TOKYO -- British pop star Sting takes a swig from a can of Japanese beer and says with great feeling: "Together."
For that one word, uttered in a Kirin beer commercial, Sting was probably paid about $250,000, say Japanese ad executives.
But he is far from being the highest paid of the many western stars lured into Japanese advertising.
Madonna is probably the current record holder, people in the advertising world say. She recently danced her way through a television commercial for Mitsubishi video recorders in a deal that may have boosted her bank balance by $1 million.
Japanese companies love to use western stars to give their products that special appeal. Many big names from the West seem happy to oblige, including some who wouldn't think of appearing in similar ads at home.
Blue eyes twinkling, Paul Newman says, "My main card" for Fuji Bank. Sylvester Stallone sells Ito sausages. Miles Davis pushes Sanraku Ocean whiskey. Julian Lennon sells Fuji film, Sean Connery ham, and Brooke Shields hi-fi sets. Even Woody Allen has done an ad for Seibu department stores.
"In the United States they can lose some of their reputation by appearing in such ads, but there is not so much of that risk here," said Shinobu Ina, a senior ad executive with Dentsu, Japan's largest ad agency.
Japanese advertisers choose their western stars carefully. They must be well known in Japan, good looking and free of "image" problems.
Take Boy George, for example. Last year, he was seen in advertisements everywhere in Japan dressed in vaguely Arab garb and hawking a brand of Japanese rice wine. Then came his brush with the law in London over alleged heroin abuse. The ads were dropped immediately.
Madonna's image in Japan, however, was unaffected by the nude photographs published by Playboy and Penthouse magazines. In fact, in a country where soft porn is everywhere and almost respectable, the publicity probably did her good.
The question of why foreign stars are so popular in Japanese advertising is harder to answer.
"Japanese people have a big inferiority complex about westerners," one Japanese journalist said bluntly.
Dentsu's Ina was more circumspect, but seemed to agree. "There is a sort of complex for the Japanese," he said. "For example, as a whole, Japan may have a reputation in the world as being economically very successful. But on an individual basis, the average Japanese consumer does not yet feel that his life style is on a par with that of the West."
But veteran adman Bernard Barber of McCann-Erickson Hakuhodo Ka disagreed. "Inferiority complex? I don't think so. That is a very western point of view. Foreigners are used in advertising all over the world. And I'm not sure young Japanese see them as foreign stars," he said.