Archived: Creative Train Advertisements in Japan

Taking the train every morning to work, it’s hard to disregard the sheer force and amount of advertisement in Japanese trains. Be it dead bolted to the ceiling , plastered on the doors, windows or walls, or even playing on the small screens announcing station names there is just no escaping them. Japan is known for its very competitive and over-crowded publicity space as well as for using almost any surface as an advertising board (stair cases, toilet paper and obviously trains as shown below), though the latter is not exclusive to Japan.

intrain advertisement, chocolate, meiji

As explained above, trains are no exception.There are currently at least six different publicity spaces available to companies on a regular train in Japan, seven in those with digital information panels installed.

Intrain advertisement, Japan, Railway, advertisement, intrain marketing

An advertiser or a company can either purchase one specific spot or every single one of them, commonly referred to as densha jyakingu (train jacking). Furthermore the available advertising space is not limited to the six spots depicted above but can also include the train’s exterior and even, on some occasion, the entirety of the train.

But what actually make these companies go all out on in-train advertisement? A study shows that over half of the train passengers, when not too tired, take notice of them. However, their interests are very specific, mostly about magazines, trips and hotels and book publications, forcing companies to go the extra “extra-mile” to get, and hold, their attention. With 18.5 million people riding Tokyo trains every day, it’s hard to argue with those numbers.

We compiled, for your enjoyment/amusement, five such attention grabbing train adverts that go the extra-mile:

1) The Necktie Handle (Mobit Loan company, Fall 2006):

advertisement, loan, neckties

At first “encounter” you would expect such a contraption to be advertising a cloth retailer or even an influential tailor, however this advertising item actually is trying to promote a loan company. If it doesn’t make sense at first glance, it becomes more understandable when one tells you that one commonality (of many) in the Japanese business world is men in suits. It is thus easy to associate neckties, the essential component of any proper suit attire, with anything to do with personal finance and loans.

2) The seasonal green tea and Highball Whiskey mix  (Suntory, fall 2006 to spring 2007 and December 2011)

advertissement, intrain marketing, fall, suntory

Suntory went all out with this product’s campaign, making one three dimension advertising banner for three Japanese seasonal events. Fall has pretty orange maple leaves, winter has the traditional New Year decoration made of an orange and straw, and spring has the also very traditional cherry blossom flowers attached to the posters. This type of advertisement is a direct reminder of the traditional “茶道” (sadoo) or tea ceremony that follows the changes of seasons, a core value of Japanese people.

Suntory, Highball, drink, intrain advert, intrain marketing, interactiv

As for the Whiskey mix the advertisement actually encouraged the commuters to interact with it as presented in the following video (here). The motion of lifting the traditional ”暖簾” (Noren) the three piece curtain hanging in front of traditional Japanese bars, Izakaya, creates a sense of familiarity for the user and contributes to the product’s appeal.


3)The Starbucks wool “scarf” banner (December 2008):

Starbucks Japan, marketing, intrain marketing, wool,

Contrary to the necktie, this advertisement is quite self-explanatory.  Using  colours and materials traditionally associated with winter and Christmas, even in Japan where Christmas and especially Christmas eve is a popular  commercial event for couples and families,  Starbucks brought some knit seasonal cheer to Japanese trains.

4)The fluffy flat teddy bear banner (Disney Japan, Spring 2012):

Disney duffy bear, intrain marketing, teddy cushion

This one is also quite a surprising use of banner space: Instead of literally hanging a teddy bear to the ceiling, like education company Benesse did, Disney created a rectangular stuffed cushion with the face of the famous Duffy character. Disney enjoys a large client base in Japan, from young children to middle age women. Using Japan’s grand favourite, Duffy the Disney bear, they marketed a new spring attraction. Duffy, the character, has enjoyed a growing popularity in Japan since its introduction as Mickey’s best friend in 2002. This makes it the perfect marketing tool for any new Disney event, and this version is sure to attract the eye.

5) The towel, The flip-flops and The beach mat (Fuji TV, July 2013):

Summer nude, flipflops, Fuji TV, Yamashita Tomohisa, Train, Intrain Marketing

Now that is a combination one would not expect in a train, even less so hanging from the ceiling. This surprising trilogy was seen all other the Soubukaisoku Line in Chiba prefecture this summer to promote Fuji TV’s newest drama Summer Nude, with popular Boy-Band member Yamashita Tomohisa. According to the tweets one can find online, it was quite well received by the public.

Towel, beach, mat, Summer nude, Yamashita Tomohisa, Fuji TV, Train, In train marketing, Chiba prefecture

The importance of grabbing commuters attention, as the advertisements above surely have, is very real in Japanese trains. Not only are they the most used means of transportation in urban areas (48% of all trips in 2008 in Tokyo according to a survey published in 2011), but they are also the place Japanese people spend the most time in (equivalent of 20 days per year), making it all the more important to grab their attention and hold it, possibly for the whole train ride.

Bonus,something we snapped this morning in the train
6) Kirin’s Bitter caramel and Sunny Orange coffee(August 2013)

cofee, train commercial, advertisement

Currently Kirin is heavily promoting its new coffee drink for women, including on the train. On that note, this author would like to recommend you the coffee articles that one of our team is currently blogging about (here). If you haven’t seen it already, it’s a great read.


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