Decoding Creative Success in Japan
The secret recipe for the Japanese Ad
When the Tower of Babel was constructed, no one would have thought differences in languages would be such a divisive force to drive people apart. In the modern digital marketing age, when media platforms are so advanced and universal that one single button could deliver your ads to targeted audiences around the globe, life would have been easier if marketers could use the same ads for each region, except we couldn’t.
Advertising is a reflection of a society and its cultural representation. There are multiple challenges when implementing a campaign especially in a foreign market. The culture, aesthetics and consumer mindset varies in every region, making it crucial for ad agencies to localize creative strategy in order to establish a relationship with the audience. If you pay attention to the Japanese and Western ad campaigns, you’ll start noticing some key differences.
To establish relationships with the target audience, cultural sensitivity is imperative to being accepted and successful in Japanese market. So, to help you understand the creative landscape in Japan, we invited two of our Creative Directors, John and Fidel, to share key insights for ad campaign success in Japan.
Doing typography for your creatives in Japan is a tricky thing. People have their own aesthetics when it comes to font, sizing, spacing, etc., which are deeply embedded in years of cultural exposure and personal preferences. It takes only a few seconds for the audience to feel disconnected from the ads, yet quite hard to pinpoint the reasons for it. Imagine you spent thousands of dollars and hours for the perfect graphics and background music, yet one wrong font might kill your efforts, just like white socks to a perfect suit. However, when done right it can imbue sparks and a sense of connection to draw in your targeted consumers, thus sweetening the appeal even more.
Japanese typography is quite a complicated topic, so let’s keep it simple and review a few basics first. The following are 4 essential typography styles to remember when designing for a brand or product - Mincho, Gothic, Maru, and Kaku for the Japanese audience.
First, we have Mincho, which derives from the Ming Dynasty's ancient writing style. Essentially this is the same as the western version of Serif, where you can see reminicants of vertical and horizontal strokes. With it’s direct roots in calligraphy and the strokes are visible with Uroko, the triangle-like end points, Mincho fonts can create a sense of elegance, airiness, luxury, and trustworthiness in your creative ads. One of our favorite go-to Mincho font families is Kozuka Mincho Pro.
Up next is Gothic. This is simply the equivalent of the western San Serif with consistent stroke weights throughout the character. Gothic fonts lack the strokes found in Mincho and don’t have Uroko. Gothic fonts go well with creatives that want to convey a more modern aesthetic. Visually these fonts catch your audience's eyes because they pop and have a powerful aura to their characters. Ryo Gothic PlusN is a font family we tend to gravitate towards when we want to create an eye-catching ad for our clients.
Maru translates to round in Japanese. Simply Maru is a combo of Gothic with rounded corners on each character. The roundness of the corners give these fonts a softness to their presence. We have found these fonts work well with designs that want to convey a sense of happiness, youthfulness and fun. One of our repeats is definitely the VDL-V7 Maru Gothic font family.
Last up is Kaku, which embodies everything opposite of Maru. Kaku literally translates to corner and as you can see it’s corners are sharp and pointed, and is comparable to Gothic. These fonts are used in the same way as Gothic fonts and are strong and bold in comparison to Mincho fonts. One Kaku font family we love to use for powerful eye-catching brands is Heisei Kaku Gothic.
Text Stylization: Forget Less is More!
Strolling down the streets in Japan for the first time, your eyes may be in for a wild ride. You may have been surprised that not all design is simple, minimalistic and completely Zen. Type on billboards, TV shows and magazines is heavily stylized with strokes on strokes and gradients on gradients. The core design fundamentals we learn as western designers such as white space, two font styles per design, and grids are out the door. Sayonara.
Everyday design layouts for both traditional design and digital design at first glance may appear chaotic and an overkill, it is pretty common, however, to see big type stylized with gradients and strokes, then even more gradients and strokes placed next to large images with even more type explaining even more details. The Japanese consumers in general are used to the busier types of design aesthetics. Incorporating these styles in the creative campaigns are crucial for improving the performance of targeted digital user acquisition campaigns in Japan.
Text Stylization & Graphic Treatments
When you see a billboard, poster, or an ad on your computer in Japanese, it’s likely that the copy and text in ads have multiple line strokes with gradients and textures surrounded by a radiant burst bubble. You’ll also find Kanji and Katakana are stylized in different colors to create contrast and stand out. What’s viewed as over-stylized text is very common in ad creatives in Japan and is a strategy to compete with all the other brands out there. The heavy graphic treatments on text can be found across all media types.
Detailed Supers and Content
Japanese consumers seem to prefer text-heavy ads. Ads all around Tokyo almost always have a tagline. But in addition to taglines, some other elements, such as incentives, dates, special limited editions, and additional compelling copy are all included in one ad. The standard of one concept per design rule doesn’t apply and minimal designs tend to be a rarity. Often brands communicate every detail of the product which ultimately creates information heavy designs.
Ad Design in Practice
Now that we know the basics, let's take a look at how graphic design elements and styles are applied to actually designing the ad.
Due to client confidentiality we have mocked up an imaginary game to depict visual differences in effective ad typography design and copy, comparing the Japan and western market games. At first glance you can easily see in these ads the big differences in layout design, design elements, and composition. Let's pick out a few of the differences that can help your designs perform better when localizing for the Japanese market.
For Japanese audiences, we have found that a more detailed ad copy that covers almost all aspects of the game tends to perform well. The image to the left exemplifies this concept. This includes various kinds of information about the game, such as details about voice actors, dates regarding pre-registration or new login-in bonuses. A single ad copy can cover one kind of information or even up to all 3 at once. Even though you may think you are bombarding your ad viewer with too much information, it’s actually the opposite. You can win over Japanese consumers by providing them with detailed valued information that gets them excited. This sharply differs from western markets that usually uses a structured layout with one concise phrase as shown to the left. In order to differentiate all kinds of information, we suggest trying to use combinations of typography styles and weights.
It goes without saying that the creative design will differ depending on the genre of the products and the aspects you want to highlight, but we hope the above can be used as a basic guideline when trying to localize ads in Japan. 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 email@example.com 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.