Monday, February 28, 2011

True stories of a real Mad Man: The Japanese account disaster

True stories of a real Mad Man. The Japanese account disaster.

Before the Palm Pilot and the PC, there was the electromechanical desktop calculator.  It was clunky, loud and the size of a Buick.  Monroe and Freiden were the big brands.  Our agency, Grey was working on a top-secret assignment from the American subsidiary of Sharp Electronics-- a pocket sized, battery operated, portable calculator that would perform complex statistical tasks in seconds.  Glowing red numbers appeared magically in a small window.

The agency team had been working for months on a campaign to introduce this technological marvel to American businesses.  Our client was an American who was recruited by Sharp to run the US company.  But nameless and faceless people mysteriously made the real decisions in Tokyo.

Our American client loved the new campaign.  It was a no holds barred comparison of the nimble, silent and hand held wonder to the clumsy, slow and noisy American machines.  Side by side photos illustrated the superiority of the new device.  Blunt copy hammered home the message that the gray metal contraptions occupying half the desk space in offices were a thing of the past.

It was a no brainer!  One look at this magical device would make the sale.  Case closed.

Word came that Mr. Ichihashi, President of the Japanese company, was touring the US offices and wanted to come to New York to meet the agency.  We were to be the last stop on his American tour before heading to the airport for the long flight back to Tokyo.  Great, everyone thought.  Timing couldn't be better.  We'll show him the new ad campaign over a sumptuous lunch in the agency's elegant executive dining room.

A week before his arrival, a package came to the agency containing forty rolls of film.  Pictures taken by Mr. Ichihashi of his American tour.  Would the agency arrange to have these developed so he could bring them home?

Mr. Ichihashi and his entourage arrived at the appointed time and were greeted in the lobby of the building by the agency's top brass with much fanfare and bowing.  Whisked off in an express elevator to the executive floor, the group ate heartily while awkward efforts at conversation were attempted through an interpreter.

The dishes were cleared and the ads were brought in.  Large color reproductions had been produced to show the campaign in the most dramatic fashion.  One by one the ads were revealed; the copy read slowly by the creative director and translated into Japanese, line by line. 

Mr. Ichihashi listened intently, nodding occasionally. When the presentation was finished, Mr. Ichihashi turned to his American executive and made a brief statement.  Out of earshot of the agency the interpreter whispered the translation of this statement to the American.

His face turned beet red. He whispered something back, looking shell-shocked.  The translator turned to Mr. Ichihashi and spoke in Japanese.  This game of bi-lingual whispering went on for a few more minutes when, sensing trouble, the agency president interjected, "What 's going on?"

The translator said:  "Mr. Ichihashi says you lose account."

Dumbfounded, the agency president asked "why?"

"He says that it would cause him to lose face in Japan to run ads that were so insulting to competitors," the American explained.

The agency man pleaded his case, "Did you tell him that's the way things are done in America?"

"I've been trying to tell him that for the past five minutes, but he's not buying it," came the response.

Then, with a full stomach and a brief bow of thanks, Mr. Ichihashi picked up his forty rolls of pictures and returned to Tokyo.

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