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When this Applied Materials ad appeared in May of 2001 it stood out (broke through the clutter) by singing Japanese. corporate branding ads have usually taken the form of commercials aired on American cable channels, intended for the broad swath of middle and working class audiences with the aim of establishing brand recognition. This type of ad rarely tries to sell a particular product, but rather constructs a positive image of the company name. The Applied Materials ad is the first corporate branding ad we can recall seeing that privileges a non-western cultural aesthetic - the Applied Materials ad is an ad that we would have previously assumed to be for Japanese audiences.

The Applied Materials ad represents the era of globalization and its aesthetic through the lens of a non-western cultural space. This is, at first, so refreshing that it almost seems to run against the hegemonic grain of American consumer capitalism with its focus on the western middle classes. Or, does in fact, this ad elevate the hegemonic grain of capitalism to a still more unified historical level?

The immediate agenda of this ad campaign is to establish Applied Materials as a recognized and valued corporate name - in this regard the ad follows in the footsteps of Intel's branding of its Pentium computer chips ("Intel Inside"; Cisco's panoramic identification with the future of unified global labor markets; Nortel's appropriation of the Beatle's classic song, "Come Together"; or Oracle's ode to the revolutions of the information age; or Microsoft's appropriation of the energy and vitality of The Stones "Start me up" for their Windows launch.

Applied Materials described their "Information for Everyone(TM)" campaign as follows:

Today, in Asia, Applied Materials launched its new global branding campaign focused around the Company's stated purpose of enabling Information for Everyone. The campaign, which points to the ubiquity of semiconductor chips in daily life, is a move by the Company to expand awareness among the general public of the benefits brought about through the chips produced by customers using Applied Materials' equipment. "Countries such as China and Japan have some of the fastest technology adoption rates as increasingly technology-literate consumers purchase cell phones, computers and other high tech devices," stated Morgan. "Applied Materials is proud of the role it plays in improving the lives of people around the world by helping them to connect to the new global network." [Business Wire Press release]

The question critics usually raise with these ads is why spend so much money (in the case of the Applied Materials campaign, $30 million) to posture for audiences who never actually make decisions about buying a particular semiconductor microchip or a router, or a piece of capital equipment (in Applied Materials case the extraordinarily sophisticated machines that permit the making of semiconductor microchips).

The reason is that these firms recognize that at sooner or later in their competitive industrial cycles, what are now proprietary semiconductor chips or routers will become strictly commodities, which reduces competition to price. We have previously written that this genre of corporate advertising is about building brand equity or sign value. The branding process is a hedge against this future inevitability, another source of value to leverage. We have previously argued in our book, Sign Wars, that the branding process (what we refer to as the production of differentiated Commodity Signs) is driven by the desire to offset declining margins -- aka the declining rate of profit.

Source: Applied Materials web page
It is easy to see from the chart below why the Applied Materials ad would focus on Japan. Japan accounts for 21% of orders for Applied Materials capital equipment. And when combined with Korea, Taiwan, SE Asia & China, the East Asian region accounts for 62% of orders.
Applied Materials is currently the leader in making equipment for the global semiconductor industry. This involves highly technical work that does not easily translate into 30-second commercials: "Applied Materials manufactures systems that perform chemical vapor deposition (CVD), physical vapor (PVD), Applied Materials, epitaxial and polysilicon Inc. deposition, rapid thermal processing (RTP), plasma etching, electrochemical plating, ion implantation, metrology, inspection and chemical mechanical planarization (CMP), as well as equipment for mask pattern generation, systems to produce Flat Panel Displays (FPDs), and manufacturing execution system (MES) software for semiconductor manufacturing."

This ad "first aired in Hong Kong and elsewhere in China, features photogenic Japanese urbanites listening to portable CD-players, talking on cellphones and using personal digital assistants that emit a warm, crimson, special-effects glow highlighting the chips contained inside." (Dan Gooden, "Can $30 million make Applied Materials Inc. Into a Household Word?" Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2001, B5.). Though the visual and aural fabric of the ad is interpretively elusive, the ad directly addresses its agenda at the end - stating that Applied Materials makes "the systems used to produce virtually every new microchip in the world."

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey