David Blecken
Nov 6, 2018

Publicis One's new Japan strategy head vows to "enjoy the pressure"

Masahiro Ando returned to the agency world from Coca-Cola in search of new lessons and a more holistic view.

Masahiro Ando
Masahiro Ando

Publicis One Japan this week named Masahiro Ando as its new chief strategy officer, filling a gap left by Sosuke Koyama, who moved to Facebook in July. Ando, who goes by the nickname ‘Andy’, spent the last eight years at Coca-Cola, where he was most recently director of creative excellence. Before that, he had a one-year stint working for Cirque du Soleil. 

Ando’s mantra is “enjoy the pressure”. In an interview, he admitted that he borrowed it from a campaign he led for Nike featuring the pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka (Ando spent five years at the sportswear brand between 2004 and 2009). Matsuzaka had just joined the Boston Red Sox and was under pressure to live up to expectations. “I liked the phrase and have used it for myself ever since,” Ando said.

Of course, the stress (and rewards) for a baseball star are quite distinct from those of an adman. But he said he takes the view that no job is easy, so you might as well think big, accept the pressure and find a way to enjoy it. Pressure can take several forms. “It could be fear of failure, or some kind of mental hesitation that acts as a hurdle,” he said. “But if you can play with those obstacles in some way, that will make your life much better. Not necessarily easier, but more fun at least.”

Especially in Japan, fear of failure does continue to hold people back. To combat this, Ando said he encourages people to be realistic. “We can’t avoid making mistakes,” he said. “The key thing is what we learn from them… It’s not really about succeeding or failing, more about the outcome from a challenge. I like people to make mistakes as long as they are trying something new, something harder and bigger.”

The scope of work, encompassing things like digital transformation, can be overwhelming for junior planners at the agency, Ando admitted. “It will never go back; it will only keep expanding,” he said, noting that it’s easy to get bogged down by new methodologies and technology. Instead of getting caught up with busywork, he stressed the importance of identifying and focusing only on what really matters. In that respect, he does not think the fundamental role of a planner has changed.

“What I said to them is, don’t define your role just by your tasks. Managing those tasks is part of your role but the reason you were hired was to deal with the right problem… If you look at it positively, your playing field is almost infinite.”

The size of the field is what prompted Ando to leave the sanctuary of Coca-Cola for the agency world, which is where he started out: after graduating with a communications degree, he spent more than 13 years at Daiko, Japan’s fourth-largest advertising agency. Some might see the move as surprising, as an increasing number of people look to move in the opposite direction in an effort to escape the stress Ando speaks of, and also the element of insecurity. He joins Publicis at a time of change, with the agency having recently lost a chunk of its lucrative Philip Morris account, but also taken on a potentially exciting new piece of business from Mercedes-Benz.

“It’s not that I was looking for a position in an agency, just that I was looking for an opportunity where I could learn more,” he said. At Publicis, he is responsible for both strategy and media planning, “which is what I was asking for when I was on the client side. It means having a more holistic view of how a brand should connect with consumers”.

He is an advocate of localising brand communications, which is increasingly rare in the age of optimisation, but something that Coca-Cola took quite seriously. Publicis’s clients are almost all international, and Ando sees work based on local insights as highly necessary if they are to make an impact. Like many others in the marketing business, he sees growth coming from the senior market. But unlike many, he acknowledges that people in that category don’t see themselves as ‘seniors’.

“I’m turning 50 this year but I don’t think of myself as the image I had of a 50-year-old man when I was 20 or 30,” he said. “When people hear the word ‘senior’, they always think it refers to more senior people than them. If you’re 70 or 80, you think it means people who are 80 or 90. If we understand things like this, I think there should be much more opportunity for growth.”

What about the next generation of consumers? Ando said he sees the advent of ‘fleamarket’ apps like Mercari changing the way people think about what they buy. Japanese consumers have always been discerning, but he thinks younger people consider their purchases even more carefully than previous generations. In particular, when buying something relatively expensive, they are likely to weigh up its resale value, he said. “They are smart in a sense, but they also look at the whole process of choosing, buying, using and selling. That sense of value is an important change happening in Japan.”

Ando takes energy from cultural shifts. Asked which piece of advertising made the biggest impression on him in the past 12 months, he pointed to Apple’s iPad Pro campaign in which a child asks her mother, ‘What’s a computer?’. “I tend to be inspired by pieces that capture fundamental changes in perspective,” he said. “That’s always interesting to me.”

Campaign Japan

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