Boil Japan! How Cup Noodle commercialised the tsunami … and won
Campaign: Boil Japan!
Product: Cup Noodle
Now this is a tough play: piggyback on the worst disaster to befall Japan since it was nuked twice in four days… to sell instant noodles. Pretty much everything in me hates the whole idea of commercialising the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed most of the Sendai coast in March. I’m guessing pretty much everything in you hates the idea, too.
But just try and watch the following ad and not A) feel that advertising really can occasionally perform a (swallow bile, continue) unique public service, and B) experience warm feelings of affection and pride towards factory-dehydrated pasta.
There are a couple of things working in Cup Noodle’s favour. The first is that “Boil Japan” is a play on words. In Japanese, “wakasu” 沸かす means to boil, but is a homonym for “wakasu” 湧かす, which means to boost or raise up.
The second is that instant noodles were widely relied upon to feed the displaced Japanese whose homes – and in some cases entire towns – were reduced to finely grated mounds of indeterminate rubble. Cup Noodle had a lot of goodwill working for them even before the ad, which to some extent it capitalises on.
But the campaign would still seem crass if it didn’t speak to something deeper in the national spirit – and here the association with Gundam pays dividends. We’ve faced disaster before, the ad says, and not only survived but thrived – what other nation’s pop culture, other than America’s, is as successful internationally as Japan’s? It’s an exhortation to recall the postwar spirit of the country’s remarkable Phoenix-like recovery, an optimism that has been missing for the past 20 years as the neverending recession drags down everybody’s mood. Gundam, like instant ramen, is perceived as purely and authentically Japanese. It’s not often I’m willing to grant corporations any kind of cultural “rights”, but Nissin has a plausible case for having a right to bring up the disaster.
Lastly, the subtlety – not directly referring to the tsunami itself – is the final masterstroke in an ad I can’t help but love. Sometimes it’s what seem like the worst possible situations that generate the most inspiring results.