by Iain on March 17, 2009
In my continued judging of the One Show Interactive awards there’s one thing that’s really starting to stand out. Japanese agencies are doing some outstanding work right now.
Every year that I’ve been fortunate enough to judge international awards there’s always a couple of great examples of Japanese work. But the majority of the work that I’m painfully jealous of this year comes from Japan. Of course there’s great US, Swedish, British and Brazilian stuff – as usual. But there’s something noticeably special and standout about some of the Japanese stuff.
And here’s why I think that is…
Disclaimer: I’m making a bunch of assumptions and cultural generalisations here, sorry for any that are crude and inaccurate.
1. The work is polite
- Japanese stuff doesn’t shove itself on the Internet going: POW. LOOK AT ME. I AM THE BEST THING EVER! Culturally it’s subtle. It’s reserved. It’s aware of status and hierarchy. But at the same time it’s not all about the big ‘i am’.I’m sure I’ve whanged on about it before. But in a networked environment where we all have the same access to pixels and characters assuming that yours are somehow better than others’ is wrong wrong wrong. Your stuff has to earn its place in peoples eye-holes. It doesn’t have a god given right to be there. It feels like a lot of the Japanese work I love gets this.
2. The work isn’t driven by TV advertising
I’m not sure why. Hopefully someone can fill me in on this. But almost none of the great work feels like it’s tied in with TV campaigns. The awesome stuff has been considered digital-out. Rather than TV-in.That’s not to say that you can’t get awesome stuff starting with TV. It’s just that when the digital stuff feels like a follow-on rather than a lead there’s a quality about it you can really feel.
3. The work draws from a culture of games, comics and technology
Rather than drawing on cues from TV advertising it feels like Japanese designers are pulling from their really advanced cultures of:
- Gaming – which gives the work a sense of fun, progressive engagement, hookiness, atmosphere, character development (and importantly not necessarily of human characters).
- Comics – which drives oddness, playfulness and escape from reality.
- Technology – obviously having a culture that’s proud of and excited by technology is going to put you in an interesting place when you’re developing for the digital space. Certainly it’s going to lead to more advanced stuff than a culture of basket-weavers. I think tied in with this is their ability to code amazing sites. Sites that are driven by technological wizardry but without feeling overly geeky. Or sometimes that do feel very geeky.
4. Advanced mobile and blogging cultures
It’s hard to pin down the exact numbers and percentages (I had a go but my researching skills are weak), but Japan undoubtedly has a hugely vibrant blogging scene with some surveys suggesting that there are more Japanese language blogs than English ones. And it’s always had a particularly strong mobile Internet for lots of reasons.
Both of these things have led to a particularly strong sense of personal media space. Something which I think a lot of agencies struggle with. They’re not thinking about peoples spaces they’re thinking about their sites, or media owners sites. And the rules are quite different.
Probably connected to point 4. But the notion of widgets (or blog parts as they’re called in Japan) is really strong and central to lots of the work. Many of the campaigns don’t feel like they have a big heavy base, they exist in lots of places that all connect together in a logical way. Which makes things feel progressive and smart as the world stands today.
There’s an attention to detail and a crispness about the digital craft that shines through in a lot of the work. I think this might be massively linked into (2) – so rather than trying to make everything look like TV ads it can look like brilliant and interesting digital stuff instead. I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that the incidence of bad green screen presenters is low…
7. Some of it is a bit strange
Often this makes it feel really fresh and it makes you work a bit harder, in a good way. The sense that there’s a little something that you don’t quite ‘get’ is something that I think has a peculiar attraction. A bit of Especially for geeks.
this is just cheating really. But it is something that I think helps Japanese work to win awards. It’s a strange combo of being slightly culturally exotic and the fact that their character set looks slightly exotic (and to a lot of peoples’ eyes quite beautiful). But this is only a supporting factor in the whole picture – otherwise the Chinese / Korean / Malaysian work would be shining through in the same way. And this year it isn’t.
9. They’re having fun with it
Simple as that. It feels like there’s a love for the work that’s going on. Like people are enjoying doing awesome stuff. And there’s no way you can fake that.
What’s the downside?
Their stuff can take a very long time to load outside of Japan.
Here’s some links to some of my favourite campaigns (again not saying that any of this is going to win – it’s just some incredible Japanese stuff that I’ve liked along the way)…
Some Standout Work From Japan
Here’s some stuff that illustrates some of the points above. Most of these links are to awards entry pages where you’ll get a bit of an introduction to the campaigns (although some of them are very much in Engrish)…
An amazing campaign where 2 lovers from opposite ends of Japan run to each other. So many facets to it. Including a boy site and a girl site that keeps the audiences separate until the end. It almost made me cry. It’s for condoms by the way. That’s why they end up 0.02mm apart.
Gassaku for Intel
It’s a really deep and multi layered campaign that involves getting people creating things. I’m not sure I quite get all of it. But there’s something very cool about chunks of it.
Axe Chocoman Hunter
Axe Chocoman hunter. Takes the chocoman that we know from the ads and ramps it up into a massive promotion involving a character that travels from phone to phone. With a contest where the winner gets 1% of all Axe profits. It’s bonkers.
Tokyu Hands Mushi Battle
A kind of creative beetle battle for a craft / department store called Tokyu Hands. It’s not as crazily engaging as some of the other things it just feels very very cool.
Honda Edit Screen. This culminates in a screensaver – which I know is listed as one of my old 7 Deadly Sins of Digital. But I don’t care. This site is just super-cute and shows the extreme craft skills of some of the Japanese agencies. Even though most of the site is in a language I don’t understand the interface is straightforward, slick and amazing. It’s basically a massive multi-user artwork generator.
The Last Guy
It’s a campaign a bit like the Balloon Race we did for Orange, but it’s for a Playstation Game and it’s got Zombies in it roaming over the web. It’s kind of different because a lot of the interaction with the individual sites is done using screen grabs. But even so it knows how to lay out the game-space so the right bits of the page are walls, etc.
Click the switch below to turn Crackunit into a zombie game. Go on. Go on. I dare you…
Because of the big header graphic playing it here isn’t the best experience. But the game has had 6.6m plays. Which is totally insane.
Adidas Hello! Runners Map
And I think my favourite of all is this campaign for Adidas Running. They’ve got a tough challenge given the Nike+ thing that’s gone down. But they’ve pulled something amazing out of the bag. You create your running maps, so far so good. Then it uses Google Street View to show your run inside a widget which is FANTASTIC. Also what they’ve done with the whole mapping interface and Flash is a joy to behold.
So that’s some of the stuff that’s been making me excited about the scene in Japan. I hope you like some of it too.