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EXCLUSIVE : Want to know how to target Japanese consumers?


While a brand is expanding into a new market, localisation is key. Language, culture, local platforms, and other variables, which may not cross your mind at first, make each market different from the other, and localisation of the message harder if not familiar with the target audience.


Japan, among others, is a market which requires a strong local marketing strategy and Mr. Shuhei Tsuji, Creative Director at TBWA\HAKUHODO will be talking about his experience in bringing international companies to Japan and translating their message into a new message aiming at captivating Japanese audience at the MarketingPulse in Hong Kong.

2. Portrait_Shuhei Tsuji (Colour) (1)
Source : HKTDC

Shuhei started his creative career at the age of 24, as he made the leap to become a copywriter. He gained valuable experience at Dentsu and Beacon Communications (Leo Burnett Tokyo),  and also played a key role in founding AKQA in Tokyo in Fall 2012.

During his time with Beacon, and then AKQA, he had participated in the brand communication and campaign projects for Nike for over 12 years, which helped hone his skill in presenting bold messages in an innovative way.

He joined TBWA\HAKUHODO in 2017, and led the company to win the Grand Prix at CLIO and AD STARS, the Silver Award at Cannes Lions, and the Gold Award at Spikes Asia in 2018. His previous work with Nike has also garnered multiple awards at Spikes and the Cannes Lions. Major clients he has served include AIG Japan, Nike, Coleman, American Express, P&G and Harley Davidson.

Retail in Asia has talked with him to understand the key topic of his intervention at MarketingPulse.

RiA : Mr. Tsuji, you have worked with sports and lifestyle brands. Those are brands with bold messages and innovation behind. What are the challenges and opportunities in working with those clients?

Shuhei : “Firstly, the challenging task is to let the brand message thoroughly sink into myself”.

The brief from the brand is not enough. For me it is necessary to live the brand every day before taking up a project. It is necessary to use the brand, become a fan of it, and see the world through the brand’s set of values. It is a process that takes a great amount of time and effort.

However, once that is accomplished, expressions in line with the brand’s values start to come out from within me as naturally as breathing.

The wonderful things about working with these types of brands is with the bold message that has already wowed the fans, allowing us to proactively try out various bold campaigns.

If the message is weak or does not exist in the first place, it takes time to build up to that point and the overall campaign tends to be weak.

Additionally, talented client managers and highly skilled creative team members gather because they are mesmerized by the bold brand message, so I get quite inspired being around these people and am able to grow.

RiA : As you operate in Japan for international brands, what is the biggest challenge in adapting such brands to the Japanese market?

Shuhei :  The way brand and product are recognized differ between the native country of the brand and Japan.

As a result, it often turns out that the global campaign does not quite work in Japan.

I always struggle to identify the gaps that exist and finding a way to readjust to fit Japan but still in keeping with the original campaign narrative.

This process of discovery, it enables me to distinguish between the parts that cannot be changed as the brand, and what should be changed to match the local context.


RiA : Japanese brands have a high-design component, which makes them successful also abroad. What is the secret of international brands successful in Japan instead?

Shuhei : I think it is the element of surprise. The product and services of Japanese brands are predictable both in a good way and a bad way.

Foreign brands are often made in different context than in Japan, so it has surprising elements in one way or another.

So it boils down to how much that surprise element can be appealed attractively to the Japanese people.

RiA : As everybody talks about digital transformation in China as a benchmark. How digital has changed Japanese market?

Shuhei : This might not be limited to Japan, but digital has changed the market structure in various aspects.

With the rise of eCommerce, a revelation occurred where everyone can stand on the side of the seller.

With the birth of social media, the power of word-of-mouth became essential and Instagram’s popularity raised the demand in photogenic products. With the actual utilization of big data and AI, the methods of strategic planning for marketing communication transformed.

As a whole, personalized communication to each individual customer is in need more than ever before.

RiA : What are the best platforms to advertise a brand in Japan?

Shuhei : It depends on what the objective is, so it is difficult to say.

Whether it is a YouTube ad, social media ad for Twitter and Instagram, TikTok, TV commercials or OOH(out of home), if it fits the criteria to meet the objective, it will work.

The important thing is to use the best media that matches the occasion.

RiA : What are the specificities of Japanese digital media ecosystem?

Shuhei : The ideal ecosystem changes depending on the commercial product or the target demographic, so it is difficult to define. Currently, it is fine tuned to match to the needs of each project.

However, it seems as though the Japanese Advertising industry are cautious about incorporating new media platforms such as SnapChat, Snow, and TikTok. There is a tendency to follow in the footsteps when witnessing the success of other brands. The truth of the matter is, it’s already too late at that point, so it is very important to get clients involved one step ahead of the game and have them take an initiative in new challenges.


RiA : In which way Japanese Millennial and GENZ are different from their Asian peers?   

Shuhei : The reaction towards the advertising contents differs from the older generations than Japanese Millennial and GENZ.

Since these younger generations are raised surrounded by a tremendous amount of information, they are quick in choosing the information they want and don’t want.
In other words, they want a “guarantee” that the movie content is interesting, not just a “maybe (interesting)” feel by seeing its title or thumbnail.

In addition, GENZ is also known as “Satori Generation”. This generation not only does not have the need to own cars or houses, but unconcerned with their career or social status. It’s not a sign of conservatism but more like they have chosen to give up.
It is not that difficult to create videos to entertain them temporarily, yet creating some type of communication that might change their lives is a whole different story. We are still at the stage of searching to figure out what that exactly is.

RiA : What tips can you give to young people willing to work in the creative industries?

Shuhei : I started as a copywriter, and I really struggled as I was not satisfied with the results of my work. But gradually I gained ability, and after I was able to deliver what I thought it was good and work has become quite fun.

Anyone who wants to do creative work, should just give it a try. Even after joining the creative field and it does not work out for a few years, it is important to believe in yourself and hang in there and don’t give up.

RiA : What to expect from MarketingPulse?

Shuhei : I will participate as a speaker, but I am very much looking forward to what the other speakers have to say and to feel the ambiance of the audience side.

I really want to feel the passion of the Asian market.

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