Social Media Marketing

Facebook's Targeted Ads Won't Bother Japan

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently said that smartphones may be more important than TV for advertising. This has been reinforced by Facebook’s latest software release which allows companies to send ads directly to smartphones. But as Facebook takes the next step to monetise its offering, Japanese users are still getting to grips with the basics of the social networking site.

Until the tail end of last year, Mixi was Japan’s most popular social networking platform. With 12 million active users spanning multiple demographics, Mixi’s success was largely thanks to a number of factors:

- It appealed to the security conscious: Users can sign up anonymously and keep their identities secret

- It was local: Since a Japanese phone number is required to verify the account, Mixi is accessible only to those living in Japan

- It was selective: Typical users have a one thousand friend limit

- It was clever: Mixi sports a feature called ashiato (meaning footprint), which allows users to see who has visited their profile, similar to LinkedIn

In contrast to Mixi’s success, in 2011 The New York Times reported that the number of Japanese Facebook users was fewer than two million, less than 2% of the country’s online population. Apparently, at that time Japanese users showed little interest in Facebook because it was not optimised for the Japanese language and there was still a reluctance to use real names or provide detailed user information.

But Mixi was bound to struggle eventually and half a year ago Facebook finally overtook Mixi to become the most used social networking site in Japan with more than 13.5 million monthly users. Now ranked at number 18 out of all countries using Facebook, Japan is the perfect market for targeted ads on smartphones. Here is a population fairly new to Facebook, still learning what the site encompasses.

Satomi Adaka, 29, a medical researcher from Saitama, says:

“I was a fan of Mixi but use Facebook much more these days. It allows me to connect with foreign friends and it is much easier to post pictures online. I’ve also heard that Facebook is a good place to find a partner by connecting with friend’s friends.”

How does she feel about Facebook’s targeted ads to smartphone users?

“It’s not a big deal for Japanese people. In our country we are constantly bombarded with commercials, it makes sense that Facebook would introduce adverts. Why not? And it’s smart thinking that the ads are targeted to each user.”

As Facebook continues to explore new ways of producing revenue, it’s no wonder it is expanding into ads on smartphones. It makes good business sense, it is unlikely to spark a mass exodus from the site, and it ensures everybody back at HQ gets paid.

Ben Buchan, 30, a teacher based in Tokyo, says:

“My high school students are becoming much more interested in Facebook. Mixi hasn’t really kept up with its progress. Most of the kids who now use Facebook won’t care if there are occasional ads popping up when they are sharing pictures and status updates. In fact, you’ll probably find that they quite like them – especially if they are targeted ads based on sites they have visited in the past.”

As Japan continues to embrace Facebook, will its latest direct advertising software meet with much resistance? I doubt it. As long at Sheryl Sandberg pitches the ads as part of the whole Facebook experience and something the West is already embracing, I daresay you’ll not hear so much as a yappari (“that figures”) from us in the East.


Jerome Watanabe is a writer and communication consultant for international technology brands. He splits his time between Hammersmith and Harajuku.


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Jerome Watanabe

Jerome Watanabe is a writer and communication consultant for international technology brands. He has a master’s degree in Japanese language, history and society from Sheffield University, England. He specialises in emerging technologies, mobile applications and Asian business and politics. Jerome splits his time between Hammersmith and Harajuku.

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