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Naomi Osaka 'Cup Noodle' sponsor Nissin criticized for tweets pushing cuteness over BLM

A Sept. 1 tweet and advertisement by Cup Noodle company Nissin Food Products Co. that features Naomi Osaka, which was criticized by Twitter users for its tone, is seen in this screen capture.
A Sept. 13 tweet by Nike Japan celebrating Naomi Osaka's victory in the U.S. Open and which appears to refer to her support for the Black Lives Matter movement is seen in this screen capture.

TOKYO -- The content of a commercial message featuring tennis player Naomi Osaka by noodle-maker Nissin Food Products Co. has come in for criticism online over its contrast in tone to a Nike ad that also uses the athlete's image.

    While Nike Japan's message suggested the U.S. Open champion's activities to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement against discrimination of Black people, the Nissin ad emphasizes fashion with a pitch that doesn't suggest any particular societal message. The Mainichi Shimbun took a look into what it was that came to be seen as problematic.

    Nike Japan pinned a tweet on its official account on Sept. 13 congratulating Osaka after her second U.S. Open win. In it, Osaka is seen photographed side-on while standing on a tennis court. Overlaid onto the image is text reading, "This victory is for myself, this battle is for everyone."

    Following a shooting of a Black man by a police officer in Wisconsin at the end of August, Osaka took to stepping onto court for each of her U.S. Open matches while wearing a different black mask with the names of Black people who have been killed in racially-motivated violence. The Nike tweet's reference to "this battle" appears to refer to the struggle against discrimination.

    Conversely, the Nissin tweet, dated Sept. 1 and posted to its official account, begins with text reading, "Finally the grand slam begins! We thought of a number of ways of how best to support Naomi Osaka to win, and we came to the conclusion that it would be a victory if you could get to like her, so we're putting out some cute information ahead of time. Naomi Osaka, do your best!"

    It also includes a picture of Osaka in tennis wear, and above her some copy referring to an area synonymous with Tokyo "kawaii" fashion that says, "I want to go to Harajuku. Naomi." Next to the picture it also says, "Naomi Osaka loves Harajuku and shows how she always makes things fashionable. Her charm is that she takes parts of current trends and matches them to her style. Whether it's tennis or fashion, it's always important to have your own style. By the way, when it comes to Cup Noodles we also keep a sense of what's popular, and work every day to develop many flavors."

    The responses to Nissin's message on Twitter have been largely negative. Among the numerous criticisms that have been posted, one read, "You're trying to praise a world-class top athlete for being 'cute,' and not for her play. It's so rude." Another wrote, "Can't you quit treating Naomi Osaka like she's some cute, silly airhead?" One user sent a message, saying, "I respect Naomi Osaka as a person. It's not about being 'cute,' it's her humanity I approve of."

    Meanwhile, others wrote, "Nissin's ad targets consumers in Japan and will likely be shared overwhelmingly by Japanese users. The point is not being cool because an ad is global, but differences in target audiences, isn't it?" Another message read, "(Nike) knows that announcing its support for Naomi Osaka will lead to profits. It's better to bear in mind that there are financial calculations."

    But what was Nissin's aim with its tweet? When the Mainichi contacted the company's public relations, it responded, "We created the message with the sense that we were supporting Naomi Osaka, but please allow us to refrain from making further comment on the strategy behind the advertisement or the minute details of it.

    Additionally, regarding Osaka's support for BLM, "As for Naomi Osaka's personal words and actions, we are not in a position to comment, and therefore ask that you allow us to refrain from further comment. While hoping for her success in grand slams to come, as well as next summer's Olympic Games, our whole company will continue to support her."

    (Japanese original by Fusayo Nomura, Integrated Digital News Center)

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