Energy drink maker gets edgy in Coming of Age Day message, but some people think they need to grow up.

Monday was Coming of Age Day in Japan, a national holiday when people who turned or will be turning 20 during the academic year celebrate the start of their legal adulthood. To say congratulations to all the new grownups and soon-to-be-grownups, energy drink Red Bull took out an ad in the day’s edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun, and also sent out a copy through its official Japanese Twitter account,

The image shows a picture of (ironically) a blue bull, and begins the message with extra-large-font characters announcing “The hell with sound judgement.”

Actually, you wouldn’t be wrong to go even a little harsher on the meaning of kutabare, the first word in the ad. Here, for example, is how online Japanese-English dictionary Weblio translates it.

▼ In this case Weblio is a Japanese-to-English-and-also-Spanish dictionary.

But whether you render kutabare as “drop dead,” “f*** off,” or something in between, it’s pretty clear that Red Bull doesn’t think highly of conventional wisdom, and it doubles down on that with the rest of the ad, which reads:

“The excessive correctness of this world is trying to smooth out your beautiful edges. Nothing can be created from excessive correctness. When you layer common sense on top of common sense, in the end you don’t get anything other than common sense. Protect your own sensitivities. Protect your own impulses. Protect your inner idiot. Do what your instincts tell you will be fun. Let’s move straight ahead in life, and live it stupidly honest and large.”

And, naturally, the message ends with Red Bull’s advertising slogan, “Red Bull gives you wings,” and the company logo.

Given Red Bull’s positioning of its product as a youthful, counterculture beverage, the tone isn’t all that unexpected. That doesn’t mean it’s been particularly well-received, however, with a slew of negative reactions from Japanese Twitter users, whose comments have included:

“I don’t think I’ve ever looked at something in this world and thought ‘That’s too correct.’”
“The idea that something is ‘too correct’ makes about as much sense as assaying a square’s corners are ‘too 90-degree.’”
“Sound judgement and common sense are important. You should take care of those first and worry bout doing what you want to do. Otherwise you’re just being selfish.”
“Good judgment is essential. I like logic a lot more than instinct. Staying calm and looking before you leap is the surest path to success.”
“If you disagree with something that people say is correct, you also have to at least take a moment to make sure you’re not the one who’s mistaken…That’s part of being an adult.”

Many disagreed with the timing of the message too, coming at a time when Japan is seeing its largest surge in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic.

“Prioritizing doing what’s fun over doing what’s right is why this coronavirus mess isn’t getting better.”
“With all the fake news about how the coronavirus isn’t anything to worry about, is this really the right timing for a message like this?”
“It’s like no one who wrote the ad bothered to look around at what’s going on in the world right now.”

▼ The pandemic! It gives you a need to wear a mask!

Not every reaction was negative, but voices agreeing with the ad were much fewer in number.

“People saying the ad is wrong are just proving how right it really is.”
“Even if something is correct, you shouldn’t overdo it.”
“Sound judgement doesn’t always equal the correct answer.”

In a lot of ways, the reaction could have been predicted. While Japan is plenty fond of emotional advertising, in general ads that set up any sort of “us vs. them” narrative end up with a mixed reaction. In other countries, where concepts of revolution and rebellion are more celebrated or romanticized as part of the local history or psyche, it’s comparatively easy to get consumers to see themselves as the heroic iconoclast. In Japan, though, there’s no shame or snickering involved in being a responsible member of mainstream society, and it’s not so easy to convince people, even young people, that it’s their destiny to become cool by throwing a monkey wrench into the status quo. That makes trying to sell a product under the banner of “us vs. them” harder, since a lot of people aren’t necessarily going to feel like they’re part of your company’s “us” team.

Again, it’s not like everyone hates the ad, and with Red Bull obviously playing to a niche in the market with it, you can’t really call it an outright failure. Still, the reaction is a reminder that while pretty much everyone would like to have wings to soar in the sky, a lot of people in Japan are in no way embarrassed about having their feet firmly on the ground.

Source: Twitter/@redbulljapan via Livedoor News/Real Live via Otakomu
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Insert image: Weblio, Pakutaso
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