Digital Media Buying Tips for Japan

Welcome to Japan, a country where most premium ad inventory is still bought and sold direct over a high-speed exchange of time-stamped … Excel docs.

Newspapers are still read here too. It’s weird, I know.

Here are two tips for spending less and running a successful ad campaign that I learned from buying over $60 MM in ad inventory while at Groupon.

1. All Prices Are Inflated for Negotiation.

Japan, and Asia in general, is a region where people spend much time negotiating. They call business here “wet” for a reason. Sales teams begin with chit chat, gifts of sweet rice snacks, bowing and if performance has been poor probably a whole lot of apologies too.

The norm here is to get a discount. There are factors such as length of the business relationship and your total spend that come into play.

Always start with “Is that really the lowest price? We talked to another agency and it was much cheaper.”

Here’s the relationship breakdown of the industry:

Publisher > Media Rep > Agency > Another Agency

Unless you buy in excess of a $1 MM USD per month you’ll be meeting an Agency. Sometime’s an agency’s agency (ridiculous I know). Unnecessary margins are here and I guarantee you there’s always a lower price. As a point of contrast, in Korea you’ll get production costs and consultations included in the media price, but in Japan, that’s not the case.

If you’re buying much more than that then quit meeting the agency. Talk directly to the Publisher if possible or Media Rep. Normally this is difficult Getting a third-party introduction is most effective. To ease any anxieties about industry relations being hurt for dealing directly, you can setup a special purpose entity.

A story from a friend that’s an account manager for a big Japanese brand illustrates how bad the media buying culture is here:
“One time after selling hard, the online marketing manager sensed he wasn’t going to get a discount and said, ‘I have to show I got a discount or I’ll get in trouble. Mark up the price so it looks like I negotiated a discount.’”

2. Don’t Believe CTRs/CVRs

After greetings, the junior member of the sales team will start passing out several PAPER copies (remember, newspapers aren’t dead yet) of a 30-page proposal he’s stapled together and after all the details of how targeted and refined the media is, you’ll find a media plan with estimated performance.



This will probably be your second or third time meeting them. They’ve asked your average conversion rates among other questions. It’s so they can put one of these sheets together to “help” you with the whole decision-making process.

Here’s your line to save you time and money:

“Tanaka-san, thank you so very much for this. Unfortunately, my boss in <foreign city> must decide. Let’s meet after we talk so please send me the Excel version by end of today.”

Stand up, giving them the cue that no deals get signed today and your meeting concludes after just 20 minutes.

Take this sheet, add a new column next to each CTR and CVR estimation. Multiply the CTR/CVR by 50% and see what’s a more realistic and worst case scenario.


Take these numbers and based on what seems like a realistic campaign, reverse the calculation to find a target price you can negotiate.

Remember, these will be well-dressed sales people who were hired based on looks and ability to drink. Even if their title is “Chief Consultant” their goal is a bigger bonus.

It’s all just an elaborate trick. Take heed and control your KPIs.


In Japan, April Fool’s is a Chance for Marketing

Much like many things Americana, April Fool’s is another cultural tidbit that Japan has taken home and made its own. It’s so prevalent in fact that releasing anything near or around April 1st is a bit scary for some because they don’t want it to be mistaken as a joke.

Here are the three most popular of Japan’s April 1st jokes that I saw throughout social media in Japan.

1. AU – Build Your Own Smartphone Kit (page taken down).

AU might have snagged the #1 spot with the tag line “Spend 10 years and build your smartphone!”

Other one liners include one of Japanese marketers’ favorite marketing campaign additions, “in a miraculous collaboration with…”.

AU April Fool's

2. Google Japan’s Magic Hand

From the team that brings you the best (and free) Japanese IME, comes the Magic Hand. The Magic Hand does all the clicking and pushing to input the text for you.



3.  Yahoo! Wifi Begins Beeper Service (“Pocket Bell”).

In Japan the beeper/pager was called the “pocket bell” (Pokeberu for short). Along with the fossil of technology being re-introduced they use some thick high school girl lingo for additional laughs.



Until next year, enjoy this listing of the top 2013 April Fool’s Jokes in Japan too.



Japan Advertising Landscape “Chaos Map”

You call it the Lumascape or marketing technology landscape. Japan calls it the “Chaos Map”. just released a 2014 edition that covers much of the world that’s not representative of Japan’s ad industry.

Need to research Japan’s advertising landscape or looking to find some leads for your agency, marketing SaaS or advertising solution?

Well then, this is for you.

The 2013 Japan Marketing and Advertising Landscape put together by Hiroshi Kondo of Septeni Holdings is super helpful for staying on top of the market here.

shibuya crossing

Japan’s Top 10 Sites, Apps and Ecommerce of 2013

Nielson Japan published their TOPS OF 2013: DIGITAL IN JAPAN report a few weeks back, but all in Japanese.

Here’s my translation for those of you who cannot read Japanese.


  • Internet use from PCs saw a decline.
  • #1 Smart phone use in Japan is LINE messenger.
  • Tablet possession was 18%, an 8 point increase over a year.

Top 10 Sites in Japan (PCs)

  1. Yahoo Japan
  2. Google
  3. FC2
  4. Youtube
  5. Rakuten
  6. Microsoft
  7. Amazon
  8. Wikipedia
  9. goo
  10. Ameba

Top 5 Video Sites in Japan (PCs)

  1. Youtube
  2. Yahoo GyaO
  3. niwango
  4. FC2 Videos
  5. Dailymotion

Top 5 E-commerce Sites in Japan (PCs)

  1. Amazon
  2. Rakuten
  3. Yahoo Shopping
  4. Yahoo Auctions
  5. (price comparison site)

Top 10 Smartphone Apps (iOS and Android)

  1. LINE
  2. Google Play
  3. Google Maps
  4. Facebook
  5. Google Search
  6. Gmail
  7. You Tube
  8. McDonalds
  9. Twitter
  10. Yahoo! JAPAN

About the PC results:

Sample of both personal(40,000+) and office PCs(2200+) from all across Japan.

About the mobile results:

Sample: 2000 Android Users, 2000 iOS Users for a total of 4000 smartphone users from all across Japan.

Last Day in Seoul right before IPO

Advertising in Japan

Hi there, I’m Jon. I’ve been living in Japan for eight years as of today, working for five of those in Tokyo. I’m a marketer and entrepreneur based in Tokyo. My career started back in high school when I worked for a now defunct EC startup called After high school I went on to work at other startups including Groupon where I managed all digital marketing for Japan and Korea.

My current gig is marketing a marketing conference in Japan – yes I just did say that – called ad:tech. Japan is a unique place with very insular industries. I hope to expose more of the advertising and marketing industry and write some essays.

Tokyo, Japan-based marketer, writer and entrepreneur.