Symbian announced their 20 millionth handset sales milestone in Japan with a rather surprising Jekyl-and-Hyde campaign. First off, they ran a Fortune-500-style blitz – dubbed J20 – complete with CEO webcast and predictable press release – so far, so OK. If that was all they did, we’d certainly join in the chorus to congratulate them on a job well done. When any non-domestic entrant achieves 20 million sales of anything, much less ultra-cool Symbian smartphone installations, WWJ offers our heartfelt congratulations and more power to them.
However, at the same time global HQ launched an awkward attempt at what seems to be a viral ad campaign – called BooHooForYou – with a dedicated website and anime-themed video posted on YouTube. Since BHFY provides full English text and subtitles in the animation, the obvious target audience for this little stunt are folks outside Japan. The Japanese audio and English subtitles combined give viewers the distinct impression the site was made in Japan to poke fun at (lagging) European and American mobile markets.
Anyone who understands how Japan’s business and wider civil culture operates will tell you that remaining humble – especially when you otherwise have strong reason to brag loudly in public – is not only expected and practiced, but to do the opposite is highly insulting. Thus Symbian’s BHFY comes across as at least culturally inappropriate and at worst directly insulting.
WWJ editors have lived in Japan for several (many?) years, and we’ve watched closely to see how mobile industry players here build, market and protect their reputations and brand images; we can confirm that video comes across as far too condescending, childish and downright tragic in the way it portrays the Japanese as openly gloating “boo hoo for you.” (Subscribers login for the full rant.)
Of course, we give full credit to the Symbian folks to have gained a foothold in Japan with No. 1 carrier NTT DoCoMo, and therefore with five domestic handset makers.
But at the same time, we have to point out it’s at least somewhat confusing for Symbian to appear to claim credit for the ‘Top 20 Smartphone Features,’ as they do on BooHooForYou, in light of the long-standing and pre-Symbian-arrival existence of many of these mobile features in Japan, courtesy of entirely domestic efforts, thank you very much.
Further, few if any of the functions and services gloatingly credited to ‘Japan’ by Symbian on BooHooForYou have anything specific to do with Symbian per se; many work on Symbian because already existing and deployed technologies – e.g. QR code reader or Near-Field Communications – were ported to Symbian. These were and are baseline requirements from the operators in order to sell handsets in this market.
Further, the features touted in BHFY are actually technologies that underpin sophisticated business models and they are far more than mere features on the device-side of the equation. We’re pretty certain Symbian had nothing to do with the creation of those mobile business models.
We called Hiroko Tanaka, Symbian’s PR contact in Japan, who quickly confirmed they had no knowledge of BooHooForYou.com, leading us to conclude the entire effort is a culturally ignorant activity managed by someone at Symbian global who has yet to set foot in Japan.
We also got a call in to Anatolie Papas, Symbian’s global PR manager in London, who insisted that the local Japan office was fully informed of the campaign. She also confirmed that this was a London-based effort driven by HQ.
She was very nice, and it’s pretty clear they didn’t intend to insult anyone; as we surmised the first time we saw the animation, BooHooForYou is targeted at – and intended to enlighten – the rest of the world on how advanced the market is here (we thought that was WWJ’s job!).
As of this posting, we’re planning follow-up contact with London to get the background on the campaign, who planned it and how the whole idea came about – and whether local really did know about it in advance. There’s no doubt the Symbian folks are fairly smart people, and miscommunication between global and local can happen in any big outfit, so we have no criticism of Symbian on this point. But we do think BHFY is a mistake and that local, if they knew about it, should have quashed it from Day 1.
And if you don’t believe us about the importance of remaining humble – even when you could reasonably be excused for tooting you own horn in celebration of demonstrated success – consider this quote from Haruhiko Hisa, the president of Symbian Japan:
“We have reached the mark of shipping over 20 million Symbian smartphones as a result of the support we have been given by all our network operators, handset manufacturers and partners to become a more open and versatile OS. Going forward, we shall focus on contributing to the development of high function handsets at lower build costs as well as continuing to fulfill our important role of enlarging the mobile phone market.”
Textbook perfect and not a hint of gloat.
Come to think of it: it would also be interesting to sit down with NTT DoCoMo to obtain their reaction to watching the BHFY clip for the first time. WWJ thinks they would be not amused.
In what seems to be a growing (or at least continuing) trend (see our recent DoCoMo 2.0 article), the ‘quirky Japan’ angle is being perpetuated by not only the ignorant mainstream media but also by even more ignorant global companies who are doing business here and should certainly know better.
We guess Symbian will explain BHFY as a ‘light-hearted attempt to engage with youth and drive awareness, yada-yada…’
But there is an unmistakable, unspoken message that comes across as crass, inconsiderate and demonstrative of profound ignorance of the vary market and culture this campaign claims to celebrate.
– WWJ Editors