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Ask a Septeni Expert Series

Advertising In Japan:

The truth behind cultural influences on Japanese consumer behaviour

Japan is one of the largest advertising markets worldwide with tremendous potential for domestic and international businesses. The industry accounts for more than 1% of the country’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP). In the digital era, agencies are increasingly using data to interpret audience behavior, yet advertising in Japan is heavily influenced by the unique socio-cultural elements and hence might be considered an enigma for foreign businesses.

Appreciating cultural differences is a necessary element in cross-border marketing, given its huge impact on consumer psychology and behavior. This is especially true for the Japanese market where the culture and its people are unique in their own way. Understanding these crucial factors are a necessity to be able to connect with Japanese consumers in a meaningful way. This article outlines some of the important points to understand the impact Japanese culture imposes on advertising strategy.

Let’s begin with an interesting question. Out of the following four images, which one do you think the Japanese would categorize as “Kawaii”? “Kawaii” means “cute” and is often related to words such as fashion, makeup, anime and others.

Probably most people would choose the first one. With its big head and pink cheeks that resemble a human baby. This image will almost certainly make people feel “Kawaii”.

However, for the Japanese, all four images are categorized as “Kawaii”, with a twist of course. Shocked? Let us tell you more.

The second one with thick eyebrows is perceived as “Busu-Kawaii”. “Busu” is not the nicest of words in Japanese, short for “Busaiku”, which literally means ugly. But when combined with “Kawaii”, you get a word that stands for those ugly but adorably cute characters who can steal your hearts.

The third one is considered “Guro-Kawaii”. “Guro” stands for grotesque/gross and “Guro-Kawaii” is embodied by cute characters who are slightly on the more grotesque side.

The fourth monster is categorized as “Kimo-Kawaii”. “Kimo” stands for disturbing or creepy. These are characters that are slightly odd but you can’t help but to fall in love with them.

As shown above, the word “Kawaii” is not only used for the typical cute images or characters; instead, it is perceived more on a spectrum and includes even some of the seemingly ugliest of characters who are just for some reason adorable. In addition to the three kinds of “kawaii” variations mentioned above, there are also “Ero-Kawaii”, “Shibu-Kawaii” and “Yume-Kawaii”, to name just a few.

Ero-Kawaii - This is a combination of sexy and cute and a more adult take on the word “Kawaii”.

Shibu-Kawaii - “Shibu” means grim in Japanese and “Shibu-Kawaii” is basically the girl or boy next door kind of cute.

Yume-Kawaii - “Yume” translates to dreams and as you can imagine this word stands for the puffy pastel dream-like cute characters.

It’s quite important to consider the word’s context and depth like “Kawaii” and understand fully the visual taste palettes related to that word when making creatives for the Japanese consumers. You will be able to relate more with your audience and even possibly make new creative content. We have seen some foreign mobile games even recreate “Kawaii” versions of their characters for creative campaigns. With Japan, the possibilities are endless on new creative ways to bring your mobile game creatives to life.

As we walk you through the variations of “Kawaii” and how it has evolved into new designs, expressions and concepts as they take roots in Japan, it has become clear how the Japanese develop sub-cultures while maintaining some foundational principles. The concept of subculture in a way reflects changes in people’s values and is intertwined into people’s daily lives. Therefore tapping into one of these subcultures can make your mobile game’s campaign more relatable and impactful. Finding the right one that syncs with your product can win over their hearts and make them forever fans. Here are a few unique subcultures that tend to work well with some game genres.


This is probably the most well known subcultures in Japan. While Otaku culture is pretty complex, for time's sake we will keep it concise. Otaku ties in closely to entertainment and media related to anime, manga and video games. So featuring a famous celebrity or influencer who identifies as an Otaku can capture the attention of your target audience. Other types of celebrities or influencers Otakus resonate with are voice actors, cosplayers, manga artists, or even fictional vocaloid popstars.


Japan is well known for having some of the most innovative fashion-forward trends in the world. There are countless subcultures in Japan’s fashion scene and one notable one is Fairy Kei. Think muted pastels and 80s cartoons and motifs brought to life through fashion. An influencer or fashion celebrity from this fantasy fashion world clubbed with a game having a similar aesthetic or atmosphere could create a magical ad campaign.


The last subculture we want to share with you is Visual Kei. Compared to western glam rock and heavy metal, Visual Kei is not just a music genre, it’s also fashion, makeup, and a lifestyle synonymous with shocking visuals, elaborate stage performances, flamboyant big hairstyles and decorative attire. These androgynous music stars are greatly influential on their huge fan followings. Tapping into their loyal cult could boost your mobile game’s performance if the creative ad is executed just right.

So why would those sub-cultures be appealing to the general Japanese? One unique fact about the Japanese subculture is that there is a category of people called the “fake-subculture”, or to be more precise “followers”. “fake-subculture” describes people who lack self-confidence or have a hard time expressing themselves. The solution for them to express themselves is through following the “real-subculture”. While subculture starts with people who have a strong belief or a strong value proposition, the followers do not necessarily share this belief, but merely mimic the real subculture to show they have found their identity. This may not necessarily be termed as herd mentality, but it is safe to say that the Japanese are attracted more towards people or products with strong beliefs and world views and thus it is important to reflect the values of your product through creatives to effectively reach out to your target audience. Furthermore, utilizing the elements of certain subcultures will not only give you access to the real believers but also the followers as well.

In the end, the ultimate goal for brands that want to advertise and market their products in Japan is learning the secret to creative success for building meaningful connections with the audience. Septeni has years of experience and know-hows in creative localization, and can provide the one-stop solution you are looking for, from strategy idealization to actual production. Connect with us to learn more about how to localize your ads for Japan and see results fast! Visit our website here or message us at and let us know how we can help!

Meet Septeni Global Creative Thought Leaders

John // Digital Designer & Creative Strategist

With a background of over 10 years living in Japan, he returned back to the States and joined Septeni Global in 2016, after graduating Tama Art University majored in Typography and gaining working experience at Dentsu and its sister companies. He specializes in cross-border creative production and creative strategy in the US, Japan as well as other major Asian markets.

Fidel // Digital Designer & Art Director

Fidel is a digital illustration and motion graphics designer. He combines both years of experience in art and the design field to incorporate fresh visuals into creatives. After joining Septeni he has gained knowledge in ad creative localization for Japan and other Asian markets.

About Septeni Global

Septeni’s Global Product Division offers integrated marketing services and specializes in supporting cross-border companies and businesses with their efforts in Japan and Asia. With our wide range digital marketing resources and industry know-how, we are able to provide our clients with solutions catered to their specific needs.

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