Sophie Chen
Mar 14, 2013

VML aims to tap increased demand for digital strategy in Japan

TOKYO – VML, US-based digital agency under WPP, has announced the opening of its first office in Japan, a market that remains challenging for foreign agencies despite increased demand in the digital space.

Jon Cook (left) and Hideki Ogino
Jon Cook (left) and Hideki Ogino

VML Tokyo will offer a mix of digital marketing talent with a strong focus on business results, according to the agency. It will be led by Kazuki Imahashi as president and chief executive, and Hideki Ogino as director of digital strategy.

The agency said the new office is already providing services to global and local VML clients, including Swagelok, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Imahashi and Ogino’s initial clients Tommy Hilfiger and New Balance.

“Many of our clients, both around Southeast Asia and the global VML network, have expressed the need for local Japanese work and insights into the Japanese market now and in the near future,” Jon Cook, VML's global president and chief executive, told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

He said clients in Japan were looking for brand experiences that could be measured and proven to drive business. “Since there is still such a strong focus on broadcast TV, clients are especially looking for help in building engaging digital experiences that continue to tell the story of what they’re developing through ‘traditional’ media,” he explained. “Additionally, clients turn to digital so they can attract true business metrics and ROI to their campaigns.”

The agency landscape in Japan is still dominated by large domestic networks, but there has been an increase in recent years in the number of smaller independent digital agencies as brands look to develop viral content as an alternative to traditional TV campaigns. VML is positioning itself as an agency to cater to the middle ground by delivering digital work along with a high level of strategic thinking.

While agencies providing digital services have more flexibility than those operating in more mainstream media, the Singapore-based regional head of a separate digital network noted that foreign firms nonetheless faced a challenge in Japan given the strength of existing homegrown digital shops.

The source noted that a significant amount of business in Japan came from home-grown brands, and suggested that for those looking to take their story to the rest of the world, an agency like VML would struggle as it has a relatively weak footprint outside the US.

As a 'start-up' in Japan, Cook recognised the challenge of earning its place, but was confident that more opportunities would continue to emerge in the field of digital.

“We will carve out our niche [as] strong strategic marketing partners with the capability and know-how to conceptualise, develop and implement campaigns in the digital space,” he said. “We'll do so at a pace that allows us to provide a culture of VML that our clients and partners expect.”

Cook was also confident that the bi-lingual Tokyo team would help the agency provide local support for key global clients and offer the opportunity to build local client business, as well as expand some local client relationships to global business opportunities.

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