30th Mar 2021
On 16 March 2021, Creative Culture conducted its 12th country roundtable, exploring the second largest economy in Asia, Japan. Our panel of experts included Arnold Ackerer, Yusuke Kamimura, Maki Kinoshita, Dave Perry, and Akiko Tanoue, who shared valuable insights on the trade, media, and cultural landscape of the country. Below are our key takeaways.
Japan is in the midst of a huge decline in population, forecasted to decrease to only 86.74 million people by 2060, compared to 127.30 million in 2013. Whilst the birth rate is comparable to European countries (at around 1.45%), the overall lack of immigration in recent decades has pushed the numbers down dramatically. With immigration rules not expected to change, we don’t expect the trend to reverse. So what does it tell us about the country’s culture and future, and what can global brands learn from this?
‘By 2060, more than 40% of Japan’s population will be aged 65 and older. That will shape the market, what you can sell in Japan as consumer goods, what will be in demand and so on’ – Arnold Ackerer, Deputy Head of Advantage Austria in Tokyo
Japan’s silver market is growing rapidly and, interestingly, we see different patterns to those for similar age groups elsewhere around the globe. The elder generation continue to live long and healthy lives by maintaining good habits, exercising and taking supplements. Moreover, food and beverage products claiming health benefits are particularly popular amongst this target group.
Senior citizens want to remain part of society, focused on staying fit, going out, and buying and consuming products. They continue to work into their 60s and 70s and, according to current predictions, the retirement age is expected to increase.
As the senior market becomes more dominant, consumers aged 65 and over will shape the core marketplace, not only influencing purchasing decisions and consumer trends, but also greatly impacting the Japanese media landscape.
With this in mind, TV and print media still remain the two most trusted media channels in Japan. Social media is prevalent and still growing but at a slower rate than in other nations. YouTube is by far the most popular social media channel across all age groups, followed by LINE, a local messaging service that includes additional features such as payment, news and loyalty cards, used by 67% of the total Japanese population.
“Many people still read newspapers, and TV media has a strong influence, which is very much the opposite of most Western countries. Because of this, most marketing strategies promote using only one selected form of media.” – Yusuke Kamimura, founder and CEO of ShapeWin
Over the past few years, live streaming has experienced steep growth, especially as a result of the pandemic. Besides Instagram and Facebook, there are several local platforms for live streaming which cosmetics brands and companies like Apple have used as part of their social media marketing efforts. User-generated content and interactions have gained momentum with brands now using influencers as a more persuasive and friendly means to reach their target audiences.
The density of Japan’s city-living has influenced a culture of minimum inventory.
“Consumers shop everyday or every other day because they don’t have enough space to keep it. As a result, retailers want to keep minimum inventory so they receive frequent, small deliveries almost every day.” – Maki Kinoshita, a Marketing & Strategy Consultant
With Japanese consumers always buying things fresh, the food that isn’t used within one or two days is discarded, creating a huge food waste problem. Many companies have said they are working towards sustainability, with SDGs being displayed on websites more readily than in Europe, but overall there is still a lack of concrete measures and actions within society and corporates in Japan.
Japan is well-known for its old-fashioned approach to work, with long hours and desk presence very anchored into the culture and respected above everything else. Just like everywhere else in the world, this has been disrupted by the pandemic. Telecommuting and working in rural or suburban areas away from the main cities has been made possible as a result. Furthermore, the previously uncommon online collaboration methods have gained popularity, with Zoom meetings and LINE WORKS becoming normalised in society.
“Okyakusama wa kamisama desu” also known as “the customer is god” is a prevalent saying in the nation. Service is always impeccable and emphasises a deep understanding of the importance of maintaining loyalty. In fact, in Japan, you cannot underestimate the power of loyalty programmes. For many consumers, the purchase behaviour and intent are driven purely by what they can do with their Rakuten points. These cards and points are used across all categories, providing real tangible benefits and discounts.
It would be a key mistake to tie localisation to language only in Japan. Full cultural adaptation or local creation (including visuals) is required to hit the right note with the Japanese population. If the key cultural aspects of Japan are not carefully considered when developing campaigns for this market, brands risk creating Western narratives that don’t resonate with the locals.
Kawaii and the prevalence and enduring appeal of ‘all things cute’ is a good representation of this.
“Anything can be kawaii, even things that as Westerners we might think is inappropriate, e.g. marketing for a mortgage or health insurance. Kawaii seems to pull the right heartstrings here.” – Dave Perry, Senior Research Director at Sugata Research
Luxury and mid-range brands targeting adults also get involved in kawaii tactics for marketing. For instance, Gucci is currently collaborating with Doraemon (a children’s cartoon character) and Levi’s stores are plastered in Pokemon at the moment.
“To resonate with Japanese consumers, it is necessary to take a lot of time for transcreation, especially with the social context, visual appeals and language structure being so different from English. Transcreation should be focused on creating original copies and assets that fit the local markets.” – Akiko Tanoue is a Global Customer Marketing professional at GU (Fast Retailing Group)
Sign up to our weekly insights and maximise your competitive advantage