David Blecken
Oct 11, 2017

How Shiseido is evolving its approach to creativity

The beauty giant’s ECD sees individual—not corporate—relationships as central to the future of creative work.

Naomi Yamamoto, Shiseido's in-house ECD
Naomi Yamamoto, Shiseido's in-house ECD

For many companies, the concept of an in-house creative department is new and daunting ground. Shiseido has had one for more than a century, and it’s been integral to the company’s visual identity throughout its history.

Starting out with a focus on packaging design, the department most recently led the launch of a global brand, Waso, in conjunction with Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo. It is also credited with the Cannes Lions-winning experimental ‘High School Girl’ film, without the help of any agency.

Still, like any department in any company, it has its challenges. Naomi Yamamoto, Shiseido’s executive creative director, says it is still going through a transition period and working to get to grips with digital content production. The pace and volume of content required can be overwhelming. Yamamoto feels that despite its progress, Shiseido still has some catching up to do to be consistently relevant in the digital space. It also faces the challenge of aligning creative and marketing people internally. To move forward, the walls between these units need removing, she says.

To better understand Shiseido’s creative process and how it’s changing, we asked Yamamoto for her views on a wide range of areas, from creative testing to the role of management consultancies.

On the value of creative testing:

Yamamoto sees value in pre-testing digital creative work from the perspective of consumers, but thinks the work can also sometimes lose its edge as a result. She is more in favour of A/B testing and modifying as needed. In the past, she says, creative directors would take the view that “this is my work and no one else can touch it”, but now they have a strong desire to see their work well received, so have become “more objective” and open to ongoing improvements.

On achieving the right volume of content:

The biggest challenge Shiseido faces is in producing enough social content to meet the demands of the global market while ensuring the brand doesn’t become watered down. The need to create high-volume content is not so pronounced domestically, she says. Still, the amount of creative work produced is four or five times what it used to be when efforts focused on more traditional media. Every platform requires “totally different content”.

A Waso campaign image.

On the essential characteristics for creatives:

A key quality for in-house creative people is proactivity, she says. Given the increasingly fast turnaround of work, it’s better to proactively gather information and plan for an upcoming project rather than simply wait for a detailed final brief to arrive. By the same token, getting feedback on unpolished work and refining it is better than only unveiling something to others when it’s ‘perfect’. A quality that’s especially important for Japanese staff when communicating with international counterparts is to not be afraid to be opinionated and to express things with a “strong voice”. Yamamoto also believes in the power of having fun, although she acknowledges creating good work can also bring suffering. “If it’s fun, it’s contagious,” she says.

On who should be responsible for insight generation:

This is typically the domain of the marketing team, but depending on the situation, creatives or designers have an important role to play in developing insights, she says. That means leaving the drawing board and speaking to customers directly. Shiseido has a creative director and producer who double as unofficial creative strategists when appropriate. The recent Waso launch, for instance, was creatively led.

On the purpose of advertising agencies:

“When we collaborate with a creative agency, our motivation is that they know more about society than we do,” Yamamoto says. Sometimes, it’s not necessary to enlist one. “If we want to do something unprecedented or break the shell, that’s when we invite in outside forces.” Wieden + Kennedy led the work on Waso. But those “outside forces” could equally be a filmmaker, as in the case of the ‘High School Girl’ work. Will there ever be a time when agencies become superfluous? “It depends on how you define ‘agency’. What’s important is the talent that agencies own. It’s not a company-to-company, but a person-to-person approach that we will see in the future.”

On management consultancies being creative:

Yamamoto is inclined to be sceptical of management consultancies, but says that as with agencies, their value as creative partners comes down to the individuals in the company. Again, her appointment of a company in any field is based on the people it will make available, not on the company itself. “Let’s say people from a consultancy come and talk to us about creative work,” she says hypothetically. “Just knowing they’re from a consultancy makes it difficult for us to open our heart to them. But it’s important to meet them. Often our instinct is right. But it’s about chemistry. Sometimes we say, let’s work with those individuals, and they turn out to be from a company like McKinsey or Dentsu or Wieden.

A Wieden+Kennedy brand film for the Waso launch:

Campaign Japan

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