We Are Social, the London-based social media agency network, is establishing a presence in Japan, with Procter & Gamble (P&G) as its anchor client.
Masayuki Tono, a former account director at Critical Mass, is leading the Tokyo office as managing director. Pete Lin, We Are Social's China-based managing director for North Asia, said the office currently has three employees and is targeting an initial five. He said they were in the process of signing a creative director and would be looking to hire someone with a design background. The core team will be Japanese, but will coordinate with work with overseas offices where appropriate, Lin said.
Lin said that We Are Social had until now outsourced Japan-related work to Dentsu, but that the company was now looking to take ownership of its activities in the market. The bulk of work so far has centred on influencer marketing.
Given that social media budgets in Japan are relatively small, Lin said the office would be “socially driven” but also offer PR and “above the line” services. Influencer marketing is likely to be a big part of We Are Social’s offering, but the company is keen to experiment with growing areas such as virtual YouTubers, or ‘VTubers’.
As well as supporting brands on Japan-related matters, We Are Social hopes to use its well-established presence and experience in China to help Japanese companies target that market effectively. The China office has a staff of 110 and around 22 long-term clients, Lin said.
Tono noted that China was a difficult market for outsiders to understand, taking into account its unique digital and social media ecosystem, regulations, and pace of change. He said he thought Japanese companies were becoming more serious about expanding there. At the same time, Chinese tourism to Japan remains strong, and with it, appetite for Japanese products, which many Chinese still see as superior quality to homegrown equivalents.
“For Japanese companies going into the Chinese market, that’s one of the greatest assets,” he said. “You’ve got to make use of that reputation.”
Lin added that while Japanese brands have been the target of political anger in the past, “Japan is not the enemy” at the present time. He said disputes over territory, which have had a direct impact on Japanese business, are typically engineered according to government agenda.
“Now, America is the enemy,” he said. “They have shifted their attention away from past Japan tensions and it’s a case of ‘fuck Trump’.”
A further area We Are Social wants to develop in Japan is the mobile category, where Lin thinks Chinese brands have a good opportunity to grow. Although Japanese consumers haven’t looked very favourably on Chinese brands in the past, Tono said he saw attitudes changing and that the younger generation in particular did not put emphasis on the origins of a brand—only on whether it is good or not.
Lin said the exodus of foreigners from China in recent years, and government restrictions on the employment of non-Chinese people, posed a problem in terms of talent such as English-language copywriting. He said the company was considering hiring such people in Japan which, by contrast, is opening up to international talent and is an attractive place to live for “adventurous young people”.
“Having someone working on content creation in Tokyo [for Asia-based brands] is a lot easier than remote-controlling someone in London,” he said.