Firms Use Bizarre Recruiting Ads

JAPANESE STUDENTS BEWARE!

A GIRL approaches to light a black bomb, crying ``Scary!'' A toad with big round eyes sits next to the bomb on a cushion. As the bomb catches fire, the girl screams and falls back. The scene switches to a close-up of the girl saying in a nasal twang, ``Sumitomo Kinzoku.'' The 15-second television commercial, which cost an estimated $3.6 million, makes no sense.

But Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. expects that the ad will improve the firm's image and hopes it will draw many job applications from university seniors.

``What's important is to have students turn to us,'' says a spokesman for the steel manufacturer.

Even for a nation often known to tend toward the unusual in its advertising, the recent recruitment ads tend toward the bizzare. The newest ads are geared to catch students' attention, and, more importantly, make companies appear to be flexible and lively. Students prefer that image in choosing their future employers.

Other major steel firms are also developing similar campaigns to shed the staid image they have had since a serious recession a few years ago.

Nearly all Japanese companies are competing harder than ever before this summer for capable employees. Although specific data are not available, the number of job openings is said to be more than three times that of applicants, despite Japan's ongoing prosperity. Companies are trying to attract students through the use of catchy advertising and public-relations strategies.

Japanese students hunt for jobs at about the same time every year because of an agreement Japanese firms have on recruitment. To avoid disturbing students' studies in the highly competitive academic environment, companies together agree on a date they will begin interviewing. This year the date chosen was Aug. 20.

Yet about 80 percent of male students at Tokyo's Sophia University have already received ``some kind of promise to be hired,'' says Yuichi Kato, chief of the university's employment guidance department. The agreement provides for no legal punishment for violators. Kunihiko Yasuda, a German major, was rather puzzled when he received a Christmas card from a bank one year.

``The card did not contain any message on recruitment, but just said `Merry Christmas,''' he said. The next year he received many letters from companies. Had he kept them all, they would have amounted to a two-foot pile.

Several companies are running their first radio and television commercials this year to add appeal to their names. ``The strategy seizes on the weakness of modern students, who are easily affected by advertisement,'' Mr. Kato admits.

In a survey early this year by a private research organization, Bunka Hoso Brains, male university students chose JR Tokai Company as their favorite firm. The one-time national railway since its privatization has successfully established ``an active image'' through television commercials. Students cited the commercials as a major reason for naming Tokai as their No. 1 company.

Students rely on more than just bizarre ad campaigns for information on future employers. They may do a bit of ``networking,'' seeking out graduates of their own universities at the companies they have in mind, to make preliminary contacts before a more formal interview. But Miyoko Shimada, an education student who hopes to work for an advertising agency, says she finds it hard``to get the reality'' of a company.

``Being a student, I haven't really experienced what it is like to work. I know it's scary, but the only way to choose is by image.''

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