The release of Ultabooks has been a big deal for Intel, which has been pushing the compact notebook format ever since late 2011.
With consumers and businesses showing a strong demand for sleek and compact computing technologies such as iPads and MacBook Airs, the chip manufacturer has actively joined its vendor partners in promoting the performance and compactness of Ultrabooks to the public.
While Intel ran its Wild West themed “Desperado” campaigns in regions such as Australia, which focused on the performance of the Ultrabook compared to older, larger notebooks, Intel Japan went in a slightly different route for its ad campaign.
Intel Japan’s campaign, titled as “Urutora” since that is how Ultrabook is pronounced in, featuring a man in a suit wearing a tiger head as the campaign mascot.
Most Internet users outside of Japan became aware of the Urutora campaign in March when the television commercial started airing on Japanese TV channels.
The 30 second commercial features the mascot performing an awkward dance on the moon while singing an odd tune that repeats the word Urutora.
If that was not peculiar enough, the background is filled with a derelict New York vestige and a pair of astronauts silently observing the entire performance.
An Intel Japan spokesperson said the campaign has its genesis in the word Ultrabook and how it is pronounced ‘u-ru-to-ra-book’ in Japanese.
“In Japanese, ‘tora’ means tiger, so we saw an opportunity for consumers to remember this name of this new PC category by featuring a tiger as an icon,” they said.
The television commercial kicked off the Japanese Ultrabook campaign from March, and since then it has been expanded to feature the mascot in promotions on the Internet, retail and other outlets.
Year of the tiger
As to why Intel Japan decided to promote Ultrabooks now, considering Ultrabooks began appearing on the market since last year, the spokesperson said the timing was not right until recently.
“Even though Ultrabooks came to the market last year, we believe this year to be the year of Ultrabook, so that’s why we started this campaign from March,” they said.
Intel made quite a reputation for its advertising campaigns in the past, having vowed the public with high budget visual spectacles such as its Intel Inside promotions during the Pentium era, but the Urutora commercials have a decidedly “low budget” feel to them.
When asked about this design choice, Intel Japan was unable to shed light on it except to say that the company is always “considering how to [spread its] message to consumer with maximum impact.”
However, it is likely that the low production values of the commercial were done intentionally to add to the overall uncanniness of the contents.
Big in Japan
While targeted exclusively at the Japanese market, the Urutora commercial found itself widely watched by a global audience following the debut of the video on YouTube, as well as word of mouth over social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
The oddball humour of the video immediately resonated with Internet users, leading to questions whether in this day and age of interconnectivity markets such as Japan are aware that their locally produced content is being increasingly scrutinised by a global audience.
Japan’s advertising industry has always held an interesting role in promotions, with Hollywood stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage and others gladly shilling energy drinks and snacks in decidedly cheesy and over-the-top commercials in the past.
The fact that these commercials were only broadcast domestically in Japan and would never see the light of day outside of Japan was often what convinced a lot of these non-Japanese celebrities to participate in these commercials, as most audiences in the US and Europe would never see the promotions.
However, the growth of the Internet and the advent of video sharing services such as YouTube has meant that countries such as Japan are not as insulated as they used to be, and these "made for Japan" commercials are finding a new life in overseas markets, usually in unintended ways.
Enjoying the limelight
When Japanese telco, Softbank, roped in Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz to star in its mobile phone campaign in 2007, they were naturally expecting that the commercials would be limited to Japan.
However, video sharing was already starting to hit off at that time, and overseas Internet users were exposed to the commercials at the same time they were being broadcast in Japan, which could have led to some unintended embarrassment for the actors back home.
While some celebrities might look back at their involvement in Japanese TV commercials with some embarrassment, others such as Tommy Lee Jones, who has regularly starred as an emotionless “alien” in Boss coffee advertisements since 2006, have openly embraced their involvement in then.
Even Bruce Willis has started appearing in Daihatsu commercials since late 2011 that seemingly parody the use of Hollywood celebrities such as Willis himself in Japanese advertising.
Intel Japan is not the only company to have pioneered the unusual mascot angle, with Microsoft running its Sanrokumaru (Japanese for three-six-zero) campaign in Japan in 2010 to promote its Xbox 360 video game console.
Like the Urutora campaign, Microsoft’s promotion featured a man in a suit wearing a Xbox 360 logo helmet.
With a larger, international audience looking at commercials such as Urutora, there is the possibility that viewers might misunderstand the message sent out by the vendor, and in worst case scenarios, even cause brand confusion or damage among consumers.
The Intel Japan spokesperson said there were no such concerns by the vendor when it was putting together the Urutora campaign.
“Since all the content in the campaign is in Japanese, we didn’t think that overseas viewer would ever get the ‘wrong message’ from it,” they said.
Fortunately, the Urutora campaign has generally garnered positive feedback on the Internet, though many have noted that neither the slim form factor nor efficient performance of the Ultrabook are directly communicated.
However, this "style over substance" approach to promotion is often typical of Japanese commercials compared to those in the West.
As for the response to the campaign by Japanese consumers, Intel Japan has found that they responded quite well to it.
“According to the survey done by a third party TV ad research agency, the advertisement has ranked seventh in likeability out of 4157 Japanese commercials,” the spokesperson said.
Even Intel’s vendor partners in Japan such as Lenovo have been impressed with the direction the chip manufacturer took to stand out in the competitive consumer technology market.
“I think the concept of the commercial with the dancing tiger on the moon is very unusual and unique, and enjoyable for everyone,” Lenovo Japan consumer marketing manager, Takahiro Muroi, said.
However, Muroi concedes that consumers may at first not be able to figure out that the commercial is for personal computers.
“What people will clearly and deeply remember by the end of the commercial are two key points, Intel and Ultrabook,” he said.
The Urutora campaign has been running in time for Lenovo’s entry into the Ultrabook space in Japan with the X1 Carbon.
“Thanks to Intel's campaign, consumer awareness of the Ultrabooks was elevated, and it also helped convey to them that this new category will become mainstream,” he said.
“This has had an impact in increasing consumers' purchase intention for Lenovo Ultrabooks, including IdeaPad U310 and ThinkPad X1 Carbon.”
Return of the legend
As for what lies ahead for the dancing tiger man, Intel Japan initially said that it plans make use of the mascot until the end of the year.
However, when asked if the Urutora campaign would be limited to simply being a one-shot, Intel Japan then took the stance that it is “not disclosing how long this character will be used.”
Though, judging by the popularity the character has enjoyed so far, it would be unsurprising if Intel Japan would continue to use it beyond the 2012 campaign.
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