SIPPING COW PISSPosted: September 9, 2012
For several years I worked for the J.Walter Thompson Advertising Company in Tokyo, Japan. It was in the eighties and at the time I was one of only four gaigin, or foreigners, in the office, working with mostly Japanese natives in the creative department. Every day was an adventure and I loved, for the first time in my life, feeling TALL. I did not love the smoke-hazed atmosphere or my hour long commute in sardine-like, sometimes unairconditioned subway cars. But the pay was great (had to love that yen), the people fascinating and fun, and the work totally intriguing.
My primary account was SHISEIDO, the enormous Japanese pharmaceutical/cosmetic company headquartered in Tokyo. I wrote copy for western countries and participated in focus groups where I often had to convince my Japanese female boss that saying a night cream “Brings Harmony and Peace While Beautiful Woman Sleeps” would not cut it in my country or many others. Harmony is a key word in Japan and I have seen it used to describe everything from whiskey to underwear to packaged fish to cosmetics (but not if I could help it).
One of my favorite products was a light, not too sweet sports drink called “Calpiss” which, in Japanese is pronounced “Cow Piss”. You want some Cow Piss?” A wacky Creative Director called Mamada San offered me one day. The vending machine also offered other similar drinks, one called “Pocari Sweat” and another “EREKTUS”.
I opted for water—a DIET WATER called just this. Under the name read “All the Flavor of regular water—and half the calories”. What the heck?
I will never forget the day a Japanese copywriter stopped by my desk to discuss a hair care product he was promoting. The tall, red can contained a spray to be used on wet hair before blow drying, to add body and shine. “Nan-San” he addressed me, “Do you think we can call product “BLOW ME”? It’s good—no? Even though he pronounced it “BRO ME” as most of his people cannot pronounce the letter “L”, I insisted a better name existed for his new spray.
I spent hours of fun reading product labels in grocery and drug stores, marveling at some of the names. There were lollipop packages labeled “THE CANDY THAT MAKES YOU HORNY”. It tastes like flavored condoms. And “VITAMINS FOR GAMERS”. Can’t concentrate on your Wii? Pop a pill! Another plant-based product promised to “tone a woman’s breasts as well as make them grow.” This was named B2>UP and seemed to sell well as Japanese women in general are rather flat-chested. They also bought boxes of a tape called “CIRCLE EYES” which was intended to make their slanted eyes more round, thus western. “COCK” is/was a sauce for shrimp, “BARF” is a laundry detergent, and “MY FANNIE” is a quilted toilet paper.
This is not to say questionable labels never show up outside of Japan or even Asia. In Finland one can purchase a super large bag of potato chips called “MEGAPUSSI!” and/or a yummy bread with the label, “JUSSIPUSSI”. In Australia they market an ice cream named “GOLDEN GAYTIME”and marketers balked when a homosexual group suggested changing the name.
The winner, I must say, of my favorite crazy product is this “GIRLFRIEND LAP PILLOW”— for sale in Japan…