The weird, the wacky, the outright random. When it comes to advertising, Japan is a relic. Many Westerners are familiar with this country’s way of advertising, but rarely understand it—and that’s not just because of the language barrier. Japanese advertisements are used to having the viral spotlight because of their strange storylines, exaggerated expressions, and cheesy sound effects, but there is an abundance of strategy behind Japanese ads that is rarely appreciated in the way it deserves.
First, let’s talk numbers. According to the Statista Research Department, “The Japanese advertising market is the third largest advertising market worldwide” (Just behind the U.S. and China). As of 2019, total ad spending reached almost 7 trillion Japanese yen, which equates to around $64 billion in U.S. dollars. Online advertising has become the most important ad medium around the world, and this is no different in Japan. While many countries have this in common, we all know that Japanese ads have something extra special about them.
Ouch! My Heart.
To understand the “why” behind Japan’s ad messaging, it is essential to look into the background and core values of their culture. Jason Xiao, a traveler and marketing scholar, answers many of our “why’s” through his independent observation of Japanese culture. He explains the marketing technique “Kokorowoutsu”, which translates literally to “hitting the heart”. While emotional appeal is a strategy that American advertisers may choose in close alignment with a certain brand or product, this methodology is used much more frequently in the Japanese market. Xiao emphasizes the fact that “Japanese advertising texts are always filled with positive energy, filling readers’ minds with passions, dreams, and persistence”.
Furthermore, imagery paired with advertisements usually follows one of two styles. For these emotional ads, design may follow a “soft and fresh” theme: pastel colors, overexposure, and imperfect symmetry. On the other side of the spectrum, Japan is also known for vivid colors, neon lights, and bright displays—which are more often associated with the “wacky”.
Why so weird?
We can get a better understanding of Japanese marketing by looking closer at our own, American market. In the United States, advertisers are more strict, direct, and methodical. Japan lets the media carry their ads in a way that America only hopes for once in a blue moon. The goal of “Media-oriented” advertising is to attract the greatest amount of attention in the shortest time possible. Instead of focusing on exactly why the consumer would be better off with your product, more emphasis is put on brand image and its relation to popular culture. This is what advertisers refer to as a “soft sell”. According to James Gates for Culture Trip, “In Japan, if the product or service is overly explained with a large amount of detail, it can be considered as insulting to the consumer’s intelligence”. Pop culture, and celebrities play such a big part in Japan’s culture that brand association with either of these facets is enough to sell, sell, sell!
There we go: It’s all making sense now! What do you think? The next time that a Japanese ad goes viral and makes its way to your screen, your first thought may not be, “What the heck!?”. Thanks again for being our travel buddy! I hope you had fun and learned something along the way.
By Julianna Cieglo