An Analysis of Japanese Television
By Jyotika Ramaprasad and Kazumi Hasegawa
Content analysis of 410 prime time television commer-
cials sannpled from four Japanese television stations finds
that, at all produa involvement levels, Japanese commer-
cials use the emotional appeal more than the information-
al appeal, sometimes with very indirect product selling
approaches. At the same time, only a small percentage of
these commercials do not use information cues at all. In
the sample, the modal length was 15 seconds and the
mcxial product was food/drinks. Also, Western influence
was evident: a majority of the commercials used spoken
and written English and about a sixth used Western music
and non-Japanese (particularly Western) characters; the
Japanese attach attributes such as modernism and value
to Western symbols.
•An ongoing debate in marketing centers around whether advertising
should be globally standardized or tailored to the specific culture of
individual countries.' It is argued by some that "when advertising strate
gy itself is geared toward international appeal...to achieve world-wide
corporate image or the appeal itself has a common international conno-
tation..., standardization might be employed."* On the other hand, evi-
dence cited in research studies suggests that cultural differences do
exist, which would indicate indigenizing advertising. While "product
universality cannot imply global message appeal,"' because of factors
like purchase and consumption patterns, psychosocial characteristics
and cultural criteria, a "product or service [that] is culturally or psycho-
logically ^)ecific to a ...country...will make [an even poorer] candidate
standardized advertising campaign."*-*
Although few advertisers might use standardized advertising,' when
an advertiser chooses to ignore cultural aspects, it results in interna-
tional blunders. While "linguistic anomalies" are one type of such blun-
they are not the most typical.^ Most advertising blunders result
failure to understand foreign cultures and their social norms.
The "logic of emotion" is basic to marketing in Japan; "...while
Western advertising tends to be more verbal, direct message, and logi-
Japanese advertising is emotional, suggestive, and indirect."* The
appeals used are "soft music, beautiful scenery, and soft voices."
•Jyotika Ramaprasad teaches in the School of Journalism and Kazumi Hasegawa is a
graduate student in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University..
Vol. 67, No. 4 (Winter 1990) 1025
1026 JOURNAUSM QUARTERLY
Japanese consumers tend to "choose products and brands because of
manufacturer's good works and favorable image."
fact, the sales
pitch |s so soft that sometimes "the brand name is not mentioned in the
copy."' Research shows that consumers in Japan are unhappy if an
advertisement "doesn't have atniosphere."" Hard sell appeals are rare
in Japan, and often a consumer is asked to "please compare," in place
American style competitive statements."
Smfiilarities do exist bjetween American and Japanese advertising in
demonstration commercials, in the use of some "visual metaphors," and
in the occasional public service spots. Japanese advertisers also use
Western celebrities." In fact, Japanese marketers use endorser's often
because they believe that Japanese consumers are "strongly susceptible
to peer influence."" However, when the product does not lend itself to
demonstration, its advertising frequently employs "imagery highly
evocative to those rooted in the culture but opaque to tiie rest of
"make people 'feel good' about the product.""
Interestingly, "the forms
the Japanese language are
more sensitive and emotive than directed toward logical exactness.""*
At the same time, the Japanese are also "very severe in their
demands for product safety and guarantees against trouble, accidents
and defects."** Further, they "set a very high value on a sense of
[and] are fastidious about packaging, design and color." They are
also "severe in their demands for uniformity in size, color, etc. among
individual units ofthe same product."
Hierarchy of Effects
Certain assumptions about consumer behavior might underlie the
appeals used in advertising. The most commonly posited hierarchy
effects—a rational model—in consumer behavior suggests cognitive
effects followed by affective effects in turn followed by conative effects.
(These stages have been variously named by different theorists—for
example, one nomenclature is "learn-feel-do"—and have also been bro-
ken up into finer categories by others.)
is possible that consumers
will not follow this model and might even skip steps. The rational model
Steuart Henderson Bhtt. 'Sundardians Mvketinf
(Winter 1974): 3»45; Robert
Scandardiied Clo6al M^v^'ot'Jeitir%d of Adoerlamg, 42&29 (Summer 197S):
National Adver&sinf Stnteties,' CMtmkia Joumd
Dean M. PeeUc* md
Ryms. Jr., Management tfMerwational Adoertising:
Marketing Approaa (Boston: AUyn
*Standardixed CloU Advertianft
Jmimal efMarkating, 33:57-60 CApril
7. Dsvid Ricks, Marilyn Y.
Arpsa Inlemationat Businea Blunden (Columbus,
William Laaer, Shop Murata,
Hiroahi Kosaka, 'Japanese Marketinc: Towards
Joumal If Marketing,
Barbara Mueller, 'Reflectiona
American Advertisinf Appeali^'/mmo/ ^Advertising Rueartk, 27:51-S0 0une^u]y 1987).
9. Mary Ward, 'Booae Ads Blend Brand Name with Atmosphere
Imafe,' Advertising Agt
Jan Dirk Wacenaar, Xreativity in
Mood, Soft on Conflict,'
John OTooie, 'Ad Strategies
Japan a My»ery,'AdMrtisingAee, 56:5»59 0985).
Nakamura Hi^itne, 'Conadousness of the Individual and the Universal Ainonc the Japanese.' in Charies
MooK, ed., TUJ^anest Mind
16. Yoshiro Hasefswa.
Marketer^,'A^ertimni Age Suppiamemtjan
Japanese Television Commercials
then is not necessarily universal.
Six possible sequences can be derived from the three steps of the
hierarchy. Almost all have been posited by different authors as applica-
ble to different situations." It has been suggested that the Japanese fol-
low a ^eel-do-Iearn" Gearn being mostly interpreted in these hierar-
chies as "knowledge" rather than just "awareness'O model where how
they feel about the product is more important than what they know
about the product in their purchase decision."
Product Involvement Level
Research has shown that the appeals used in advertising might also
differ based on the involvement level of the product. Different modes of
consumer information processing accompany different involvement
level products." For high involvement products, a consumer might pur-
sue the "central route" to attitude change after a "diligent consideration
of information [that] she or he feels is central to the true merits of a
particular attitudinal position."* Such an attitude change is "relatively
enduring and predictive of behavior."
On the other hand, for low involvement products, consumers might
take the peripheral route which involves attitude change not because
the individual has "considered the pros and cons of the issue, but
because the attitude issue or object is associated with positive or nega-
Mood and environmental and situational factors come into
play here. Such an attitude change is "relatively temporary and unpre-
dictive of behavior."
Pertinent (informative) advertising may be more effective for high
involvement products because people may be more willing to make the
required cognitive effort. In fact, research indicates a relationship
between involvement and consumer sensitivity to information; as
"involvement increases so does information need."" Non-pertinent
advertising may possibly work for low involvement products by build-
ing "salience" through repetition" or through providing positive cues to
associate with the product. Ray and Batra have also argued for a "per-
centage contribution" model where both liking and evaluation (the lat-
ter based on product attributes) contribute to attitude towards the prod-
uct but where liking contributes more in low involvement situations
because it is relatively effortiess and evaluation contributes more in
high invohrement situations where deeper processing is required." At
the same time, it must be recognized that the relationship between con-
tent (informational or emotional) and involvement level may be culture
Gordon E. Miracle, Teel-Do-Leam: An Altemative Sequence Underiyinc Japanese Consumer Response to
Television Commercials,' in
Rorence G. Feasley. ed..
American Academy of Advertising, 1987) R73.R78.
Herbert E. Knigman. The Impact of Television Advertising: Leaming Without Involvement.'
29:34MS6 CFan 1965).
*• Kchard E. Petty, John T Cacioppo, and David Schumann. ' Central and Peripheral Routes to Advertising
':»ctiveneM: The Moderating Role of Involvemen^'yoHmo/o/CoiiaiKMrifavardk, 10:135-136 (September 1983).
21 Lawrence Bowen and Steven H. Chaffee, "Product Involvement and Pertinent Advertising /Soptiit,' Joumalism
Qitrttfly. 51:644 (Winter 1974).
and l^jeev Batra, "Emotion and Persuasion in Advertising: What We Do and Donl Know About
1028 JOURNAUSM QUARTERLY
Information and Emotion
Several explications of the informational and emotional content of
advertising—variously named by different authors—are available in the
literature.** For informational appeals, Resnick and Stern's" operational-
ization based on 14 cues that would allow a viewer to "make a more
intelligent buying decision" is widely used. Several studies on the infor-
mational content of advertising are available.*
More recent studies comparing Japanese and American advertising
are also available. One such study," found Japanese advertisements to
be more informative. However, another study" found that Japanese
advertising used more emotional and informational cues than American
advertising. Yet another study," found that while Japanese advertising
did use some traditional appeals such as soft sell, it also used some
modern and Westernized appeals such as product merit appeals reflect-
ing some common advertising approaches between the two countries.
This study analyses Japanese television commercials with a view to
understand their use of emotional and informational appeals within the
context of the hierarchy of effects in consumer behavior. The study is
therefore basically descriptive in nature. Two specific hypotheses were
The number of commercials using an emotional appeal will be
larger than the number using an informational appeal.
There will be no association between the appeal used and the level
of involvement. That is, there will be no difference in the number of
commercials using the informational appeal and the number using the
emotional appeal by level of involvement.
This study content analyzes a sample of commercials aired during
July and August 1987. Sample dates were picked by the "constructed
week" method. For each such day, one channel was picked randomly
from the four commercial channels available in the region in Japan
where the recording was done. The time for each day was picked ran-
domly in one hour slots starting at 7 p.m. and ending with 10 p.m. The
sample therefore consisted of commercials within 14 hours of pro-
grams, representing four different commercial channels, four different
time periods, and all different days of
week for two m()nths.''
The commercials were coded for several variables including use
the English language (spoken and written, including "loan" words),
involvement level of the product, type of appeal (emotional or informa-
Preston. 'CortraMing Types of
Content—A Case of Tenninolofy Gone Wild,' in Florence
Amtricma Academy efAd»tr
B L S 'A l f Ifa C
y m^ f y fH
Marquex, 'Advertising Content: Persuaaion, Information,
CAutuain IS77): 482-91; Gene R. Ljcsiiak. Infarmation Content
Dowling, 'Information Content
in U.S. and
Auatralian Television Advertiang,'
Alan Resnick, 'Magtttne
Advertiainr An Anal/sis of it» Infarmalion Content'>«fM; ef Advertising Ktttank, 21:39-44 CApnl 1981).
Qiaries S. Maddea Mariorie
Shinya Matiukubo, 'Analysis of Infarmation Content
JapaneK M«g«ine M*ei\imng,'JturMal^Advertising, 15:3M5 (1986).
Jae W. Hong, Aydin Muderriaogtu, and George M. Zinkhan. 'Cultural Differences
A Comparative Content Analysis
Magaane Advertising,'yMtmo/ ef Advertising, 16: 5562,
BaftMra Mueller, op. cU., 51-50.
reMarcher* were dependent
to do the
work on three
Substitute dates representing the same days
the week were uaed
these three day*.
tional), informational cues present (based on Resnick and Stern's classi-
fication), character type (for example, Japanese adult male) and family
type (for example, single).
For this study, involvement was considered to be a function of the
and other values the greater the involvement. High involvement prod-
ucts are usually more expensive in terms of money and risk involved
and are infrequently purchased while low involvement products are
more often low cost items that are purchased regularly without substan-
tial planning or thought. Medium involvement products lie in between
Intercoder reliability ranged from 85 to 100 percent for different vari-
For type of appeal it was 98 percent.
Sample: Altogether 410 commercials appeared in
14 hours of programming, to average to 29.29 commercials per hour.
Most of these commercials (64.4%) were 15 seconds long, followed by
30 seconds (31.5%). Calculations based on these figures suggest that
the sample J^>anese programs had about 10 minutes and 11 seconds of
commercials per hour. The broadcast industry in Japan allows a maxi-
mum of six commercial minutes for a 60 minute program. However,
broadcasters are able to work around this by airing many short pro-
grams because a program as short as five minutes can have commer-
cials for one minute.^
The most often (34.1%) advertised product category was food and
drinks, followed by toiletries/detergents (16.3%), and service (12.7%). A
majority (59.8%) of the commercials were for low involvement products,
while 22 percent were for medium and 18.3 percent were for high
involvement products. Product involvement level was related to the
length" of the commercials with high involvement products using more
30 second commercials (chi square=
Altogether, 370 commercials (about
used music. Most commer-
cials (73.9%) showed single people." This is reflective of the large
importance Japanese marketers are giving to the young generation who
have a considerable and growing influence on purchasing decisions
made by their parents and who are not clinging to traditional Japanese
Infiuence: Of the 370 commercials which used music, 68
(about 18%) used Western music. Also, English was spoken in 319
(77.8%) commercials, and written English was used in 288 (70.2%) com-
The use of Western music was related to the use of both spoken and
written English. Of the 68 commercials which used Western music, 67
also used spoken English (chi square=17.16; p=.OO), and 56 also used
written English (chi square=4.09; p=.O4). Of the 319 commercials which
Bowen and Chaffee,
Sydney W. Head, Wtrld
(Belmont. CA: Wadsworth Publishing
of the 410 commercials were either 15 or 30 seconds long, these were tdected out for all further analy-
the length variable.
Family type was not coded into mutually exclusive categories. Multiple coding was allowed.
See the seversi arlicles
1030 JOURNAUSM QUARTERLY
used spoken English, 262 also used written English (chi square-94
Product involvement level was also related to spoken English with
more high invohrement product commercials using ^oken English (chi
While the adoption of written and spoken EngUsh is large, it is partly
a function of the Japanese tendency to borrow words not available in
their language and make them a part of their language. Also, the
Japanese attach attributes such as value, modernism, and newness
the use of Western symbols. As a result products have English brand
names (for example, one brand of noodles is called UFO and a brand
deodorant is called 8x4) and commercials use English adjectives such
as "new," "now" (meaning up-to-date) or "hot."
In keeping with this thinking that Western associations enhance
product image, Japanese commercials also use non-Japanese, particu-
larly Western, characters.* Of the 410 sample commercials, 65 (15.9%)
used non-Japanese adult males and 64 (15.6%) used non-Japanese
females. This is relatively large in view of the racial homogeneity of
Japan. Most of these characters appeared in commercials which used
spoken English (62 each males and females) and written English (61
males and 57 females). Also, ofthe 68 commercials which used
Western music, 24 used non-Japanese adult males and 28 used non-
Japanese adult females as compared with 16 and 12 respectively using
Japanese adult males and females. The numbers for male and female
teenagers also follow this pattern.
Information Cues: An analysis of the commercials by Resnick and
Stern's information cues showed that information on package and
shape (measured to also include a deliberate showing of the package
for identification purposes) ranked the highest, being available for
of the commercials. This is consistent with the Japanese con-
sumers' focus on packaging. Next, information was available on perfor-
mance for 27.3 percent of the commercials and on components and con-
tents for 21 percent of the commercials. Either very few or no commer-
cials had information on guarantees, safety, independent research and
nutrition. The lack of information on guarantees and safety might be
surprising in view of the Japanese consumers' demand for safe and reli-
able products, particularly as this sample included about 18 percent
high and 22 percent medium involvement product commercials. This
absence however may be explained partly by the fact that Japanese con-
sumers, once they grow to trust a company, expect its products to be
guaranteed and look for this guarantee at the time of purchase and part-
ly by the fact that some of this information may be captured m quality
and performance cues.
Altogether, 374 (91.2%) commercials had at least one type of informa-
tion from the above criteria. No commercial had more than seven cues.
Two was the modal number of cues per commercial (Table
commercials had six cues and only one had seven cues. All three of
these commercials were for toiletries.
Interestingly, the number of cues used had no association with the
length of the commercial and the involvement level of the product
3& Character type was not coded into mutudly exclusive categories. Multiple coding wss allowed.
Distribution of Commercials by Appeal and Number of Cues
x2-115.24; p. < .00
By Resnick and Stern's criterion of one cue per commercial to quali-
fy it as an informative commercial, Japanese commercials are highly
informative. If at least two cues are needed, then 261 (about 64%) com-
mercials would be informative. The hypotheses however were framed
using rules other than Resnick and Stern's criteria.
Using rules which classified commercials into mutually exclusive
cat^ories of informational and emotional appeal used, more commer-
cials (74.9%) were found to be emotional in nature (chi square=101.502;
p=.OO), lending support to the suggestion that "feel" is of primary
importance in the sequence underlying Japanese consumer response to
television commercials. Hypothesis
was supported (Table 2).
Distribution of Commercials by Appeal
Informational Emotional Total
103 (25.13%) 307 (74.87%) 410 (100%)
At the same time, only a few Japanese commercials do not include
information cues at all. This finding is in keeping with results of earlier
studies which found Japanese commercials to have both emotion and
information and to use both traditional and modern appeals. This is the
enigma of the Japanese character. As Moore explains, "The two most
fundamental characteristics of the Japanese thought-tradition and of
Japanese culture...may be summed up in the expressions 'direct...expe-
The resolution of the apparent contradiction between fmdings by
Resnick and Stern's criteria (that Japanese commercials are informa-
tive) and other rules (that Japanese commercials are emotional) might
lie in this: Being informative and using an informational appeal might
not be the same thing, at least up to a certain point. There could be a
of number of cues beyond which the two (being infor-
S^Qifrtes A. Moore. "Editor's SuppUmott die): The Enigmatic Jspanese Mind,' in Char)e» A. Moore, ed The
1032 JOURNAUSM QUARTERLY
mative and using an informational appeal) could be the same. The
ber of sample commercials classified as informational increased
a point) and those classified as emotional decreased with an increase in
the number of cues (Table 1).
The technique of presentation used might also have an effect on the
appeal used. Table 3 gives the distribution of commercials by appeal
and technique (measured for this study as use of soft sell or not) used.
More commercials which adopt a soft sell technique use an emodonai
appeal. It can therefore be proposed that the appeal used could be a
function of the number of
the presentation technique, and interac-
tion between the
Distribution of Commercials by Appeal and Presentation Technique
Hypothesis 2 was also supported. No significant association existed
between type of appeal and level of involvement (Table 4). Japanese
television commercials adopt the emotional strat^y (giving primacy to
"feel" in the consumer response hierarchy underlying television com-
mercials) for all types of products, the assumption being that the con-
sumer will transfer the good feeling aeated in and through the com-
mercial to the product. The commercials even go so far as to not men-
tion the product or to puzzle the viewer in the early part of
cial. Some support for the presence of this strategy was found in this
study: 77 (18.8%) of the commercials did not disclose the product early
and 30 (7.3%) commercials created an initial mood of puzzlement. ^
Batra" points out, mere affect also works because affective advertising
is "attended to more, processed more, evaluated more favorably, and
At the same time, it might not be correct to apply this hierarchy
versally in Japan either. While Japanese
advertising may give
higher priority to "feel" than to "learn," subsequent consumer behavior
might not necessarily follow the remaining steps (do and then learn) in
that hierarchy, particularly for high involvement products. For such
products, it is magazine advertising which usually performs the func-
tion of at least partially satisfying the "learn* step, following the "good
feeling" about the product established through television advertising. It
Hunt has miggeMei that the initnnativeness of s commercial dependa on each individual's perception, fjktt
mid Norri^ atudy of viewer perceptions of the informativeness of advertising fcund results sooiewhat similar to tht
ones sucgeaUd here; two variables, smong others, that distinguished sn informative commercial were presentabon
twhnque* OMtl/soft scU) and lumber of
See, Shdby D. Huit. Inlormational vt. Penuaaive
iippriiMl.' Joumal tf Advertising, & S* (Summer 1976): and
Aaker and Donald Norris, *Chanctaistics of TV
22:61-70 (April/May 1962).
Baira, tp. dl..
Japanese Television Commercials
would therefore be false to conclude that Japanese consumers do not
make the cognitive effort (pursue the central route) required for most
high invohrement products just because Japanese television commer-
not reflect the process.
Distribution ot Commercials by Appeal and Level af Involvement
Informational Emotional Total
High 16(21.3%) 59(78.7%) 75(18.3%)
Medium 22(24.4%) 68(75.6%) 90(22%)
Low 65(26.5%) 180(73.5%) 245(59.8%)
103(25.1%) 307(74.9%) 410(100%)
The particular strategy that Japanese television advertising adopts
should give pause to those who advocate globally standardized adver-
tising. At the same time, this study shows evidence of Western influ-
ence on Japanese advertising. This influence however manifests itself
more in the commercials' trappings (characters and language) than in
strategy (appeal). Yet it cannot be ignored, because it might be the first
and an easier step to take in
transition towards advertising that is sim-