Soccer's Pitchman

World Cup may be over but Beckham-mania lives on through advertising

Reuters   IHT
Memories of this year's soccer World Cup may have faded and copycat Mohawk haircuts grown out, but Japan's love affair with England captain David Beckham lives on. And now it's blossomed into television commercials. Trailed by screaming fans throughout his visit to Japan for the tournament in June, the soccer idol remains a hot media topic with magazines, books, Web sites and television programs reporting his every move. "I don't know much about football, but he is really handsome,・said 18-year-old student Karin Shinto, shopping with a friend in the bustling Harajuku area of central Tokyo. Hoping to harness Beckham's appeal to boost sales in the flagging economy, Japanese firms have swamped his agency, SFX, with offers for television commercials. "Just beauty,"a formally dressed Beckham and his pop star wife Victoria chorus after exchanging a kiss in a commercial for TBC beauty salons, the first company to win the coveted prize of a joint appearance by the couple anywhere in the world. Beckham's reputation as a devoted husband and father has helped boost his image among women in Japan, where open displays of affection between married couple are rare. "I think it's lovely that they seem so close, "Shinto said. Industry experts estimate the pair were paid 400 million yen, Which would be the highest fee for a commercial featuring a foreign celebrity, but the deal is being kept under wraps. "The contact does not allow us to discuss details with the foreign media,・said a spokesman for Hakuhodo, the advertising agency involved. TBC also declined to comment, but local media have reported the company as saying it was satisfied it had got good value for money after the campaign provoked a Japanese media circus. Late this month, Japanese television viewers will see Beckham munching Almond Choco candies in a new commercial for manufacturer Meiji Seika. "Almond Choco is among the best-selling candies in the country, so we thought it would be a good match for one of the world's best footballers,・said Noriaki Hishiya, a spokesman at Meiji Seika, adding that the product and the celebrity both appeal to young women. Beckham is not the only foreign star to make a killing in Japanese commercials, although some industry experts say the appetite for their services is weakening as firms try to spend their shrinking advertising budgets more efficiently. Advertisers say the presence of a foreigner can add a touch of exotic glamour. "As a Japanese, I look up to foreign stars-they're good-looking,・said the Hakuhodo spokesman. Sports personalities such as Tiger Wood are seen on Japan's screens daily. Hollywood stars get in on the act too, and with contractual bans on the commercials being shown outside Japan they can earn extra cash while keeping a serious reputation. Anthony Hopkins, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of a cannibal in "Silence of the Lambs・ lent his dramatic talents to automaker Honda, intoning "Let's have a thrilling time・as he stepped into a car with two glamorous women in one commercial. Nicolas Cage, also an Academy Award winner for his edgy performance in "Leaving Las Vegas,・line-dances with silver-clad aliens to promote pachinko. And Ewan McGregor went from the gritty world of independent films such as "Trainspotting・to become the ubiquitous smiling face of Aeon, a chain of English-language schools. Brad Pit swigged Roots canned coffee for Japan Beverage Inc, Leonard Dicaprio champions Suzuki cars and Bruce Willis plays a bizarre superhero to promote Eneos petrol stations for Nippon Oil Corp.- the list endless. Even being dead is no disqualification. a digitally resurrected Audrey Hepburn recently danced across Japanese television screens in an advertisement for bottled tea.