Nobuhiro Nakaji is the co-founder of the creative boutique agency Watson-Crick. He is a familiar figure in Kansai advertising, but is now based in Tokyo. Outside advertising, he is known as a participant in the popular Osaka-based comic theatre company Mangeki.
Before founding Watson-Crick with his longtime creative partner Takaaki Yamazaki, Nakaji was a creative director at Dentsu Kansai, where he and Yamazaki were voted Creators of the Year.
Nakaji started Watson-Crick soon after he was promoted to ECD at Dentsu. Departmental supervision and strategy just didn't bring him the same joy as working as a hands-on copywriter and creative leader.
His portfolio includes some of the most memorable campaigns for brands like Suntory. He has always had a soft spot for brands that share his desire to make people laugh.
This article is part of the Creativity in Japan series
You are known as a pure copywriter. What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your work?
Although advertising is how a company expresses its perspectives, concepts, and values toward society, it’s a real, human voice that reaches the consumer more often than an inorganic construct. In other words, although it may seem contradictory, advertising is simultaneously both the voice of the company and the ‘real’ voice of the writer behind it; a voice born of the heart. If the writer projects him or herself into the work, it’ll reach the audience better. That’s the fun part of this job.
How do you keep your perspective fresh?
By occasionally taking the exact opposite perspective, even if it seems like a fruitless exercise.
For example, after you’ve thought over an advert that really tries to be eye-catching, try to think from the other end: “But no, what if this was an entirely unassuming advertisement? What would make this inconspicuous?” Surprisingly often, neither will be a bad idea, or I might just go back to the original concept in the end. This is how I shift my own perspectives and unshackle myself from restrictions when considering ideas.
There’s also considering news and advertisements from the emotional lens of a child around elementary school age, or making myself aware that there are weird aspects in things that I normally take for granted. That too can provide some hints.
Why does TV still dominate Japanese advertising, and how long do you think it will last?
Because there hasn’t been another effective channel discovered in the Japanese market other than TV. There hasn’t been enough experimentation with how to use the Internet as of yet. It’ll probably be ten years until some brilliant mind appears and shows us a new way to use it, and TV will stay king until then.
Does the rise of interactive advertising mean TV advertising is evolving too?
I think it will evolve. In the future, TV advertisements that have so far tried to cover every base will probably be divided up between TV and interactive advertising, depending on the intent of the campaign. We’ll probably also see the reverse phenomenon where examples of success in interactive advertising are brought over to TV advertising.
Is humour the best way to influence consumers? Why is humour such a big part of your work?
Humour is of course not the only way. There are a lot of different ways to convey a message to the consumer, and the effects you’ll see will depend on how complete your work is regardless of the path you take. The reason my work has a lot of humour is because I like to make people laugh. That’s been true since I was a kid.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to creatives looking to start their own agency?
Take it upon yourself to make your job interesting. Making it boring is easy.
Also, pretending you’re a pro is easy. Always have the heart of an amateur.
What questions should a client ask themselves in order to get the best work possible?
What can we do to make a relationship where we mutually understand, trust, and bounce ideas off each other without stress?
How do we build a partnership beyond a customer-vendor work relationship, where we seek the same goals?
Do clients need account service teams to participate in the creative process, or should they just deal with the creatives directly?
Creative teams and account teams exist to help each other out. They should participate in the process as well.
Does the best creative work come from teams, or from individuals?
Can’t say either way; it depends on the quality of the individual or team.
Is the creative approach in Kansai, where you are from, different to that in Tokyo?
No, there’s no fundamental difference. They’re the same in the sense that you look for the most efficient way to complete a task with the advertising budget provided.
How important are regional nuances to creating great advertising in Japan?
Regional nuance is of course effective when running a campaign aimed at a certain market. Though special regional nuance isn’t necessary when a campaign isn’t that specific, it doesn’t automatically mean you have to set Tokyo as the be-all end-all scene. You can surely give a universal portrayal of Japan without giving a portrayal of Tokyo.