Why it works: ANA's Tokyo 2020 ad with Usain Bolt
Every so often, a Japanese advert will make its way into the general public consciousness. This is even more likely if that ad features an international celebrity.
One such clip has started doing the rounds this week. And I am here to explain it for you.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) is now the official airline partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. To announce that fact, they've put out a TV ad starring gold-winning, record-holding sprinter Usain Bolt. He's signed up to represent ANA while this year's Olympics are on in Rio, and probably until Tokyo's own Games kick off.
Here's the advert on YouTube:
On a first watch, maybe this looks weird. Okay, yeah, watching Usain Bolt shuffle about to some J-Pop is weird. But to me this makes perfect sense. As a marketing strategy, at any rate.
I'll start with the peppy background music. A (very) rough translation of the song lyrics:
“Let's have dreams! Let's not forget! There are wings on our backs. Let's open up our wings! Let's fly! A 'super city' is waiting for us. Tokyo! Tokyo will make tomorrow.”
Ooooh. That's inspiring! As we watch, these lyrics should be putting the idea of flying into your head. Flying with ANA. If you understand Japanese and have national pride.
Near the end of the clip, you'll see this phrase on screen (and hear Usain Bolt say it in his best Japanese accent):
ボルトんでる？ - borutonderu?
Whacking that into Google Translate is probably going to draw a blank. Here's why.
If there is one thing that the Japanese nigh-on demand from their advertising campaigns, it is wordplay. Hardly a day goes by without some sort of pun, double meaning or other word-based cleverness making its way into an ad.
The 'boruto' (ボルト) bit in katakana is how you pronounce Usain Bolt's surname in Japanese. The standard practice of putting your surname first in Japan means most celebs become known by their last name. Like Shuwa-chan - シュワちゃん, better known to the rest of the world as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Tonderu (飛んでる) is a verb meaning 'to fly'. This is the active/present form, indicating that something is happening right now. The standard form would be 'tobu', 飛ぶ. Tacking the question mark on the end turns it into something along the lines of 'do you fly?' or 'you flyin'?'
The 'to' sound at the end of the first word and the start of the second word are identical, so we can put them together. Yup, it's a portmanteau.
Boruto + tonderu = borutonderu. Simple.
There's a clear implication being made here by roping in Usain Bolt, and not just because his name can be conveniently pronounced with a 'to' sound. What is it? Well, this guy is FAST. We all know that. So, by association, ANA planes must be pretty speedy.
Taking all of the above into account, this ad's undeniably clever. If the successes of previous celebrity endorsements are any indication, it's going to have people booking flights in their droves. I mean, hell, just look at Shuwa-chan.
One downside to this convenient hashtag: an inconvenient and unexpected double meaning. 'Boru', when written in hiragana instead of katakana, like this - ぼる - means 'to overcharge'. As in 'hey, aren't these plane tickets a bit steep?' Oops.