Ted Lim vividly remembers joining Dentsu four years ago, finding it like no other agency. He was amazed to discover they didn’t just make advertisements, they made entertainment and Oscar-winning features at that. They helped companies make robots and assisted them in sending the robots to space. They created animated characters that spawned an industry. They worked with FIFA and the IOC.
“It was like suddenly I just walked into this toy shop and I had never seen so many toys in my life. And I just said ‘I want to play here.’”
Now, chief creative officer for Dentsu APAC (ex-Japan), Lim continues to play, alongside Yuya Furukawa, chief creative officer of Dentsu Inc. who runs the agency’s enormous creative talent pool in Japan.
“We do whatever takes our fancy,” adds Furukawa. “Nobody actually knows if it’s going to work or if we’ll make a profit. That is the current state of our industry today. We shouldn’t pretend to know everything. What used to be play yesterday may become a task today, or what we had worked on may become pointless. We must recognise and accept this as a fact. As long as we maintain this viewpoint, there is no other time in history that presented us with the multitude of opportunities that we have today.”
But every idea they pursue has a purpose and what increasingly interests these two leaders is applying creativity to solve business problems for customers.
In Cannes, fittingly, with a debate raging about whether the festival should honor pure creativity or better reflect client needs, Campaign’s Atifa Silk sat down with these two creative visionaries.
Their message? There’s no better way to apply creativity these days than through helping the consumer.
“The most important people in our industry are not the clients or the agency, but the customers,” Furukawa said. “Advertising used to be basically a one-way street and it functioned under what the advertising industry thought was their right, delivering its own views, ideas and creative results to the world. Now, we have to construct everything based on the context of the customer.”
What’s changed, of course, is that consumers are not merely digitally-active and vocal about their exact needs and wants, but are also much more addressable.
“Getting the right message to the right people at the right place and the right time is critical. One size doesn’t fit all anymore,” said Lim. “People don’t buy ads. People buy relevance. More than ever, marketing needs innovative solutions to cut through the clutter of consumers, channels, content and commoditisation.”
Lim told Campaign that before he arrived in Cannes he was given an advertising brief but instead of producing ads, he produced business solutions. Instead of slides, a laptop and a projector, Lim brought mobile phones to the meeting. “This is what your customer is experiencing. I want you to experience the same customer journey that they’re going through,” he told the clients.
The presentation had very little to do with ads, Lim says. “We gave the clients business solutions on platforms and across channels that were relevant to their customers. From strategy to creative, from engagement to transaction, we gave them the full suite of innovative business solutions.”
Changing the relationship between agency and client is important, Furukawa adds. Even removing barriers like tables between those presenting and receiving a pitch is important to put the client and agency in the same mode of co-creation.
Here, he cites Toyota’s Open Road Project as a great example of collaboration with a client on a business solution. The project, which opened up a network of hundreds of new small parking spaces across urban Japan for Toyota’s ultra-compact i-Road vehicles, gave a tremendous boost in interest among prospective buyers who took part in the test run.
"The moment we define our job as going beyond advertising and using every means possible to come up with solutions for our clients’ needs, we participate in every part of their business,” Furukawa said. “We create more opportunities to help our clients with various solutions to meet management objectives, business objectives, et cetera. We must recognise that although we undoubtedly face a new phase, what is truly important has not changed. In other words, what is critical throughout all our work, especially toward the future, is creativity because our task is to create new values and share them globally. We can apply the knowledge and capabilities we have acquired through advertising to new domains.”
Using every means possible may involve tapping Dentsu’s giant ‘playroom’ of creativity and innovation in film, digital, data, CRM, media, PR, sports, content, design and user experience all under one roof.
Lim says, “The industry formerly known as advertising has evolved. We should keep an open mind. Marketing solutions may or may not require an ad. It may or may not involve crunching data.
Sometimes it takes intuition, a bit of courage and a big leap of faith to try something completely new.”
“We ask ourselves, ‘Is the solution different? Will it make a difference? Will it move people? Will it move business?’”
Moving business, of course, requires switching from the pursuit of advertising engagement to transaction-based solutions.
Many are making this switch, especially disruptive startups. But while there are plenty of new firms who can compete in providing new business solutions, very few have the dual competency of being able to market their products and services effectively.
“From the leader of a long-established big company to the CEO of a startup or a firm that just went public six months ago, everyone who comes to us seeking advice these days basically ask the same two questions: ‘For what purpose does our company exist in the first place?’ and ‘How can we convey our meaning of existence to others?’ Simply put, the issue here is how to share the created value with the people and society. Any company big or small might know how to bring an idea to life,” Furukawa said. “But what they fail at is how they communicate with consumers directly and how they scale their idea through communications. That is what the agency excels at, creating a connection between the consumer and the brand.”
How is Dentsu doing that these days? In new ways, Lim says, “From TV to mobile first, from traditional to social media, from engagement to data-driven interaction. From advertising to innovative business solutions. We are creating new technology and applying new skills every day to win in the digital economy,” he says.
Here Dentsu Inc. has a bit of an advantage. Japan is among the most technically-enabled countries in the world and Dentsu attracts young talent. It got about 10,000 applicants last year for about 150 positions available to new graduates. Some joined with post-graduate qualifications from prestigious universities both domestic and overseas.
Outside of Japan there’s more competition between agencies and platforms for the best talent. Lim says the secret to retaining good people is not to handcuff them, but to provide the right environment to grow and realise their potential.
“We need the right plant and the right soil for flowers to bloom,” says Lim. “They have to complement each other. Our job is to create an environment where we have lots and lots of beautiful flowers.”
(This article first appeared on CampaignAsia.com)