Celebrity marketing plays an indispensable role in the marketing strategies of many companies, and the Japanese market is no exception. The marketing of influential people in Japan is huge, but the rules are very different from those of the United States or English-speaking countries. Based on my practical experience working with celebrities and bloggers representing global brands in the past few years, I would like to share 5 unique facts about Japanese celebrity marketing.
1. Language barriers
Japan’s English level is very low
Language barriers are one of the most unique aspects of Japanese social media and influencer marketing. In the English language proficiency ranking conducted by the EF English Proficiency Index (EF English Proficiency Index), Japan ranks 49th out of 88 prefectures and regions, and this level is considered the “low level” of English. In addition, according to a research conducted by Rakuten Insight, 69.6% of Japanese people think they do not know English.
Global influence is not so influential
Because the Japanese have a low level of English, the influence of English celebrities in Japan is not as good as in English-speaking countries. Before cooperating with top influencers to launch global marketing activities, I worked for one of the global brands. They have won a high level of participation among customers in English-speaking countries, but not so much in Japan. These celebrities are not even known in the Japanese market.
Fully localize or ignore the market?
What should we do? Should we localize influential sports by hiring local celebrities? Or should we ignore the Japanese market? This is the dilemma faced by many multinational companies. Of course, if Japan has a large population and its economy grows like China, then there is no reason not to serve the Japanese market. The reality is that since the mid-1990s, household disposable income has been declining. The median annual salary of Japanese workers in 2015 was 3.7 million yen (approximately US$33,000 at the exchange rate of 111 yen = 1 US dollar), which is about half of the median household income in the United States. ($61K in 2017). Although the Japanese market is not as profitable as the Chinese market, Japan still ranks third in the world GDP ranking, which is too large to be completely ignored.
Japanese celebrities have fewer followers
Okay, now I assume you have decided to localize celebrities by hiring local celebrities. You will notice that their followers are 1 or 2 numbers less than global celebrities. This is the same reason that English-speaking celebrities have no influence among Japanese. Japanese celebrities have no influence among English-speaking audiences because most of them communicate in Japanese.
What you need to understand is their participation, not many followers. At some point, you need to explain to your boss or investor why you are cooperating with these local Japanese celebrities, who are less than global celebrities. Therefore, you must be prepared to explain the influence of these celebrities in the target audience in Japan. This can be simply measured by participation rate, or you may need to investigate conversations with followers to gain more insights.
2. Japanese label
Unique hashtag requires cultural background
Regarding language barriers, we need to understand the uniqueness of Japanese hashtags. Finding the right hashtags and using them correctly is very important to find the communities you want to reach and participate in. You can find celebrities in the communities formed around hashtags, especially micro celebrities. However, for non-Japanese users, finding the correct Japanese hashtag is not easy. Here are some popular Japanese hashtags:
#おしゃれさんと系がりたい (Oshare-san-to-trsunagari-tai) [Fashion]
#Foreigner 風カラー (Gaikokuzin-fu-color) [Hairstyle]
#おうちごはん (Ouchi-gohan) [Cooking]
Interestingly, these popular tags are new words. For example, the direct translation of the highest tag #おしゃれさんと系がりたい (Oshare-san-to-tsunagari-tai) is “I want to connect with fashionistas.” It’s really simple. The last one, how about #インク泥? Its direct translation is “Endless Ink Swamp”. what? The term “the endless swamp of the Internet” is an Internet language in Japanese, which describes the situation where people are extremely addicted to something. Unless you understand the cultural background, #インク泥 has no meaning.
Combination of Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana
Another reason that makes Japanese hashtags more difficult to understand is the combination of Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana. In Japanese, there are 3 different types of characters: Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana.
Chinese characters (Chinese characters) are an ideographic writing system, which means that each character represents a concept or idea. For example, the Chinese character for Tokyo (Tokyo) refers to the eastern capital. This is because Kyoto used to be the main capital of Japan, and Tokyo is the second largest capital east of Kyoto.
Hiragana and Katakana are syllabic words, which means that each character represents a syllable, such as “to” or “u”. They are purely phonetic, so they have no direct meaning like Chinese characters. Any Chinese character can be written in hiragana. Katakana is often used for foreign words and onomatopoeia.
Therefore, when you use Japanese hashtags, whether in kanji, hiragana or katakana or a combination of the two, you must pay special attention to the way the hashtags are written, because they will change the meaning.
Let us take #おしゃれさんと系がりたい as an example. The word “おしゃれさん” means “fashion expert” and can be written in Japanese kanji or hiragana or katakana, such as “お撒落さん” and “オシャレさん”. Although they have the same meaning, most social media platforms treat them as different labels. There are 8 million posts with hashtags written in hiragana, and ## written in katakana has 1.5 million posts on the theme of #と系がりたい, and the hashtag written in Chinese characters is “#お洒落さんと系がりたい”” only 19K posts. That being said, if you use the wrong spelling, your potential reach will be much smaller.
3. Reds are scattered on various platforms
It is rare for celebrities to have a strong influence on all popular social media channels. Most of them are popular on a single social media platform. This is because each social media platform provides different communication methods. For example, Instagram is a place for visual communication with perfect photos, and Twitter is a text-based communication platform.
Unique social media platform for specific content categories
Similarly, each category of content has a social platform suitable for content distribution. Here are some examples of unique social media platforms suitable for specific content categories in Japan:
Users get news and comment on NewsPicks. Business professionals use this social media platform to share their opinions on news topics they choose from a professional perspective.
TikTok [Youth Culture, Entertainment]
TikTok is a short video clip sharing application that is very popular among teenagers. The youth trend starts here.
Note [creative content]
note is a social media platform for content creators. Note can help creators profit from their content (mainly reading content). The content sold on the notes includes, but is not limited to: novels, how-tows, columns and comics.
4. Top celebrities belonging to the organization
Once Japanese celebrities become popular, they often belong to the governing body. Few celebrities act as “freelancers”. Agents manage multiple celebrities in different categories. If you want to work with a celebrity that belongs to an agency, you need to contact the agency first. This means that you cannot directly cooperate or negotiate with celebrities. The following are the pros and cons of working with agents.
You can access celebrities immediately, save time to find the right celebrities. Agents will usually help you find.The agency will be responsible for the negotiation of deals and contracts
Using an agency can be very helpful, especially if you are not familiar with or have no contact with the celebrities in the target market.
Additional fees for management fees, your collaboration project flexibility will be reduced.Usually, you cannot get the contact information of the celebrity. (You cannot build your own network)
Since you are using an intermediary, the total cost will be higher than working directly with celebrities. In addition, every agency has guidelines and rules regarding collaboration, so your project flexibility will be reduced.
5. Strongly oppose undisclosed sponsorship
Japanese consumers are strict about undisclosed payment partnerships with brands. Since false reviews are a big social concern and have caused lawsuits in Japan in the past, people are skeptical about stealth marketing or undisclosed sponsorship.
Your unpublished paid posts will not only be ignored by Japanese customers, but will also leave a bad impression on consumers. However, there is currently no direct law to regulate the disclosure of sponsored positions by Japanese influencers (as of March 2019). In addition, not all celebrities know the correct way to publicly sponsor.
Therefore, brand education of celebrities is very important. Also, make sure not to work with random celebrities to get as many impressions as possible. In the United States, we have clear marketing guidelines for influencers set by the Federal Trade Commission. You should follow their guidelines until the Japanese version is established.
The picture below is a typical example of bad undisclosed sponsorship. These random celebrities will publish a picture of the shower head at the same time, even if their regular position has nothing to do with the shower head. For customers, this feeling is too unnatural and so obvious that celebrities get paid for posting images with shower heads. Consumers are not naive or stupid. They will immediately know that these positions are “commercial”.
I hope you now have a better understanding of the Japanese Internet celebrity landscape. Entering a new market, especially a country/region where different languages are spoken, requires a lot of learning. Of course, you can do all the work internally by trial and error. However, network celebrity marketing structure cooperation may accelerate market expansion faster than competitors. Looking forward to cooperating with you!