Japan Advertising: Top Strategies

Irep Inc.


So, your company is finally ready to venture into the Japanese market. Your products or services are tailored to this market, and you have determined that it will be a successful endeavor. But branching into a new market is challenging and takes time. You need to be careful in your process to make a profit and become a trustworthy brand with a loyal following. The goal is to set up shop and remain open until you become as recognizable as other brands in the country. But how do you do this?

There are many successful strategies for successful advertising in Japan. But it is easy to get overwhelmed by the influx of information. That is where we come in. The information below is a detailed guide on everything you need to know about advertising in Japan.

It will cover the common differences you have to know when advertising to the Japanese market, plus the most successful strategies to get you started. But first, prepare for the following common challenges many businesses and advertising agencies will face advertising in foreign countries. You can avoid all of the novice mistakes companies make when starting to advertise in Japan by enlisting the help of a reputable Marketing Agency. Irep has been advertising in Japan for over 25 years. We are ranked number 1 for performance based marketing providing clients in multiple industries successful campaigns in search ads and display ads. Contact us today to learn about all they have to offer to make your dream of breaking into the Japanese market a reality!

1. Common Challenges You Will Face Advertising In Foreign Countries

(1) Language barriers

The first challenge you will face is the language barrier. Japanese is the most widely spoken language in Japan and has several dialects tailored to locations. So if you want to advertise to the Japanese market, you need to ensure you speak to them in their language.

Online advertising through a website, social media marketing, and other platforms requires translating into Japanese, in some cases you will even need to translate in the local dialect of your target audience. But a simple translation will not cut it.

Direct translation eliminates all the keywords and SEO efforts in your content. Therefore, your efforts will go to waste. That is why hiring a professional advertising agency is important. They will help with translation, ensuring that your content has the relevant keywords.

Additionally, direct translations can lead to offensive or nonsensical blunders. For example, a translation mishap with KFC when they first stepped into the Chinese market saw them directly translate their slogan ‘Finger-lickin’ good.’ Unfortunately, this phrase translates to ‘we’ll eat your fingers off.’

Not as catchy. This mishap, unfortunately, cost the company a lot of sales, and you will too if you are not careful with translating.

(2) Cultural differences

And lastly, cultural differences are bound to impact your ads. Remember that the country you target may be rooted in specific cultural values unlike anything in your country. They could be more conservative or liberal, and you should recognize this for two different reasons.

First, it will gain your trust and attention. Tailoring your ads to the cultural values of the target country shows you can relate to them. It will help you understand the market better, and you can produce online or tv ads that engage users but stay on brand.

Secondly, it guarantees you do not offend the people. Cultural values are important to people. It is the basis of their lives, and one mistake could lose you a whole customer base. A simple translation or image could go against the country’s beliefs offending the target audience and making them disassociate from your brand.

Therefore, ensure you conduct thorough research before venturing into the market. Learn about the people’s culture, look up past mistakes other companies made, and even get advice from native agencies to help you.

2. Is advertising Big In Japan?

The Japanese advertising market is one of the largest globally. According to statista.com, close to 80 percent of people in Japan use commercial television broadcasts as a news source. Total advertisement spending has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and for the first time internet advertising spend has surpassed newspapers, magazines, radio and TV spend. [1].

Older consumers in Japan are brand loyal. They are the silver market and the most influential consumers since they are the largest population and have the most money. Consumers in this market are above the age of 65, and this population will continue to grow.

This group has the most money and is, therefore, the most important to companies in Japan and globally. Due to their wealth and experience, they are tailored to high-quality goods. It is rarely about the money. The silver market relies on television, radio, and print media for information on products and services[2].

The younger generations, on the other hand, are different. Millennials in Japan are often between 24 and 35 years old. They face low and stagnant wages and are tuned to saving money for the future. Though there is some brand loyalty, most consumers in this group desire new products[3]; thus, global companies have a chance.

They prefer value for money, an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, ethical consumption, and organic products. Japanese millennials are reliant on online advertising.

And lastly, Generation Z or Gen Z is an increasingly influential market below age 25. They are a point of interest because they are the Satori Generation- Satori in Japan means enlightened.

This term is popular for this age group because they are dedicated to more noble motives, away from capitalistic goals. Additionally, companies are interested in Gen Z because they are the consumer coming into the market with real purchasing power and are not yet loyal to brands.

While similar to millennials, Gen Z differs in that they grew up with touchscreens and cellphones instead of computers like millennials. They have an even stronger desire for new companies giving hope to global consumer brands.

But they are similar to millennials in that they rely on social media marketing and online advertising for information on goods and services. But it is not just about influencers and celebrities; it is also about supporting those around them. So in order to effectively market to Gen Z you should consider campaigns that will impact not only the user but also the community they live in.

3. What Is The Best Way To Advertise In Japan?

So what are the best ways for a foreign brand to successfully reach its audience? Advertising and successful marketing are not something you can achieve in a day. It can take years before your brand is even recognizable among these audiences. However, retaining contact with the Japanese network is the only way you will be successful. The following are the best ways to advertise in Japan.

(1) Research Japanese culture and way of life

The first thing you need to do is research the Japanese market. The Japanese population has unique traditions, values, and cultural norms. Even globalization has been unable to erase these deep-rooted aspects, and so they affect consumer behavior.

To successfully advertise your products or services to these consumers, you must first understand your target audience. Research their buyer behavior, the type of video ads they respond to, and what they look for in a brand. These answers are often tied to their culture, so a deep dive into that should help you make a memorable connection.

As you try to understand Japanese culture and how it influences response to ads, you should also research your target audience. Experiences differ based on demographics and psychographics. Responsiveness to ads will be different among various consumer groups. The goal is to understand what they like and why they like it. 

(2) Focus on digital marketing

Companies in Japan did not get into digital marketing until recently. Even today, some local companies are still working to catch up with digital advertising efforts. But this is not to say that digital advertising is not a promising endeavor for businesses.

Search or SEO, and PPC advertising are effective methods of driving traffic and dominating social media platforms. They are conquering Japanese markets, and as more brands use digital marketing, power will shift from traditional mediums.

As you focus on digital marketing, remember that you need to reach your consumers where they are. Thankfully, Google is the number one search engine used in Japan, so adapting is easier. Also Yahoo! Search still plays a major role in online activity in Japan as the number 2 option that users go to[3].

But you will find more people using LINE as their primary social media platform, effortlessly beating Facebook. So you need to familiarize yourself with LINE and other social media platforms that the majority of the population use. 

(3) Adapt according to digital advertising trends

As it is with marketing to other consumers, you must adjust your digital marketing efforts to current trends. The first adaptation any smart business would make is to market in the local language or dialect.

Your online presence, whether on websites or social media, should be in Japanese to attract more people to your brand. English is rarely spoken in the country, so you must speak their language if you want to make a memorable connection.

Also, look up trends in online advertising that dominate the area’s social media. If your target audiences are responsive to Tik Tok ads, then that is where you should go. The same goes for other platforms. Look at how and where similar businesses are winning over customers through their digital marketing strategies.

Stay on top of trending news and the entertainment industry. Entertainment is big in Japan, and it can enforce responsiveness to ads. Stay on top of these aspects to better tailor your ads with relevant messages.

(4) Let customer experience be your baseline

Increasing focus on the customer experience is not new. Japanese companies uphold a high level of respect and care for their customers, and it even reflects in Japanese commercials. But it will be tough for foreign brands to match up to this as you need to give experiences that can compete with local companies.

Again, we like to take it back to understanding your consumers. There is a reason why they respond to particular advertisements and prefer specific brands. Understanding this could help you create ads that put the customer first.

Check out what other brands within the country do to sway customers. Examine the structure of the ad and how it caters to the customer’s needs without being overly pushy.

Ensure that you understand your target audience. Above all, ensure that the experience you provide is high-quality and consistent throughout your various online advertising platforms.

(5) Personalize the customer experience

While you are finding ways to sway customers through the customer experience, ensure that you personalize this experience. Marketing in Japan is similar to marketing globally in that customers will always want personalized experiences.

The homogeneity of Japan does not mean that individual tastes are non-existent. Preferences differ, and this will influence buyer behavior and responsiveness to adverts. Therefore, you must ensure that you understand the diversity in Japanese markets.

Interests in technology, trends, culture, and traditional practices differ according to generations, psychographics, and demographics. One ad cannot appeal to all these groups. Therefore you must personalize on top of focusing on the experience.

One way that local advertising agencies achieve this is by making multiple ads with the same core message but presented in a way that appeals to the diversities of the population. Therefore, by catering to your audience better, you can reach them in relatable ways and convert them into sales.

(6) Get into video ad creation

If you want to succeed in online advertising, especially in Japan, the secret lies in video advertising and marketing. Video ads play a huge role in marketing to Japanese customers. The marketing is popular among local companies, and it is often the best way to grab consumers’ attention.

Video ads are a powerful medium, but they can take some time to master. The way you use video ads in your country will not work for the Japanese market. Different styles and rules apply, so it is best first, to familiarize yourself with these practices.

The focus of video ad creation lies in creating captivating and relevant stories. You have to ensure that the content you produce is ideal for your specific target audience and that they can easily relate. Sound is a significant part of the experience, so do not treat it as a secondary feature. Look at what other brands in the country prioritize in their video ads.

(7) Collaborate with local influencers and celebrities

As you already know, celebrity endorsement is a major thing in Japan. The way Japanese TV ads convert messages can be creative, but agencies find it necessary to include an influential individual in the advertisement for a better response.

And it is evident as more people in Japan seek validation on a product or service from authentic local celebrities and influencers. One of the best ways for a foreign company to breach the Japanese market is with backup from a trusted and beloved face.

Therefore ensure that you conduct thorough research for the best celebrity or influencer to appear in TV ads to endorse your brand. Pick a celebrity that is relatable and popular among the target audience. Skipping this step could result in wasting thousands of dollars as the wrong celebrity will quickly turn off your target audience. A quick internet search should help you narrow it down to a few celebrities, and you can take it from there.

(8) Partner with local agencies

It is always good to have a man or an entire team on the ground when advertising to a foreign market. Partnering with a local advertising agency helps in more than one way.

First, they can help you understand your target audience. Be sure to verify they have experience marketing to your specific audience. This will give you access to helpful information about the clients you want to sell to, cutting research time and efforts.

Secondly, local advertising agencies can help you avoid rookie mistakes when branching into Japan. Avoiding these mistakes will help you look professional and experienced. Thus it will be easier for clients/customers to trust and engage with your brand.

The agency can help with translations of slogans, website content, and social media. This way, you do not offend anyone while giving helpful information to improve your ranking on the primary search engine.

The agency can collaborate on your marketing strategy and help you adapt to trends and changes that influence the way clients respond to ads. They will help you stay up to date and competitive in the market.

(9) Get creative with your ads through soft-selling

If there is something all good advertisers in Japan understand, it is that you have to avoid the hard sell. Advertising in Japan means that you engage with the customer by being less technical and more connected to the essence of your product or service.

If this is your first time with TV ads, you need to be focused on creativity and the soft sell. Prices and boasting about the effectiveness of the product are not primary concerns. However, if you need to show the product or service’s effectiveness, find creative ways to incorporate it.

Research traditional advertising and entertainment styles to support your product or service, such as ‘Kawaii’ culture and the concept of ”Kokoro Wo Utsu”. It will amplify your creativity and stray you away from the norms of hard-sell advertising.

Another critical thing to keep in mind is to advertise in unlikely places. Advertisers have found ways to advertise in unlikely places because it helps with their marketing campaign. Japanese people are likely to respond well to an ad if it is not pushy, so going to creative spots would earn you some attention. This is where digital advertising experts such as Irep can help you determine the best areas to target that will yield the highest return on investment.

4. Conclusion

To recap, if you are looking to advertise in Japan you need to embrace social media, obtain some form of celebrity endorsement, and avoid the hard sell at all costs. Advertising in Japan comes with its own set of challenges but can also be one of the most profitable markets if your marketing campaign is successful. Irep has been advertising in Japan for more than two decades. Years of experience ensures that your traditional & online advertising campaign is successful and profitable. Reach out to us today to learn more about expanding your business into Japan and beyond!

[1] https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14557722
[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280862819_The_Japanese_Silver_Market
[3] https://www.zodigital.jp/blog/what-is-the-most-popular-search-engine-in-japan/

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Irep Inc. is an award-winning global digital marketing agency based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our headquarters are in Tokyo and our network spans more than 20 countries. In Japan, we are ranked No. 1 for performance-based marketing. We also offer highly specialized market entry, as well as integrated marketing and localization services. Since 1997, our data-driven solutions have effectively led our diverse international clientele to continuous success in Japan, Asia, and beyond.

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