Pizza Cats – Lost in Translation or Just Lost; Editor’s Mea Culpa Revisions


Editor’s excuse: Let me be frank; mistakes were made. In my defense I think that the misunderstanding proves my main point — i.e., this Pizza Hut ad campaign is very much aimed at consumers in Japan. However, according to my Japanese authority whose credentials are that she grew up in Tokyo and is Japanese, the concept is based on a well-known Japanese idiom, “I’m so busy there are not enough hours in a day. I’d even ask a cat to lend me a hand.” Neko no te mo karetai. Of course, cats are notorious for not doing your bidding. You know the American saying: “Dogs have owners; cats have staff.” Another translation error is that “Pizza Boss” Tencho was born on a riverbank, not under a bridge, and he wasn’t adopted by a poor loving family, but is now part of a poor but loving family. My authority also advised me that as a rule, advertising marketing messages in Japan are less direct than in the U.S., and the Pizza Cat-o commercials are very well conceived, very funny, and everyone in Japan gets it. Below is the post as I first wrote it:

“Aim global, market local” is probably this Japanese Pizza Hut campaign’s takeaway lesson to ad creatives everywhere. Those of us outside of Japan find that not only is the text in a foreign language, so is the humor. Cats dressed in Pizza Hut uniforms are cute, but the link to pizza is baffling. The cats in the commercials were not given people-like traits nor were their movements animated with motion graphics. They just did catlike things, and mostly seemed bored and oblivious to being in a pizza kitchen.

The text in Japanese (as translated by a Tokyo friend) tries to offer more of a story line. Each cat is given a brief biography. Tencho, for instance, is described as the pizza boss. He was born in Tokyo under a bridge, and adopted into a family that had no money, but lots of love. When he walked by a Pizza Hut, he decided he wanted to work there, and now his dream has come true. Tencho’s wife is named Ponzu, and together they have five kittens. The overall message of these ads is that when people are too busy to cook, pizza cats are there to help. The ads have no tie-in with any single Pizza Hut location.

The Japanese culture is known for loving “all things cat” – e.g., Hello Kitty, the mouthless cat toy with a pink bow on her head, and Maneki Neko, the waving Good Fortune ceramic cat that is displayed in virtually every retail establishment. A few years back Calico cat cafes sprouted up around Tokyo, offering pet-less patrons the pleasure of sipping tea while enjoying time with a feline companion. News accounts say that cat cafes have about 20 cats of all breeds on “staff” and due to high public demand, reservations are recommended. Given such interest, linking pizza and cats seems a natural, but the series of 11 Pizza Cat commercials are puzzling, even for an American cat lover. It’s a reminder that there is a cultural aspect to advertising that can’t be ignored; what works in one country may seem odd in another.

Rough translations: “Strategy meeting. Let’s do it!”

“When a phone rings, leave it to me.”

“Guys, time to get to work!”

“I got your address and will drive safely.”