EXPLORING DIFFERENCES IN JAPAN, U.S. CULTURE

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Two Japanese advertising executives give their views about how Japanese and American cultural differences impact advertising in the two countries, and how far the world has come to global oneness.

Hideo Ishikawa Advertising is culture, and Japanese advertising is Japanese culture. Conflicts among different cultures are inevitable. When we compare advertising between such two different cultures as Japan and the U.S., we find an endless list of differences and discrepancies in almost all related areas. Those differences and discrepancies have constantly been reflected in advertising practiced in both countries.

Since the 1950s, Japanese advertising has learned a lot from the U.S. However, many typically Japanese characteristics, disciplines and ways of thinking remain intact and unaffected by U.S. influence.

Understanding these differences will enable us to take a fresh look at Japanese advertising.

Thus, you will be led to take the following for granted:

In the U.S., the product is on the center stage of advertising while the product stays behind the scene in Japan.

Soft-sell advertising is used in Japan vs. hard-sell in the U.S. However, its execution in Japan aims at short-term strong impact while in the U.S., long-term and consistent impact is anticipated.

Celebrity talents are employed more in Japan to speak for advertisers' products, while in the U.S., individuals seemingly off the street play similar roles.

In the advertising business, a number of similar product category advertisers are represented by an agency in Japan, while in the U.S., exclusivity of an account at an agency is mandatory.

General-interest publications outnumber trade publications in Japan.

Advertising appeals vary with high frequency in Japan, while in the U.S. they are created to sustain effectiveness as long as possible.

The target audience is highly segmented in Japan, especially in magazines.

TV ratings in Japan are still based on households, while in the U.S., they're based on individuals.

Despite these differences between the two cultures, as seen in advertising, the two are moving closer. We are getting more international and global-minded.

A long time ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote, "East is East. West is West ....." but today it's different, because many times the East is like the West, and the West is like the East.

In short, we are entering a new stage in the global marketplace where we may no longer say, "Japan in particular ....." or "the U.S. in particular....." Instead, we may have to say, "We....." Indeed, we are on the way to global oneness.

Koichiro Naganuma As an advertising executive for a multinational agency based in Japan, my business dealings frequently bring me in contact with Western culture. Through my travels and client experience, I have observed the difficulty most Westerners have in understanding Japanese advertising.

This is not surprising, considering the vast differences between Japanese and Western cultures. As my colleague Allen Rosenshine, chairman and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, once noted: "The cultural gap is so great that it is almost impossible for the West to appreciate Japanese commercials."

The root of the difference lies in the fact that in most Western countries the individual is seen as separate from, and often more important than, the larger community. We Japanese view ourselves as one homogeneous family. Our shared history, traditions and national cultural identity give us a very strong sense of community.

Consequently, the nature of communication within the Japanese culture reflects a commonality of thought, attitude and circumstance, in what is often an unspoken language understood by us.

Japanese advertising clearly reflects this social psychology in various ways. For example, ad campaigns tend toward suggestion and verbal subtlety rather than clear expression.

In contrast to the Japanese, Westerners are direct in face-to-face interaction, conversation and expression. Western advertising, therefore, tends to fix on a target audience and address it with direct messages which seek to affect the attitude of that audience.

Conversely, in the same manner that Japanese find it awkward and even disrespectful to maintain eye contact during conversation, our advertising shuns the directness of the Western method, seeking instead to create a positive, welcoming atmosphere around the product.

The Japanese prefer to come to an understanding with little actual conversation. For example, Americans spend 61/2 hours in conversation a day, almost double the amount of time we spend conversing with each other. Therefore, Japanese commercials tend to use fewer words than Western commercials, keeping product explanations brief and providing something cheerful to listen to instead.

There is a strong tendency on our part to accept another's explanation, without question; this reflects a common trust and understanding. In our society, subjecting a person to questions can be interpreted as not accepting what they are saying.

This cultural trait is reflected in advertising; Japanese companies emphasize image rather than product. If a Japanese company is famous and of a respectable size, consumers do not doubt its product or feel the need to question its functions.

Given the evolving new world of global commerce and the prevalence of American popular culture, an interesting question comes to mind: will Japanese advertising adapt to the heavy influence of its Western counterpart? Only up to a point.

Certainly, there is a developing need for the advertising to address the Japanese consumer's newfound value consciousness-a result of the recent economic recession. The severe recession has affected the psyche of our young people particularly, who are concerned about economic prospects that appear bleaker today than in previous years.

Young Japanese consumers are also exposed to more Western culture than ever before, which may influence the shaping of some advertisers' messages. This combination of circumstances may bring in coming years an increase in advertising that is more expository in nature and that comes closer to the problem-solution model of Western advertising.

The change may come in parity categories, such as analgesics, and luxury brands, such as designer mineral water or clothing. But the notion that a globalized world of multinational clients and agencies will lead to globalized advertising is a misconception.

Japan's core cultural uniqueness guarantees the survival of Japanese advertising that reflects this culture.

Taken in a broader context, the most successful multinational advertising agencies have been able to take the best of Western communications and translate it through the prism of Japanese culture.M

Hideo Ishikawa is associate director-international affairs for Hakuhodo Inc. in Tokyo. Koichiro Naganuma is chairman of Asatsu/BBDO.

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