that basically any system that’s different to the cynical neo-liberalism marxy rather aggressively promotes is worth defending, however dubious and problem-ridden it may be on its own terms.

  42. alin Says:

    //single mothers work in Japan than in any other developed country but their income amounts to only around 40% of the average household income.//

    any criticism that points the finger , makes comparisons while failing to connect and empathise from within is deplorable.

    eg. i was marginally involved in an organisation dealing with homeless people. while somewhat lame compared to most western european countries a relatively strong public support system does exist. the real issues were rather of a psychological/cultural nature , people claiming and accepting that support. that’s where marxy’s politicism and lack of sympathy for the real people gets wrong, if not downright sinister.

  43. marxy Says:

    Sinister.

  44. Mulboyne Says:

    “any criticism that points the finger , makes comparisons while failing to connect and empathise from within is deplorable.”

    I don’t really know what all that means. I do know that I wasn’t criticizing anything. I was pointing out that one feature commonly associated with “market socialism” – public safety nets – are not much present in Japan. You can still accept that observation and argue that the country orders its society better overall. What the example does suggest is that we need to say what we are referring to when we use terms to describe the Japan system.

  45. Duffy Says:

    Alin,

    As mainly a lurker here, I am honestly grateful that you contribute to the debate and help keep things interesting here while I sit back and watch the show. However, I must say that I consistently find your comments really hard to decipher. Phrases like “failing to connect and empathise from within” and “perversly sacrificed to the economic bootstrapping machine” kind of make my head hurt. I understand the individual words, but not the sentences, if you catch my drift.

    I’m not trying to dis you; I’m just getting paranoid that I am not very intelligent (which is quite possible). Has anyone ever mentioned this to you before — that your writing, though impressive in subject matter and verbiage — is difficult to penetrate?

    And I have to ask — are you perchance a native French speaker who just happens to rock some seriously good English?

  46. alin Says:

    Mulboyne, sorry my last comment wasn’t a direct reply to yours. i cut-and-pasted yours there as a sort of memory-hook as i was doing three other things at the time. actually i found your last comment very sensible and reasonable.

  47. alin Says:

    Duffy, yes I’m quite aware of doing that. Those funny phrases are kind of private shorthand for different theoretical frameworks for looking at japan also implicitly stating that i can’t accept marxy’s very premise and standpoint.
    Since i’m in no position to change the dominant voice here i have to resort to these symbolic, rather, attempts to derail marxy’s (method of) discourse while keeping the ‘problematic’ – it depends on the situation whether they reach dialogue or remain ‘guerilla tactics’.

    as Kojin Karitani says in Japan to be truly critical one has to do a sort of double job: be critical of Japan and of the world outside – separately, before making any attempt to synthesise the two. (same in albania, hungary…) What i see here is a constant failure to accept and subsequently criticize Japan as an autonomous system with its own peculiarities.

  48. marxy Says:

    Personally speaking, I think the most convincing objections to my arguments that actually change the discussion come from those who do not automatically disagree with me at all times, do not write in impenetrable short-hand references to impenetrable post-modern writers, or let their personal loathing overrun the argument.

    And when those three things are avoided, I also learn things! Everyone wins.

    Great – more meta-Neomarxisme discussion discussion.

  49. dotdash Says:

    – Read: dotdash agrees with me

    That’s not fair! I’m not in the Momus club (I’m not actually sure from this discussion whether Momus himself is in the Momus club.) I just agree with him on the point that it would be interesting to see Japan’s obvious flaws criticised from another perspective. You’re an American so naturally your basis for comparison is America; I’m European so my basis for comparison is different.

    – Sweden has had a explicitly SOCIALIST gov’t, no? Again, and I don’t know why people are so hesitant to this idea, but Japan is a right-wing planned economy.

    I agree with this, but European socialist economies are also planned to a much greater extent than America seems to be. They differ to Japan in that they have the concept of social justice and various inalienable rights of citizens as their foundation, but do they result in significantly different societies?

    – “market socialism”. What’s that? A system “where the state monopoly of a socialist state is shared out among a few key private monopolies”. I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is any way to make sense out of that statement.

    Okay, you got me. I pulled the term out of my arse because I couldn’t think of another way to describe the similarities between some EU societies and Japan. Both places have highly planned economies and an ingrained sense of social order that often flies in the face of traditional capitalist “me-first!” attitudes. Call it something less warm and fuzzy-sounding if you want; neither system is free of flaws.

  50. dotdash Says:

    – If the megacorp & family subcontractors worked so well why are the family subcontractors going out of business and production moving to China? (how long till Dentsu starts offshoring creative work?

    Surely that’s true of any large corporation in the developed world: Japan, America, Europe or wherever. This is a sign of Japan becoming more like the West (mature-yet-troubled economy) and doesn’t cast Japan in any worse light than anywhere else.

    I still haven’t had it explained to me how Dentsu’s near-monopoly is bad. Sure, they faked up a few town meetings, just the way George Bush faked up those aid posts for Hurricane Katrina victims just so he could have his photo taken in front of them and just like the way Tony Blair fakes every single one of his meet-the-public PR jaunts. An advertising company without a near-monopoly could have done that just as easily as one with.

    I agree with most of Marxy’s criticisms of Japan. I feel utter revulsion at the influence yakuza have on so many aspects of Japanese life and I distrust unaccountable private monopolies, but an advertising company is not providing a public service like education or healthcare, nor is it providing a product that people need in their daily lives, such as telecommunications, that could be put out of reach of poorer people by the kind of price rises that often go with monopolies. I don’t see any overarching moral point of view that I can apply to this situation. I need to see who Dentsu’s victims are.

  51. marxy Says:

    ”They differ to Japan in that they have the concept of social justice and various inalienable rights of citizens as their foundation, but do they result in significantly different societies?”

    Yes, they do. I think you hit the nail on the head by saying Euro states tend to protect the individual rather than protect the interests of the nation itself and that leads to different outlooks on services, income distribution, etc. And as globalization works to dissolve the nation, I am not sure why we should keep hanging on to the concept.

    Most people agree that the “Japanese” model of capitalism no longer works (1) in a globalized world and (2) for a developed post-industrial state. (Deal with it: so much about the “Japanese” post-45 system is more about development policy than traditional culture.)

    So if they want to follow the lead of other post-industrial states, why can’t they take up aspects of the European model instead of the American model? I too see a lot more points of convergence there, but the reason the American model gets put up more than the Euro model is that Japan specifically has measured its own success and standing ONLY by economic growth. And if they want growth (over a high standard or living, equality, and other “progressive” aims), the American example is going to look more attractive. I can’t see the Japanese gov’t being comfortable with German unemployment rates either.

    “I need to see who Dentsu’s victims are.”

    I don’t think Dentsu is responsible for deaths etc. I do, however, think that they have an undue influence on the public dialogue, consumer culture, and really far out on a limb, understanding of social realities. My specific area of interest – once academic, now less-so – is the control of media space in Japan and the streamlining of messages to consumers. Because of Dentsu, it is easier to make producer-driven ideas look and sound like reflections of reality rather than machinations. I don’t think my explanation here really gives this idea justice, but the common complaint against Dentsu is that they have to much power over the information flow in society. The victims may be all consumers, voters, parents, citizens, but maybe not John A and Mary B.

    From a Consumerist perspective (a la Nader) or a press freedom angle, would Dentsu be celebrated? I doubt it.

  52. bb Says:

    Chiming in late here,
    Google and Wikipedia searches can only tell you so much of the story. I’m inclined to think that anyone defending the Dentsu model (by saying that it keeps the little guys in business, serves the clients better, is a fair/benevolent monopoly, etc.) really doesn’t know how the advertising industry works, period, much less how it works in Japan.

    And yeah, marxy may be American/Canadian/whatever, but he seems to be one of the few around here who actually functions in Japanese society outside the gaijin construct. While one certainly doesn’t have to “pay their dues” to express an opinion about Japan, having a command of the language, working and living in Japan outside the transient expat community (and not being dependant on others to to take care of tasks from making a doctor’s appointment to renting an apartment), surely gives one a greater body of knowledge and experience about the culture to form the said opinion. This is much more than simply interjecting some American/Canadian/Swedish/Euro viewpoint on Japan.


    Sorry, marxy, if any of my assumptions open you up to attack. Not my intention. And to everyone else, I am NOT a blind marxy sympathizer–just had to step in this time because you guys are just being crazy about the current topic. I’ve been following this site pretty regularly for about 6 months without a word. Not sure how I found it but I keep coming back… can’t get enough of the feuding going on here…

  53. marxy Says:

    Also, I think the Bush/Blair comparison is fair, so what is different?

    1) Dentsu is often criticized as being a monopoly power aligned with the LDP and specifically interested in creating public support for the status quo and the dominant parties in society. This scandal further solidifies those ideas that they are not an independent organization in the industrial system.

    2) At least with Bush, it strikes me that the faked meetings all are immediately known about and made fun of. With the social security meetings he was doing (very much like Koizumi’s town halls), the Daily Show would make fun of the fake questions THE SAME DAY. This Dentsu scandal waited until Koizumi was out of office…

    3) The mass media in Japan would be more hesitant to criticize Dentsu for their political role (and have been) than the news agencies in the US/UK because Dentsu provides a majority of their ad revenue and are a consulting partner for content and business strategy.

    Fox News also would give Bush a pass, but this is more of an ideological intention than a reflection of economic control. The station was put together in order to capitalize on right-wing viewers, but everyone there is working towards that goal rather than being pressured towards it. Dentsu, on the other hand, is a topic that cannot be openly discussed for purely economic reasons.

  54. Mutantfrog Says:

    Here is a passage form an article by the historian John Dower (I assume everyone here knows the name?) that gives a little more background on the Japanese economic system.

    -The evocative catchphrase of those heady days was “Manchuria as ideology,” and the ideology embraced was on the surface very different from that trumpeted by the hard-core ideologues of a new American empire today. In the wake of the Depression, which had savaged Japan like the rest of the world, the very notion of “free markets” and unrestrained capitalism was, to put it mildly, unpalatable. In this milieu, Manchukuo was seized upon as an ideal opportunity to introduce a new model of “state capitalism” or “national socialism.”-

  55. Mutantfrog Says:

    Address of the above mentioned article.

    http://hnn.us/articles/1534.html

  56. dotdash Says:

    In what way does Dentsu influence the public dialogue though? What is their agenda, other than making a lot of money for themselves? For example, there are a lot of complaints in America about the influence Clear Channel has on censorship and stifling certain political views, but presumably Dentsu exerts its influence in rather different ways.

    I think one of the problems with Japan is the way the media (in particular advertising) has been much quicker to latch onto the realities of Japan post-modernisation than society has to react in a practical sense. This creates a situation where the media presents a rather Western-influenced idea of happiness and fulfillment centred on the individual and on self-actualisation, that stands in contrast to a system with very little social mobility, that is still grounded in the post-war reconstruction era ideologies of study hard –> good university –> corporate treadmill.

    Whether Japan would be able to adapt to a European model seems unlikely since it would require massive tax rises, but there are elements of European social and economic policy that could be applicable to Japan in how it deals with globalisation and its transition to a post-industrialised state.

    I take your point about German unemployment, but Japan’s unemployment figures are not so far below the UK and Sweden (both just over 5%, I think). The Japanese government has time and time again shown that it isn’t averse to spending a lot of money on unnecessary public works projects, which actually chimes in with the way a lot of European governments deal with unemployment (I’m pretty sure Sweden’s unemployment figures would head rapidly skyward without government programmes and such). European governments (the UK excepted) also work hard to preserve certain large, often monopolistic, corporations that are deemed necessary to protect the country’s national interests.

    Even on the issue of tax, the government’s decision to regulate price labelling so that all products include sales tax serves not only to make shopping a more pleasurable and less mathematically demanding activity, it also serves to divert consumer attention away from the idea of tax, smoothing the way for future increases. No one in Britain thinks about the 17.5% tax they pay on everything we buy because the “real” price isn’t listed anywhere. Japan sees the need for tax rises to ensure its (admittedly limited) welfare system can continue to function and is starting to move down that road now as well.

    Sorry, digressed there somewhat. Please continue.

  57. Momus Says:

    On the small businesses point, Mulboyne said “The protections for small and medium sized businesses were largely removed” in 2000. Simply not so. Considering that small businesses represent 99.7% of all firms in Japan and employ 70% of employees, such a move would have spelled national disaster.

    The government’s measures to aid and protect small business (now dealt with by the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency) have shifted in emphasis since 2000, but continue to be very proactive, as outlined here:

    http://www.chusho.meti.go.jp/sme_english/outline/01/01_06.html

    Alliances of small firms in Japan (and such co-operation — rather than competition — is something they’ve done far more successfully than US or European small businesses) have given them huge political power.

    As for “who are Dentsu’s victims”, how about the old nationalised Post Office and postal savings bank? Dentsu worked very closely with Koizumi on the “celebrity assassins” campaign which overturned the diet’s rejection of the postal privatization bill.

  58. dotdash Says:

    – Dentsu is often criticized as being a monopoly power aligned with the LDP and specifically interested in creating public support for the status quo and the dominant parties in society. This scandal further solidifies those ideas that they are not an independent organization in the industrial system.

    I can see that would be a problem, if Dentsu were actually an organisation, like Fox News, with a dedicated right-wing agenda, but are they? Just saying they are “often criticised as being aligned with the DPJ” isn’t enough – the DPJ could hire any advertising firm and the result is still the same: the post offices get privatised or whatever. During the last election, Opt (Dentsu web-advertising subsidiary) did the DPJ’s Internet campaign. Dentsu just seem to work with whoever’s paying them. Is the problem Dentsu’s dominant position in the advertising world or the LDP’s dominant position in the political world?

    Your point about how their role as the major provider of advertising space protects them from criticism in the mass media rings true. I think the issue with the town hall meetings is interesting though, and I wonder if, now that this scandal is out, it will lead to the media and the public at large being more aware of such machinations, pushing the system closer to that of the UK/US, where criticism of such things is discussed more freely.

  59. Momus Says:

    As for Dentsu offshoring creative work, why would they do that? Importing advertising copywriters from Vietnam because they work cheaper per hour? Come on! This is the kind of argument you advance when you think about money and don’t think about culture.

  60. lacadutadegiganti Says:

    “I need to see who Dentsu’s victims are.”

    Well, there was that one Dentsu salaryman who’s family won a settlement from the company after a judge ruled it had quite literally worked the guy to death.

    PS: Momus, do you speak Japanese?

    PPS: alin, do you speak English?

    Just askin’…

  61. marxy Says:

    “For example, there are a lot of complaints in America about the influence Clear Channel has on censorship and stifling certain political views, but presumably Dentsu exerts its influence in rather different ways.”

    Clear Channel has too much market power, and they are able to censor political content as well as change the nature of macro musical content by selecting a very narrow band of record releases for widespread promotion. I find these both problematic. I get the gut sense that Dentsu does work both for and with the LDP to promote national policy, but cannot say much about active political censorship.

    I don’t think it’s a coincedence though that a book like Karyu Shakai – that admits Japan is becoming more income disparate – did not come out of Dentsu, but an independent researcher (Miura Atsushi). I doubt that their client – the LDP – would be happy to have that issue highlighted since Koizumi reforms are assumed by the public to be the cause of income inequality.

    (On a personal note, the only person from my marketing seminar to go to Dentsu in about five years was the daughter of someone on the Koizumi cabinet.)

  62. Duffy Says:

    “Since i’m in no position to change the dominant voice here i have to resort to these symbolic, rather, attempts to derail marxy’s (method of) discourse while keeping the ‘problematic’ – it depends on the situation whether they reach dialogue or remain ‘guerilla tactics’.”

    Thanks for the fascinating response (seriously), Alin. Your “guerilla tactics” are, I suppose, a form of linguistic detournement — taking words we all know and rejiggering them into new and disorienting combinations to achieve a certain aim.
    If nothing else, it gets people riled up.

  63. marxy Says:

    I have met Alin, and he’s nice in person.

  64. Duffy Says:

    “I have met Alin, and he’s nice in person.”

    I guessed as much. I’m sure if he were to do “readings” of his comments, they would come across as prankster poems.

    Hey, why don’t we have a “Marxy comment reading” at some funky ‘space’? Saxaphones must be involved. It will be awesome! And we can read comments as other characters in this here circus. I call I’m Alin! Marxy, you get to be Momus. Momus can be Trevor.

  65. Ryan Cousineau Says:

    Marxy: does anyone still take US radio stations seriously as market movers of music? Unless possibly it’s the revitalization of Classic Rock back catalogues everywhere (mandatory daily playings of Stairway are my favourite!)

    Personally, I’m sensing that someone here must propose a Marxyist-Alinist historic interpretation, because the wordplay is irresistibly compelling (not that I tried very hard to resist).

    Ahem. Back to the Dentsu question, my narrow western mind (think caveman with broadband access) can’t fathom a case in which one ad agency running campaigns for three major mobile carriers isn’t an untenable conflict.

    Even in the 1971 Jerry Della Femina wrote as an obvious aside that when a particular (Madison Avenue) agency won a major airline contract, it had to dump the business of the minor airline it was already working with. The title of the best-selling tome containing this anecdote is surely too much for some of the more sensitive constitutions around here, and thus will remain unmentioned.

    That leaves the question of why all three companies consent to using one agency. This is the legitimate crux of Momus’ critique. But I think (again, western caveman with broadband; should I be using a pseudonym?) this is best explained by a functional monopoly on key national-level ad placements.

    Regarding the creation story of Dentsu, my western (caveman…sorry, too many repetitions, right?) perspective immediately sees this as a classic abuse of monopolization and leverage. It certainly lends credence to the theories of modern monopoly leverage as the root of their 3-for-3 on winning major mobile carrier advertising business. The real question is why web ads aren’t starting to erode their ad buy monopoly.

    Shouldn’t Softbank be working on that?

  66. marxy Says:

    “ven in the 1971 Jerry Della Femina wrote as an obvious aside that when a particular (Madison Avenue) agency won a major airline contract, it had to dump the business of the minor airline it was already working with.”

    Yeah, this is standard protocol in the West AND in smaller companies in Japan.

    “The real question is why web ads aren’t starting to erode their ad buy monopoly.

    Shouldn’t Softbank be working on that?”

    Har. They were… with Dentsu.

  67. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    marxy: “but “job protection” in Japan is only for white-collar workers.”

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned before but the megafinancialcluster I work for started converting all seishain to annual contracts years ago and window seating those who refused to convert. To fill the increasing workload, the company has contracted to several of the larger vendor shops to supply warm bodies. Sort of a domesticated version of outsourcing. Large IT development projects are often handled by flying in a plainfull of Koreans or Chinese to do the work on site then sending em back to whenst they came from. Again, outsourcing in reverse. From what I hear from friends at similar companies, these practices are becoming more common everywhere.

    Momus: ” how about the old nationalised Post Office and postal savings bank?”

    Are you aware of how banks function here? Putting it into a German perspective, Postal savings is similar to the Sparkhausen, no benefits but safe. I’m not clear if the Sparkhausen savings were ever used as the “second budget” through the Landesbanks or not as the Postal savings is here.

    The commercial banks here dont have clear western counterparts in the sense that almost all of them trace their origins to various zaibatsu and to this day maintain near exclusive relationships with the old parent in its current form.

    As you probably know, the commercial banks dont actively compete with the Postal savings for deposits (wouldnt want to upset the golden goose of the second budget) or even with each other on consumer banking (interest rates for savings, mortgages, personal or business loans). Again, historical ties trump all.

    One of the lesser mentioned benefits of the forthcoming Postal savings privatization is supposed to be a stimulous of consumer banking services. Already a bit of it has started up with Shinsei, 7&i and Sony Finance. There will be other entrants that I know of but can not name at this time next year and in the following 3 years.

    Long story short, Postal savings privatization may actually end up being good for both comercial banking, small biz/retail customers and hopefully the future postal bank itself.

    “As for Dentsu offshoring creative work, why would they do that? Importing advertising copywriters from Vietnam because they work cheaper per hour? Come on! This is the kind of argument you advance when you think about money and don’t think about culture.”

    Um… because it is about money? I think we all agree that 1) Dentsu is in it for the money, 2) they subcontract lots of work anyways, so why not offshore things like “creative” shitwork? (rendering imagery for TV ad backgrounds, design layout, etc) Maybe writing what passes for catch copy has to be kept local, but thats really only a small part of an overall job.

    To the general peanut gallery:

    “Brewer and Nash” is a model of how information is segregated within a company, in practice it would be something like having regulations that account managers doing work for competing clients are not allowed to or easily able to share information or view documents relating to the competitors accounts. This is also how an accounting firm can do the books of various companies which compete with each other. In this light its not actually sinister that Dentsu services all three mobile carriers, any more than the fact that EY, DT or PWC individually handle the books for multiple companies in the same sector.

    Re-reading marxy’s original post, he does not seem to be doing any more than pointing out the fact, not ringing the alarm.

  68. Jrim Says:

    “Re-reading marxy’s original post, he does not seem to be doing any more than pointing out the fact, not ringing the alarm.”

    Stop, that’s crazy talk. Start at post number 50 and try to blot out any recollection of the ones that came before it.

  69. Momus Says:

    “Maybe writing what passes for catch copy has to be kept local, but thats really only a small part of an overall job.”

    I can’t agree with that at all. Advertising is a semantic activity, and every element of an advertising campaign is semantic, the textural as well as the textual elements. The way you design and lay out type, the kind of colour combinations you use, the amount of sky you include in a photograph… all these creative textural decisions are highly culturally-specific, and no advertising agency would get cheap overseas labour to do them just because the hourly rate is cheaper. Again I have to say: this is the kind of absurdity you come up with when you think culture is “superstructure” and economics “base”.

  70. Momus Says:

    (I’d also say that Americans, because they come from a multi-cultural society, tend to have problems seeing the cultural specificity of monoracial societies like Japan as anything other than sinister and stubborn. To disallow the cultural specificity of others, and prefer the supposed universality of money is — paradoxically — their cultural specificity!)

  71. Mulboyne Says:

    Momus wrote: “On the small businesses point, Mulboyne said ‘The protections for small and medium sized businesses were largely removed’ in 2000. Simply not so.”.

    My point referred specifically to the protections of the Large Scale Retail Store Law which your link cited as still being in force but which was replaced in 2000 by the Large Scale Retail Store Location Law. I don’t think any disputes that this removed many of the rights of small retailers to veto, on business grounds, the opening of new large stores in their vicinity.

    The METI measures you cite in your SMEA link were introduced in response to the raging success at the time of internet start-ups in the US and the belated recognition by METI that the closure rate of small businesses had been running ahead of the start-up rate since 1986. They also included a response to the shokoh loan scandals, a situation which had developed because the social contract between small companies and their large corporate customers had collapsed leaving many firms needing to resort to high-priced credit just to finance working capital requirements. An arrangement which proved unsustainable and pushed many firms into bankruptcy.

    In no way can these measures be described as “proactive”.

  72. marxy Says:

    Momus is so ethnocentric against those from multicultural nationalities.

  73. Momus Says:

    Turn the rainbow inside out and you’ll find it’s all green.

  74. shiny floor occupant Says:

    “I can’t agree with that at all. Advertising is a semantic activity, and every element of an advertising campaign is semantic, the textural as well as the textual elements. The way you design and lay out type, the kind of colour combinations you use, the amount of sky you include in a photograph… all these creative textural decisions are highly culturally-specific, and no advertising agency would get cheap overseas labour to do them just because the hourly rate is cheaper. Again I have to say: this is the kind of absurdity you come up with when you think culture is “superstructure” and economics “base”.”

    Wow. That’s so cool. Have you ever seen the work Dentsu produces? There’s a reason their work (or, Japanese commericals in general) haven’t been awarded internationally in any way shape, or form for years. It’s called “crap creep” – quality work is no substitute for media buying, after all. And wouldn’t it be a treat to have them work for you; All you need to do is buy a TV ad. Dentsu’s their dominance in the marketplace produces briefs for cleints that contain a single “recommendation”:in order to reach their coveted M2 audience, all they need is to buy a “T” block of TV ads. Dentsu basically has written the marketing books in Japan, and they all have a copyright date stuck firmly in the 1980’s.

    I also disagree with how they “support” the small shops (on the street next to the shuttered book store and guy who sells newspapers and kerosene). I know they do not, and only farm out the work to places as they do not have the internal ability to produce work themselves. And in doing so, they devalue the actual creation of creative work, by charging the client only for the media buy. It creates a whole cottage industry of creative and production sweatshops I haven’t seen anywhere else.

    Working in the “industry” here in Tokyo, I can’t for the life of me see the good in it. Good to see lots of level headed folks here agree.

  75. shiny floor occupant Says:

    “That’s really interesting – I did not guess that. Seeing as the three companies’ advertising have very different styles and all.”

    Up until recently, Hakuhodo did Vodafone/Softbank work. I think the stuff you see today is still that. It will be interesting see what they do with the mobile carrier ads. I know every car commercial in this country sort of looks like one another…

  76. jasong Says:

    Was speaking to an executive who works for a leading company in the ワンセグ (1seg) market and he said that Dentsu has assured the major carriers that they have firewalls (both literal and figurative) between the departments taking care of DoCoMo, au, and SoftBank. He didn’t believe it, but that’s what they’ve vowed.

    It’s like a heightened state of monopoly that can’t be achieved in the rest of the world. Is culture the X factor?

    Now that Japan has number portability, the “culture” behind each of the 3 mobile majors’ products will diverge even more. au (KDDI) is big on media formats (and was the first to implement 1seg), while DoCoMo wants their handsets to become a “lifestyle device”, with their iD payment functions etc.

    Maybe this divergence will make it easier for Dentsu to do what advertising firms in other countries couldn’t fathom.

  77. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Momus sweepingly gneralized: “this is the kind of absurdity you come up with when you think culture is “superstructure” and economics “base”.”

    Slow down there Uncle, I only write what I know which is my experience of living and working here. I leave the cultural analysis of japan to you who has never lived or worked here, who cant speak or read the language.

  78. Momus Says:

    Shiny Floor, you quote my comment about why creative work is not outsourced to countries where labour is cheaper, but then respond with something about the quality of Dentsu’s work — I don’t quite see the connection.

    Can you at least confirm, as someone working within the industry, that creative work is NOT outsourced?

    I suspect, on the quality issue, we’d just repeat the same arguments we had over Japanese TV. I personally enjoy Japanese TV ads more than Western ones, as you can read here:

    http://imomus.livejournal.com/166093.html

    My logic is slightly perverse, though: if ads are bad, they’re worse when they’re good. Hey, that would make a good copy line!

  79. dotdash Says:

    – The real question is why web ads aren’t starting to erode their ad buy monopoly.

    The biggest company in the web ad business is Cyberagent and the second is Opt, whose main shareholder is Dentsu. Does that help?

    As far as outsourcing is concerned, I don’t think it happens. Friends of mine in the business say that advertising companies are perfectly happy to hire staff from any country as long as their work is up to scratch, and they are paid at exactly the same rates as the Japanese staff. I don’t know if this is the case for all companies though.

  80. alin Says:

    //Personally speaking, I think the most convincing objections to my arguments that actually change the discussion come from those who do not automatically disagree with me at all times,//

    how about putting it the other way round and say that this is basically what you (and your mates) basically do: as soon as an opinion comes that differs in a more fundamental way from the idee fixe here it’s met by loathing or ridicule.

    most of the time i find there’s actually nothing to really work with. talk about tv say. the production is shit, the people on it are shit, the people behind it are shit, the stories are shit so what’s left, what exactly are we talking about ?? (some nasty ego flight takes place at this point)
    what sort of mindset does one need to get thrilled by pointing out that the camera-work is amateurish when they already believe that the stuff filmed and the people in front and behind that camera, and the people actually enjoying the stuff, are crap anyway? then we rotate until we get back to the same topic.

    btw. one agency handling clients in competition with each other is not that freak-out uncommon outside the planet of the jap either. i’m surprised no one has pointed that out. but then why would anyone, it might spoil the party.

  81. trevor Says:

    alin:
    your not offering up a different opinion/s or idea/s, your just disagreeing.. just “your wrong”. trolling like a pro. 100% prickish.

  82. marxy Says:

    “one agency handling clients in competition with each other is not that freak-out uncommon outside the planet of the jap either.”

    If so, can someone please give examples for comparison? I asked for this earlier.

  83. marxy Says:

    Hi everyone –

    The blog administrator is lodging complaints to me that these 100+ comment rolls are zapping a lot of our allowed bandwidth. He recommended banning troublesome commenters, which I definitely do not want to do.

    I like the discussion, but can we try to keep things on topic and try hard to ignore anyone who intentionally tries to derail the conversation? Also, maybe I can do an open post about “meta-marxy commentary” once and a while, but we can’t keep having the same discussion about me personally being responsible for the Iraq invasion over and over again.

    Thanks.
    Marxy

  84. bb Says:

    Dentsu does not do all their own creative work internally. Dentsu may be the initial business contact for a client and do the media buys, but they often invite creative directors from a local small design shop (introducing them to the client as an “associate” or “special consultant”) to product orientation sessions for them to create the actual content.

    Sometimes this is done because the small shop has strengths in an area that Dentsu can’t match, but it’s usually done for pricing reasons. Rather than refuse a low-budget job from a big client, why not accept the job, take a production fee, farm the job out to one of dozens of shops who are more than happy to be working on a big name project?

    With some input from above, the small shop will design the ad/CM superficially (Momus is correct with his comment that “advertising is a semantic activity”: all graphic and textual elements are usually carefully conceived and layed out in one place, though perhaps in lo-res), then the mundane production stuff may be further farmed out to a production “sweatshop” that puts all the creative elements into a usable final form. (In other words, the lowish-res ad with roughly cut out photo elements or the rough-edit audio/video will be redone in higher, exacting quality. Margins are made perfect, graphic elements are optimized, colours tweaked, etc… there’s a lot to production.) This will then go back to the shop, then back to the top, who may or may not invite the original small shop art director when presenting the work to the client.

    It’s conceivable that the production work goes out to India or some other foreign country, but Japanese text is difficult to work with, compared to something like English. Just speaking of print materials, the shop would need to have all the typefaces used (expensive!) and J-version software to create an editable file format that can be used by specific Japanese printers. There are plenty of cheap, competent sweatshops locally as it is, so outsourcing overseas is not really necessary.

    Companies ARE concerned about the leaking of info, but there really is no big-league place to go besides Dentsu. And if you go to a smaller shop thinking you will be able to avoid the conflict of interest, well, they often have behind the scenes ties to Dentsu as well. (Wish I could share examples :) )

  85. marxy Says:

    Even with separate building, separate floors, or firewalls, there has got to be discussion at the executive level to make sure campaigns do not compete too strongly against each other. Dentsu can’t put out two ads for two companies that are accidentally the same or move in the same strategic direction.

    Dentsu had a special department in the late 90s to assign the “right” celebrities to the right campaigns, because everyone wanted to use the most popular stars. Dentsu probably plays a role in doling out talents/concepts/strategies to all of its clients in a way that they do not overlap, and that must require a sharing of information at the top. The question is whether this is good for a company: to know that it won’t get ads that fail compared to the competition, but that won’t work TOO well either.

    But again, if Dentsu is THE ad agency in the market, it may be impossible for the largest companies to really consider turning it down. I have heard there are only two people who make car commercials in Japan. Is there a possibility that these two people work exclusively for Dentsu or Hakuhodo?

  86. alin Says:

    it frustrates me, and would frustrate me to death if i took it more seriously, that you don’t answer important questions: you’re dismissing the producer, the product and the consumer, you’re left with an abstract. where do you go from there ? i get the feeling no one takes the time to consider this and simply project themselves in those roles.

    i could be wrong in noticing that you get big rounds of reasonable, informed comments after or in parallel to a meta-discussion.

    //can someone please give examples for comparison?//

    actually i had design agencies in mind. as far as ad agencies go the examples i can come up with are minor and wouldn’t mean much. but see japan too is basically a minor country and I’m very politically motivated to support that in whatever way i can whether , whether it’s against ‘japan as number one’ sick japanese or americans who need a fictional arch-competitor in order to function.

  87. marxy Says:

    “see japan too is basically a minor country and I’m very politically motivated to support that in whatever way i can”

    Man, I don’t want to bait but this is too good to pass up: Japan is a minor country??! We may have at least found a source of the chronic perspective mismatch here.

    Not only is Japan the world’s second-largest economy (which has been the case since 1968, although that may have been only among non-communist nations), but Dentsu is the WORLD’S LARGEST AD FIRM. I think both of these facts warrant treating the country as a “major” world power if not at least a “major economic power.”

    Albania is a minor country. Japan is not.

  88. Yago Says:

    and even if it were a minor country, what the hell`s it that about admitting to be “politically motivated to support it”. What happened to truth, honesty, and all that stuff? There are plenty of creepy minor countries who are starving their people to death; I guess you would never dare to criticize Cambodia`s military junta cause, well, they`re a small and adorable little country. Sheesh.
    Do you pretend to be taken seriously or are just writing random stuff to show off your sublime english skills? Nobody`s attacking Japan as an enemy of America (which is not considered anymore, China fills that role today), but as a self-proclaimed liberal democracy which is closer to a fascist corporativism that Mussolini or Franco ever were. This is not relative criticism but absolute, and quite objective.

    But yet again this is probably derailing the conversation so let`s stop it altogether. Although I kinda like this never-ending comments. Many precious data comes over.

  89. Duffy Says:

    Back before the de facto ban on dopey comments, did I not mention Alin’s “prankster poems”? Maybe he’s just snickering all the way to the, uh, comment-wars bank.

    Oops, irrelevancy alert! I’m outta here, suckas…

  90. dotdash Says:

    – The question is whether this is good for a company: to know that it won’t get ads that fail compared to the competition, but that won’t work TOO well either.

    I was wondering about that. If there are some basic strategic decisions being made at board level to ensure the campaigns of the three companies aren’t too closely aligned, is there not a case for a company like Softbank actually welcoming that? You say it wouldn’t work too well, but not only from a cultural but also an economic perspective it makes some sense to target markets not served by the competition, or at least target them from a different angle. Something like:

    AD MAN: What do you think of my new campaign for Softbank, Reverand Master Board Member?
    RMBM: (Checks with his LDP and Yakuza backers) Take this away! It resembles far too closely the new DoCoMo campaign.
    AM: As you wish.

    AD MAN rushes over to Softbank HQ.
    AM: We have to change the campaign This one’s too similar to DoCoMo’s.
    SOFTBANK EXEC: Phew! Lucky escape! That could have been a right old headache for both me and my honoured opposite number in DoCoMo.

    (Everyone lives happily ever after and has tea and cupcakes.)

  91. marxy Says:

    A+ on the format.

  92. dotdash Says:

    I understand why people get offended so easily on here. The irony levels run at a frequency only special dogs can detect.

  93. alin Says:

    nee, you pick on the funny bits but avoid my real question. if you dealt with that i think you might get some peace of mind.

    ps. japan IS in most ways a minor country and all japanese people i know believe that. even that sensei who you translated knows it.

  94. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Yes senior management has to make decisions regarding who does what on what account, but *if* a company employs an information segregation model/policy, the details which would end up violating NDAs never flow downwards and may only even be available to senior managers with higher level approval. Geez people lets not act like this is a new problem for businesses.

    Since no one who works for Dentsu has chimed in yet, were all just speculataing (at best) at this point.

  95. shiny floor occupant Says:

    A couple of days out. To answer your question about outsourcing, Momus: Dentsu outsources creative. In particular web work, and production work. When there’s no budget, they pass on the money to small shops. The funny thing is, there’s very little money left for production, as most of the value is in the purchase of media space, and the creative is done for free.
    Like you, when I first came to Japan, I thought Japanese commercials were nifty. Then I saw all of those people appearing in the commercials all over the TV, acting poorly and generally being talento, and realized that all Dentsu’s creative does is match products with talentos. They’re like a great big casting agency for the networks (and they own the majority of their ad space, to boot). And now I don’t like them anymore.