Japanese culture is widely known for introducing the world to various interesting things like manga, geishas, and famous foods such as ramen. But one of the most infamous things in Japanese culture are the advertisements you’ll encounter in the country. Japanese advertisements are well-known for their manic pace, bizarre subject matter, and impressive productions. But why are these kinds of advertisements and commercials so popular around the country? In this article I’ll explain why Japanese advertisements seem to have this strange appeal to them.
A large portion of advertising in Japan is conducted outdoors, costing up to 25% of total advertising spending as of 2014. Because public transit is such a large part of getting around in Japan, especially in commercial centers such as Tokyo, advertising to people traveling is an important component of outdoor advertising. Ads can be seen everywhere on places such as subway cars and building storefronts. This means that for many people living in Japan, the ads you see are closely associated with your job commute, making them harder to forget.
Responding to trends from media such as anime and J-Pop, Japanese ads are getting more colorful in their presentation. Advertisements and commercials now make use of a wide palette to create an appealing message to their audience. Sometimes this can result in some over-the-top commercials that might seem strange to a foreigner, but that’s worth it if it means making a memorable commercial.
Something we notice about famous commercials in the US is that they don’t always communicate to the audience what the product is about. Super Bowl commercials have achieved a level of popularity not just for their products, but in how the products are advertised, Sometimes it’s very disconnected. Japanese advertising won’t have that disconnect. Even with the most extreme examples or abstract messaging, it’s usually easy to understand how the advertisement is connected to something. Even if you see a Japanese advertisement and find the subject matter funny or weird, you can still take away information about what it’s showing you.
Even if Japanese commercials lean towards being informative, the companies behind them have a more ambitious goal in mind. We like to think of successful advertisements as ones that really surprise us or communicate in a very effective manner. One thing that Japanese advertisements value is creating a “connection” with the target audience. When you see an audience, let’s say for a coffee brand, your initial reaction to the commercial isn’t important. Whether you find it funny or cute is irrelevant to your relationship to the commercial itself. What matters is that the commercial left an impression in your mind, and that in turn increases your interest in the product over time as you see it again.
Hopefully after reading this you’ll understand Japanese ads a little better. One of the most interesting things about learning about another country like Japan is modern aspects of their culture. For me, learning about Japanese culture isn’t just looking at things like religion or transportation, but also examining things that surround those parts of culture. Being more informed about things like advertising can help us better understand life in Japan.