Localizing The Story: Japanese ...


I’m pleased that two of our account professionals in our Tokyo office, Sayaka Kitamura and Haruna Kawamoto, have contributed today’s guest post on a topic dear to my heart, the importance of tailoring stories to a given market. 

I give Sayaka and Haruna credit for making the intellectual argument for investing in local content. 

Here’s what they’re too polite to say – 

U.S. companies often parachute into Japan armed with content developed at the HQ and instructions to push out this information in the Japanese market. While the HQ content can and should be leveraged, effective storytelling calls for cultivating the Japanese dimension. 

Their post on these Sony camera videos delivers a good example on localized storytelling.  

By Sayaka Kitamura and Haruna Kawamoto,
The Hoffman Agency Japan 

Thanks to the Internet, virtually every company has the potential to sell its products or services on a global basis.

Sitting in Tokyo, we’ve supported a number of U.S. companies in building their brands in Japan.

Often, these companies start with the premise that the same content used in the U.S. can be leveraged to tell their story in Japan.

It doesn’t work that way.

The qualities that have the most relevance to Americans aren’t necessarily the ones that will resonate with Japanese buyers.

And vice versa; what has meaning in Japan might not have meaning in the U.S.

We came across two videos for the same Sony NEX camera – one video designed for the U.S. market and the other earmarked for Japan – that illustrate the differences that come from localizing a product story.

Check out the videos.

U.S. Video:

It’s revealing to break down these differences by area


  • U.S.: No narration
  • Japan: Rich narration over the length of the video, providing a full explanation of the camera’s functions


  • U.S: Goes straight to the camera, allowing viewers to understand immediately what the video clip is all about, then moves into people shots
  • Japan: Starts with an imaginary object then shows technical pictures on how the camera actually works


  • U.S.: What we would call “bouncy” or “upbeat”
  • Japan: Soothing


  • U.S.: 2 minutes, 59 seconds
  • Japan: 6 minutes, 58 seconds

Target Audience

  • U.S.: Early 20s
  • Japan: Anyone


  •  U.S.: You’ll have fun with this camera while capturing your life’s precious moments
  • Japan: The quality of the digital single-lens camera has relevance for everyone

Culture Differences

We would be remiss if we didn’t touch on the underlying cultural differences that likely guided how these two videos were put together.

Historically, Japan is known as a country with one of the top ratios of saving against income. Consumers tend to be frugal anyway, and the economic recessions since 2000 have put more pressure on Japanese households to save.

Plus, Japanese people tend to be detail-oriented and typically want as much information as possible before they make a purchasing decision.

We don’t pretend to be experts on U.S. culture, but it seems fair to say that emotions play an important role in how individuals purchase goods such as consumer electronics. At least that appears to be Sony’s belief, since the video is designed to touch the heart more than the mind.

The only somewhat technical element in the U.S. video is the section that shows the camera features the capability to shoot seven frames per second (which, by the way, also appears in the Japanese version).

sony 7 frames feature

The respective education systems in the two markets also play a factor in the video.

Japanese consumers are used to listening to narration.

As students, the Japanese classroom puts an emphasis on listening to teachers. Thus, Japanese consumers are used to listening to explanations (narration in this case) and appreciate receiving information this way.

On the other hand, the American classroom emphasizes discussion. Individuals only view narration as one piece of information to help them imagine and understand what the product is about.

We’re not saying that narration is never effective in the U.S.

But the typical American isn’t going to watch a seven-minute video with narration about a camera.

Yet, the Japanese consumer will listen to the seven minutes of narration because he or she needs this depth of understanding about the product before a purchasing decision is made.

Back to the Big Picture

The point is, there’s a limit to the content that can be leveraged from a company’s home country in building its brand in new markets.

While the Sony example reflects the consumer space, the same can be said for B2B companies.

It really comes down to relevance.

You want your stories in a given market to be as relevant as possible to the target audience.

That’s why it’s worth the front-end effort to tailor the communications in such a fashion.


  • Twitter Trackbacks for Storytelling Techniques For Effective Business Communications » Localizing The Story: Japanese Video On Camera Versus U.S. Video On The Same Camera [ishmaelscorner.com] on Topsy.com

    […] Storytelling Techniques For Effective Business Communications » Localizing The Story: Japanese Vide… ishmaelscorner.com/2011/02/09/localizing-the-stor…eo-on-camera-versus-us-video-on-the-same-camera/ – view page – cached The Art Of Storytelling In Business Communications And Public Relations […]

  • Dude

    Interesting perspective.

    My first thought was that an approach in Japan should be more like the movie, “The Woman in the Dunes,” (adapted from a book by Kobu Abe). The imagery does the work and creates the tension. And tension creates a good story.

    Let’s face it, Hansel & Gretel didn’t just “Live Happily Ever After.” They had a few challenges along the way – and by overcoming those challenges, they provided a storyline.

    I think in both cases, simplicity is key: of both the message and the delivery of information. Six-minutes is an awfully long video; but perhaps it delivers what’s more appealing to a specific demand/audience insight. Ultimately, if I was going to take something away from this it would be: a “storyteller” needs to adjust to his/her audience.

  • Lou Hoffman


    You always add an entertaining perspective.

    I think our Japan office would argue that simplicity isn’t the key in their home market. People want the technical specs before making a buying decision.

    I had the same reaction that six minutes for a a product video is long but apparently it works in Japan.

  • Pete Ferry

    Jamie and Lew,

    Good points, but where in the decision cycle is the video inserted? If I haven’t decided on a new or replacement camera instead of, say, a Kindle or IPad, the U.S. version is the appropriate tool to influence me to choose a camera. Once I’ve decided to purchase SOME camera, the Japan version is the better tool, with the objective to persuade me to purchase this PARTICULAR camera. I think that here in America the U.S. Version is better used as a media ad; the Japan version better used as an in-store, or point-of-purchase ad. Give us Americans our due, once I’ve decided to spend the amount required to purchase a camera at this price level, six minutes is barely enough to help me choose this product over its competitors.

  • Lou Hoffman


    Fair enough.

    You’re right.

    Americans aren’t going to buy a new camera purely on emotion.

    I think it’s important to not lose sight that this particular video fits into an overall marketing campaign.

    Rather than evaluate the entire campaign, Sayaka and Haruna simply took a look at how Sony’s approach to localizing a story changes from Japan to the U.S.

    We find many U.S. companies still believe the stories that resonate in the U.S. will also work overseas.

  • Chris Ferdinandi

    So I’m a bit late to the party but…

    As a US native, I actually thought the US video was pretty lame. The intro was far too long considering how short the video is. It didn’t tell me anything other than “Oh, there’s a camera.”

    I’d want to instantly know what the grab was – the differentiator, why I’d want to pay attention to this camera over others.

    The Japanese video was a bit too long for my taste, but even though I cannot speak a word of Japanese, I immediately grasped that this camera was a big camera in a small body. I liked the images at the beginning, too.

    If they could have created a video with the length of the US video and the story of the Japanese video, I’d have been one happy camper!

    Great post – thanks!

  • Lou Hoffman

    Never too late to drop into the neighborhood–

    I’m with you.

    The U.S. version had a cliche quality.

    Seems fair to say things out of the ordinary can jar our senses.


Leave a Reply