Advertising in Japan: the importance of language to culture

In “Breaking through: Working with Japanese Creatives“, John McCreery discusses the difficulties that arise when non-Japanese businesses attempt to advertise in Japan. There is a cultural clash between the foreign business manager and the Japanese creative team. According to McCreery, the two groups will not be successful if foreign managers do not speak Japanese, as is the case 99% of the time. “Who would run a business in the United States without knowing English, or a business in Paris without knowing French, and without being able to communicate with employees in their native language? Is it out of ignorance or arrogance that we think we can run businesses successfully as illiterates in the second most important economy in the world?” (McCreery).

Because the client and the creative team do not share a language, ideas must be shared through a translator. This alone causes problems due to miscommunications. However, most of the difficulties arise because one cannot understand a culture without understanding a language. For example, foreign managers attempt to give presentations in the same way they would in their home country, unaware that they are creating a “classroom situation”, in which the creatives are unlikely to respond with their own input because Japanese students learn from a young age not to question the teacher. This article gives a great real life example of the importance of language in understanding culture, and the importance of understanding both when it comes to successfully running a business in a foreign country.

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2 thoughts on “Advertising in Japan: the importance of language to culture

  1. Culture and language are tightly related to economy (business). Your blog makes me think of the Social Psychology class I took last semester, in which I know that our culture are crucial in determining how we behave toward other people. There is an example on the book saying that Japanese businessmen attend a smile workshop to learn how to smile and behave as Western people want them to be in order to fit in Western incorporations and not lead misunderstanding. In your blog, American businessmen cannot act in the way as they do in American. This reflects Japanese wanting to smile in western way. What’s more, the sentence structures of Japanese and English are very different, so not understanding why people say the sentence in that way might elicit confliction. As far as I know, Japanese use different words for “I” when talking with different people (wife, child, female friends…), but in English, we use “I” all the time. I remember Professor Torres told us that she had a student who majored in Anthropology but is in a business company right now, without doing anything about Anthro. And i think that’s the way people build connection between culture and business.

    • I think Anthropology majors are probably very useful for careers in business. In a situation like this one, someone with experience in Anthro would probably understand the importance of language in culture, and therefore in advertising. Having an understanding of the culture you’re working in seems not just like an advantage, but a necessity.

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