Intro to creative localization for the Japanese market

May 17, 2022

Global startups and enterprises face a common challenge when entering and scaling in Japan. We’ve put together a summary of some of the key challenges and considerations below to help firms navigate the creative landscape.

What are the key challenges and considerations when localizing your creative assets in Japan?

  • To begin, creative campaigns in Japan have a distinctive design, look and feel, with different expectations across consumers, businesses and decision makers than in the US. As such, it’s critical to tailor your creative approach to be in touch with the local tone and manner.
  • Japan has a unique media landscape, with different channels and touchpoints to reach consumers and businesses. Your marketing or creative team should consider which formats and creative assets will work best for the channels where you can reach your target audience. For example, a SaaS business targeting sales professionals may wish to deliver an attention-grabbing short-video ad that will stand out on OOH channels such as Taxis and the Tokyo Metro (Subway) which are a great place to reach business executives and professionals during the daily commute to the office. Unlike many markets overseas, taxis and trains in Japan have digital displays which can show short video ads via programmatic advertising, enabling businesses to target people on the move. 
  • You cannot simply translate the copy for your creative assets from the US. Beyond translation, you need to embark on a “transcreation” effort to effectively localize your content. Technology firms are often unlikely to localize the product itself and thus tend to define their value proposition at the global level; however, it’s still possible to develop a localized communications strategy based on customer insights in your target market. This will help your audience to understand the benefits of your product or service within the context of the local market. 
  • When importing ideas to Japan, it is important to focus on the essence of the idea, rather than the specific execution. In practical terms, finding the commonalities and differences between the consumer or business audience when compared with your home country is critical. This allows you to leverage commonalities as much as possible and tailor the execution where needed.
  • Japanese consumers and businesses are quite articulate during the research process. Consequently, conducting high quality interviews to obtain qualitative understanding can be even more powerful than quantitative data. Be sure not to lose critical nuances “lost in translation” by choosing a local partner with both global brand management experience and Japanese customer expertise. 
  • In most cases, the reaction to any specific execution will be different in Japan due to the competitive set, history of the category and local tendencies of Japanese consumers and businesses. Local audiences are demanding and highly attentive to detail, so it’s essential to take a comprehensive approach to your localization strategy. Take extra effort to build a working understanding of the history and convention of the category, competitors in the local market and what Japanese audiences have seen from the category in the past. This will enable your business to create a truly disruptive and attractive creative campaign.
  • Due to the cost involved in developing creative assets, firms often try to optimize for a one size fits all approach, leveraging the same background and people in their ads for all global or regional markets. However, firms should consider using locally developed visuals for their creative campaign. For example, the background, setting and context of your creative assets should reflect the Japanese market. For B2B, this would include the office environment, while for B2C, this may be the home environment or city location. Using local creative assets is more likely to communicate the desired message to your target audience.
  • Finally, building momentum is the key to winning big in Japan. To make your initial market entry successful, create a winning concept for the local market and build on momentum to accelerate your growth.

Localization is always a challenging process, especially in the Japanese market. To tackle the challenges above, it’s helpful for global firms to work with a local partner that can help develop top tier creative assets and content that will resonate with consumers and businesses in Japan. In particular, crafting the right balance between global guidelines and local insights for your marketing strategy and execution is key. By partnering with the right talent in Japan, it’s possible to deliver highly relevant marketing campaigns that will communicate authentically with your audience. 

To help firms choose the right creative agency, we’ve put together some advice in our next article: “How to choose the right creative agency in Japan?”.



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