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Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

June 23rd, 2010

There is a new ad campaign out in Japan for Winston cigarettes. You get so used to the cigarette vending machines being everywhere that you actually forget they’re there–but nowadays they stand out like a sore thumb. Their ad themes are usually pretty offensive–young, fit, healthy people doing active things, while smoking, as if smoking were part of a physically fit and adventurous lifestyle.

The thing is, in Japan, ads often have a way of being “off” if you’re not Japanese. It’s hard to quantify, but many campaigns will simply look ridiculous to you. Sometimes it’s language–like Coca Cola’s “I Feel Coke” campaign some years ago, or Japan Railways’ “Traing” (“train” and “-ing” combined to denote active train use) ad series. But a lot of the time, it’s just the images or the main thrust of the ad that make you wonder, “What the hell are they thinking?” And then, “Must be a Japanese thing.”

But the latest Winston ad campaign, pasted all over town, beyond the obvious offensive elements, is at least somewhat mystifyingly hilarious. It features a bodybuilder striking a pose while looking dreamily upwards, with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Check it out:


That’s not the only thing, though: in some ads, you get the whole body shot:


Now, looking at these ads, what’s the first thing that comes to mind–after the disconnect between bodybuilding and smoking? I know I’m not the only one, I’ve talked to other foreigners and everyone got the same, very strong impression. If the makeup and dreamy expression and the way he’s holding the cigarette don’t do the job, then the pants put it way over the top.

Now, I thought, maybe it looks different to Japanese eyes; maybe he just looks like a tough guy. And maybe so–one group of students I asked only said that it looked like Bruce Willis, but nothing more than that. But another group said, “No, he looks gay.”

So I am left wondering: was it intentional? Is the fact that he’s a white guy part of it somehow? Or was it simply older managers setting up the ad and not seeing it? I really do not know. Any ideas?

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  1. Todd
    June 23rd, 2010 at 18:38 | #1

    I guess you could connect “flaming” and “smoking”, but…

  2. July 30th, 2010 at 18:29 | #2

    I would be so thrilled if you could tell me the name of that model. Isaw this ad everywhere in Tokyo a few weeks ago!

  3. Luis
    July 30th, 2010 at 22:45 | #3


    I have no clue. They don’t typically have the model’s name on the ads, and I wasn’t looking anyway. Sorry!

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