Otaku Marketing: Idols and Fans in Japanese Television Advertising


Memo #205

By Jason G. Karlin – ukarlin [at] mail.ecc.u-tokyo.ac.jp

More than in nearly any other country, celebrity is central to Japanese television advertising. Indeed, about 70% of all Japanese commercials feature a celebrity. With as much as ¥1.7 trillion ($21.3 billion) spent on television advertising in Japan every year, celebrities—specifically idols—are the means of connecting producers to consumers in a media landscape where the audience is increasingly being addressed as consumer-fans (i.e. otaku).

Women are the primary audience for television advertisers due to their important role as consumers in Japanese society. Since Japanese women generally watch more television than men, advertisers target female consumers by employing popular celebrities. Through the intimacy of the television medium that brings these performers into the everyday life of viewers, female audiences develop a strong identification with particular idols. As a result, Japanese advertising relies most on celebrities to attract audience attention.

With the declining effectiveness of television advertising in recent years due to the diversity of media platforms, particularly mobile phones and the Internet, advertisers have found that they need to target fan audiences who are more receptive to their message and likely to seek greater engagement through other media.

The corporate webpage for Nisshin OilliO brand cooking oil featuring Arashi member Ninomiya Kazunari. The webpage includes such content as longer 30-second versions of the television commercials, videos of the making of the commercials, downloadable PC wallpapers, and even recipes for the foods the idol eats in the commercials.

Female fans of male idol groups produced by the talent agency Johnny & Associates (e.g. Arashi and SMAP) often develop a strong identification with their favorite idol, and derive pleasure from supporting and encouraging the idol’s success. Besides purchasing the products their idol endorses, they collect and share information about the idol through social media that publicizes the products. Fans post announcements or reactions to each new commercial on personal websites, social media, and blogs. Fans also obligingly visit the websites of the corporate sponsors to repeatedly watch the spot and peruse other content featuring the idol. Many fans collect commercials featuring their idols.

Japanese idols are as much devices for advertising as they are entertainers and performers. With idols appearing in advertising campaigns for numerous companies, they may earn most of their income from this. Idols, therefore, not only promote the sale of goods and services, but are produced by the goods and services that they sell.

Dr. Jason G. Karlin is a tenured Associate Professor in the Interfaculty Initiative in Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo and co-editor of the recently published Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture

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The personal blog of an Arashi fan who kept a log of all the commercials she “collected” (recorded) from the more than 60 commercials produced for KDDI’s television advertising campaign for its new Android smartphones in 2011.


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