Japan Today

Why it’s so important for Japanese celebrities to star in commercials


Even if you can’t understand what’s being said on Japanese TV, it’s difficult to miss the fact that nearly every TV spot and, for that matter, a good chunk of print ads, feature Japanese celebrities shucking various products.

To the Western eye, this can be a little baffling. Sure, sometimes commercials in English-speaking countries will fall back on (mostly) has-been stars to lend credibility to this or that used car dealership or diet product, but most of the time Western commercials star everyday folks. Most surmise this is so the consumer – his/herself most likely an everyman/woman – feels an emotional connection with the ad.

On the other hand, Japanese ad agencies hire TV and movie stars much, if not most, of the time. So prevalent is the practice that Western stars aren’t above traveling to Japan "Lost in Translation"-style for a week or so of juggling live human beings and shouting broken-English catchphrases for a round of Japanese ads ending in a big payday.

Just as there are good reasons Western ads use everyday folks, there are good reasons they don’t use stars: for one, if the star him/herself isn’t extremely famous and trusted, there’s a chance that celeb’s presence in the commercial may have the opposite of the desired effect. Would you trust, say, a loan agency repped by a madly twerking Miley Cyrus? On the flip side, many stars are reluctant to do TV ads for fear of being associated with a tainted product.

So, why is Japan so quick to trust celebrity-endorsed products? Japanese blog site Madame Riri weighed in recently, reasoning – by way of interview with a foreign Japan expert – that the Japanese are more likely to look to others for advice – especially from people they know and trust, or at least perceive themselves to know and trust.

This even creates a weird spiral where the more commercials a person appears in, the more famous they become. Commercial appearances are almost a requirement to becoming a household name in Japan. There’s much speculation that this is the very reason Hollywood’s most recent go-to Japanese star, Rinko Kikuchi of "Pacific Rim" – who has scarcely appeared in Japanese ads – consistently fails to make any waves in Japan despite global fame.

There are certainly pros and cons to each approach, and each approach says a lot about the separate cultures. Sure, the Japanese may look a little gullible when clamoring for whatever product SMAP is pushing lately. But on the other hand, it might say a lot about the trustworthiness of Japanese industry that these stars aren’t reluctant to endorse for fear of losing face if a product doesn’t work like it should.

Source: Madame Riri

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"There are certainly pros and cons to each approach,"

What are the cons of using "everyday folks" in ads?

"interview with a foreign Japan expert"

This person has no name?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

One of the MANY reasons I steer clear of Japanese TV...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Ad-time" on TV = "Rest-room time" for me...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just like their quiz shows, I'd rather watch normal people answering real questions in quiz shows than watching "script following idiotic talentos" or that "kyoto university graduate super genius" answering questions like "write this kanji in correct stroke order" ... lol, yeah genius.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I don't have a problem with it... it's when the same celeb turns up on those blasted variety shows. I mean I was in Japan when "Kaiji 2" came out and the main cast were everywhere. You couldn't flick channels without them appearing. In contrast the ads are fine - they last seconds... and pop! Gone. Although the Hiroshi Abe ones were a tad annoying.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A friend of mine who was in the tv business in Japan told me a different story. He told me most of the variety shows don't pay that much at all, and that the point of being in them was to get enough face time on tv that you become more popular. Get more popular and you get hired to be in very lucrative commercials. Repeat this cycle enough, and you might just get a big part in a regular drama. There you increase the value of your name, earn more and bigger cm bits, and so on. Then of course the truly talented/lucky stars get big parts in movies and if they make enough money and earn enough respect they can just go from movie to movie without jumping through all the hoops. Not sure if this is 100% accurate, and even if it is I'm sure there are a lot of exceptions, but I think it explains the prevalence of the same talents better.

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I though most Japanese shows are commercials with celebrities. Show where celebrities go eat food at different places. Travel shows where celebrities goes to different locations and try the local food or stay at famous places. Sometimes the commercials are better written, well at least they are short. There was a recent study in the US that said celebrity endorsements play not part in the sales of the product advertised. A catchy jingle is much more important. Then you have Hatsune Miku in ads for Toyota Corolla. A non-existing celebrity in ads for a real product, seems perfect and wasn't there an article saying that the Toyota Corolla is the world's most popular car.... it couldn't be the affordability, safety, standard features, or quality ... well quality been slipping lately. It must be all due to Vocaloid Hatsune Miku.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Uhm, American T.V adds are chaulk-full with celebrity endorsements. So, the whole idea that "Western" tv doesn't is simply wrong.

The reason why "it is so important" for celebs in Japan to appear on TV is the same reason why they do everywhere else:


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