If you’re looking to discover the secrets of marketing and advertising your products or services in Japan, you’ve found the perfect resource.
Marketing and advertising in Japan is a unique blend of traditional practices with modern digital strategies, cultural uniqueness and advanced technology. Success requires understanding local consumer behaviours and preferences, which often needs a tailored approach for foreign companies to engage with Japanese audiences.
Marketing in Japan provides access to a wealthy, brand-loyal consumer base within a mix of traditional and modern culture. This lucrative market is ideal for long-term profitability and introducing new products, benefiting from Japan’s strong economy and appetite for innovation.
As of 2023, Japan has the 3rd largest media advertising spend. According to Dentsu, Japan has spent $52 billion, after the United States ($315 billion) and China ($166 billion).
However, doing business in Japan can be tricky and requires a deep understanding of its culture and consumer behaviour. It’s recommended to team up with a local agency to help you along the way. Success lies in using a mix of local channels (LINE and Yahoo! Japan), global digital platforms (YouTube, LINE, TikTok, Instagram), along with traditional media TV, newspapers, and radio.
We’re here to give you 10 top tips for successful marketing in Japan:
10 Tips for Advertising and Marketing in Japan
- Use local and International social media platforms
- Make use of TV Commercials
- Focus on Soft Selling
- Localise your brand
- Value harmony and sense of community
- Collaborate with Japanese Celebrities and Influencers
- Create seasonal campaigns
- Incorporate ‘Kawaii’ (Cute) Culture
- Introduce elements of Magical Realism
- Partner with local Agencies and Businesses
1. Use local and International social media platforms
In Japan, the best way to advertise is to use both Japanese and global social media platforms. Popular local sites like Yahoo! Japan and LINE, and big global sites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Google, and TikTok, help you reach more people. Since these sites are a big part of daily life in Japan, they’re good for connecting with customers.
Yahoo! Japan, like Google, is one of the most visited websites in Japan, serving as a hub for news, information, search and email. It still accounts for 13% of Japan’s search engine market share, offering a starting point for online activities for many. Advertising on Yahoo! Japan can provide great visibility, especially when using its search advertising capabilities.
LINE, one of the most popular social media platforms in Japan, is now also a comprehensive digital platform, offering additional services like mobile payments, news, shopping, and more. With around 93 million monthly active users in Japan, LINE provides a direct channel for foreign brands to connect with Japanese consumers through interactive stickers, official accounts, and targeted ad content.
Example Case Study: McDonald’s Japan x LINE
Since creating an official LINE account in 2013, McDonald’s Japan has used the social media platform to promote special offers, new menu items, and interactive campaigns. By effectively tapping into the daily digital lives of the Japanese population and offering a convenient and localized experience, McDonald’s Japan saw not only increased customer engagement but also customer loyalty.
2. Make use of TV Commercials
Despite the digital boom, TV remains a vital advertising medium in Japan. The aging demographics certainly plays its part, but another likely contributor is the positive image TV has as a source of entertainment and news-related information.
By using TV commercials, foreign businesses can establish credibility and trust, which are fundamental in Japanese consumer behavior.
Example Case Study: Toyota’s Successful TV Advertising Campaigns
The car manufacturer Toyota is known to produce memorable TV commercials with their emotional storytelling. With a longstanding presence in Japan, Toyota’s commercials resonate with Japanese consumers who value trust and reliability in their automotive choices. The company’s unique and engaging content often showcase Japanese cultural elements and values, further connecting with the audience.
The company’s approach not only highlights how consistent TV presence can help effectively communicate a brand’s positive message to a wide audience, but also the importance of aligning with Japanese culture and values to build trust and credibility, ultimately driving sales and market share.
3. Focus on Soft Selling
In Japan, using a soft sell approach is often more effective and culturally aligned than using a hard sell approach. Soft selling focuses on building trust and long-term relationships, which is more appealing to Japanese consumers, compared to the direct style of hard selling seen in other countries. The preference towards this approach lies in the fact that Japanese society places a strong emphasis on harmony, respect, and mutual understanding.
Example Case Study: Airbnb
Airbnb’s campaigns that focus on promoting “omotenashi” (the Japanese art of hospitality and guest service) is a great case of a foreign brand successfully using a soft sell approach in Japan. In a market traditionally dominated by established hotel chains, Airbnb faced the challenge of not only gaining market share but also navigating cultural issues.
Airbnb adapted to Japanese culture by featuring hosts who showed great hospitality (omotenashi) and highlighting the special experiences guests have when staying with locals.
Airbnb used video ads with engaging stories that focused on trust and relationships instead of pushy selling. This approach helped it become a trusted brand in Japan and deal with rules and competition in the hotel market.
4. Localise your brand
To appeal to Japanese consumers, it’s not enough to just speak Japanese well. Your marketing and ads need to match their culture and what they like. Use Japanese traditions, make your products and services fit their needs, and offer great customer service.
It’s crucial to customize marketing strategies to suit Japan’s unique customs and consumer habits.
Example Case: Starbucks Japan’s 47 JIMOTO Frappuccino
Starbucks is a great example of how a foreign brand can succeed in Japan by adapting its marketing. Instead of just using its global image, Starbucks Japan focused on seasonal and custom items, and connected with local tastes. The “47 JIMOTO Frappuccino” campaign, which featured unique flavours from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures, showed how much the brand cares about local preferences and celebrating regional differences. This approach was popular and highlighted Starbucks’ dedication to meeting the specific needs of Japanese customers.
Starbucks Japan’s approach to localising its advertising strategies shows how important it is to understand and adapt to the cultural details and tastes of the Japanese market. This understanding has led to lasting success and strong brand loyalty for Starbucks in Japan.
5. Value harmony and sense of community
In Japan, it’s key for ads and marketing to focus on harmony and community because of the country’s culture and social standards. Japanese people value working together, respecting each other, and agreeing as a group. Businesses that make these ideas a big part of their marketing can build strong customer loyalty and succeed over time in Japan. They do this by matching their brand with what Japanese customers value and prefer.
Example Case Study: UberEats
UberEats tapped into Japan’s strong sense of community and harmony by focusing on how shared meals bring families and friends together. They worked with local restaurants, featured regional foods, and celebrated cultural events with special deals and discounts. This strategy helped create a friendly, welcoming vibe and built a feeling of belonging.
UberEats’ marketing strategy in Japan, centered around harmony and community, led to remarkable success. Their emphasis on these values won them strong customer loyalty and brand recognition. They saw big increases in how much people used the service and how many orders they got, which boosted their income. Happy customers talking about their good experiences helped spread the word, making UberEats stronger in the market. This success, especially where other global food delivery services had difficulties, shows that fitting in with local values like harmony and community is key to long-term business success in Japan.
6. Collaborate with Japanese Celebrities and Influencers
In Japan, working with local celebrities or influencers in advertising isn’t just a tactic, it’s often crucial for success. Japanese customers respect their local stars and cultural icons. Partnering with these influencers can be a very effective way to earn trust, make a brand seem more credible, and attract new audiences.
Example Case Study: Prada x TWICE Sana
Prada’s partnership with K-pop group TWICE’s Japanese member Sana has positively impacted the western brands’ image and presence in Japan. Collaborating with a local celebrity adds cultural relevance and a broader reach for the brand. On top of this, Sana’s fan base and popularity on social media platforms also help to enhance Prada’s recognition among a younger and fashion-conscious audience, making their marketing campaigns more effective. This strategic collaboration uses Sana’s influence and appeal to connect with the Japanese market, strengthening Prada’s local identity and Japanese population shares.
7. Create seasonal campaigns
In Japan’s kinetic market, tapping into the concept of seasonality can be a huge plus for advertising and marketing. Japan has distinct seasonal changes, and there’s a deep cultural love for these transitions and the related diverse seasonal celebrations. Businesses that effectively embrace this aspect of Japanese culture can make a big impact and create deeper ties with customers.
Example Case Study: Starbucks
Starbucks knows how to use seasonal advertising in Japan. They bring out special, limited-time drinks that match each season – like sakura (cherry blossom) flavoured ones in spring, Halloween-themed drinks in October, and holiday-themed beverages in December. This approach not only connects with Japan’s fondness for seasonal tastes and styles, but it also builds excitement and anticipation among their customers.
During these seasonal campaigns, Starbucks experiences a boost in store visits, sales, and brand loyalty. It helps create a community feeling and a sense of tradition, integrating Starbucks into Japan’s seasonal festivities. This strategy has strengthened Starbucks’ place in the Japanese market, showing how powerful it can be to embrace seasonality in Japan.
8. Incorporate ‘Kawaii’ (Cute) Culture
In Japan, using “kawaii” culture, which means “cute” or “adorable,” in marketing is a very effective strategy. This cultural trend is about more than just looks; it represents the special tastes and preferences of Japanese consumers.
Companies that add ‘kawaii’ (cute) elements to their branding or products, where it fits, can be more friendly and approachable. Using cuteness and vulnerability can help brands stand out in the competitive market.
Example Case Study: ANA x Pikachu
ANA’s partnership with Pokémon’s Pikachu is a smart marketing strategy in Japan. Pikachu is loved for being ‘kawaii’ (cute) and family-friendly, making it a perfect match for the airline. This collaboration lets ANA bring creativity and fun into its marketing efforts, with themed flights and merchandise that draw in passengers. Thanks to this innovative strategy, ANA has seen more customer loyalty, higher passenger numbers, and increased brand visibility. Passengers often like to collect Pokémon-themed items, which helps them remember their flight with ANA. Overall, teaming up with Pikachu does more than just relating to pop culture nostalgia; it also leads to real business success by making flights more enjoyable and appealing to everyone from kids to adults.
9. Introduce elements of Magical Realism
Using fantasy, manga and anime in advertising and marketing in Japan is a strategy that should not be overlooked. These genres aren’t just popular; they have a devoted fanbase in Japan, making them cultural symbols. Foreign companies that blend these elements into their marketing can connect deeply with their audience, using the enthusiasm surrounding these art forms.
Example Case Study: Softbank’s Otosan
Softbank’s use of Otosan, a fictional dog character with a human voice, in their commercials was not only attention-grabbing but also became a cultural hit in Japan.
Otosan’s quirky and imaginative character perfectly aligned with Japan’s love for creative and whimsical storytelling. This character brought a unique, surreal humour to the telecom industry, helping Softbank stand out from its competitors. His unexpected, charming, and funny traits in the ads forged a strong, lasting emotional connection with viewers.
Otosan quickly turned into a cherished icon for Softbank, playing a key role in increasing the company’s brand recognition and customer loyalty. Softbank experienced a boost in sales and market share in the telecom sector during and after the Otosan ad campaigns. His endearing, imaginative presence made the brand more relatable and enjoyable, showing how using fantasy elements can effectively draw in and fascinate a Japanese audience.
10. Partner with local Agencies and Businesses
For foreign companies looking to grow their presence in Japan, partnering with local Japanese brands is crucial. These collaborations help brands understand Japanese customers’ likes, culture, and how the market works. This makes it easier to deal with the complexities of doing business in Japan.
Example Case Study: GODIVA x Japanese convenience stores
GODIVA has boosted its brand in Japan by working with local convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Lawson. By selling its premium chocolates in these popular stores, GODIVA has made its products more available, reaching more customers. This move also takes advantage of the trust and familiarity Japanese people have with their convenience stores.
This partnership has led to increased sales, more visibility for the brand, and a stronger link between GODIVA and luxurious, top-quality chocolate. This strategy has proven to be a successful way for GODIVA to market itself in Japan.
Entering Japan’s market is both thrilling and challenging. It requires a deep understanding of the local culture, consumer preferences, and business landscape. Choosing the right channels to reach your target audience in Japan and developing marketing content that connects with them can seem overwhelming.
Starting with the advertising and marketing strategies outlined here is a good first step. Additionally, collaborating with a Japanese advertising or social media agency can be crucial in navigating the complexities of the market.
Success in Japan is based on showing respect, being flexible, and focusing on high quality. As the market keeps changing, getting help from a specialized advertising agency can be a wise decision. With their comprehensive understanding, they can provide key insights into Japanese culture, language, cutting edge technology and current consumer trends.
For brands looking to truly connect with their Japanese audience and get effective marketing results, working with a reliable agency and following these guidelines can be highly beneficial.
If you’re planning to launch an advertising or marketing campaign in Japan, we’re here to assist. With our expertise in the Japanese market and extensive experience in advertising and marketing, we can craft customized solutions that meet your business objectives. We’ve collaborated with globally recognized brands like Vimeo, UN, NIKE, Intel, and HelloFresh.
JapanBuzz is an advertising company in Japan offering a variety of services. Feel free to contact us to discover how we can support your brand in establishing or strengthening its presence in Japan.