When I arrived in Japan in 2011, my company paid for several months of Japanese lessons through a language school of their choosing. Though I was a captive audience, the school gave me a glossy brochure advertising their strengths. In one panel of the brochure, they write, “The fact is, a simple error in negotiations could cost you millions.” And ask the question, “Do you always say what you mean?”
Clearly this company understands the importance of communication. And remember, this was 2011.
Meanwhile, in September of 2001, an entirely unprecedented event occurred in New York City. You may remember it. It was a Tuesday.
As an American, images of the old World Trade Center carry special emotional weight; I encounter these images unexpectedly, often while watching films set in New York between 1973 and 2001 (Note 1). It feels like seeing an old friend who has long since passed away. It’s nice, but also sad.
It goes without saying that movies filmed in New York no longer show the Twin Towers (unless they are set in the past). And movies filmed immediately prior to the attacks were edited to remove the towers (see the Wikipedia page: Entertainment Affected by the September 11 Attacks).
But back to 2011…
I enjoyed my first Japanese lesson and didn’t bother to look at the brochure until weeks later. Imagine my surprise when I opened to page 1 and saw the following:
I was baffled to see such an error from a company that specializes in cross-cultural communication. Trying to understand how this could happen, several scenarios came to mind:
1. Nobody at the company had looked at the materials since 2001.
2. The company noticed the Twin Towers and decided it would provide an enjoyable nostalgic moment for American students.
3. They intended to change the brochure once the current supply ran out. Unfortunately, in 1999, fearing the implications of Y2K on the printing industry, they ordered a 27-year supply of brochures.
The real answer is probably much more mundane: color brochures are expensive, nobody has been assigned to this task, no student has ever complained. Yet nearly thirteen years have passed since 9/11. You would think they company would have made the change by now. Then again, it’s Japan. Change is slow.
– – –Note 1: The most shocking of these is the musical Godspell (1973). The song “It’s all for the best” starts with the cast shown in close-up. The camera zooms out to reveal the cast standing on the top of one of the towers (the buildings were not yet open to the public at that time).
See also other odd marketing idea in Japan: