Japanese Voices on Quarter Pounder Line-Hoaxing

Japan: Blurry Lines Between Buzz and Truth – McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Debut

My love for Global Voices Online grows. This is a great summary of the “Quarter Pounder Line-fixing Debate” plus a chance to hear real Japanese opinions on the matter.

I hope to write a longer essay on this at some point but “fixing lines” seems to just be one tool in a big arsenal from Japanese companies of sculpting an image of popularity into the mass media before that popularity is even achieved. Clearly companies everywhere want to achieve this, but the uniquely centralized and streamlined media system makes it a lot easier in Japan. The internet is getting in the way though! Now smaller members of the conspiratorial party have a place to whisper to millions.

W. David MARX
January 30, 2009

14 Responses

  1. Adamu Says:

    That really is an amazing service. It’s like our own free Japanese consumer research tool.

    One interesting fact of this story that wasn’t in the Global Voices article is that McDonald’s actually issued a shareholder release touting the “biggest one-day, single-store sales ever” at an Osaka outlet on the debut of the QP. This raises the possibility of defrauding shareholders if they in fact paid people to buy the burgers (and even worse if they made people line up two or three times or buy multiple burgers).

    This site has an interesting rundown:

  2. Roy Berman Says:

    I was living in Taiwan in Summer of 2005 just around the time when Mr Donuts was introduced there. They used a similar strategy to the one later used by Krispy Kreme in Japan, starting with a single store in the central Mitsukoshi dept store and then heavily promoting it as “Mr Donuts FROM JAPAN!!!” completely ignoring the chain’s origins as a dull American fast food enterprise. There were huge lines, just like at KK in Tokyo, and they then gradually opened additional locations until it become a regular neighborhood store. Dunkin Donuts opened in Taipei more recently, but I don’t think they used any lame marketing tactics, perhaps relying on the fact that their donuts are far superior.

    In fact, this strategy dates back at least to the introduction of McDonalds to Japan, when they opened the first one in, I believe, the Ginza Mitsukoshi, where it was similarly promoted as a new exotic taste from America and encouraging long lines, until they managed to thoroughly inundate Japan with the chain.

  3. Roy Berman Says:

    Adam, Global Voices does link to that press release (first link under the first photo) but they don’t specifically make the tentative fraud connection.

  4. Roy Berman Says:

    Duh, should have checked Wikipedia. It confirms my memory, adding that it was 1971, the second store was Yoyogi, and that a burger was 80 yen, and a cheeseburger 100 (Big Mac 200)! It’s shocking that with the amount of inflation since then, fast food prices remain almost the same in numerical terms.

  5. Adamu Says:

    As someone inundated with “free markets go hand in hand with free societies” type propaganda, I had always figured that moneyed, empowered and active consumers ended up benefitting both themselves and the businesses that serve them. But I am starting to see how naive that is, and perhaps Naomi Klein’s vision of Chinese-style repression-based consumerism is closer to where we are headed!

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    Maybe this is a holdover from the old Neomarxisme days, but I have this feeling that there are people out there who believe that “the Japanese like being jerked around and lied to by their companies” — as if the whole complaint from me was some crooked Western perspective.

    If anything, Global Voices Online kind of nips that in the bud: *surprise* Japanese consumers don’t like being lied to.

  7. Mulboyne Says:

    Adamu, you might want to mark any Uratan links as NSFW in the future. That McD’s item is uncontroversial but a lot of the site is soft porn content or harder. Uratan is specifically blocked by some company filters so it probably isn’t one people want cropping up regularly in their archives at work even if the IT dept hasn’t got around to banning it.

  8. Kentaro Says:



  9. M-Bone Says:

    I think that the major Neomarxisme counter-point was that Japanese TV viewers don’t mind being lied to on wideshows and are often in on the jokes.

    Of course, isn’t it often the same people who end up writing online about McScams and “how the Asahi is brainwashing us” and things like that? Can we really praise the liberating power of the net without looking at how dirty the other side of the coin is?

  10. W. David MARX Says:

    Can we really praise the liberating power of the net without looking at how dirty the other side of the coin is?

    No, I agree with you here. There’s always a lot of crazy in with the good.

  11. Kentaro Says:

    No, I agree with you here. There’s always a lot of crazy in with the good.


  12. M-Bone Says:

    My main concern is that there may be a lot more crazy than good. There is something to be said for silent majorities.

    It also strikes me as interesting how Japanese consumers will tolerate a certain amount of BS with lines and “kohyo hatsubaichu” and stuff like that but support a media frenzy as soon as a certain line is crossed (recent case of a company putting fake photos of “farmers” in with vegetables). In addition, a few food safety issues have popped up back home in the last few months but they elicit neither the outrage, nor the saturation coverage that they do in Japan. The Japanese media / consumer activists are clearly on guard for some things but not others. The difference may be “big corporate” (let’s not bring D####U in this time) but it may also have to do with something that we discussed in a very different context – ghettoized media environments. The media sleeps on young people (who take to the net) but panders to housewives who take any affront to their domestic fortresses of food as a personal attack.

    In Japan, I end up watching a whole lot more daytime TV than anything else so I feel constantly bombarded by the fruits of consumer activism and media support of it. Rarely see this after 5pm, however, unless the food problems are criminal. In a similar sense, I almost never see this type of thing in what I read – Bungei, Shukan Asahi, Sekai, etc. – but it is all over the place in the “housewife” magazines that my wife buys and I occasionally browse.

  13. M-Bone Says:


    I wonder if the 右 and the 左 got mixed up there….

  14. Roy Berman Says:

    According to the J-Wiki on this topic http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%97%A5%E6%9C%AC%E3%83%9E%E3%82%AF%E3%83%89%E3%83%8A%E3%83%AB%E3%83%89#.E5.89.B5.E6.A5.AD.E6.9C.9F
    the infamous Tokyo line included professional “event companions”.

    The line for the introduction of the Quarter Pounder at a Midosuji area store in Osaka (link)says that over 1000 people waiting in line were hired from a temp agency, and that if you even subtract ONLY the burgers purchased by the “temps” there would not have been a record made. Not to mention the likely vast numbers of people who waited in the line due to the psychological joining effect of seeing 1000 people already waiting in line for something that simply must be AWESOME.