The Split Account System and Japans Advertising Industry

Brian Moeran


Any discussion of the structure and operation of any advertising industry in any part of the world should, strictly speaking, begin and end with its account system. There are two reasons for adopting such an approach. In the first place, advertising agencies are service industries whose prosperity is totally determined by the prosperity of their clients, the advertisers (Jones, 1999, p 9). When clients have money to spend, agencies flourish; when they dont, they struggle. Second, it is the distribution of accounts by companies wishing to advertise that permits agencies, media, production houses, and a host of other people to contribute to the economy and culture of the advertising industry as a whole.

However, accounts do not just provide money for those concerned to create advertising and so make money for themselves. More importantly, they define the structure and organisation of the advertising industry as a whole. This kind of approach is essential if we are to avoid such explanations as, for example, the purported link between rice culture, harmony and Japanese advertising style (Reed, 1983), or the attributing of uniformity in Japanese advertising practitioners responses to a survey to their overriding desire to avoid disagreement in an agency context (Griffin et al., 1998; Schiff, 1993). By examining how accounts are distributed in Japans advertising industry, this paper will show how the system of accounts affects both inter-organisational relations between advertising client, media organisation and agency, on the one hand, and intra-organisational structure within an advertising agency, on the other. It thus dissociates itself entirely from purely cultural explanations that have so often been used to explain Japanese advertising (e.g. Mosdell, 1984; OBarr, 1994, pp 157198).