Marketing is often billed as a creative job. Agencies are paid to come up with the most eye-catching, unique advertising possible in order to better capture the attention of potential customers. Nevertheless, all too often it seems commercial producers can’t resist the low-hanging fruit of lukewarm, gimmicky gags that anyone would get without too much trouble. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but when something works once for one company, you can expect to see others adopt similar tactics over and over. Dead horses and whips and all that.

Now, I have to admit, it can’t be easy to make a hit commercial every time, but after watching this tourism ad, I think Saga Prefecture needs to go back to the drawing board.

Located in rural Kyushu, Saga Prefecture is apparently trying to boost its tourism by releasing an smartphone app and setting up a 24-hour hotline in four languages. So far, so good. They’ve also decided to make a commercial, which has been posted on YouTube, to publicize their campaign.

That’s all well and good except that the commercial is, to my eyes, really disappointing.


To be fair, it starts off great. The video begins with someone the director wants us to believe is a slim woman with long black hair bathing in a lovely outdoor bath, as enchanting, ethereal music plays in the background. It does an amazing job of creating a sense of mystery and wonder and presenting a compelling image of Saga. If the commercial had cut off here, I would have already bought a ticket to wherever that bath is!


And I doubt I’m alone. The glimpses of the beautiful natural setting caught in the video are exactly what I suspect most tourists are looking for in Japan, and the images create a real sense of tranquility that seems perfect for tired sight-seers. However, after a few scenes of the bather and the lovely scenery, the bather’s hair is pulled up to reveal it’s actually a slender man with a topknot.

▼I don’t think “mysterious” means what you think it means.


The music completely changes to something that sounds like it was ripped from carnival loudspeakers and the audience is then treated to more than few closeups of the man’s hair and face. Finally, we’re told to check out Saga as well as the prefecture’s travel app and 24-hour hotline.

The app itself is called “DOGAN SHI TA TO,” which looks like it would be fairly difficult for non-native and native speakers alike to remember. The phrase is apparently local slang that means “in what way” or “how” (which is ordinarily said as donna fuu ni in standard Japanese). I can’t help thinking something like “Explore Saga” or “Tour Saga” would have been a better choice. Even just “SAGA!” would have made more sense, since their target audience isn’t just English speakers.

▼I’m sure someone is reading this as “dog an shitato,” rhyming with “potato.”


Now, for my money, a travel app is a brilliant idea, and a 24-hour hotline that supports four languages is even more impressive. This is a great way to help tourists find their way around unfamiliar territory.

But if the purpose of the commercial was to entice me to visit Saga, it missed the mark.

To begin with, it makes the prefecture look like a joke. Now, I love a comedic ad as much as the next Super Bowl commercial producer, but all claims of “Mysterious Saga” disappear the moment this turns into a “Gotcha!” video. I’m sure that some will find this funny and possibly surprising, and I’m not going to judge that, but how many people are going to make travel plans with this lackluster image of Saga in their minds? It has all the subtlety and excitement of an elephant farting in your face.

In the end, it doesn’t make me think “Saga Prefecture looks like fascinating place to visit.” I just get the feeling that Saga Prefecture doesn’t know how to communicate with foreign visitors, which makes me less inclined to rely on their app or hotline. And I haven’t learned anything at about Saga Prefecture from the ad, like where in the prefecture that beautiful outdoor bath is located!

Worse still, these gotcha ads make me feel downright uncomfortable, since they could be interpreted as making light of the transgender community. I seriously doubt that was the intention of the ad agency or Saga Prefecture, as it looks like the bather is supposed to be the character in the app. However, this commercial doesn’t help get the message across that Saga is a great place to visit–it almost makes the prefecture look like a second-rate sketch comedy show. And I’m sure that’s not the case.

Hopefully next time Saga Prefecture will produce a commercial that actually shows what makes it a great place to visit, because if it’s anything like the first half of the commercial, I would love to spend a weekend there.

If you’re interested in checking out the app, you can do so here.

Sources/images: YouTube