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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