Celebrities appearing in crass, potentially embarrassing, or shoddy commercials that only air in a place far away from their normal stomping grounds.
Japan commercials can be fun at first, but they have more juice to the emotion barriers.
A celebrity may be willing to do certain things because of money, but they'll also have a set of standards for what they'll do. You may think it's reasonable that they have their principles, but you forgot that most successful celebrities sold their principles and sense of shame bundled with their soul and 92-year-old grandmother in a package deal made at a crossroads to a gentleman of considerable wealth and taste.
Deep down, not all successful celebrities believe that there is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, instead they are able to recognize (or pay their agents to recognize) that doing something embarrassing or "beneath" their standard for some short term bucks can become a Never Live It Down that harms their long term prospects and marketability. They will refuse crass or embarrassing uses of their time. The one exception: if it is done very far away where no one will see it. And by "no one", we mean "no one who speaks English", and by "very far away", we usually mean "Japan".
Some celebrities are also willing to do foreign commercials as a way of keeping themselves visible in that market, when they don't have a movie being released over there at the time. Doing talk shows and TV appearances in their home country is feasible since they don't have to travel very far. Doing talk shows in a hundred different nations every other month would be nearly impossible. With a commercial, they only have to shoot it once, and it will be aired fairly often.
A trope that exists in the behavior of celebrities (actors/singers/etc.), and is also picked up readily by those in the industry and reflected in the works they make: A celebrity goes over to Japan, possibly somewhere else, and then does a fairly embarrassing job clearly made only for the cash and in the belief that, due to the language barrier and the lack of appeal of a Widget Series, nobody back home will see it.
If it ends up on YouTube, it quickly becomes an Old Shame, which is why many have it written into their contracts that they can't have it be spread around. Because it is all too easy for these commercials to be leaked onto the Internet nowadays, this is likely on its way to becoming a Discredited Trope, if it isn't already. The term itself is a portmanteau of "Japan" and "Pandering".
Compare Germans Love David Hasselhoff.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger is practically the God-King of this trope, as he did more than 30 advertisements, from energy drinks, noodles and beer to cars, DirecTV and anti-piracy. Schwarzenegger was one of the first celebrities to take advantage of this phenomenon, and many others followed suit. One example is the trope picture above for Alinamin V energy drink.
- Ringo Starr took advantage of the fact that his name sounds like "applesauce" in Japanese. It's painfully bad. Watch it here.
- Brad Pitt starred in many Japanese-only commercials in the 90's for jeans, Toyota and Honda cars, cell phones, coffee...you name it. However, he's been doing this since he broke into major film roles, and seems to genuinely respect the advertisers he markets for (to the point of recording a one-off song for the Edwin Jeans clothing company, of which he was a mascot for many years).
- Britney Spears once shilled for Mikakuto gummy candy by doing corny dance routines.
- Bruce Willis has done many Japan-only commercials, ranging from the odd (a subdued performance as the husband of a Japanese woman while they admire a Subaru Outback) to the truly insane (the Eneos Service Station commercials, which...have to be seen to be believed).
- George Lucas once did Panasonic commercials with Star Wars characters, in the late 80's to early 90's. The former does end the ads with him showing up and saying "Panasonic - Itsumo, Something New" (which was the then- slogan for the brand in the late 80's in Japan), while a ball of light hovers in his hand.
- Charles Bronson was doing this as far back as 1970: "Mmm... Mandom!" (And nobody would remember it if it weren't for Lucky Star.)
- David Bowie did U.S. and U.K. ads (MTV, Pepsi, XM Satellite Radio), but also a few foreign ones. In Japan, his 1980 ad for Jun Rock sake featured an instrumental outtake from the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) sessions, "Crystal Japan", that became a Japanese A-side and U.K. B-side. In Italy, he did an ad for Vittel bottled water in 2003...and, with some reediting and a different song, it became the U.S. ad for his album Reality! Neither ad is any sillier than his English-language-speaking ads, either; in fact the Japanese ad is the classiest of the lot.
- Harrison Ford in a series of Japanese ads for Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.
- Jean Reno did a commercial for a canned coffee drink in full Viking regalia, including a horned helmet.
- Kiefer Sutherland has starred in a series of Jack Bauer-themed commercials for Calorie Mate nutritional supplements, where he plays the part of the grizzled agent while maneuvering through schoolgirls on a crowded subway car or disarming bombs in downtown Tokyo. This also appears to be the sole reason why Carlos Bernard made an appearance on a Japanese comedy show as Tony Almeida.
- Madonna has a long history of pimping Japanese goods, including campaigns for Mitsubishi appliances in the 80's (where she performed various songs in person), Elleseine makeup (where she rides an elephant), a 1995 campaign for Takara beer (where she fights poorly-CGI'd dragons before enjoying a glass) and, most bizarrely, a 2007 campaign for a high-rise Japanese condo development.
- This seems to be the sole reason why Nicolas Cage starred in a series of commercials for Sankyo Pachinko machines. The set of commercials (which, among other incidents, include him singing a heartfelt ballad about the joys of pachinko, gasping in awe and yelling in triumph when a group of triplets ask him for an autograph, and banging heads with pachinko-headed "moonmen" in the desert) includes Cage acting entirely in the "kooky" persona he's cultivated over the years - one seems to think that he knows he's in on the joke, and is just doing it to fund his outstanding mortgage payments.
- A series of ads featuring Paul Newman for the Nissan Skyline became so iconic within Japan that the 1982-85 models (chassis code R30) are still referred to as the "Newman Skyline" to distingush them from earlier and later styles.
- Newman had been associated with the brand for a long time, racing their cars throughout the 70s and 80s. The R30 got a "Paul Newman" edition, which added decals and embroidery of his signature to a top spec model.
- A yogurt ad manages to have Sean Connery singing with a rabbit in a sports car.
- The series of ads promoting Suntory Whiskey (immortalized in the film Lost in Translation, seen below) used various Western celebrities, including Sean Connery, Francis Ford Coppola, Keanu Reeves and several others extolling the virtues of foreign whiskey while mugging for the camera and making complete fools of themselves.
- Sylvester Stallone has done more than several as the spokesperson for Ito Ham during the 1980s and 1990s. This certainly brings credence to the kinds of roles he usually does.
- After a deal with Kowa Co. Ltd, Tiger Woods can now be found swinging a golf club to sell back cream.
- Aside from his involvement in the aforementioned Suntory Whiskey ads, Tommy Lee Jones has shilled for Boss◊ coffee. The people of Japan recognize that Jones is, indeed, the Boss.
- An extensive number of celebrities have shilled for various Japanese energy drinks over the years.
- The cast of Twin Peaks once did a series of commercials for Georgia Coffee, a canned coffee beverage. The overarching plot was a man trying to find his companion, lost in the woods.
- Chevy Chase for Cola Turka.
- Even Beavis And Butthead got in on the act, appearing in a series of commercials for mints, of all things, in Japan.
- Orlando Bloom doing a sales pitch for Kirin Mets Cola.
- Woody Allen did a few commercials for the Japanese department store chain Seibu.
- Madness did an advert for the Honda City kei-car in Japan, for which they wrote and performed their own jingle. Tropes Are Not Bad, since they subsequently expanded the jingle into a full song, "In the City", which was their only B-side good enough to be included on their Complete Madness Greatest Hits Album.
- t.A.T.u. made news in 2013 as they reunited in Japan for a Snickers commercial.
- April Hunter did a commercial in Chiba for Toyota with Bionic J promoting a car big enough for two touring wrestlers to fit all their stuff in. Since Wrestling Doesn't Pay, she was happy to let everyone know about it and highly recommended it to anyone offered a similar opportunitynote .
- Asahi adverts starring Richard Whiteley, in the 1990s(?), parodied this phenomenon.
- Sigourney Weaver did commercials for Nippon Steel.
- Hulk Hogan singing in a Japanese commercial for Bigflow.
- Scarlett Johansson appeared in a Lux commercial alongside... Hatsune Miku?!
- Tommy Lee Jones did a variety of commercials for canned coffee.
- Liv Tyler also did a Lux commercial in east Asia after The Lord of the Rings.
- Around the time Talking Heads were promoting Speaking in Tongues, frontman David Byrne appeared in a Japanese whiskey commercial that simply consisted of him (and only him; none of his bandmates were present) doing a pigeon dance and gawking at a whiskey can to the tune of "Girlfriend is Better". It's about as "David Byrne" as a commercial starring David Byrne could get.
- American doo-wop revival/a capella group 14 Karat Soul practically made a second career out of this trope, appearing in Japanese spots for the above-mentioned Suntory Whiskey, among other products.
- Jackie Chan seems to be doing this in the United States these days.
- American soccer player Landon Donovan made some ads for a sports-based lottery in Mexico.
- A series of ads for a language school in Brazil tells the misadventures of two youngsters who can't speak English and wind up in all sorts of misery because of it. Such ads have featured celebrities like Bruce Willis (in an airplane, fighting a terrorist while instructing the boys to take a parachute and jump out; they instead get rid of their own parachute before Willis jumps out to safety), Megan Fox, Mike Tyson (both in the same ad; the boys first wind up in a paradise full of Megan lookalikes, but they can't say anything to them, so they're whisked off to a Mordor-like place full of Tyson lookalikes) and Samuel L. Jackson (as a sort of game show host, who gives those same boys a random punishment after they don't understand when a New York hot dog vendor asks what they want in their hot dogs).
- When the Polaroid SX-70 camera first came out, Laurence Olivier made a series of very classy U.S. commercials for the product, with the condition that they not be shown in his native U.K.
- Former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, of all people, appeared in a commercial for Pizza Hut in the States and other countries. Given that he used to head the Soviet Union and all, it was seen as greatly ironic and embarrassing for him to shill for a capitalist company and thus espouse consumerism. He did however explain in a New York Times interview that he did it to fund his research foundation, and that the capitalist irony didn't matter as the product he was shilling is "a people's matter" regardless of political ideology. The commercial was never shown in his native Russia especially as he is quite unpopular there.
- Antonio Banderas appeared in several Italian commercials for Mulino Bianco's biscuits and bread, where he mostly talks to a hen.
- George Clooney often does these, and has mentioned that he does them so he won't have to do paycheck roles in movies anymore. He also uses his money from Nespresso advertisements to fund the Satellite Sentinel Project to track atrocities in the Sudan.
- Mark Hamill appeared as Luke Skywalker in a weird christmas ad on German TV in the 80s. You can watch it here.
- Gérard Depardieu loves Russia, so much so that he took citizenship there in 2013. He also made several commercials there, for the watch brand CVSTOS especially.
- He also appeared in the Barilla pasta commercials of the 1990s, which were broadcast in both Italy and France.
- Right Said Fred appeared in a German commercial for Mr. Cleannote , complete with Gratuitous German.
- Phil Hartman appeared in a Pot Noodle ad in the United Kingdom, of which had to be re-edited after the original version was yanked off the air for causing seizures.
- Bud Spencer did some Greek chewing gum commercials.
- Jeff Goldblum was the spokesman for Holsten Pils lager in the U.K. from 1990-93, a time when he was doing almost as much film work in Europe as he was in the U.S. The ads boil down to him delivering eccentric, comic monologues about the product (i.e. he broke up with an offscreen girlfriend who got custody of the lager while he got custody of the fridge, so he only gets to see the lager on weekends), meaning that they aren't any odder than the various American ad campaigns he's participated in since the late 1990s!
- John Cleese, Danny Devito, and Chuck Norris were all tapped by BZ-WBK, a Polish bank (which has since been bought out by the Spanish Santander) to star in their commercials. Mateusz Morawiecki, then-CEO and current Prime Minister of Poland, spoke thus of the campaign: "The people are so stupid that it works." This particular quote generated no shortage of controversy when it leaked to the press by way of the infamous "Morawiecki tapes", secretly recorded at a restaurant in Warsaw.
- Ben Affleck did a L'Oreal ad in the UK that featured the line, "Here comes the SCIENCE!", which got discovered by Fark and became the Trope Namer (well it defined the form) for Here Comes the Science.
- Public radio star Garrison Keillor is the voice of Honda in the UK. The ads themselves are dignified (in one ad, however, he cheers on the English football team ahead of a World Cup), but a US endorsement would lose credibility with the anti-commercial fanbase of public radio, and his Lake Wobegon material concentrates on the U.S. rivalry between Ford and Chevrolet.
- The turn of the 1980s saw the American business computer manufacturer Prime Computer showing a series of adverts in Australia and New Zealand featuring Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in character as the Doctor and Romana. They are notorious in fandom for the final advert, which depicted the relationship between the two characters as overtly romantic.
- New Zealand-brewed beer Steinlager has featured American and British actors in a number of its adverts:
- In the late 1980s, Jimmy Nail featured in a series of adverts for Hutton's smallgoods in New Zealand, in character as Oz from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
- Status Quo were part of an advertising campaign for Australian supermarket Coles, which featured them playing versions of their songs with tweaked lyrics (eg. "Down down, prices are down..."). When an audience member asked them if they made any money from it, Francis Rossi replied by asking "Would you have made a schmuck of yourself for nothing?"
- During the 1990s and early 2000s, Lenny Henry featured in a series of adverts for New Zealand butter, in-character as the Chef!. Here's one of them on You Tube.
South East Asia
- Jet Li did a commercial of San Miguel Beer in the Philippines. It would have been awesome if the director didn't do two Freeze-Frame Bonus of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao looking awed while his name is plastered on the screen as if they want the viewers to notice that Pacquiao is in this commercial.
- In a similar boxing-related example, Mexican pugilist Erik Morales did a commercial with Angel Locsin for Magnolia ready-to-drink fruit juice while on a holiday visit to the Philippines in 2007 when he rubbed elbows with Manny Pacquiao following their bout a year prior.
- Chris Evans becomes an endorser for the Philippines telecommunications company, Smart Communications, where he is first shown in a commercial promoting their campaign, "Live Smarter for a Better World".
- A fairly common idea among Yuri!!! on Ice fans is that champion figure skater Victor did some of these back in the day, and that his devoted fan-turned-competitor-turned-''actual boyfriend'' Yuri Katsuki recorded and saved a bunch of them. Victor being Victor, he's never upset when Yuri (or his family) pull them out, and if anyone's embarrassed, it's Yuri.
- Lost in Translation uses this for Bob Harris's reason to be in Japan. He's there doing an ad for Suntory whiskey in a job that he in no way has any reason for being chosen for other than for being a recognizable face. His wife keeps phoning him about carpet samples and paint colors so it's implied that he's building a house which is probably why he's doing it. The depressed funk he gets from the debasement is a large part of the entire theme of the film (note that Sofia Coppola's father, Francis Ford Coppola, did in fact do this with Suntory ads in Japan, as did Sean Connery, who gets referenced a few times in the movie).
- According to Bill Murray, he's very familiar with a lot of Japandering commercials (understandable, since they mostly feature his contemporaries), and there was a particular face each of the actors made he wanted to mimic. According to him, it was a face that said "I can't believe I'm shilling this crap."
- Referenced in Mean Girls, although the character appears to consider it unequivocally cool:
"I hear [Regina] does car commercials. In Japan!"
- In the documentary-concert film One Direction: This Is Us, there is a scene where the One Direction boys film a Japanese commercial during their Japanese tour.
- In The Windmill Massacre, fading model Ruby had apparently made a career of this in Japan before a scandal forced her to return to Europe.
- Done in-universe in Thank You for Smoking. Celebrities are perfectly willing to shill for cigarettes in overseas markets, just not at home where they've got a reputation to maintain.
- Joey from Friends is at one point a mid-level daytime Soap Opera star and ends up doing this from an advert for Ichiban Lipstick for Men. The advert is very much a Weird Japanese Thing: Joey is wearing bright blue lipstick while bright blue animation and dancing schoolgirls interject a number of flash cuts. You watch it, you can't un-watch it.
- Mo Harris on EastEnders, of all beings, makes reference to the practice as part of an Aesop about how you should never sell stolen goods near your home turf and should do it a few boroughs away instead. EastEnders is fond of transparent ploys to be relevant so most likely, one of the writers saw Lost in Translation one night and then spend several months trying to work it into a script.
- In the "Chinatown" episode of Entourage, Ari persuades Vince to do a very well paid Chinese energy drink commercial.
- In one episode of Leverage, part of Elliot's cover as a successful baseball player is a (fake) Japanese energy drink commercial that Hardison whipped together.
- The Big Book of Top Gear features The Stig in one such ad.
- On Would I Lie to You?, one of Jimmy Carr's lies was that he'd done a commercial for snuff (of all things) in Japan.
- 30 Rock shows one that Jenna did where she takes a sip of a drink, smiles, and then is slapped in the face. "I still don't know how that advertised Tokyo University."
- In Hot in Cleveland Victoria dreams of the day that she's achieved enough fame that she can sell out for a boatload of money. She ends up doing a commercial for adult diapers. (They preserve the freshness of crotch!)
- Conan O'Brien did a Super Bowl Special commercial for Bud Light, where he did an embarrassing ad in Sweden which got released in the United States. He would also use the above Schwarzenegger ads for clips for Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
- On Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 James Van der Beek filmed an energy drink commercial in Vietnam. As expected it is hilariously bad.
- Some of the boys of Bondi Rescue used this trope as part of a prank on one of their co-workers. They pretended that he was the favourite lifeguard among their Japanese viewers, and so he was selected to be in the commercial for a new energy drink. The name of the drink translated as "cat piss", which was what was in the can he was drinking from.
- Karen in Will & Grace, despite not being a celebrity in the U.S., did an energy drink commercial in Japan when she was younger.
- An episode of The Muppets made brief mention of Miss Piggy doing a sock commercial in Japan.
- Casimiro "Van Damme" Baldocchi of the Brazilian soap opera Uga Uga once agreed to pose for a porn magazine on the proviso the photographs wouldn't be published anywhere outside Japan. Unfortunately, the magazine's executives lied to him about it.
- Pair of Kings: During Mason's humiliation ceremony, it's revealed he once made a workout video in Finland. Lanny, as an Ambassador in Finland, brings up a copy for the ceremony. Unfortunately, for Lanny, Mason was the only Kinkownian he could humiliate without fear of retribution but not the only one featured in the video.
- The Suite Life on Deck: In one episode, the S.S. Tipton goes to Tokyo and the twins' mother (a singer) is a celebrity guest star for a commercial for a Japanese soda company known for making bizarre flavors. Due to the twins' antics wrecking part of the set, the family is forced to Work Off the Debt by trying a bunch of their new flavors.
- The intro for Saints Row: The Third features Pierce starring in a Japanese commercial for "Saints Flow", a Saints-brand energy drink. Josh Birk's reaction to the ad (see page quote) implies that he's also done a few Japan-only commercials in his career.
- Claptrap of Borderlands 2 did a Japanese commercial for "rodent bleach", as seen here. He wears a hachimaki, shouts nonsense, and cuts a rat in half with a katana. And apparently has something against guys named Jeffrey.
- Pepsiman is the video game equivalent of this, exploiting blatantly American settings to tie in with a Japan-exclusive Pepsi campaign. American actor Mike Butters gets to spout Japanese-subtitled Engrish slogans such as "Pepsi for TV-Game" between scenes, even though he was not a big name then (and still isn't, despite appearing since then in several Saw movies).
- In Ménage à 3, vain international lingerie model Senna proves willing to do a hemorrhoid commercial in Japan once her agent reassures her that it won't be seen in the West. Well, she does have a perfect peach-like butt...
- The Amazing World of Gumball: Parodied in "The Money", when Nicole considers the family doing a Japanese commercial for Joyful Burger.
- A Robot Chicken sketch revolves around Sarah Michelle Geller advertising a Japanese feminine hygiene product.
- The Simpsons
Oh. [ahem] Hello. [ahem] So many rice crackers claim to be low-cal, but only Fujikawa Rice Crackers make your interiors go bananas! What did I do to deserve this? ... Oh, right.
- When they went to Japan Homer and Bart ran into Woody Allen filming a commercial while dressed in boxing gear.
- In "You Kent Always Say What You Want", Ludacris once appeared in a commercial that was meant to be shown only once and in Canada. He's suing a dental clinic for breaking this agreement.
- The Metalocalypse episode "Tributeklok" has Dethklok appear in an embarrassing ad for Pentuplemint Spearmint Gum, a company based in Ibiza, Spain. After the commercial premiers, a disgruntled fan calls them sellouts and throws a drink in Nathan's face. Pickles and Skwisgaar try convincing the fan that it's a European ad, so it doesn't matter.
Fan: I just wanna say, I think you're a real sellout, and I ain't buying no more of your records. Take this, shithead! (throws drink) Fuck you! Pentuplemint gum is fucking lame! You should know that!Pickles: Dude, it's okay, it's a European ad! Come back!Skwisgaar: It's a Europeans ad, it doesn't makes a difference! I thoughts it doesn't makes a difference!Nathan: Well, apparently it does.
- In Bojack Horseman, Mr. Peanutbutter participated in an ad campaign for seahorse milk in Pacific Ocean City, despite not knowing anything about it. Years later, as Bojack discovers when he visits the city to promote the Secretariat movie, the ads are still running.