May 8, 2021

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Panasonic signals break with conservative past

3 min read


About 80 seconds after the start of the last Panasonic commercial, a work-worn employee finally comes home from the office. He is kissed by his waiting boyfriend and blends into a cuddly sofa dinner and general domestic bliss.

Throughout the Dulcet feel-good fest, we see other young Japanese people enjoying life unconsciously as LGBT + people. The tagline “#ThinkYourNormal” may suggest that Panasonic thinks the Japanese company would have previously viewed them as abnormal, but the highly refined schmaltz is a couple of minutes hard to dislike.

Globally, Panasonic doesn’t show much. In other countries, for years hotels, airlines, soft drinks, and banks have all put same-sex couples at the center of different campaigns. Marketing veterans say these are more often tactics to differentiate brands from their rivals than statements of philosophy. Renault 2019 TV commercial marking the 30th anniversary of the Clio the sedan with a homosexual romance is considered a triumph of the genre; the clothing brand Anouk has become one of the first in india deploy lesbians in 2015.

Even in Japan, there is a cautious precedent: Amazon and Google and a few small Japanese names have made modest attempts to break taboos on the screen. And Panasonic publishes advertising only online, rather than airing on Japanese mainstream television without risk.

But given the size of the company, its well-known conservatism, and its status as a national industrial icon, the move could be a big step in a country that doesn’t seem close to recognizing same-sex marriage. The question is how far Panasonic has really gone and how far the advertising is breaking through.

For those prone to despair over Japan’s progress in diversity, gender equality and inclusion, last week provided a steady supply of fuel. The media pointed out that the new Minister of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Tamayo Marukawa, had actively campaign against changing the rules to allow married couples to use separate surnames. Former Minister of Defense of the country Tomomi Inada told reporters that a woman would only reach the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party if a crisis had left her with no other choice. And a World Bank analysis ranking countries according to the impact of a legal and regulatory environment on women’s economic opportunities placed Japan in 80th place.

© YouTube

None of this diminishes the potential effect that a demonstration of progressivity from a company of Panasonic’s size and influence could have on the less enlightened corners of Japanese businesses. Even though it is a cynical marketing tool, the “Your Normal” ad is striking for a company that once encouraged workers to assert their “pride in traditional ideals” in company songs. After all, Panasonic was known to recruit, shape, and maintain a distinctive “type” of business from which significant divergences were never particularly encouraged. If this truly signals – internally and externally – a break with that past, then this is a moment to be savored.

But Panasonic may only represent the desirable future as well as the present: a habit of tech companies around the world. A producer of everything massage pants and household equipment to lithium batteries, Panasonic has long been dedicated to projecting the lifestyle, home, car or city of the future. Its marketing has often blurred the lines between reality and ideal. And that’s what he’s doing with this campaign. The world depicted in Your Normal does not yet enjoy a frictionless relationship with the various standards that the Japanese workplace and society impose.

The giveaway is that the announcement came from Panasonic’s most progressive department, Future Life Factory, which reports to the company’s design division. All ad campaigns suffer from wishful thinking to some extent, including most non-Japanese ads on the subject of non-traditional relationships. But the hype seems greater in Japan. The Your Normal campaign presents the battle for equality and diversity as already won, while on Japan’s current trajectory it will still require many years of struggle.

leo.lewis@ft.com



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