An agency’s belief that a bunch of dinosaur-chasing cavemen could sell
noodles has paid off handsomely, David Kilburn says
The tribe of cavemen who snared a Cannes Grand Prix three years ago for
Nissin Noodles are still out there chasing the dinosaurs that made them
famous, and helping to keep the company at a comfortable 35 per cent
share of the Japanese noodle market.
But it was an idea that did not catch on without some effort on the part
of Nissin’s agency, Hakuhodo.
The cavemen were originally drafted in to replace the actor, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, who had been king of Nissin’s noodle campaign for almost
three years. However, Schwarzenegger proved more memorable than the
brand, and his campaign fee began to pass the million-dollar barrier as
Japan dived into recession.
As a result, in August 1991, Nissin briefed Hakuhodo to come up with
three campaigns in competition with Dentsu.
The creative director, Susumu Miyazaki, and ten of his team from
Hakuhodo Tokyo immediately decamped to a cheap hotel for a two-day
brainstorming session until, in the early hours of the morning, the
cavemen crept into being.
The idea still looked good after hot showers and over the next three
weeks it was polished into a campaign. Everyone saw it as a winner,
especially when researchers discovered that exhibitions and a TV series
about dinosaurs were planned as part of the hype surrounding the release
of the film, Jurassic Park. So, when Hakuhodo was given an hour to
present its three campaigns, Miyazaki and two of his colleagues
presented only the cavemen.
A hectic month followed. ‘Almost every day there was a phone call, a
question or a meeting. The client worried that cavemen were too grubby
to be associated with food and couldn’t imagine how the campaign might
look,’ Miyazaki says. But, a month later, he heard they had won.
The first commercial went on air showing the cavemen unsuccessfully
chasing a mammoth. At the end, a gruff voice says ‘Hungry? Nissin Cup
Noodles’, in English. This was the only change made from the original
script which had the voiceover saying, in Japanese, ‘Are any Japanese
Food was hard to come by in those days. In later commercials, the tribe
was beaten by pterodactyls, outwitted by a brontosaurus and seen off by
a giant squid.
‘We made the cavemen small to allay worries the client had about how
people might respond to cavemen in the living room, and we positioned
them as a little less smart than their prey. There was some worry that
we might upset viewers by depicting primitive table manners,’ Miyazaki
No-one is worried about grubby cavemen these days. In more recent spots,
viewers enter the cave to see family life in the Stone age. In one spot,
the wife sends her husband, armed with his club, out to look for food.
Crashes and bangs are heard outside and the cave shakes. A mammoth’s
trunk then opens the door and returns a dishevelled husband. The
dinosaurs still have the upper hand
The story of Nissin Noodles began in 1957, when the company’s chairman
and founder, Momofuku Ando, started experimenting with noodles, a
popular food in Japan.
He wanted to make noodles that could be stored dry and restored to a
soft texture when rehydrated. Within a year a trial product, Chicken
Ramen, emerged from the garden shed where he worked. He persuaded a
local store to sell it and when customers asked for more, he hired 20
people and mass production began. By the end of 1959, he was selling
10,000 portions a day, and today, the figure is 3,500 portions per
Almost from the beginning, Ando used television to spread the word. The
development of supermarkets, economic growth and more working women, all
helped the company, but executives have no doubt that it was TV that
enabled Ando’s backyard kitchen to become today’s multinational company
with sales of more than dollars 3 billion worldwide.
Ando, now 86, and his son Koki, who runs the company as president, both
now oversee a multinational with 22 factories throughout Asia, as well
as North and South America, and China. Europe is still a small market,
but Nissin hopes to be selling dollars 50 million there by 2001.
Chicken Ramen, the brand that created the instant noodle market, is
still a top seller, but the range has swollen to include soups, cereals,
desserts, frozen foods, yoghurts and pharmaceuticals.
Nissin split its brands between several agencies, but Hakuhodo and
Dentsu handle most of the firm’s dollars 150 million budget. Ando sums
up Nissin’s philosophy as: ‘Without food, neither culture nor art would
exist. Food is the origin of life.’