Company drops ‘unpleasant’ monkey ad campaign

Communications company eMobile last week halted a campaign featuring a monkey character following accusations of racism
Communications company eMobile last week halted a campaign featuring a monkey character following accusations of racism

TOKYO (TR) – Communications company eMobile last week canceled its advertising campaign featuring a monkey character following accusations of racism towards U.S. Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama.

The ads, which were featured on television and posted inside rail stations, contain a gray-haired monkey emphatically engaging an audience from a podium as flashbulbs pop from behind. In large white lettering below the gesturing ape appears the company’s name in Japanese and the exclamation: “CHANGE!” Many within the Internet community felt that this slogan and characterization were a slur on the African-American and his message, “Change we believe in.”

“eMobile started to use the monkey mascot from January of this year,” said a company representative of the campaign’s contents in a statement to The Tokyo Reporter. “There is no overlap between a specific person in the election and our character.”

A number of English-language message boards, however, debated whether the company was being culturally insensitive. The company, which provides high-speed communications solutions for mobile devices, received one complaint from an American living in Japan who described the campaign as “unpleasant.” The TV ads were pulled on June 27th, within 24 hours of receiving the comment, said the representative.

Though Japan’s communications market includes carrier Softbank, which routinely uses dogs in its commercial spots, and the Fuji TV drama “Change,” whose storyline features a politician running for office, is likely the campaign’s true satirical target, eMobile felt that pulling the plug was the best decision.

The company maintains that its intention was to emphasize the changes it is making in Japan’s mobile market. “Our company was borrowing the passion and vibrant speaking scenes contained within the presidential election,” the representative said.

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  1. Because of the rain, I rode the train instead of cycling this morning and quite by chance found myself standing next to this very poster, so it’s still in circulation as of today.

    I was fascinated with the image and spent a long time studying it and reading the small print. Not once did I think of Obama (I didn’t make the “Change” link in my mind), and when I first saw the headline here I thought the ad had been pulled because of the “cruelty” factor associated with using animals as human entertainment

    …An overly optimistic assumption.

    As this case shows, “gaiatsu,” usually from the USA, and Western social or lifestyle trends are often behind illuminating cultural insensitivities in Japan. The fact that animal acts are still popular on TV and the Japanese visitor to an aquarium finds nothing crass about dolphins doing tricks suggests that this issue is not high on anyone’s “must eradicate” list.

  2. I saw one up in Ginza Station over the weekend. JapanProbe saw one in Shimbashi:

    So I guess they really only pulled the TV spots.

    When I first saw it a few weeks ago, I didn’ t think about Obama either. And I do think it really is a jab at the Fuji TV program “Change” that stars Takuya Kimura.

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