David Blecken
Dec 19, 2017

5 lessons from the Japanese marketing scene in 2017

The year brought home some uncomfortable truths about online media, HR policy in advertising and pitching.

A promotion for Miyagi prefecture that ran in the summer. Social media pundits decided sexual innuendo and tourism didn't mix.
A promotion for Miyagi prefecture that ran in the summer. Social media pundits decided sexual innuendo and tourism didn't mix.

1. Brands need to take online safety more seriously.

Ever since The Times in London reported that brands were inadvertently funding terror groups in February, the global conversation around brand safety hasn’t stopped. The crisis for YouTube rolls on with the platform set to hire 10,000 people to manually scour the site for inappropriate content that could also harm advertisers. What’s surprising is how little attention marketers in Japan are paying to the issue. Some observers have noted that with online spending increasing, safety controls need to be tightened. But as is often the case, perhaps it will take a crisis to spur real action.

2. Millennials are determining what advertisers can say in an ageing society.

This year saw a number of brands and lesser advertisers come to grief for doing what they’ve always done. Suntory was among those to be blasted on social media and ultimately pull its ad after depicting young women as suggestive drinking partners for businessmen. The people who took offence were not necessarily the target audience, but greater sensitivity to things like the portrayal of women in advertising and a willingness to shout about it on social media seems to be making brands think more carefully. We are all for advertisers being considerate, but we hope it won’t also take the humour out of what they do.

3. Age discrimination is a problem that the ad industry needs to fix.

When the HR director of a major global ad agency tells you openly that they have a policy of pushing people out once they reach a certain age, something is not quite right. Companies are right to give young people more opportunities. At the same time, older advertising professionals still have an important role to play, not least because they are in a better position to understand the majority of consumers in a rapidly ageing country than someone in their 20s is.

4. You probably don’t need to call that pitch.

Japan is the King of Project-based Pitches. Agencies are constantly drawing up proposals for new or existing business that, even if successful, will generate precious little in the way of billings. In May, a marketing head at a major insurance company explained that it’s because clients often don’t know what they’re looking for. As the industry tries to make itself more efficient, we need to come to a point where brands only call reviews when it’s absolutely necessary and at other times leave agencies to concentrate on work that’s actually useful.

5. The best deeds align with a brand’s core values.

We live in an age where every company wants to be seen to do good. This is understandable, since people increasingly choose brands based on their ethics. But companies have finite resources, meaning charitable or purpose-driven actions should not be random but directly linked to the company’s proposition as a business. One of the most interesting examples in Japan this year was Lixil’s ambitious program to provide universal sanitation to developing countries in Asia and Africa. 

Campaign Japan

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