Last year a virtual Japanese platform was launched that saw 50,000 users gather in Tokyo’s Shibuya City to celebrate its inauguration. Aptly named ‘Virtual Shibuya’, the v-commerce experience is one that’s become almost a part of Japanese culture in the past 12 months. At the forefront of these campaigns were Geometry Ogilvy Japan
’s CEO Ichiro Ota and the agency’s general manager Sean Palmer.
When reflecting on the success of Virtual Shibuya and the follow up last October during Halloween, Ichiro explains that the original plan was to create a platform designed to cope with the social issues which the city of Shibuya had been facing, provide sustained activities and to contribute to keep the culture going through a variety of virtual events under the Covid-19 pandemic. “People can get the same experience in the city, that's our ambition. Consumers can express their individual personality or engage to socialise with other people in the virtual space.”
Sean adds: “If you think back to Halloween last year, a lot of people were in various states of lockdown and states of emergency. But 400,000 people logged in to share a concert together, talk to each other and had that sort of outlet and socialisation and they weren't able to get.”
Not only did this project represent a new age in communicating with an audience, but it tapped into a side of digital referred to as DX – or digital transformation. But how does an advertising agency utilise this to the best of its ability? For Sean, it's all about knowing your client first and foremost. “Digital transformation is in taxis, it's on billboards, every brand has a point of view on the app they can help you with. But very few actually focus on how that can actually help them. What are the right experiences? What are the right platforms? What are the platforms that will help you drive your business brand and drive your growth, to help bring you closer to consumers?
“So that's what we've been really focusing on with our clients. We ask them, actually what do you want to achieve, what are your objectives and then how can we help technology enable that? Rather than, you need to be on this platform, you need to buy that platform, you need to invest in this data technology because without that vision. I think it's really hard to create your own experiences, where you can end up spending a lot of money on something that's not going to impact your business.”
Ichiro has had over 30 years in the advertising industry, mainly Japan, whereas Sean’s more international career began in Paris and has seen him work in London, New York , Qatar and now Tokyo. With two lots of experience, they reflect on what makes Japan’s market so interesting to work in.
For Sean, this is all about the uniqueness of the market, from its history, arts, food and culture. “Everything has been created and crafted specifically for consumers in this market and nothing is seemingly the same, it's not adapted or borrowed or rolled out all the platforms are unique. Unpacking the Japanese culture and consumers is always a really interesting problem.”
He explains that the ‘level of craft and level of dedication’ is what keeps brands and consumers alike focussed on Japan. “The focus of how you elevate something and make something perfect - this is something that Japan owns over no other place.”
Whereas Ichiro agrees but dives deeper into how he sees the “craftsmanship” of the region. “The Japanese have degrees in craftsmanship for almost everything like food or architecture or fashion or music. I personally don't believe we are an advanced country or market on the customer experience design centric approach from a creative perspective, but now we are now drastically shifting the industry intention to that space.”
This is something the Japanese government is keen to implement too as Ichiro reveals that they are keen to push digital agencies to make services ‘less paper heavy and more online’. Virtual Shibuya certainly plays into that and is something the team are keen to continue this year for Halloween. Sean explains that while metaverses are still a relatively new concept, the agency taps into certain models of research to understand how to best roll out its vision.
“We look back at past events that have been popular,” he says. “We obviously look at a lot of the data that we have available from our clients and from our partners in Shibuya as well. But you have to look at what's going to resonate, what's going to tap into culture, and I think those key elements of music and entertainment, talk show comedians, continue to be hugely popular in Japan.
“We're just providing you a different way to do that and much more in virtual worlds. I think those universal trends don't necessarily change, it's just how we bring them to life and make them seamless and easy to enjoy for Japan.”
Bringing this to life is a key point for the team and Ichiro’s pride in hiring the best of the best from the world of experience and technology from around the globe is key in ensuring this happens.
As the pair’s thoughts turn towards the future of not only Virtual Shibuya but also Japan’s digital market, Sean explains that the agency’s ‘hopes and dreams’ centre around creating bold creative work and marrying it with the right technology and experiences. “Gone are the days where it's just a beautiful film - we have to create those unique experiences that help people ask the right questions and push things forward.”
He adds that for now disrupting the status quo may be key in pushing that forward: “You see a lot of great work starting to make people ask questions about status quo and push for some of these really important societal issues. So I think brands are getting a little bit bolder with purpose driven work here, and we want to be on the forefront of that.”