View from Japan: How brands can make the most of Tokyo 2020 on social

Thought Leadership

There are now less than six months to go until the Tokyo Olympics begin. The city is wrapping up its preparations for the games, and with excitement building, sponsors and other advertisers can expect to witness huge passion from the Japanese people when it comes to the event.

The sporting lead up has helped build this sense of anticipation. The recent Rugby World Cup in Japan was a bigger hit than expected among the local population. As the tournament went on, we saw enthusiasm grow to fever pitch levels with social channels – Twitter and Instagram especially – capturing millions of key moments for a whole new rugby audience.

Now, Japan is ready once again to display the best of what the country can offer to a massive global audience. And there are several areas on which brands could focus to improve their authentic appeal with Japanese people – and then amplify this globally.

Japan is renowned for its monoculture, based on hundreds of years of intricate tradition. Yet this is evolving, and the greater focus on inclusivity and diversity in Japanese culture is something on which western brands, which tend to emphasise these values in their Olympics advertising, can build.

There’s a definite desire among consumers for broader representation in communications, demonstrated not only in advertising through campaigns from brands including AIG, which featured the New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad to celebrate ethnic diversity, but also through the emergence of mainstream TV shows such as Baribara, a variety show all about people with disabilities.

This type of format is reflective of a general change in the tone of communications in Japan, with something of a move away from its renowned “crazy” TV formats towards programming of a more sober tone. That’s not to say that the high energy, riotous shows no longer exist. Brands looking for high octane appeal could do worse than look at shows such as ITTE Q, Wednesday’s Downtown, London Hearts and Ame Talk for an idea of what works in this field. But also be aware that this approach won’t appeal to everyone in Japan, with many (including younger audiences) turning to more serious entertainment such as Wide na Show and Asaichi.

It’s also worth appreciating the phenomenal rise of YouTubers in Japan, in terms of both fronting TV shows and endorsing products and brands in a more serious way. This means that Tokyo could be very different from previous Olympics for advertisers due to the significant influence of these personalities in Japan. Some of the more prominent YouTube talent includes Hikakin, Fuwachan, and Hajime, and brands can learn a lot from their approach, even if they don’t tie up deals to work with them.

The nuances of social media use in Japan differ in some ways to western markets. Twitter is popular in many countries, but in Japan the platform’s penetration is massive. This in itself offers opportunities for the likes of established broadcasters such as NBC Universal and the BBC – Twitter gives access to what the Japanese are talking about and what we are reacting to with a high degree of relevance. It would be great to see broadcasters taking this seriously, using what they can see is of interest on Twitter to provide deeper analysis of the how and why.

When it comes to other social platforms, no others have the sheer scale of Twitter. In terms of market share of monthly users by social platform, Twitter’s reached 35.3% in December, compared with 24.7% for Facebook, and 7.4% for YouTube. Instagram’s was 5.6%. However, used in tandem with Twitter, Instagram is becoming more popular. And that’s leading to behaviour change during big sporting events.

For example – during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Russia, people took to Twitter to simply share their thoughts and reactions. Many World Cup-related words became the Twitter trends of the hour, the day, throughout each week of the event.

Fast forward to Rugby World Cup in 2019. This time people were also focused on sharing ‘moments’ – whether that was with their friends while watching games together, at the stadium, or at the pub, or in their homes. The reason? The rise of Instagram. On that visual-centric platform, people wanted to share the big moments when they were having fun with others, rather than only sharing their feelings and thoughts in texts.

This is an important evolution in Japan, and recognition of this can be built into Olympic communications plans for brands. People aren’t just focused on the on-track or field action, they are using social media to facilitate their personal interactions as well.

All this comes to the heart of understanding Japan during the Olympics. We have a culture that many people have only recently been more exposed to, via the Rugby World Cup. We’ve experienced a lot of change, from a cultural perspective as well as within our media. Those who take the time to get under the skin of this will be the most successful at the Tokyo Olympics.


This article was originally written for The Drum by our Managing Director for Tokyo, Masayuki Tono