The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Marketing | Telecommunications

October 2013
Digital and traditional communication methods are still relevant here

By Dave McCaughan

Japan seems to be a mix of technological leadership and deep tradition. In a lot of ways, the marketing communications world reflects that mix.

The internet, mobile phones, online gaming, and all things digital are gradually taking over the media scene. Even television has become part of that landscape here, since Japan’s transition last year from analog to digital television. In 2009, the internet became a catchall category, overtaking newspapers and becoming the number two avenue for advertisers.

This year, the internet is expected to account for around 16 percent of total advertising spend. Television will continue to dominate, while newspapers are expected to retain a better grip on the advertising market than in most other countries.

Unlike in Western countries, newspaper sales are primarily on a subscription basis in Japan.

The fact that the median age in Japan is 49 means TV viewers are numerous and, as with newspapers, “community credibility” is keeping the medium alive.

Our research shows that newspapers experienced a boost after the March 11, 2011, triple disaster. This is because people across the board believed them “more trustworthy” sources of information.

Last year, we surveyed moms of young families in nine countries, asking them which mediums they trusted most for advice. As in the other countries, moms in Japan first acknowledged their family and close friends, but also cited high-ranking blogs by so-called experts in the public eye.

But Japan differed in that moms here ranked broadcast television five times higher in terms of trust than did those in the other countries. Why? Because they saw it as the best medium through which to understand what everyone else knew and, thus, what was considered the norm.

This shows that the Japanese custom of not wishing to stand out drives media habits.

Meanwhile, the use of mobile media is universal. Among the surveyed moms who owned a smartphone, over 90 percent told us that they use it for shopping, comparing prices, seeking blogger advice, or finding out more about a product claim.

In international research we conducted into privacy, we found that there are five types of people willing to trade information for rewards. The largest group accounted for some 36 percent of all those we interviewed, but accounted for a whopping 60 percent of interviewees in Japan across all ages.

This group, regardless of country, is more than happy to give out information for more rewards on their shopping point cards. The Japanese love those point cards.

The average 35-year-old female Japanese interviewee indicated she had around 17 retail point cards in her purse or, more likely, electronically embedded on her smartphone.

This mobile shopping is one reason that direct mail and, more importantly, insert flyers are gradually dying as a medium.

Note I use the term shopping. The Japanese are still relatively reluctant to use mobile means of payment, although this is changing. The big money lies in understanding that shopping is about helping potential consumers find offers and alternatives before they make an actual purchase.

However, Japanese are getting sick of offers. They have had access to the internet via their phones for longer than people in any other country, as well as to such feats of technology as QR codes. Thus, not surprisingly, our research shows that over 60 percent of Japanese mobile users are disappointed with the content of commercial messages.

Perhaps this is to be expected, since Japanese represent the largest number of players of online mobile games.

Mobile-videogame companies such as Mobege and Gree, Inc. have created a marketplace where people expect the highest levels of simple entertainment on their mobile phones. And the game for advertisers is to meet these expectations.

Advertisers, as we see from Maybelline’s Baby Skin mobile site, are attempting to give messaging the feel of a game. When it comes to mobile messaging, it seems, the key concept is: keep it fun.

So the old media provide security, while the new give opportunity and a shopping edge.

Dave McCaughan is general manager of McCann Japan and regional director of McCann Truth Central Asia Pacific.

Dave McCaughan is general manager of McCann Japan and regional director of McCann Truth Central Asia Pacific.




Maybelline’s Baby Skin mobile site is trying to make messaging feel like a game.

Maybelline’s Baby Skin mobile site is trying to make messaging feel like a game.