David Blecken
Dec 19, 2016

Campaign Japan’s top 5 lessons from 2016

Extreme working conditions, the global activities of Japanese brands and the Rio Olympics gave us much to consider.

The world is in for an interesting time.
The world is in for an interesting time.

1. The industry has to find a better way of working.

The suicide last December of a Dentsu employee, the subsequent ruling that the case was due to unreasonable working conditions, and the linking of those conditions to the overbilling of clients, has prompted people to do a lot of soul-searching. Advertising has always been a high-pressure industry, but ‘high-pressure’ should not have to mean working around the clock with no respite. Clients and agencies need to come together and establish a system that recognises that those doing the work are humans, not robots. They need to do this right away, or face up to the fact that the most talented young people will simply choose to work at companies that offer them a better lifestyle.

2. You have to engage before a problem becomes a crisis.

There is much to be learned from DeNA’s handling of the scandal surrounding its curation websites. CEO Isao Moriyasu himself admitted that his “naiveté” prevented a timely response and allowed an ‘issue’ to balloon into a full-blown crisis. Companies can experience problems in terms of products, services or operations at any time, and the worst thing they can do (aside from covering them up) is to ignore them. An apology at the end is not enough. For a company to retain its credibility, it must acknowledge the problem publicly as soon as it comes to light and explain how it is going to deal with it.

3. Japanese companies have great brand stories; they just need to communicate them better.

In May, we ran a story about the efforts of various Japanese brands to be more ‘global’. In almost all cases, the components of the brands were already in place—the companies had earned their brands organically over time; they just had no clue how to communicate what they stood for to an outside audience. It was a question of looking deep within the organisation to build a story. The biggest challenge facing Japanese companies is to distil history in a way that people can relate to. Having a dedicated CMO would really help: only around 10 percent of Japanese companies do, compared to 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

4. We need to get over the idea that Japan is so different.

In an article examining the renewed interest of multinational brands in Japan, observers suggested that today’s Japanese consumers have much more in common with their Western, or even other Asian, counterparts than it might seem. Naturally, they still want to be recognised as being Japanese, which means the average foreign brand in Japan needs to invest more time and money in localisation, rather than running a global campaign and hoping for the best. But localising need not be the mystical process many imagine it to be. It just requires good insights into the target audience like anywhere else.

5. Tokyo 2020 sponsors (and non-sponsors) need to prepare now.

Our extensive coverage of activity around the Rio Olympics underscored two key points: that the sponsors that stood out the most were well prepared in their activation, planning years in advance, and told stories in their own way rather than simply following the narrative of the games. Brands involved with Tokyo 2020 are advised to own their own niche, and remember that the period before and after the games—not during—offers the biggest opportunities for meaningful exposure. 

A final thought as we enter 2017: Brands cannot take globalisation, or any kind of stability, for granted.

The past year has seen cracks widen around the world, with nationalism on the rise everywhere from China to the US. Donald Trump’s shock election has put the TPP, a cornerstone of Japan’s economic policy, in jeopardy. Business concerns aside, brands everywhere need to be more attuned to public sentiment than ever. Some have found that attaching themselves to political or social movements can backfire. But while it may be wise to avoid politics, brands still need to stand for something—they just need to be aware who they are talking to.

Campaign Japan

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