How brands should approach advertising in Japan

Western brands eager to tap into the Japanese market in time for the Rugby World Cup and next year’s Olympics would be wise to learn the idiosyncrasies of the country’s advertising. Here, Natalie Meyer, founder and CEO of Tokyoesque, offers some insights

In the early 1990s, Japanese broadcasters refused to air Pepsi’s adverts. Why? Because they featured a Pepsi vs Coke scenario in an aggressive, Americanised marketing style: pit two brands against each other and name a champion. In other words, it was too confrontational and too ‘Western’. It did not suit Japanese consumer tastes.

Today, Pepsi is represented by domestic beverage giant Suntory who developed the localised product J-Cola. It ramped up its marketing campaigns by using well-known celebrities and catchy, culturally relevant references that appealed to consumers. The defining factor was the act of testing and tailoring the concept to Japanese soft drink fans before diving in headfirst.

Another example can be found from Hollywood. When animation Wreck-It Ralph – a Disney film, which is notoriously popular in Japan – was released in 2013, marketers localised the title to Sugar Rush and featured popular Japanese girl group AKB48 in the theme song. The campaign worked so well that audiences drew parallels between the pop stars and one of the characters in the movie. It was a brilliant and effective way to take a foreign product and drop it right into the everyday life of Japanese audiences. Japan emerged at the top of the box office, beaten only by the US and UK.