David Blecken
Aug 15, 2016

2020 Olympics: A turning point for Japanese advertising?

BBDO Japan's new planning head Kaori Yatsu discusses personal change and the direction she hopes Japanese advertising will take between now and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Kaori Yatsu
Kaori Yatsu

Kaori Yatsu recently joined BBDO Japan as head of planning after a long period at McCann Erickson. She is credited with leading the development of Seiyu-Walmart’s private label, which won Japan’s prestigious Good Design Award. She has also worked to encourage women to continue to build their careers in advertising after having children, something she continues to feel strongly about and which she says is gradually becoming more widespread.

In her new role, she will oversee strategy for all brands under BBDO Japan, which manages global accounts and gives domestic clients access to international resources. In this interview, she explains her approach as a planner and shares some thoughts on the future of advertising in Japan.

You spent 20 years at McCann. What made you decide to move?

This is the first time for me to change my job. I had worked on most of the clients and knew almost everyone at McCann. I asked myself, should I continue for another 10 years? I thought, maybe I need a change.


I found Tony [Harris, CEO of BBDO Japan] ambitious and enthusiastic, and I wanted to be part of creating something new. There are still disorganised [elements at BBDO] but we are building a team and I like that.

What is your philosophy as a planner?

I love to find insight from consumers but I prioritise inspiration. When insight and inspiration match I believe it will create a great idea. Data and research are very important to help make decisions but I think it is more important to have an eye for consumers and believe in yourself as a planner.

What are your priorities for improvement at BBDO?

The department is quite independent, but working as a team we can share more knowledge and case studies, which can make the organisation stronger. There are common insights or backgrounds we can apply across different brands or products. Clients concentrate on their own brands but like to see cases from other industries. It can provide good stimulation.

What do you see as the biggest hurdles facing foreign brands in Japan?

Sometimes a concept can work in every market, but other times you have to adjust to local markets. Mars [a BBDO client] has strong global concepts but they do research and if it doesn’t work here they develop local insights and creative work. Some brands really stick to using their global concepts, which probably won’t work in Japan.

What would you like to see change in Japanese advertising?

Sometimes Japanese ads just end up being boring—by focusing on product characteristics, for example. Or they tend to put too much information into 15-seconds, communicating three or so factors equally—that can mean the advertising ends up saying nothing. I am sometimes impressed by foreign ads that are simple and have one strong key message.

What do you think will change in Japanese marketing between now and 2020?

I think domestic brands will really start to think about communications that can work globally. Hopefully they will study international ads and learn not to pack too much into 15 seconds. 30 seconds can be a lot more emotional. I also think brands will become more interested in sports marketing. At the moment, they are less interested than in the US or other countries. I hope investment will continue after the Olympics. I think this could be a good turning point.

Advertising agencies in Japan are under more pressure than ever from other sources of strategy and creativity. How do you think they need to change?

The strongest thing about agencies is their ability to connect strategy and creative execution. How to make money out of it is another issue. Consultants can charge much higher fees and have a different business model. I still think bridging strategy and execution is exciting and where our focus should be. But I think the old Japanese commission-based payment system could change to a more fee-based system. This becomes more important as consultants and other industries come into our territory—otherwise agencies are selling ideas or strategy with no charge and it’s difficult to compete with them. Ideas are difficult to put a price on, but it’s important.

Campaign Japan

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