Advertising in Tokyo? A Checklist for Japan’s Fastest Moving Consumer Market

Posted By Jim Kersey

Tokyo is the usual destination of choice for international businesses testing their products in the APAC region. Reasons for this include the huge consumer market to be found here (with a strong appetite for foreign brands), high levels of disposable income, and a willingness to pay more for high-quality luxury goods.

The challenges, however, range from incredibly high customer expectations to the sheer speed that trends and fashion evolves, making it difficult for outsiders to keep up with trends in a location that often sets the pace for other South Asian nations, like Korea, Taiwan, China, and Singapore.

We’ve talked a lot about adapting your advertising marketing strategies for Japan, but here’s some advice for how to take on Tokyo in particular.

Table of Contents

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What’s Unique About Tokyo?

Assuming you know something about why Japan is a unique market to enter, below are a few reasons that make Tokyo extra special.

  • Out of all the Japanese cities, where domestic culture and trends pervade, Tokyo is the most Western-facing with a good appetite for brands from the US and Europe. This doesn’t mean any foreign brand will do well here, but exposure to trends beyond its borders for the local population can make things a little easier for you.
  • The nation’s capital is home to the largest urban consumer population in the world which surges even more throughout the year with visiting tourists from China and other parts of the world, willing to spend considerable amounts of money when visiting.
  • Tokyo is the country’s creative and fashion hub, where trends are set for the country and even the wider APAC region.
  • In the top 50 busiest stations in the world, 46 stations are located in Japan and 27 of these are in Tokyo. The total population is said to increase 6 times as people from surrounding areas commute into the city each day before returning at night, all through the city’s many busy train stations.

Types of Advertising and Formats

Elderly couple reading newspaper advertising in Tokyo

With the size of Tokyo’s population and the number of visitors each year, it’s no surprise that it’s home to the third largest advertising sector in the world, second only to the US and China. Many strategies are focused on proliferating messages to the large number of people moving physically throughout the city.

Yet, with the growing popularity of digital marketing, the way brands choose to reach their audiences has changed.
When entering Japan, you have almost limitless possibilities when deciding how to use your budget. Depending on who you’re hoping to reach, you need to carefully decide on where and how to use the advertising mediums available to achieve your goals.

Large-Scale Digital Signage

Tokyo’s offering of large-scale digital signage is iconic. The most famous crossing in Japan is the world renowned Shibuya scramble crossing, featuring several monstrous LCD screens promoting both big name domestic and foreign brands.

Station Advertisements

Tokyo’s railway and subway network is vast. With car parking spaces for the majority of people being hard to come by, trains are the most common way to travel into and around the city. Partly for this reason, advertising space and digital signage are some of the most effective ways to raise brand awareness and deliver promotional content to your audience.Types of station advertisements include:

  • Digital monitors within newer trains featuring 15-second spots without sound
  • Backlit static image ads throughout stations and near to platforms and waiting areas
  • Large signs located at busy crossings near to stations

Taxi Advertisements

Not entirely unique to Japan or Tokyo, but monitors in taxi cabs have become an increasingly common feature. These touch panels dashboards feature branded adverts as well the ability for passengers to navigate to the company’s website.


Both Japanese and foreign brands still spend a huge amount on TV ads. These have long been considered one of the best ways to reach the most amount of people possible. However, buying TV ad space has always been an expensive activity and requires you to navigate the complex landscape of media buying companies and television networks to secure the slots you need.

Print (Magazines and Newspapers)

Women enjoying magazine advertising in Tokyo

Trust and support for certain publications in Japan is high, with many individuals and households remaining loyal to magazines and newspapers for most of their lives. Together with the lower advertising price compared to TV and the high level of trust as a medium, print adverts are still highly sought after.

Japan has a huge amount of paper-based media, with many known for a specific theme or topic, offering brands the ability to narrow down their audience targeting to match their products and services.

Online Marketing and Social Media

Popular social media channels in Japan include Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. However, other platforms like LINE hold a strong position too in the Japanese SNS space.

Even large corporations are starting to bolster their spending on social media, moving away from entrenched relationships with traditional advertising. While most brands are more comfortable running conversion ads than those focused purely on brand awareness (which are less measurable) with digital strategies, platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok offer good opportunities for brands to achieve results at all stages of the sales funnel in Japan.

Check Out Our PPC Advertising Services in Japan

Build a Media and Advertising Plan Around Individual Consumers

Example of customer for advertising in Tokyo with demographic strategy

Deciding which channels to use, and how much of your media budget should be allocated to each, can be incredibly hard in a city as large and complex as Tokyo. So rather than fixating on specific channels or strategies too early, we’d recommend spending some time re-learning who your customers are and where they spend time.

User behaviour and demographic variables are only confusing when you haven’t taken the time to hone in on consumer behaviour trends such as lifestyle and consumption habits. Perfmon logical market analysis and look for good data that can act as a foundation for budgeting and strategic decisions.

If you’re looking to learn more about your new customer targets, take a look at our popular blog: Marketing in Japan? 10 Important things You Need to Know About Japanese Consumers

Tokyo Media Buying Considerations

Marketer reviewing media strategies for advertising in Tokyo

You may choose to study up on all the potential channels and touchpoints available to you as an advertiser in Japan, or work with a platform or partner who can automate your media buying strategy for you. Below are a few things to consider before you make a choice.

Self-Serve Advertising Platforms We don’t need to tell you about the benefits Google Ads or Facebook Ads can offer you, but you might need to be reminded that these platforms are self-managed and require you to adapt your strategy to the Japanese context, both in how you craft messaging as well as target audiences.
Programmatic Media Buying Programmatic media buying can be incredible at quickly delivering ads to customers who may be most likely to purchase your products or services, however, this approach can demand significant upfront costs, with the need to adapt your strategy to your target market. This approach will still need to be diligently managed by someone internally.
Direct Media Buying Directly contacting a publisher to arrange for your ad to be placed, as well as negotiating terms based on things like format and duration of the campaign, is still possible in Japan, but you won’t get very far without a native speaker who can be the bridge for your brand. Direct media buying requires a good working knowledge of the market and sufficient Japanese language skills to communicate with publishers or owners of ad space. There are many individuals in Tokyo whose entire job is to handle direct media buying for their companies.

HB Pro Tip: Foreign brands expanding to Japan are not naturally equipped to handle everything in-house. To some degree, you will need to seek outside help, whether it’s partners, freelancers or new Japanese employees. There are many Tokyo-based agencies in Japan like our own that can offer flexible support as you look to implement your advertising and media buying strategy.

Need an agency to help with your Google, Facebook or LINE Ad strategies in Japan?

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Increased Spend on Digital Advertising

Japanese commuter enjoying mobile content and advertising in Tokyo

Japanese internet advertising expenditures have consistently grown every year over the last few decades with the size of the internet advertising market exceeding 2.2 trillion yen in 2020, according to Dentsu.

This means that digital spaces are becoming increasingly crowded and competitive with more brands fighting for audience attention. Interestingly, brands are less willing to use digital advertising strategies for brand awareness campaigns with a mindset that digital is more for measurable clicks and conversions, while traditional advertising is still the best option for wide-scale brand amplification campaigns.

Refining Your Location Targeting

While you shouldn’t exclude potential customers in other parts of Japan, there is a benefit to creating highly targeted ads for people in certain geographic locations in Tokyo, which can help you to hone in on your creative messages and improve your ROI.

Google and Facebook will both allow you to exclude locations in your targeting so that you’re only advertising to people in certain locations. You can also adapt your SEO strategy to heavily focus on long-tail keywords that feature specific location names, whether that’s Tokyo in general or smaller prefectures within it.

The extent to which you modify advertising in Tokyo to be more specific to the city will depend on the type of business you have and the products you sell, but some consideration of how location influences the way you plan and set up your ads is always important.

HB Pro Tip: We would recommend creating a map of where your customers spend their time most, whether it’s in the physical world or the specific online platforms and building a location-conscious strategy that adapts creative ad content to the specific places you are targeting. This can make it more likely for you to tap into micro-moments with your search ads and capture attention exactly when potential customers are looking for the kind of products you’re selling.

Working with Tokyo-based Advertising and Marketing Agencies

Example of banner advertising in Tokyo

Another benefit of starting your market entry to Japan in Tokyo is that most advertising and marketing agencies are based here, making communication and coordination somewhat easier.

Working on-the-ground from our Tokyo office allows agencies like us to draw from a combined experience of marketers who are well-versed when it comes Japanese culture, impacting the creativity and effectiveness of our marketing strategies in so many ways.

For instance, we know that something as seemingly simple as colour can have a massive impact on how Japanese audiences perceive Western branding and advertising. When we advised one of our clients, DailyFX, to rethink their brand guidelines for the local market and introduce a more casual and colorful design approach, they were able to see an increase in Instagram followers by 30% MoM, as well as an increase in their engagement rate by 16.3% MoM.

To learn about the kinds of paid advertising services offered in Japan, check out our PPC advertising service page.

You can also get in touch with us directly to learn more about how you can find success in Tokyo and start implementing the kind of strategies that will resonate with your new Japanese customer base.

Need help gaining traction for your business in Japan? Let’s chat on how we can help.

Steal Our Best Ideas

Actionable insights straight from our data

Here are a couple quick discoveries we’ve pulled from the data of our latest projects. Why? To help you make the changes you need to gain traction in the Japanese market! As an agency, we are always digging deeper and searching for those little yet significant tweaks that will push our clients to the next level of success. If you need a partner to help you identify and implement changes like these on a monthly basis, let us know!

Facebook ad copy focusing on craftsmanship had 24% lower CPC and 33% higher CTR than ones focusing on corporate history Discovery card
Concise headlines aligning with search intent Google ad copy CTR increased by 51% Discovery card
Lookalike audiences during a sale season yielded a 536% increase in ROAS Discovery card

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