March 2001 was a fun month. By this point, we already knew A BEST was happening. It had been announced in early February, and we knew at least a couple of older songs were being re-recorded. The details regarding the release would slowly trickle out over the course of the month.
In the meantime, we were enjoying the Tu-Ka print campaign (the “Ayu Dress” one, continuing from the previous month) and the hilarious Morinaga Hi-Chew commercials that Ayu had begun to appear in. The first one aired on March 4th, and featured Tokyo Purin’s Yosuke Ito as a commercial pitch man trying to convince Ayu to dress as a mouse (“The ‘chu’ in Hi-Chew sounds like a mouse’s ‘chu’ sound!”) to advertise Morinaga Hi-Chew. Ayu scratches her head, confused, enjoying eating Hi-Chew rather than entertaining his ridiculous idea. The campaign included life-size standups of Ayu, posters, phone cards, and a continuing series of TV commercials.
The “NEVER EVER” single was released on March 7th, and the song never had a full-length video. Instead we got a minute-long promotional clip featuring Ayu’s increasingly familiar dirty face and camoflage outfit, something in line with the Supli campaign that featured the song. Ayu has chains on her wrist, is stuck behind a chainlink fence, and sings about wanting to make her addressee happy in order to give her own life meaning.
The promotional clip’s footage was used for the song’s TV commercial, as well as TV commercials for Ayu’s DOME TOUR 2001 which was announced around this time. Lawson Ticket began a joint campaign with TeamAyu to increase membership of the club, advertising the campaign on TV when it began in mid-March.
On March 14th, the 15th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards took place, and Ayu took home her first of three Artist of the Year awards, as well as the Song of the Year award (for “M,” having been nominated for both “M” and “SEASONS”).
That wasn’t the only award ceremony to honor Ayu in March, however – on the 19th, the Barbie Award – given yearly for decades to popular and fashionable young women (Kyary Pamyu Pamyu would win in 2014) – was bestowed upon Ayu. The ceremony and press conference was held at Aoyama Spiral Hall.
TV promotion for A BEST began in the middle of the month with a teaser ad for the release. An animated A-logo, seemingly made of distorted sound waves and light, shapeshifted to the sound of Ayu tracks like “A Song for XX,” “Trust,” “SEASONS,” and two of her album intros. The CM ended with the CD’s release date, and the release was further teased beginning on the 23rd, when the countdown series of ads began. “In four days,” she would tell us on the 24th.
The Morinaga Hi-Chew commercial campaign featuring Mr. Ito continued on the 24th as well, when our idea man proposed that Ayu dress as a cow in order to promote the yogurt flavor of Hi-Chew. Ayu makes large, mortified eyes at the idea, and then proceeds to ignore him entirely and blow into a party noisemaker instead.
On March 28th, A BEST was finally in stores, and the TV commercial that was now airing was a compilation of the events of the countdown ads.
The media and fans alike would proceed to watch the charts closely as the album went head-to-head against the second album from Utada Hikaru, “Distance.” Utada’s first album had sold over 7 million copies at this point (it’s closer to 10 million these days), and was – and is – Japan’s best-selling album of all time. Her second album was hugely anticipated. It ended up beating A BEST by a narrow margin, but A BEST’s success was enough to cause avex’s stock to jump. The media’s highlighting of this “Battle of the J-Pop Princesses” (as YesAsia.com would call it at the time) no doubt helped sales of both albums, however.
In the meantime, TeamAyu.com got a major relaunch and update. The new website included an A BEST design, and celebration of the album’s release meant a screensaver and exclusive wallpapers from the cover photo and CM shoot.
As is now well known, Ayu was in no shortage of magazines. The April and May issues of just about every music or fashion magazine included Ayu, usually on the cover.
This is just a fraction of Ayu’s magazine appearances that came out during the month of March. Promotion continued into April, however!