Drunk Shaming Campaign Might Get People Sued in Japan

A Japanese bar launched a "drunk shaming" public service announcement. It seems fake, but what the video is promoting could get people in trouble.

According to Design Taxi, ad agency Ogilvy & Mather teamed up with Tokyo bar Yaocho to "shame" drunks. It's supposed to be part of a viral campaign, which you can see in this (possibly staged) video:

As you can see, the spot says, "We scoured the city turning sleeping drunks into human posters to get our point across. And we encouraged passers-by to share them under #nomisugi." The ad ends with "Risk becoming our next sleeping drunk billboard."

On Twitter and Instagram, there are only a handful of "nomisugi" ("drinking too much") photos. The people that appear in the photos appear to be the same ones in the video—and there's a good chance that those people are paid actors. The video as it was originally uploaded to YouTube has no disclaimer whatsoever.

Drunk Shaming Campaign Might Get People Sued in Japan

Here is one of the photos shown in the clip, uploaded by Instagram user topfiverecords—or rather, Fede García, Creative Director at the ad company's Tokyo branch. Another photo featured in the video was uploaded by Twitter user Ankit Chota, who is the Senior Account Executive at Ogilvy & Mather in Tokyo. See where this is going? While the video doesn't have fine print saying this was staged, it does appear manufactured and calculated.

As a publicity stunt, this has worked. The spot has garnered publicity. Mission accomplished. I guess. But, at what price? Increasingly, PR agencies are becoming reckless with their stunts, seemingly not thinking about ramifications.

The consequences of billboard drunks also haven't been thought out. Here's the rub: Japanese privacy law. In the West, there is rather liberal Fair Use for taking photos of people in public places. Japan is not the West. This viral video was apparently made by Ogilvy & Mather's Tokyo branch. It should know better.

Even if you are in a public place, you need to ask permission to take people's photos. If you don't and if your photo causes that person problems, you can get sued, WhereNextJapan points out. The damage, apparently, can be quite high.

Website Visual Anthropology of Japan explains further:

Anything and everything in public is NOT fair game to be photographed/filmed in Japan. Even unintentional intrusion could be harmful to people appearing in the photograph and leaves the visual anthropologist at risk for legal action. Do not assume that your status as a foreigner in Japan will protect you from any privacy or defamation laws.

It's not that you can't just take public pictures. No, you can't infringe on people's right to privacy... in public. Yes, I know. Tokyo-based photojournalist Tony McNicol adds:

As I understand it, there are no restrictions on taking photos in public places in Japan. But if the picture is published and you have infringed someone's right to privacy, they can sue you and have a good chance of winning... That's very different to say the UK where pretty much anyone is fair game as long as they are in a public place.

So, against this backdrop of a country with a strict sense of privacy even in public places, the video is encouraging people to violate the privacy of people who are passed out—essentially, defenseless.

While I appreciate that this viral video is starting a dialogue, the approach is inelegant. There are larger issues at play: Should bars continue to serve people until they get blotto? Should Japanese society have franker discussions about alcoholism and binge drinking?

Currently, taking photos of drunk people and uploading them to the hashtag #nomisugi is not a trend in Japan. If the video stays viral and the hashtag doesn't spawn any copycats, then no harm done, no people's reputations ruined, and no shaming. But seeing how quickly things spread online in Japan (and sometimes get stupid), that's a pretty big if.

Kotaku contacted Yaocho, the bar in question, about its ad and asked whether or not the establishment was okay with a spot seeming to encourage violation of privacy. The gentleman who answered the phone had not yet seen the spot, so he said he could not comment. He did, however, know of this clip, which makes me wonder how much input the bar actually had. Kotaku also contacted Ogilvy & Mather, but the agency could not respond for clarification prior to publication.

The Sleeping Drunks Billboard [YouTube via ADWeek]

To contact the author of this post, write to bashcraftATkotaku.com or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.

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