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Sponsorship Around the World: Japan Edition

Sponsorship Around the World: Japan Edition

6 minute read

  • Although there are differences between Japanese and North American sports, there are several ways brands can leverage sport sponsorship in Japan
  • Celebrity endorsements in Japan is lucrative source of revenue for A-list Hollywood actors
  • Due to recent events, Japanese consumers have become more open to investment in corporate social responsibility

Sponsorship Around the World is a series published by MKTG that will take you to different countries to highlight sponsorship trends and best practices from outside North America. For each installment, MKTG will provide an overview of key insights from a different global market. For the fourth installment, MKTG travels to Japan to study their sponsorship landscape: 

Today, Japan represents a unique balance of tradition and advanced society. On one hand, Japan’s culture is immersed in traditions dating back thousands of years; on the other hand, it is a society at the forefront of the technological age. As the third largest national economy in the world, Japan offers a fascinating case study for sponsorship marketers, and the world at large. MKTG discusses 5 sponsorship insights regarding Japan.

As the national sport of Japan, Sumo is a unique spectacle, rich in tradition. In modern day Japan, the Sumo experience maintains its unique traditions, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt. In order to protect this heritage and traditional environment from commercialization, companies are limited in their ability to activate at Sumo tournaments. However, companies that sponsor Sumo are recognized during a pre-bout parade, where company names are read aloud and paraded on eye-catching banners. While domestic sponsors like Nagatanien (a Japanese food manufacturer) are common at Sumo bouts, foreign sponsors have also recognized the value of Sumo in reaching the Japanese market. For example, to promote his upcoming album, former Beatle Paul McCartney paid to have his album recognized during the pre-bout parade for the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in Fukuoka, Japan. 

1. 

The traditional sport of Sumo attracts both Japanese and foreign sponsors

Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is Japan's largest professional sports competition, both in attendance and television viewership. Similar to Major League Baseball’s World Series in North America, league champions within Nippon Professional Baseball compete in a best-of-seven series during the month of October. However, despite the similarities in on-field play, there are notable differences between Japanese and North American baseball, especially as it relates to sponsors. Since most teams in NPB play in or around Tokyo or Osaka, not all teams are referred by the city where they play. Rather, many professional Japanese teams are named after corporate owners or sponsors, such as the Yomiuri Giants, which is owned by the Yomiuri Group (a Japanese media conglomerate). In fact, In addition to team names, the in-game experience of Japanese baseball differs from that of Major League Baseball. Most notably, fans are allowed to bring outside beverages into the stadium, including alcohol. While alcohol may still be purchased within the stadium, it is served exclusively by young women referred to as biiru no uriko (beer girls). During games, beer brands are identified by the uniform worn by the biiru no uriko, who dispense a particular brand of beer from a keg strapped to their back – creating high visibility for the brand. While major Japanese beer sponsors like Asahi Breweries benefit from high visibility on-site, they do suffer from less protection from ambush.

2.

There are several differences between Japanese baseball and Major League Baseball, especially as it relates to sponsors

According to organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the 2020 Summer Games will be “the most innovative ever organised.” This comes as no surprise as Tokyo is one of the most advanced and sophisticated cities on the planet. Last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1964, it introduced the world to the famous bullet train. In 2020, athletes and tourists of the game can expect innovations ranging from facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders, to an artificial meteor shower. Tokyo’s commitment to innovation at the 2020 Summer Games also extends to the Games sponsors, providing a natural platform to showcase their brand as a technological innovator. As an official Olympic sponsor, Toyota has committed to use the event to advertise its hydrogen fuel-cell technology. According to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Toyota is planning to debut its hydrogen powered Toyota Miari before the 2020 Olympics – meaning hydrogen cars, courtesy of Toyota, could transport athletes throughout the Games. Similarly, Japan is also aiming to release driverless-cabs to transport tourists around the city. Whether or not these technologies are available in time for the Games or not, there is no doubt that technology from the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games is going to change how we experience the Olympics.

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Tokyo is getting ready to host the most advanced Olympics ever, creating opportunities for corporate partners

Very rarely will North American audiences see A-list Hollywood actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie appear in commercial advertisements for brands like McDonalds or Coca-Cola. However, in Japan, where commercials are less likely to be seen by North American viewers, it is much more common to see these actors appear in commercial advertisements. In Japan, celebrity endorsements in advertising is so prevalent, that over seventy percent of all Japanese commercials feature a domestic or foreign celebrity. This is largely due to the fact that in Japan, many consumer products or brands place less emphasis on attributes of quality or functionality – attributes that could differentiate them from competing products/brands. In order to combat this clutter, advertising agencies in Japan leverage large advertising budgets to attract celebrity endorsers in order to bring attention to their product. With such lucrative endorsement deals, and the assumption that Japanese commercials will not be seen by North American viewers, celebrities are more willing to say or act in a silly manner. 

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Hollywood celebrities are familiar faces to Japanese consumers

The CSR landscape is Japan has evolved in recent years. Historically, corporate culture and management style in Japan as revolved around process, hierarchy and structure. While the role of business was always to be fair to its employees and consumers, taking a stance on social issues is a relativity recent phenomenon for businesses in Japan. Today, more and more Japanese consumers are open to private sector investment in important social concerns. A 2015 survey from Edelman revealed that Japanese consumers are more trusting of business than government, media, and NGO’s. 45% of the general population have faith in businesses ability to “keep up with changing times”, compared to just 29% for government. This shift has been partially triggered by major disasters in Japan such as the 2011 Earthquake / Tsunami which caused nearly 16,000 deaths. In the wake of these disaster, many Japanese companies such as Samsung, Fuji, Nippon, Softbank and Mitsubishi gave unprecedented corporate commitments to the cause. Research reveals that pollution and the environment are amongst the most important social issues for Japanese consumers, which may lead to more brands investing in this space in the future. 

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Japanese consumers shifting towards greater acceptance of cause marketing  


Highlighting different attitudes and interests from various international regions is an important practice for sponsorship marketers. It helps to identify challenges and opportunities a different region provides. MKTG will continue to profile a variety of countries and if you have a market you are interested in learning more about, let us know in the comment section below or email us at insights@mktg.com.

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