Behavioral Science

What Is Up with Those Japanese Commercials?

by . July 6th, 2014

You’ve probably seen them while surfing Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter, and wondered “What’s up with this ad?” Japanese commercials are so provocative, people make lists of them. But as odd as they are, they have this certain charm and allure to them that can’t be replicated. Sure, there are weird commercials from the western world, but they just feel different.


So what makes Japanese advertising so different from American advertising? What spins their cogs and makes them work?

When you pick up any English advertising book, you’ll read the same thing: commercials need to communicate a message effectively by carefully researching the consumer and tailoring the ad towards them. This is usually shown by telling the consumer that we relate to them and their problems, and that we offer something to solve those problems, just as it has ours. This is probably why Japanese commercials are so mystifying. The message is rarely clear, the plot is too surreal to relate to, and the product solves a problem that we or any other human being will probably not face within our lifetime.

In Japan, advertisers don’t really prioritize message. Instead they go for full-on entertainment, because their thought process is if a company or product is related to happy thoughts, then it’s a good thing, which is true. You don’t want a product that spells your impending doom, or subscribe to a company that brings forth the loss of everything that makes you you. If you do, you probably need to have yourself checked.

Another difference is that American commercials tend to go for longer-lasting effects, while Japanese commercials go for short bursts. This is why when you turn on the television, you’ll notice that commercials tend to be subtle and relaxing. If they’re not, like Old Spice, there is a certain theme; they could even be a series. However in Japan, a lot of commercials are loud or surprising, most of the time unsuspected. It’s like Japan is the 9Gag of the advertising world.

It’s not stuck to commercials as well. Anime and American cartoons are miles apart in feel. We have shows like Community and Modern Family, while they have Gaki no Tsukai (more commonly known as Silent Library on YouTube).

All of this really shows that culture has a huge role in our development. In American culture, we prefer direct face-to-face conversation and want the message right away. In Japan, looking at each other eye-to-eye is awkward and disrespectful. This is why we prefer strong message, while Japanese stray away from it.

American conversations are also a lot longer than Japanese ones. As we blabber on and repeat ourselves constantly over the same topic, Japanese people like the point to come across briefly, communicating with the least amount of verbal exchange as possible. How many times have you caught a friend asking you to confirm what you just said and realized that you do the exactly same thing? In Japan, this is seen as a sign of disrespect or mistrust.

Truly, Japanese commercials are a great source of entertainment and wonder. Even if you aren’t into advertising, you’ve probably tried to understand and dissect these videos.

Here’s my personal favorite: Giga Pudding. Yes, the pudding really is that big.

sources: konichiwadotcom, university of rhode island

photo credits: ox4photos via photopin cc; mikeisgoing via photopin cc