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Case Study 1: Colors in the Japanese Digital Market

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

Today we begin to look at specific examples of how certain materials for a US target audience can be adapted for a Japanese audience. Among the many visual elements in marketing materials, color schemes often need the most adjustment.

Bold and eye-catching marketing materials geared for an American audience tends to come off as too strong or “loud” for most of the Japanese market. Instead, Japanese websites favor overwhelmingly blue, white (including “blank” backgrounds), and other light colors.

For example, let’s compare the websites of two furniture and home décor brands: Modern Market (for the Japanese market) and Crate and Barrel (for the American market).

Images for the top pages appear here, but my comments below would make the most sense if you visit these sites as you read through this post. 

What jumps out at you? There is a lot more white background showing in Modern Market’s website. Also, various shades of gray dominate the main (non-white) palette. Although neutral tones prevail, other colors used (except in the photographs) include light blue, black, orange, and once each of purple and brown. The fonts are mostly in black, white, and splashes of orange or red to show the sale price. If you are looking at the actual page: Do you see those orange triangles?

Bottom left from

Bottom right from

In the bottom two photos, the Modern Market background (on the left) is very simple, even minimalistic compared to Crate and Barrel (on the right).

Any other big differences? You have probably noticed that fewer photographs look “lived in” on the Modern Market website. This strengthens its streamlined and “clean” look vs. the organized but more “robust” looking Crate and Barrel site. The Crate and Barrel photos certainly look organized, but they also suggest more activity through the half-cooked or consumed food or drinks placed in almost every photo.

As Modern Market’s concept centers on imported furniture for a customer base that prefers a more “exotic” taste (in the Japanese context), in fact more photos on its website present a lived-in look than many other Japanese websites. Still, the number of photos with half-consumed or about to be consumed looking food and drinks is about half of Crate and Barrel’s.

This is an example where fewer adjustments need to be made. The Crate and Barrel color scheme aligns well with the general tastes of one segment of the target population (women in their 20s-40s who prefer a “natural” style of living) in that there is an abundance of blue and white with some green, brown, and minimal amounts of red and orange. The photographs may look “busy” compared to many Japanese websites, but this could be leveraged to remind the target audience of Crate and Barrel’s foreign origins—and this is positive.

You[comment1] have multiple options for adjusting this website for a Japanese market. On the low-budget end, you could simply increase the white space on each page by inserting more breathing room[comment2] between each photo. Those with more time and resources could adjust the scope of the photographs to include more background (preferably a bare one). You can create a website that would align more closely with your target segment’s expectations by shooting a few of the photographs from a greater distance and dedicating each furniture item its own page to show off details of their features [comment1] I thought it might be a good idea to close with something that emphasizes the potential partnership between the reader and you. [comment2] Changed wording to contrast with earlier use of “increase,” and also hint on why you need to increase white space (like this).

The next post will be about bright colors like red. See you then!

Let me know if there are any websites or any other marketing or advertisement material you want to see adapted. You can contact me at or at +1-858-256-5137.

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