The second annual Advertising Week Asia got underway Tuesday in Tokyo. Continuing last year’s tradition, here are some observations that we liked—or that at least caught our attention.
Agencies are just too slow and expensive. It’s not necessarily our opinion. But in a panel Campaign hosted on new models for creative direction, Rei Inamoto, founding partner of Inamoto & Co, said cost was a major driver for brands setting up in-house creative functions. On the brand side, Dimitrios Petsas, global copy director and creative director for Shiseido, added that taking ownership of content production in-house had made it possible to create a much bigger volume, much more quickly. (Both Inamoto and Petsas have extensive experience in agencies.)
But objective third parties are still essential. In the same discussion, panelists agreed agencies, or outside consultants, still have a very important role to play in ensuring a brand does not lose sight of its failings (as Pepsi famously did) when creating content in-house. Petsas also noted that sometimes, the most creative ideas come from the production side—not from people with the word ‘creative’ in their title.
Advertising folks are still in denial about consultants. In an interview with CNN, Luca Linder, global president of McCann Worldgroup, said he acknowledged the genius of people at the likes of McKinsey, but thought the creative part of their brain is “close to zero”. “The day you become more Cirque du Soleil and less McKinsey is the day you will make it,” he said, adding that the marketing business should be more about fun and less about money. Agencies still clearly have the edge in terms of creating content, but from our perspective, that day is not inconceivable. Even Linder concluded, “if the agency remains the same as it is, it will die”.
It's never too late to start thinking about the brand. Subaru may be small, with just 1 percent of the global automotive market, but its sales are more than twice what they were in 2008, so it must be doing something right. However, it faces a similar problem to many Japanese companies: an unclear brand proposition. Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president and CEO, recently set out to find something tangible that could make the company stand out. Looking at the manufacturing process, he said he found a dedication to safety that staff took for granted. Expressed in an emotional way, the focus on safety became the cornerstone for the company’s branding in the US and subsequently in Japan. The company is still working to “brush up” its image, but Yoshinaga said advertising around discounts and tech benefits will remain a no-go area.
Badly designed websites are squandering trust in owned media. In a session on ‘audience engagement in the age of fake news’, panelists noted that studies had shown a high level of confidence in brands’ proprietary media despite widespread mistrust of online information. But the panelists (who were Japanese) also noted that Japanese companies and governmental organisations could dramatically improve their websites to make them more “understandable”. Simplicity counts for a lot, they said, especially when trying to reach foreign audiences. Yet many companies simply “add another language or two” without stopping to consider their user interface. They pointed to Hitachi as an example of a company making progress in refining its owned media to offer a more intuitive experience.