David Blecken
May 21, 2018

Missed Advertising Week Asia in Tokyo? We've got you covered.

The "role" of a soft drink, the perils of "kissing ass" in creative and the portrayal of Japanese as the "bored-looking people at a party" were among the more interesting takeaways.

Khalil Younes (photo: Advertising Week Asia)
Khalil Younes (photo: Advertising Week Asia)

Advertising Week Asia 2018 took place at Tokyo Midtown over four days between 14-17 May. Here is a snapshot of some of the themes that were discussed, including the merits of localisation, how creatives can develop and sell good ideas in Japan, and why efforts to create a unified 'Brand Japan' might be flawed.

How Coca-Cola mixes global and local positioning in Japan

In a session on the topic of global brands and brand purpose, Jessica Davey, CMO of McCann Worldgroup, said efficiency used to be the Holy Grail of marketing, but no longer: “Instead you need to think as much around effectiveness. It’s not enough for work to work in a market; it needs to work for the market. You have to understand the meaningful role a brand plays. It doesn’t mean world peace. It can be as simple as creating a great product that does a great job. Once you identify [the role], how does it apply to local culture?’’

Coca-Cola is one brand that tries to take that approach. In a separate session, Khalil Younes, Coca-Cola’s EVP of marketing for Japan, attributed the company’s strong performance in the country to a combination of local and global characteristics.  Many might be unaware that Japan is Coca-Cola’s most profitable global market. Having operated there for 61 years, it now has a portfolio of 50 brands and more than 800 products in which Coca-Cola itself accounts for less than 20% of sales.

In all markets, Younes said, media is the cornerstone. This includes paid media, owned media, shared media, partner media, and earned media (“the most beautiful media based on people talking about your brand without you paying them to talk about you”).

“These are the four buckets communications go into,” he said. “No matter what, there is content. Hopefully positive content. Then there is brand experience. Then brand conversation—people engaging with the brand. These are the three pillars.”

After that, things are flexible. He ran through a case study of Craftea, a brand Coca-Cola launched in Japan in March. He said digital played a lead role in the launch, combined with OOH, “massive store execution”, sampling, promotions “and finally TV”. He explained how the company decided upon its endorser, the Australian chef Curtis Stone.

“What you need to know is green tea is considered to be Japanese. Oolong tea is seen as Chinese. And black tea is considered to be western. Although it’s a local brand, we decided to have a western celebrity because we understood it’s connected to something western,” Younes said. Coca-Cola then staged a scenario that depicts Stone making Craftea. (Campaign has its own, less-than-complimentary, view on this commercial. Nonetheless, Craftea appears to have been well received as a product in Japan.)

By contrast, Coca-Cola thinks it’s important to use a local celebrity to promote its flagship brand, Younes said. The company uses Haruka Ayase, a popular actress who endorsed a total of 10 brands in Japan last year. “She is recognised as the quintessential Japanese person,” said Younes. “She is the quintessential celebrity to make Coca-Cola more local. It’s counter-intuitive. For the global brand you have a local celebrity. For local brands, a global celebrity.”

Younes ended by saying that Coca-Cola is open to collaboration “with anyone who wants to work with us and achieve greatness”. “We want ideas and if you have ideas you think would be exciting, [you are welcome to talk to us],” he said.

How data informs creativity, and why creatives shouldn’t kiss ass

In a far-reaching session on how Japan can become more competitive, the artist and author Yoichi Ochiai discussed on one hand possible applications of technology and on the other the need to rediscover traditional principles such as wabi-sabi. He suggested that Japan had put too much emphasis in following western innovation and in so doing had lost sight of some of its best characteristics.

He added that technology could help preserve cultural assets. He presented a vision in which AI merges with Japanese aesthetics to maintain the work of designers such as Yohji Yamamoto after his death. Using the wealth of data accumulated over the course of Yamamoto’s career, an AI program should conceivably be able to continue to develop products in the designer’s spirit, Ochiai said.

Another session also discussed the application of data from creative work, but this time among living creative directors. “What’s most important for a creative,” said Yoshimitsu Sawamoto, a Dentsu ECD, “is that you have to archive data in your head. You have to watch all the so-called good commercials. If you want to make movies, you have to watch all the good movies from the past. Even great creative people like Picasso can’t make something from nothing.”

He added that creative people need to have a clear perspective on the type of work they like and dislike. If they don’t, they will just end up “kissing ass” when presenting to clients and probably produce something safe but unremarkable.

“It’s very important for you to like [what you are presenting],” agreed Makoto Shinohara, a freelance ECD. “The sales people might say, this is something that won’t get a pass from the client. But I would ask them to explain why. If I understand why, then OK. But if not, I would not go along with it.”

Dialogue is the most important thing. “Once, I was asked to change the copy “because the client will get upset”, bit I ignored it and went ahead with the presentation and they loved it,” recalled Sawamoto. “So we can just discuss it if they don’t like it. I like this process of dialogue. That way, I’m confident in what I present because [those ideas] are the things I really want to do.”

The bored-looking people at a party: Japan in the world

Towards the end of the festival, three consecutive panels examined ‘Brand Japan’ and perceptions of Japan from the rest of the world. (In Campaign’s view, the effort was hamstrung to a large extent by the absence of non-Japanese panelists. As it was, panelists essentially spent the time guessing at how others view their country—but some intelligent comments emerged nonetheless.)

Moderating, Tetsuya Honda, MD of BlueCurrent Japan, said Japanese people still tend to make little effort to change people’s perceptions of something. For that reason, Japan has given relatively little thought to how it wants to cast itself in the world.

“People just accept perception,” he said. “They make no effort to change it. Western people have an idea where they want to be seen in a certain way and they create a plan to change perception. That’s really weak in Japan but there’s an opportunity here around how we want to be seen.”

Rika Shiiki, a young entrepreneur, noted that the government’s ‘Cool Japan’ initiative had been a flop—partly because it’s uncool to call oneself ‘cool’, and partly because it ignores the most interesting features of Japan such as its fashion in favour of easy-to-understand things like anime. “I keep saying this to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government but they don’t listen to me,” she said.

But Shiiki suggested Japan will have an easier time branding itself once the younger generation has more say because, with Instagram as popular as it is, “we think very carefully about perception. No one would ever put anything up that would hurt their brand”.

In the concluding panel, Tadahiro Konoe, creative director of Simpleshow Japan, argued that too much of Japan’s cultural budget is spent on foreign content, but reversing it would make Japanese people more aware and proud of their own creativity. “The cultural budget is already low compared to somewhere like France, and 70% of it is going on western cinema and plays,” he said. “We need to reverse that ratio.”

Yasumichi Oka, founder of the acclaimed independent agency Tugboat, said Japan still has a chip on its shoulder that it needs to shake off.  He also suggested that putting too much thought into the notion of ‘Brand Japan’ might be a waste of time. Instead, Japan should just be more confident being itself, but also become a bit more approachable. He described Japan in the world as being like the bored-looking people in the corner at a party.

“If you look at them closely, they’re not uncool and they seem interesting but people don’t approach them,” he said. “That’s what Japan represents. But I want [Japanese] people to understand that the party is still happening and that you don’t have to rush. You can just blend in and if people want to approach us, that’s nice too.”

See also:

Advertising Week Asia 2018 highlights Part One (Japanese)

Advertising Week Asia 2018 highlights Part Two (Japanese)

Dentsu and Hakuhodo leaders share a stage

Campaign Japan

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