Global viewpoint from Tokyo
A view from Richard Hartley

Global viewpoint from Tokyo

Floods, radiation leaks and a weak yen still cannot stop Japan’s advertising industry from continuing to grow.

As a nation, Japan has had its fair share of crises to deal with over the past few years. It is testament to the strength of its people that Japan has recovered relatively well from the tsunami of 2011 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Of course, these events have left their mark and mounting pressure from its people and its neighbours has led Japan to shut its nuclear power stations, which generated a significant proportion of the country’s electricity. This forced Japan to import record amounts of oil and coal, seriously damaging its balance of payments and the value of the yen. It’s no surprise that my walk to work, past the Japanese senate building in Tokyo, takes in both anti- and pro-nuclear campaigners, lobbying loudly but politely.

The Japanese are surprisingly resilient to crises, with Tokyo having been flattened twice in the past 100 years: first by the earthquake of 1923, and again by the firebombing in World War II. The culture of ganbaru (doing one’s best) serves Japan very well, as does the people’s dogged determination to deliver work with pride.

Despite rivalries with other Asian countries, Japan remains a great launch pad for worldwide campaigns. Japanese agencies are becoming keen to partner with agencies in the West, hence the digital marketing group IREP approaching Jellyfish for a partnership to manage each other’s native-language campaigns.

Ads are literally everywhere in Japan. If there is space for a brand, it will likely be filled by an ad

English in Japan tends to be good enough to converse but still lacks the subtlety required for effective copywriting.

Ads are literally everywhere in Japan. One reason why the Japanese ads we are exposed to in the West tend to be extreme by our taste is because it is the only way to get penetration. Despite this, ads still tend to be formulaic and very brand-led. Sometimes I like to play "what is this ad actually advertising?" to kill time on the Metro.

No opportunity for advertising is missed. Since the Sars outbreak a few years ago, the Japanese became even more conscious of public cleanliness, and facemask-wearing commuters are common. This led to savvy advertisers giving away free branded packs of tissues outside stations. Even packets of sugar in restaurants carry brightly coloured company logos. If there is space for a brand, it will likely be filled by an ad.

Despite their insular reputation, the Japanese love Western culture. The fact that Japan’s largest mobile carrier chose One Direction as its brand ambassadors is testament to this, and their darling teenage faces are now inescapable when travelling around the Metro. If anything, this clearly demonstrates the opportunity for Western talent and brands to penetrate the Japanese advertising market.

Richard Hartley is the pay-per-click director, Jellyfish