On my recent trip to Japan I got a brief glimpse into what marketing and advertising is like in a country halfway around the world. Most people probably think of the bright lights of Tokyo in places like Shibuya Station, think Times Square in New York, as being the quintessential example of how marketing is woven into the people of Japan’s everyday lives. Not unlike how it is in any large city in the world. They would be right for the most part. Marketing and advertising are absolutely everywhere, especially in Japan’s largest cities.
Even more than everywhere, they seem to tuck into every nook in cranny available. This follows the way space is utilized in general in Japan. Even where space is available outside the largest cities, structures are smaller when they can be. In large cities some hotels are so pencil thin they are barely more than an elevator and handful of rooms per floor. Capsule hotels take this space saving to an even greater extreme. All of this leads to another noticeable difference in the city’s signage and advertising. They run all the way up a building along with their shops! In contrast to cities where the street level is where most of the shops are and office/residential space dominate the upper floors, in Japan unaffiliated shops can go all the way up through a building. And these aren’t even the common giant malls of cities like Osaka that make the Mall of America look quaint by comparison. It all just feels so… busy. Even the menus at restaurants had so many words, starbursts, and bright colors it was difficult to absorb everything in one pass.
It’s saturation of marketing that’s on a whole different level. My friend and I had a difficult time trying to pick out places to eat some nights because of the sheer volume. It was some of the strongest analysis paralysis I’ve ever had. Which lead me to a greater understanding of the realities of marketing in a place where everyone is trying to have the loudest voice among so many. It must be hard! While advertisements often look busy and almost annoying from a western perspective, it might be the only way some of the smaller shops and family owned restaurants are able to stand out among the rest. I’ve always believed this is exactly how you blend in, but amongst so much competition these same sensibilities might not apply. In the end, it speaks to how important it is to know your audience and environment. Learning to market in Japan would probably be like starting from scratch in terms of discovering and internalizing what resonates with it’s people.