Professor Naoko Taguchi
82-273 Introduction to Japanese Language and Culture - Section A
October 11, 2018
Final Paper Proposal: A Comparative Study of Marketing Pitches in U.S. and Japan
In this project, we seek to explore the connection between product descriptions and marketing pitches in Japan and the United States, focusing on how various international and domestic companies advertise their products differently in both Japan and the U.S., and how these differences reflect cultural values and conventions. The purpose of advertising is typically to persuade a target audience about some aspects of a product, service, or idea, and it must closely align with the cultural values of the target in order to achieve a good effect. This is usually referred to as pathos in rhetoric. Advertisements and product descriptions, in order to appeal to the buyer, utilize different modes of persuasion, namely, ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos, in the context of advertising, might be represented by the authority of credibility of celebrities or scientists, while pathos, on the other hand, would appeal to the emotions of the audience. The other mode of persuasion, logos, represents the use of logic with facts and proofs to engage the market. The combination of the three different modes can indicate the underlying culture values and customs, since each society values different aspects of persuasion in a distinct manner.
The Japanese economy has flourished since the end of world war ii and has thus become the world's third biggest ad market in terms of advertising and marketing spendings (https://www.statista.com/statistics/273736/advertising-expenditure-in-the-worlds-largest-ad-markets/). Despite its rapid westernization efforts, advertising and marketing strategies have maintained their ties with Japanese culture and values. Today, advertisements live on televisions, newspapers, magazines, and even online shopping sites like Amazon and Dakuten, and very frequently, the marketing pitch and product descriptions in Japan differ significantly from those in the United States.
Many researchers have explored the various differences and characteristics of Japanese and U.S. advertising in different mediums. In 1987, Hong et al. published their analysis of advertisement in magazines in the two countries. They hypothesized that magazine ads in Japan would have more emotional appeals and less information than their U.S. counterparts. Based on the content, phrasing and advertising strategies, they thoroughly analyzed 32 magazines from each country, carefully categorizing each one and confirmed that Japanese advertisements appeal to emotion while U.S. ads are more likely to use comparative techniques. However, Hont et al. did find that contrary to their hypothesis, Japanese ads generally contained more information than U.S. ones. They related the lack of comparative marketing in Japanese magazine ads to the social values of avoiding defamation and attacking others and also noted that Japanese ads tend to be longer. Madden et al. (1986) also found Japanese ads tend to be more informative but also elaborated on the differences between the information provided. They explain through the overall better educated Japanese population and its rigorous demand for very specific properties in the product, for example, Japanese magazine ads typically emphasize product safety and cleanliness of the packaging. They also mind any differences between what is pictured and the real product it self. Such focuses on warranty and uniformity are caused by the overall high expectation of the Japanese population, stated Madden et al., clarifying the connection between culture and ads.
Contrary to the abundance of information on magazine ads, Japanese TV commercials tend to be less informative than U.S. ones, reported Carolyn A. Lin. Japanese commercials use a technique commonly known as soft sell, a way to persuade the customers more subtly and casually through friendlier messages usually involving slice-of-life or celebrities. Lin also notes that Japanese commercials sometimes play songs and convey short messages, using more creative means to let the audience remember the brand and the product. U.S. commercials, on the other hand, use hard sell as their main approach by stating facts and functionalities with long messages and slapstick humor. In terms of modes of persuasion. One could identify more pathos and ethos appeal in Japanese commercials and better logos through hard facts. Lin associates the differences in TV commercial styles with deep-rooted social conventions and culture, citing the need for context and empathy in the Japanese case.
More recently, Ólafsson (2014) also notes the difference in attitude between Japanese and U.S. ads. American ads are more likely to feature phrases like “buy one, get one free”, “best-selling”, or “no. 1 choice” to indicate value and superiority against similar products. These hard-selling techniques and attention to effectiveness and functionality are nowhere to be found in Japanese ads, which focus more on soft-selling through themes, songs, and beautiful sceneries that customers associate with the brand identity. Ólafsson also remarks that soft-sell is four times more common in Japan than in the U.S., since people value it more highly. Soft-sell techniques let companies build trust with the customer and maintain a good relationship. The collectivist culture in Japan, as Ólafsson notes, also contributes to the overall effectiveness of soft-selling, as the more memorable scenes in these ads quickly become pop culture and circulate among the population, acting as a more robust testimony for the quality of the product. Besides, most companies have already built good relationships with their target audience, making hard-selling unnecessary and irritating. This would not be the case in the United States for people tend to be more respond to ads with doubts and distrust, and parents educate their children to be suspicious of incredible descriptions and whatever the advertisement says.
Data Collection Procedure
In order to effectively compare product descriptions and advertisements across two different cultures, we must carefully select products that are representative of the culture and market. Here, we establish the following criteria as a general guideline to identify such representative products.
The same product shall market itself in both the United States and Japan.
It shall have decent market reception and sales in both countries.
It shall appeal to its target demographic, for example, a gaming console to gamers.
A few preliminary items that satisfy these criteria are Amazon Alexa, Amazonbasics Rechargeable Nickel Hydride Battery Packs, Venus Embrace Razors, Revlon ColorStay Foundation, and Hanes T-Shirt. These are international brands with decent sales records and good reviews in both countries based on Amazon reviews.
Data Analysis Procedure
The product descriptions and ads will be evaluated based on the following criteria for each version:
Emotion: acceptance, anger, annoyance, confident, distrust, disgust, joy, hope, sad, outrage, frustration, interest, surprise, trust, wonder
Comparative advertising: explicit/implicit/none
Instead of performing the analysis on my own, these six different criteria will be sent out as a survey to gather more insight into people's opinions on the product descriptions themselves. The details of the survey are subject to revisions based on further research and exploration into more advertisements and prior data.
Hong, Jae W., et al. “Cultural Differences and Advertising Expression: A Comparative Content Analysis of Japanese and U.S. Magazine Advertising.” Journal of Advertising, vol. 16, no. 1, Mar. 1987, pp. 55–68. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cms&AN=4670864&site=ehost-live.
Madden, Charles S., et al. “Analysis of Information Content in U.S. And Japanese Magazine Advertising.” Journal of Advertising, vol. 15, no. 3, Sept. 1986, pp. 38–45. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cms&AN=4665398&site=ehost-live.
Ramaprasad, Jyotika, and Kazumi Hasegawa. “Creative strategies in American and Japanese TV commercials: a comparison.” Journal of Advertising Research, Jan.-Feb. 1992, p. 59+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.proxy.library.cmu.edu/apps/doc/A12085991/AONE?u=cmu_main&sid=AONE&xid=8b3ceaba. Accessed 11 Oct. 2018.
Ólafsson, Jón Björn. “Advertising to the Japanese consumer: Japanese advertising culture examined” May, 2014. https://skemman.is/bitstream/1946/18048/1/Advertising%20to%20the%20Japanese%20consumer.pdf. Accessed 11 Oct. 2018.
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