035 Pollution by greed and discontinuity of the spirit

‥‥It was a quirk of fate that around this time the Tokyo Governor found himself embroiled in scandal; allegedly a violation of political funding laws. At the press conference, behind the Governor, there was an interview board set up displaying the Olympic emblems that had been selected just a while ago. The backdrop panel had been adopted as a way to promote the images widely and to heighten recognition of the logos—which backfired in this instance. The Olympic logos were on prominent display every time the scandal ridden Governor was grilled by reporters during these press conferences: thereby infusing a layer of suspicion to the logos, initiating a new negative chain of events‥‥

In my last post, Chapter 034, I went over the aspect of a negative chain of events being induced by a promotional tool at a press conference. The question is, why didn’t anyone make the decision to refrain from using the backdrop panels, with displays of the Olympic emblems, at the Governor’s regular press conferences? The Olympic logos have become public property. Thus, I believe it was necessary to act accordingly and make appropriate adjustments to protect their value (which is equivalent to image). The situation culminated in a showdown with the Governor handing in his resignation. It was an occasion that made us realize the risk of resorting to an easy, convenient PR activity. And at the same time, it demonstrated the difficulties of risk management.

Ever since the 1990s, during the two decades or so, we came to expect such panels used as backdrops at press conferences and press releases; they became standard promotional tools without us actually noticing when it happened. As for the main cause as to how the panel backdrop became standard issue at the Governor’s press conferences, we can probably say that ad agencies were behind it. Comparing costs between respective mediums, say the cost for running television commercials and that for installing a back panel—is a no brainer. Based on the math, the apparent cost effectiveness of the latter tool is apparent. It was an easy sell for advertising agencies that were in control of mass media to instill the backdrop idea. As viewers, our angle of view is crammed with the ichimatsu checkered pattern, the Games logo, names of merchandise, and campaign slogans that are displayed in a consecutive wave. For most viewers, the inundation of such eccentric images is nothing but unpleasant. This noisy backdrop made up of repeated patterns, no doubt used with the imprinting effect in mind, is annoying. It prevents us from focusing on the contents of the press conference. The promotional strategy is a reflection of the intentions of the people sending out the information. No thought is given to the recipients of the information, the viewers. In recent years, we have been seeing more of these backdrop panels used as a way to broadcast information by public organizations, including government administration offices and municipal governments. But when we see a uniform display of government office logos, all lined up, the frame seems to shout commercialism. It is a transparent display of commercialism. I feel that the method fails to send the message of trust or sincerity. If the management side had any notion of “taste”—as in “classy” or “vulgar”—I am sure the backdrop panel would not have proliferated this far.

If the main objective is to use up every blank space and use it for information imprinting, why not have the PR guy get up in front of the cameras at the press conference wearing something covered from head to toe with corporate logos and names of merchandise—just like the splashy Formula One racing cars that are covered in advertisements. That is certainly one way to go in promotional strategy. Probably not. There is hardly any possibility that it will become widespread. The reason is clear enough. An outfit covered with corporate logos looks vulgar, and will seriously harm the image of the wearer. When an outfit smothered with logos is considered vulgar, then why should corporate logos covering a certain space be allowed?

Just because the backdrop panel has become a regular institution, it does not mean everyone should simply follow the rule. That means no one is thinking. The bottom line is, it is up to the client to protect the image of the logo. The client should use his own eyes and use his own brain to think; he should not resort to a passive methodology—of meekly accepting whatever the advertising agency proposes. The client must possess the decision-making ability to choose the best option available. That is what the times call for. Through the fiasco regarding the logo for the Olympic Games, it became apparent that a specialist, per se, may not in fact be equipped with the necessary expertise nor deep understanding that we can safely rely on. It was a hard lesson learned that would hopefully serve us in the future. I believe the corporate images that are considered their private assets can only be protected by controlling wanton greed and desire, and should be upheld by sensible values.

When considering PR activities, in our times of information overflow, what we need is not a set of values centered on self-interest geared towards commercialism, but an objective standpoint that considers how the actions and approaches of one company would affect others; we need views rooted in our society such as not impairing the aesthetic beauty of our environment. For example, take the Noise Pollution Regulation Law. It states that the law is aimed to “protect the nation's living environment and the people’s health”. Thus noise is regulated by the law. Let us not shut down discussions regarding visual images then. The discussion usually comes to a stop with arguments that comments such as “unpleasant” are all personal views which differ from person to person. I think it is important for us to conduct further research on how visual images affect the environment and how the images can affect and damage the psyche. We should aim at establishing laws that would regulate excessive PR activities. Let us try to look at the space around us filled with promotional information, through the eyes of the child who is growing up in a world dominated by excessive promotional stimulus. What kind of environment is that? How will it affect the emotions and shape the young mind during the precious formative years as the child grows into an adult?

The reason why I am discussing this point is because I harbor enough skepticism as to the approach towards image development through the deployment of the Olympic logos, which will take place under the umbrella of the Olympic Games; which will take place as soon as the Olympic logo deployment gets going in full swing. The panels staged at the press conferences were a typical example. Every opportunity will be turned into a PR activity, thereby spreading the contamination of greed pollution. I feel this is going to slowly seep into and erode our spirits.

Looking back on the Olympic emblem issue which ended in the withdrawal of the Olympic logos, we found the officials of the Organizing Committee and advertising agency, the design specialists were all responsible in creating the disastrous fiasco. It was their lack of ethical values and arrogance that brought about the hopeless situation. To the very end, not a single person stepped up to take responsibility. We were only left with an investigation report that covered up major problems. It was full of unanswered questions—an enigma to the very end. What we learned was that the actions of the people promoting the Olympic Games were not based on the principles as stated in the Olympic Charter. We ended up displaying our true colors to the world. In the aftermath, there was no self-purification. We ended up choosing another set of Olympic logos without clearing up the basic problems. As soon as the Olympic logos were selected, there was a news report that said: “In order to attain the goal of 12.3 billion yen in profits as was proposed in the bid for bringing the Olympics to Tokyo that means ensuring sales of more than 2 hundred billion yen in sales. In order to reach the goal, official Olympic merchandise brandishing the Olympic logos are being rushed to the market, four years before the Games”. So, the frenzy has already begun. It made me realize the Olympic Games fueled by greed and desire has arrived.

Under the righteous cause of the Olympic Games numerous historical buildings including the National Stadium were torn down; despite oppositions from the learned, despite the voices of the general public; without thorough examination or discussions ever taking place. Such barbarous acts of scrap-and-build took place everywhere almost nonchalantly—it was a total denial of the precious achievements of our predecessors who contributed to shape and develop our culture. Whatever happened to our sublime spirituality that promises “a soul inhabits every object”? It has been severed, the spirit has been discontinued. I am overcome by the feeling that we are living through a long night of spiritual darkness. Day by day, the feeling becomes stronger.

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.