Even though I don’t usually watch television, when I was in Japan this past week, I found myself watching more than I normally would. Considering that I had no wifi access, perhaps this was a natural and rather unsurprising replacement to cater to my attention span. But aside from the fact that I had a little more free time than usual, I was also drawn to the t.v. in Japan because it was interesting to see the types of commercials that ran, particularly the ones about mobile games and apps.
From what I’ve seen and know of, the commercials seen on American television programming are usually about cars, alcohol and fast food. This is not to say that Japan doesn’t run these types of commercials either. In fact, here’s a charming commercial from Kirin Beer starring George Clooney:
And this isn’t to say that the U.S. doesn’t run mobile-related ads either. Here’s a commercial that Google has recently broadcasted to show all that Google Play has to offer:
Not to mention, in America, if an upcoming movie, a chain restaurant or an established company has an app in the App Store or the Google Play Store, they usually tack on a quick 5-second announcement about it at the end of the commercial.
But in Japan, there are 15 second spots dedicated solely to just mobile apps. Gunosy (グノシ), for example, is a news app that condenses its stories into easy-to-read formats. Think the lovechild of Circa and Nick D’Alosio’s Summly. According to Google Play, the app has anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 downloads. There’s an English version of the app too, but it’s done dismally in the United States. And even in Japan, where it’s most downloaded, it’s ranked in the top 125-150 apps* in the news category, not overall. Yet, as you can see from the Gunosy ad below, effort did go into the production:
Monster Strike, on the other hand, is a mobile game that’s doing quite well in Japan — ranked consistently in the top 15 for games and top 25 for overall apps (in the App Store). Compared to Gunosy, it makes a little more sense that Monster Strike would be running television ads, especially since this app ranks in the top 3 for grossing apps in the action, games, role playing and overall categories.*
There’s also the adorable commercials that COLOPL, Inc. runs for its game, ほしの島のにゃんこ (Hoshi no Shima no Nyanko) or, loosely translated, Cats on Star Island. Download ranks are all over the board for categories, including Family and Games. On the other hand, grossing ranks are fairly straight forward, coming in at numero uno in the kids and 9-11 age groups, as well as number three in family. And, after seeing this purrfect commercial, you won’t be too surprised as to why that is:
Aside from these smaller gaming companies, let’s not forget the giants such as Mobage, GREE and Line that continue to dominate the mobile industry in Japan. Puzzles and Dragons, for example, which has made more than $1 billion in profit, can easily expend money on television commercials.
So why all of these television ads? After all, with all the types of cross promotion and in-app ads, why would you bother going through the trouble of casting, producing and broadcasting a commercial just for a mobile app? Even though there are still quite a number of people who use flip phones as opposed to smartphones, for the ones that do have smartphones, they’re more likely to be a pretty passionate app user.
From what I do know about the Japanese app market, Japanese users are more likely to spend money on apps, especially when it comes to free apps that offer in-app purchases. And with so much competition in app stores (like the American App Store), companies need to come up with more ways to stand out. Hence, television commercials. Seeing that the other non-app-related commercials in Japan were about beauty, cleaning or food products, it’s pretty obvious (unfortunately) that these ads are targeted to women — specifically stay-at-home wives who watch television. To reiterate an important (but generalized in this case) statistic in the mobile app world, more females use, download and pay for apps than men. And, frankly, if more women are watching television, then wouldn’t it make sense for these mobile app publishers to advertise on television? Yes, and as long as they’re ok with spending too.
As for America, I haven’t seen too many commercials (if any, really) that are dedicated to just one mobile app. Then again, the so-called “millennial” generation isn’t watching as much television as they are streaming via Netflix or Hulu. Since the mobile app competition is already fairly intense in the states, will we start seeing more mobile app commercials on these streaming platforms? Only time will tell.
* = Data from App Annie