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—during the third day of the conference Thursday (see our five highlights from days one and two).
Employees are the brand. McDonald’s Japan CEO Sarah Casanova told the story behind McDonald’s’ change of fortunes in one of the company’s key markets. The brand had been in decline for years, weighed down by safety scandals, scaremongering uninspiring menus and tired-looking restaurants. But it’s gradually getting back on its feet, with forecast profit of 15 billion yen (US134.4 million) this year. Casanova attributed this largely to widespread restaurant remodeling, which she said raised sales between 5 and 20 percent and was “a key facet of evolving brand perception”. But there were other important factors: a policy of transparency around ingredients and processes; a serious effort to engage customers digitally, which sounds improbable but actually worked; and most of all staff engagement. “We marketers like to think we can solve any problem with the magic wand of clever creative,” she said. “But creative on its own did not power the turnaround at McDonald’s. What was it? The answer is 120,000 people got behind the plan and executed it…I spent as much time listening to frontline people as to customers.”
Consultants and agencies can be friends, maybe. Representatives from Dentsu, Hakuhodo, Accenture Interactive and PwC concluded that as they gradually converge on the same goal, they will sometimes compete and sometimes collaborate. And sometimes compete together. In the end, Accenture Interactive’s Junichiro Kurokawa suggested, the consumer will decide which kind of approach they prefer. However you frame it, the emergence of new creative players and a new level of competition is good for the industry and is likely to have even the biggest ad agencies on their toes for the foreseeable future.
Chatbots enable “eternal conversations” with brands, enthused Shintaro Tabata, head of sales at Line. It’s hard to imagine that people would want such a thing, but the success of Rinna, Microsoft’s AI high school girl, suggests they might. Emotionally intelligent chatbots “are one of the best branding formats ever”, Tabata claimed. “In a marketing context, how to occupy a user’s time as much as possible is the important thing. The longer the better.”
There are alternatives to the typical agency process. Dentsu’s ‘B Team’ is a little-known think tank that draws on a range of experts in sometimes obscure fields to combine intelligence and come up with unexpected solutions to client problems that usually have little to do with advertising. The development of a new coffee product, for example, brought together an agriculturalist, health and street culture experts, and a peace activist. Nadya Kirillova, a creative in Dentsu’s innovation institute, said combining the insight of apparently unrelated people can prove highly effective. The process she outlined is the opposite of the typical agency one. A casual chat substitutes the brief. There are no art directors, copy directors, technology directors or presentation decks. Teams rely on small data gained from direct interactions, rather than big data. And they avoid trends. The unit is experimental, but should offer inspiration for anyone trying to escape restrictive processes and come up with ideas that are truly original.