The Word Works


Winners' Circles, A Work in Progress (Introduction)

Published By: John on 01/04/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

After three years of preparation, John is finally getting started on writing up his Winners’ Circles research using social network analysis to drive ethnographic and historical research on the advertising creatives whose ads have been published in the Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Annual. I will be using this blog to post drafts of material intended for inclusion in the book whose writing is now in progress. For example, the following introduction…

This book lies at the intersection of one life and three perspectives. For thirty years I have worked in and around the advertising industry in Japan, for thirteen of those years as an English-language copywriter for Hakuhodo, Inc., Japan’s second-largest advertising agency. While working at Hakuhodo, I acquired a narrow understanding of how export advertising is made in Japan and developed a desire to know more about the Japanese advertising industry and the world of my Japanese colleagues who create advertising for Japan’s domestic market.

I am also an anthropologist, whose fieldwork in Taiwan led to a dissertation on the symbolism of Daoist magic. My participant’s desire for a broader understanding of the advertising world in Japan has stimulated my thinking about how to extend ethnography?\the anthropologist’s face-to-face encounter with those whose lives he studies?\to do research on a multi-billion dollar industry that employs thousands of individuals, who are, at any one moment, working on hundreds of projects in multiple media that are, themselves, continually evolving. The approach I’ve adopted here is to combine personal experience, interviews with key industry figures, and historical research based on trade publications?\with the use of new scientific tools for social network analysis.

Putting together the results of these various forms of research has led to consideration of philosophical issues that divide researchers across the full spectrum of social sciences and humanities, pitting those who favor quantitative analysis and computational modeling on the one hand against those who insist that research on human beings requires a qualitative, interpretive approach. After a long intellectual journey that began with growing up in a deeply religious household and has led through philosophy and history of science to anthropology and advertising, I find myself straddling the two sides of this argument. My position, as of this moment, is that all anthropology is at the end of the day like archeology, an attempt to assemble convincing stories from fragmentary data and should, thus, wherever possible include scientific analysis. Those who work in advertising may also see similarities to a process that attempts to meld marketing research and creative inspiration into compelling business propositions.

The result is a book that readers with different interests may read in different ways. Some will have a particular interest in Japanese advertising. Here they will find a history of Japanese advertising with a particular focus on the 1980s, 90s and naughts, a period that saw the rise of TV and the decline of newspapers as Japan’s major advertising medium. The thematic focus will be on advertising copy and the role of the copywriters who produce it. Others may start with a broader interest in advertising per se or in advertising’s role as one of the “culture industries” that produce media content and shape the public imagination. They may find it interesting to learn that the Japanese advertising industry differs in organizational structure and approaches to handling clients from its counterparts in North America and Europe. A few may wish to pursue the scholarly issues raised. For them the book’s success or failure will turn on how well it succeeds in extending ethnography and incorporating both quantitative and interpretive approaches to the data it considers.


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