How Culture Impacts App Campaign Performance: the US and Japan

By Sisi Ji | April 29, 2019
Sisi Ji moved into mobile marketing after working for an international education agency,pursuing her passion for gaming. As a student, Sisi spent many hours playing mobile and PC games. After doing some research and learning about mobile marketing, she was convinced that it was a right fit. Sisi was excited about the fast pace and dynamic nature of the mobile industry. She found a job at a small company, where she quickly grew her skill set as a user acquisition manager. Sisi was then offered an opportunity to join ME2ZEN, the world’s leading social casino and card game developer, where she currently works as a Gaming Marketing Manager. Learn more from her Mobile Hero profile.
As more mobile app developers look overseas for growth and expansion, understanding the culture of each country and region becomes critical. In that respect, the Japanese and U.S. cultures couldn’t be further apart. And yet both countries present equally compelling opportunities to acquire mobile users with significant purchasing power and high LTV.  

At a high level, the Japanese market is more closed compared to the U.S., with many local companies successfully catering to the country’s unique tastes and needs. For example, manga apps are very popular, and people primarily use Line for communication and Yahoo for search. In mobile gaming specifically, Japanese users often prefer hardcore games, such as strategy and battleship, while American mobile gamers like role play, casino, and puzzle games. The differences in tastes, demographics, and culture in general have an impact on how we market our apps in the U.S. and Japan.

As a Gaming Marketing Manager at ME2ZEN based in Beijing, I’ve come to appreciate the impact that culture can have on UA campaign performance. Below I share some tips to help you navigate the cultural differences between the US and Japan and improve your mobile user acquisition campaigns in both countries.

Localize your copy and your design

The obvious first step in global marketing is localization. Both copy and design are important, but compared to the U.S., Japanese users pay a lot more attention to copy. That’s why we translate all ad copy into Japanese. For example, we would use “クラシック ソリティア” for “Classic Solitaire,” or “友達と遊ぶ” for “play with friends.”

Based on my experience with Solitaire apps, the classic interface with a green background reminiscent of the old-school PC version performs better than the more “modern” take. In Japan, we also use a lot more emojis and “J-factors,” i.e. unique elements of Japanese culture, such as cherry blossoms. Our experiments have shown that solid colors and cool tones work best.

When advertising apps in the U.S., we focus more on design and less on copy. While American users also like creatives in classic, old-school Solitaire style, they are also more open to new styles, such as multicolored backgrounds and trendy designs. In both countries, I recommend using region-specific landmarks in your ad creatives, such as Fujisun in Japan and the Golden Gate Bridge in the U.S.

Prepare to work with agencies in Japan

Choosing the right partner is key to great performance globally. In the U.S., we advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Google, and through established DSPs and ad networks. In Japan, it’s best to work with a local agency in addition to these channels. Local agencies have direct relationships with local publishers and DSPs and can help you with localization. Of course, you can work directly with local publishers and DSPs, but communication and time differences can quickly become an extra challenge.

As you can see, advertising mobile apps in Japan takes a lot more than simply translating ad creatives. Partnering with a local agency can help you localize ad creatives more effectively and maximize your return on investment.