There is a popular TV show that challenges people to escape a deserted island. The cast are all abandoned on the remote island, where they have to survive for a short time with minimal provisions. Of course, this requires them to be self-sufficient. For the time being, they set up a space from debris and fallen trees to provide shelter from the rain and dew. They use brains and brawn to make fire, push their way into the mountains to sample weeds to eat, and dive into the ocean to catch fish. Their cooking method is primitive: roasting it whole over an open fire. After great struggle, their stomachs are satisfied, and they wrap themselves in large leaves and go to sleep. The title is “Escape.” The goal of course is to escape from the deserted island, but reviewers are emotionally moved by the cast and cheer them on as they live primitively on the island, following an extremely simple cycle of human life involving foraging, making, hunting, eating, and sleeping, which they do in ingenious ways to make their situation a little bit better. The people at times create greater value by investing in the effort, even if it is a modest one. Although their goals are not huge, their reactions to the daily accumulation of unexpected small joys and satisfactions seem to indicate they are living well enough.

As you know, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is a popular Nintendo video game. It was released on March 20, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, and over the first six weeks, 13.41 million copies were sold to people living under lockdown, and physical copies are still in short supply. What makes “Animal Crossing” special is that players can build up their world in small ways, both tangible and intangible, by simply doing everyday activities. There is no explicit action or big goal to achieve. Players pass the time in a very idyllic setting. There is no fighting, and there are no strict rules or time limits. There are also no enemies to defeat. Daily life involves no nuisances, other than mosquitoes, bees, and scorpions. And like living on a deserted island, the player builds a house, decorates rooms, goes fishing, picks fruits, and grows flowers. Sometimes you might converse with a neighbor, encounter some visitors who drift ashore, or take a trip to an unknown island. Over the course of this tranquil lifestyle, the nature and the environment of the island changes, and living there becomes easier. Of course you can invite friends to your island, but the game is mostly played leading a relaxed and carefree life. This authentic, surreal philosophy of the game is welcoming to all.

Image : NINTENDO

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Nintendo released this video game for its Switch console on March 20, 2020. In Japan, the commercials say, “You have nothing, so you can do anything.” The setting for the series has thus far primarily been a village, but the new release is set on a deserted island. The player buys a packaged relocate plan to a deserted island offered by Tom Nook, a raccoon and land developer. Then, two animals start a new life together from scratch in the island's pristine natural environs. The game was designed to have a realistic feel, as exemplified by the natural sound effects and the way the wind makes the plant life sway. There are also many new ways to play, such as going it DIY to craft tools, furniture, and other items from the materials you obtain on the island. Simultaneous co-op play is also available for up to four players living on the same island.

Why would luxury brands like Valentino and Marc Jacobs, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, want to get involved in a world of mellow animations and users who aren't looking for excitement? It seems like a mismatch. Fashion brands are distributing newly designed clothing items. They are offering the fun of dressing up in a virtual setting to people who have little opportunity to be stylish due to state-at-home restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. An art museum, meanwhile, has brought a collection of over 400,000 paintings by the likes of Van Gogh and Hokusai into the game for players to decorate their homes with the works. These institutions are offering their services in this virtual world to make staying at home a better experience. Users have warmly welcomed these contributions, but there must be those who feel there is a mismatch or a gap when fashion brands, who value their vision above all else, enter the world of “Animal Crossing,” where fashion items cannot be represented in great detail. Even so, for the time being it seems to be generating a positive effect for both users and brands. The brands are not expecting anybody to buy items anytime soon. Rather, they are fulfilling the goal of becoming a more familiar and welcome presence in the lives of users to make fans out of them. Furthermore, even politics is intervening with the world of “Animal Crossing.” In this context, “intervening” does not mean any accusations are being made. Rather, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest-ever woman to serve in the US House of Representatives, visits her followers in “Animal Crossing” to chat with them. Does this perhaps remind you of how when President Obama was inaugurated, his administration made smart use of social media? Now it is a Japanese platform, in the form of “Animal Crossing,” which is creating these kinds of touchpoints between young people and politicians.

Image(Left) : The Metropolitan Museum / Image(Top Right) : via Twitter/@marcjacobs
Image(Down Right) : via Twitter/@MaisonValentino

Incidentally, there happens to be a tie-in with President Obama's election campaign. You probably still have fresh memories of how the campaign employed new tactics, such as the use of viral videos. The basis for this action was Facebook, which had grown into a potent social media force at the time. After Facebook's general launch in 2006, the network rapidly added new users. In 2008, when Obama was running for president, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited Japan for the launch of the Japanese version of the service. You could say that this was when Facebook truly became a global presence. Originally, the platform was only intended for exchanging information between students, but later is became a core component of a presidential election campaign. This seems like quite the mismatch.

The manager of Obama's presidential election campaign was David Plouffe. Looking back on that time, he called the combination of digital technology with a grassroots movement a historical moment in American politics. While utilizing the traditional mass media, the campaign also used the latest tools, such as social media, to expand its communication with supporters. Until that time, TV news reports on the presidential campaigns showed the candidates relying on methods such as large rallies with local supporters, speaking and shaking hands with individual people, or roasting their opponents in TV commercials. Or perhaps we've watched too many movies and TV dramas... Of course, the Obama campaign also made heavy use of TV commercials, and in battleground states, the campaign put out a continuous stream of two-minute commercials, while also purchasing thirty-second spots on the final day of the election campaign. What we want to focus on, though, is the bold investment in digital tools. The campaign expanded its network through email and the video site YouTube, as well as social media such as Facebook and MySpace. This is how the campaign captured the independent and politically disinterested voters who were key to the presidential election. The ability to contact them directly made this possible. During the race, the campaign sent 1 billion emails to eligible voters. This online communication helped raise campaign funds, as supporters sent in 4 million donations totaling $580 million. The amazing thing is that about 90% of them made small individual donations averaging around $85 each.

Another noteworthy point about this election race is the fight with Obama's rival, Senator McCain, over Florida. “The Great Schlep” campaign was carried out by the Jewish Council for Education and Research. With the goal of turning out voters in the battleground state of Florida, this was a special mission put together to win over elderly Jewish residents of the state. Florida is well known for being a state that often determines the balance between the Democratic and Republican parties. However, Obama seemed to be at a disadvantage because Florida's Jewish voters tended to shy away from black candidates. There was also the fact that his middle name, Hussein, is of Arabic origin, and far right-wing rumors had misleadingly cast Obama as a Muslim who is anti-Israel, when in fact he is a Christian. On the other hand, the grandchildren of these voters were very supportive of Obama's reform-minded policies and his character. Therefore, the Obama campaign put together a strategy to recruit these young Jewish grandchildren and send them to visit their conservative grandparents in Florida to explain to them what a wonderful candidate Obama was. The campaign thus wielded a secret weapon by sending out these children who are the apples of their grandparents' eyes. Changing their grandparents' feelings was simple. “If my adorable grandchild is going to come all this way to visit me, then I will listen.” “Yes, yes, if you say Obama is so great, then I'll vote for him, too.” The word “schlep,” by the way, refers to a person who performs an extremely tedious job nobody would be happy to do. And because almost nobody wants to do it, there's no competition there. It is quite appropriate, then, to commend this volunteer action that co-opted a new area into the election race.

An interesting thing is how the project was arranged. A campaign site used by young people had an online video calling on them to join the effort. That means the target was already drawn to Obama's presidential bid. The website also provided volunteers with talking points to help them speak more easily with their grandparents about Obama's background and campaign promises. Then, after all the preparations were in place, large numbers of young people flew from across America to visit their grandparents in Florida and convince them to vote for Obama. Many media outlets, such as the New York Times and CNN, covered their work. The council's video was viewed by 4 million people and the talking points were viewed or downloaded over 1.2 million times. The number of Jewish Floridians voting for Obama was the most in 30 years for a Democratic presidential candidate. Although the combination of an election campaign and social media is taken for granted today, at the time, it started out as a mismatch.

To digress a bit (the preceding explanation being a bit long because the Obama presidential campaign was quite the epic event at Cannes, which at the time was still all about advertising), this kind of mismatch can draw attention and have a big effect. One example is Metro Trains, a railway operator in Melbourne, Australia. To prevent accidents and raise awareness, the company ran a campaign called “Dumb Ways to Die.” In Australia, there was an increasingly frequent series of fatal accidents in which people died out of sheer stupidity by crossing tracks while ignoring railway crossing signals, walking onto the tracks without permission, or playing on the tracks while knowing it to be dangerous. That's when Metro Trains decided to take a new approach in completely the opposite direction. For a target that ignored information delivered in a serious manner, the railway company saw the need to shape it to be on the same level, and set out to interact with the target in a way that would draw their attention and interest.

At the heart of the campaign was a video uploaded to YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere. Although these are not new channels for encountering information, the content surprised people made them wonder whether it was appropriate for a public service announcement. The light and catchy song, the creepy-yet-cute, soft, jellybean-like characters, and the surrealness of the series of scenes showing incredibly stupid ways to die, both astonished and captivated viewers. The characters produce laughs by finding simple yet preposterous ways to die. For example: setting your hair on fire, poking a bear with a stick, taking expired medicine, and so on. It certainly makes one wonder whether this awareness-raising content should be shown to children. The manners of dying gradually escalate and become grislier: selling both your kidneys on the internet, eating superglue, dressing up like a moose during hunting season, disturbing a nest of wasps for no good reason. The perverseness somehow helps to encourage a bit of cynicism. The viewer might think, “Nobody's gonna die like that,” but then you start to imagine that some of these may be possible. The ways to die at the end of the song include standing at the edge of a station platform, ignoring a closed railway crossing to enter the tracks, and leaving the platform to cross the tracks. These are the kinds of fatal accidents often associated with railroads. They are also among the dumb ways to die. Lastly, the song tells us that these are the dumbest ways to die.

This video became a big story as soon as it was uploaded, receiving over 50 million views on YouTube and more than 3 million shares on Facebook. Even though it was an awareness-raising campaign song, it made it onto the hit music charts and spawned hundreds of parody songs. Why were people, especially younger ones, so receptive to this campaign? The key is the touchpoint, which was created with the audience's perspective in mind. As often happens, this sort of awareness-raising campaign tends to have a more serious tone that directly warns us from doing dangerous things. But young people tend to tune out these kinds of messages. Instead of just trying to scare them into doing something, this message resonated with them because young people cannot stand the thought of being made fun of by others for dying in such a stupid way like an idiot. Of course, the appealing music and animation were well done, with a melody you only need to hear once to remember, plus crude but lovable characters. All these combined to have a synergistic effect. The contrasting dark humor also had an impact. Furthermore, in an environment where it's easy to share things like this, the word got around and had a large hand in helping to spread the message. Of course, the song is available for download from a website and there is a smartphone game, but the creators also granted permission for all copies and parodies of the lyrics and video. The use of media beyond the internet, such as posters featuring the video's characters in station terminals, as well as free distribution in picture books and to radio stations, helped deliver the message to a wide range of age groups. Lastly, the campaign had the result of reducing accidents on railways by 21%.

Dumb Ways to Die

Mismatches draw people's interest. “Hey, what the heck?!” If something makes them say that, everyone wants to know the reason. Plus, since mismatches naturally come with a variety of reasons, they also lead to debate, and people talk about it with each other until they can understand it and feel satisfied. Instigating conversation or debate is a very PR thing to do, but it's also one of the easiest approaches to take. One thing that “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” and “Dumb Ways to Die” have in common is that they both contain peaceful, Japanese-style characters and animation. This is featured as a way to lighten the mood of online communication, which these days tends to be more strained. Furthermore, taking into account the fact that real-world craftsmanship will likely operate under certain constraints, this is something that could become more entrenched. The combination of this mellow Japanese style with Western elements could lead to the creation of something new. It will be interesting to watch what Japanese makers do in this area. As an aside, companies where employees have become weary of remote work sometimes hold meetings in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” It has a strangely soothing effect that allows participants to throw out their opinions in a livelier manner. If the meeting seems to be going nowhere, though, everybody might just go do something else instead, like fishing. That could be a problem...