Anthony Plant
Jun 6, 2016

Japan’s smart consumers demand smart media; don’t betray their trust

Consumers are displaying growing mistrust of advertisers who encroach into their private world with content that is not deemed useful or valuable.

Japan’s smart consumers demand smart media; don’t betray their trust

Consumers are displaying growing mistrust of advertisers who encroach into their private world with content that is not deemed useful or valuable.

In 2015 the Japan marketing world saw a series of events and a subsequent consumer backlash over the behavior and correctness of brands advertising practices around the use of influencers, stealth marketing, native advertising and the use of smartphone advertising. Japan is dealing with this and is close to putting agreed practices in place, potentially this year. So while some of the issues surrounding the way certain brands currently behave in this smart media space may not be new, what is new is the consumer response to their growing mistrust of advertisers encroaching into their private world. It is clear that brands need to move quickly to understand how to re-engage with their consumers and build advocates through a new approach.

In July 2015, Yahoo! Japan suspended some of their news providers as several of them did not follow correct practice and disclose the use of paid advertorials. Also, App Store and Google Play implemented measures to prevent boosting App ranking through paid advertising.

In addition, in November 2015, Weekly Diamond, one of Japan’s major business magazines, released an article regarding stealth marketing including interviews highlighting several cases where several major PR firms worked with digital media providers to write promotional articles without disclosing their relationship with advertisers.

According to the guidelines agreed in March 2015 by the Japan Internet Advertising Association (‘JIAA’), any article or related advertorial has to disclose clearly if it is paid article where there is exchange of money between the media and advertiser.

With the smartphone now the device through which consumers build and access their private world, and the content they want as part of it, some brands have used formats that hijack the entire screen and continue to appear even as the consumer scroll down the page. Consumers have rejected this clumsy invasion of their mobile and online world. It is irritating and instantly becomes detrimental to the brand and its image.

Historically, more than many other markets, the Japanese consumer places huge trust in the media to provide reliable information; particularly newspapers, TV and magazines. This recent series of events, where brands have been seen to break that trust now sets up a real opportunity for the industry to re-think how brands communicate with consumers in a smart way in the digital space.

One famous celebrity, with a strong influence among young consumers, stated that he only relies on Instagram as advertising does not contaminate it. In 2015, we saw the fragmentation of platforms especially in younger consumer target with the rise of Instagram, C-channel, Mix-Channel, Vine and Snapchat. They are still relatively small platforms in terms of size of audience, however, that is not the point; they are big in terms of trust and more and more young consumers are exploring these “reliable” social media platforms.

In the past few years, advertising has been too focused on generating clicks. Now a refined communication model is emerging - one that brings back a more familiar and traditional branding approach in the digital era: The basics are:

  1. Use data to define right occasion, time and place to talk to the consumer
  2. Co-operate with platforms and use their flexibility to identify the right communications vehicle to engage the consumer.
  3. Build content and context simultaneously for the brand.
  4. Incorporate real world experiences of consumers as powerful additional content

Now the marketer has to first think about the consumer’s preferred time, occasion and desired information and then how the brand can help fulfil this. To make this happen, marketers have to conceive tactical plans in detail as digital natives are utilizing many platforms and experiences in their daily life. Most importantly, digital natives need to sense the passion of the brand for what they are interested in and value.

As the rise of new digital media continues, we will have many new and evolving communication channels available to us; the increasing use of video, the evolution of curation apps (news aggregation mobile app), digital outdoor signage, wearable computers and social e-commerce. However, we must resist the temptation to rush at these simply because they are new and populate them with a message that is not insightful, crafted for the time, place occasion and therefore valuable for the consumer. They are smart, they will spot it and they will reject. It is how the consumer interacts with these new channels and influencers that will ultimately define them as valuable. This mutually beneficial interaction is, in fact, what makes the media smart.

Anthony Plant is CEO of IPG Mediabrands Japan




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