JR SKISKI Campaign
Throughout their history, Japan Railways Group has produced some of the most memorable travel ad campaigns in Japan. Among their strongest—and most enduringly popular—are their winter season campaigns, and among these the JR SKISKI campaign is a standout.
JR SKISKI is a campaign by JR East (JR東日本) that first began in 1991 in order to promote the use of JR East trains and bullet trains to go skiing.
This winter (2017-2018) marks the 30th anniversary since the privatization of the former Japan National Railways (JNR) created the Japan Railways Group, commonly referred to as JR, and of which JR East is one company out of seven in total. This year also happens to be the 30th anniversary since the film Take Me Out to the Snowland 「私をスキーに連れてって」watashi wo sukii ni tsuretette (literally translated: Take Me Skiing), was released into theaters in Japan.
Take me Out to the Snowland was a huge hit in Japan when it was released back in 1987. The film is now considered a classic 80’s movie and helped to usher in a skiing boom in Japan.
This lucky coincidence presented the perfect opportunity for a collaboration, which is just what JR East has done with this year’s JR SKISKI campaign: Take Me Skiing by Bullet Train (私を新幹線でスキーに連れてって).
source: JR East
JR EAST X WATASUKI
The ads for the JR SKISKI campaign have historically featured an up and coming actress, singer, or model, referred to as a “heroine” in Japan, and her love interest. In previous years the ads have typically focused on the theme of youthful romance against the backdrop of a winter wonderland, which Take Me Out to the Snowland had a hand in popularizing within Japan.
Indeed, last years’ ads fit this mold perfectly:
The main slogan for last year’s campaign was, fuyu ga mune ni kita 「冬が胸にきた。」(Translated: Winter’s touched my heart), and featured model/actress, Sakurai Hinako as the heroine.
This year, however, JR East took a totally different approach to their entire campaign. Not only has JR eschewed the typical formula of a main “heroine” and her love woes, but this season’s JR SKISKI commercials use scenes from the movie, Take Me Out to the Snowland (a.k.a. watasuki in Japanese), and dubs over it with humorous new lines using the actual actress’ and actor’s voices instead.
source: JR East
The above is without a doubt the most famous scene in the movie. The scene shows Harada Tomoyo’s character, Yu, pretending to shoot Mikami Hiroshi’s character, Fumio, with her finger as he skis and him actually falling down as if he had been hit by her “bullet.” In the film, Yu’s line is simply, “bang!” In this year’s commercial, however, Yu says, “If you’re gonna go skiing…it’s gotta be by bullet train!” Fumio replies, “Sorry, I came by car!” Cue period appropriate music: Matsutoya Yumi’s, Blizzard (1984), as the campaign’s slogan gets displayed. Hard cut: Image of bullet train speeding through snow with JR SKISKI overlaid. Narrator, in dramatic voice: JR SKISKI.
At the time the original JR SKISKI campaign was released in 1991 snowboarding had not yet become the established sport it is today, hence the emphasis on skiing found in its name. Even as snowboarding has become more mainstream the long-running campaign name has gone unchanged. This issue surrounding the name of the campaign has obviously not escaped JR East who have made a nice tongue-in-cheek TV ad spot – also using a major scene from the movie – specifically addressing this.
source: JR East
In this commercial spot, Harada Tomoyo’s character, Yu, says that she actually wants to go snowboarding. Mikami Hiroshi’s character, Fumio, is a bit taken aback by this confession and replies “Um but, then the title will change,” referencing the movie’s Japanese title that very prominently features the word “ski” in it. In the next scene the current campaign’s catch phrase in Japanese changes to “Take me snowboarding by bullet train too” while the scene immediately after that has the JR SKISKI text replaced with JR SUNOBOSUNOBO (Translated: JR snowboard snowboard).
This year’s campaign, is a nice change of pace from previous entries that goes for humor and executes it well. The campaign also utilizes nostalgia to its full advantage thanks to the collaboration with Take Me Out to the Snowland.
In addition to the television commercials that are comprised of edited clips from the movie, posters and billboards around JR stations are hand drawn in the style of the film’s posters, and incorporate the main characters along with pictures of JR bullet trains. All in all, something about this kind of throwback campaign really works this year with 80’s and 90’s inspired fashion and trends popping up everywhere in Japan as of late.
With the main goal being to get people to use JR, especially bullet trains, to travel to ski resorts the JR SKISKI campaign is typically attributed with making a positive contribution to sales. However, beyond the impact the ad campaign has on sales, the contribution it has towards the JR brand is also worth noting.
JR SKISKI and Branding
JR as a brand is extremely strong within Japan. It is unthinkable that any Japanese person does not know of it, due to how essential and ingrained trains are in most citizens’ everyday lives.
Japan tends to have a reputation for being stiff and overly polite. Japanese companies, especially major corporations may not have an image for this kind of humor, but in fact, they can and do display wittiness as JR East has shown with this ad campaign.
Japanese advertising also tends to be characterized as surreal and/or incomprehensible, but that has more to do with the format of Japanese TV ads, typically utilizing 15 second spots versus the 30 second spots favored by advertisers in the US, as well as a general lack of understanding of Japanese culture and language by people outside of Japan.
The JR SKISKI campaign is not a global campaign. It is made for a specific audience (i.e. Japanese people) and draws on cultural references (i.e. a popular 80’s film) that only they would understand. JR SKISKI probably won’t win, or even be considered, for international awards, but the campaign is effective. And, arguably even more important, Japanese people actually can recall it – with some people even looking forward to the announcement of the “heroine” as a sort of cultural event.
Seasonal advertising can be a great opportunity for brands. Similar to Christmas-themed ads popular in the West, in Japan the JR SKISKI campaign is a great example of an advertising campaign which adds to the overall brand image of JR East during its run in the winter months.
Additional Notes on This Year’s JR SKISKI Campaign
The JR SKISKI campaign’s television commercials will air over a ten-day period from December 7th until December 17th in the area that JR East operates, while billboards and posters are currently up in JR East stations, including a massive billboard at JR Shibuya Station. The campaign also has a website where you can get more information about the various ticket offers available and watch the commercials being aired on TV, as well as see some web-only exclusive versions.
While the campaign encourages people to take JR trains, including the bullet train, to go skiing, it is also a campaign meant to bring to people’s attention various package deals available through View Travel Service, a travel agency owned by JR East and found in most major JR East stations. Reservations for tickets and packages can also be made via the campaign’s website.
Compared with last year JR East is increasing the number of trains by 40% in response to growing demand from younger customers as well as the influx of foreign visitors the country has been experiencing amidst the recent boom in tourism.
A tie-up with ski resort, Yuzawa Gala, in Niigata Prefecture will see a total of 781 trains run between Tokyo Station and the resort from December 16th, 2017 until February 28th, 2018.
featured image credit: JR East