Nomad LA and Tokyo discuss the creative opportunities and production nuances in Japan
As two huge global sporting events head to Tokyo - the Rugby World Cup this summer and the Olympics in 2020 - the world’s advertisers are turning their heads towards Japan. Whilst Japan has always been considered a creative world force in art, culture and media, the advertising industry, and particularly the production side, operates notably differently to those in the Western world. Sometimes described as producing ‘cookie cutter’ campaigns, Japan’s media agencies have traditionally led the charge in the market, with creative and production often considered a secondary priority.
In this interview, Nomad Tokyo MD Yoshinori Fujisawa and Nomad LA editor Nate Cali reveal the contrasts of Japanese production culture in respect to a new-style of Japanese ad. Experiencing mounting requests for Western-style editing from new agencies on the block in Japan, including W+K and TBWA Hakuhodo, Nomad expect that this media-led and versioning culture could be about to change...
Q> Adverts in Japan can often be reiterations of wider generic ads - do you find this to be the case, Yoshi?
Yoshinori Fujisawa> I would say it’s more of a mix. There are some Japan-specific original commercials but also many localisations of foreign ads. While we definitely have a mix, making a commercial specifically for the Japanese market is much more rare.
Q> Yet, the Audi ‘Tadaima!’ ad you and Nate worked on was created specifically for a Japanese market and had less to do with the cars and more to do with the Japanese families who use them. Is emotion-led, targeted marketing common in Japan?
Yoshi> We really wanted to show a cross-section of Japanese home, from sleek and aspirational to warm and welcoming - yes, the car is important, but it’s more about that special moment of coming home. And whilst it’s very common to communicate with audiences in creatively emotional ways in Japan, there is a distinguishable difference between Western production culture and Japanese production culture, when making the ads.
Q> How so ?
Yoshi> Japanese production companies have more influence to select directors, rather than the creative-agency led approach of say, London or New York. Of course, the director needs to be approved by the agency (or the client) but the production company has decidedly more influence and flexibility to select who they want.
At the moment the big Japanese production companies are growing rapidly and they’re able to take on both the big and the small jobs - something the smaller companies can’t compete with. Because of this they’re a more convenient option for the agency and the client to work with - not least because they have the ability to stretch budgets farther with more resources on hand.
Wieden + Kennedy is one of the few foreign agencies trying to change the culture in Tokyo by focusing on creative-led projects to bring production more in line with their Western counterparts. For the Audi ad, the director actually had to write a treatment in order to be signed off by the agency - a totally different process to the normal Japanese production agenda.
Q> Nate, you jumped forward 18 time zones travelling from LA to work with Yoshi and the Nomad Tokyo team. How was this experience different to other international work you do?
Nate> Well, an editor would usually come to edit a spot and that would be the end of it, but this job had so much more depth and personality, especially with learning about the incredible Japanese culture. I think Yoshi and I were both really excited in our ability to bring something different to the table and collaborating with people who are equally as excited makes for a great working environment. I don’t think it’s a Tokyo or an LA thing, more about finding the right people to create the perfect team to make the best possible work happen.
Yoshi> It was a great experience for all of us in Tokyo. We’re a relatively new office, so there’s no concrete culture yet, but my partner Masato and I really wanted some Californian ‘fresh air’ to roll in. Nate coming helped so much - he was like this symbol of a chilled and professional Californian creative. Half of us speak English in the office and it was amazing to see connections being built as everyone tried to understand each other.
Q> Nate, car-ads can often be more vehicle than passenger focused. As a self-confessed ‘car-fan’, did you find that this character-led spot resonated with you?
Nate> You know, I actually really liked the idea of creating a spot around ‘coming home’, and the animated excitement of returning to loved ones and favourite places. Every culture has their own way of saying ‘I’m home!’ and ‘Tadaima!’ (ただいま！) felt very special to me.
I do think it’s unusual to be reminded of something so valuable from a car ad - most are now very focused on technological advancements like autonomous driving; an approach that feels very cold to me.
This project let us bring the attention back to families coming together, with the help of the car, of course. It’s a softer perspective - one I think almost everyone can relate to!
‘Tadaima!’ - the Audi-ad was created by Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo and edited by Nomad Tokyo with help from Nate Cali of Nomad LA.