Tokyo loses one of its brightest stars: A Tribute to Shawn Schrader

Last month Tokyo’s international creative community lost one of its brightest stars, Shawn Schrader, after he lost a battle with cancer. He was in his mid thirties and leaves behind a young family. I first met Shawn in 2010 when he was working as a designer for a small Japanese production company and my company was looking to hire a junior designer. For a western creative in Tokyo his interest in and passion for Japanese culture, and his language ability, made him a rare talent even then. His maturity towards professional relationships for someone his age was also quite striking. I also remember discussing the state of American politics with him over lunch on that first occasion and noted his clear mindedness, passion for ideas and compassion for others. Frankly I would have loved to … [Read more...]

How Silicon Valley is losing the Battle for Asia

The majority of the 4 billion people living inside a circle encompassing China, India, NE Asia and SE Asia—over half the world’s population—have not yet grasped the internet, but most of them will have within the next decade or two. How they do so, on what terms, and through which platforms, will go a long way to defining the winners and losers of the next wave of the web, and actually the very nature of the internet itself. So can we ask the question: how well placed are Silicon Valley companies to benefit? The battlefield is a diverse patchwork of countries with distinct languages and cultures, varying degrees of connectivity infrastructure, diverse digital media landscapes, and contrasting political regimes with business environments that range from: mature but essentially open … [Read more...]

Japanese Innovation: The machine that changed the world

A little while ago I read a book called The Machine That Changed the World, written in 1990 as a summary of a 5 year $5m MIT research project into the global automobile market. I discovered it while looking for the best description of the most sophisticated, long-term-successful manufacturing organisation & method (of complex technology) the world has ever produced, and I am tempted to believe that this book describes it. In fact I was so inspired I ended up writing my own notes and sharing them with some friends who are experts in manufacturing in order to understand what has happened since 1990. These additional insights are added at the bottom of the notes below. The “machine" in question is, in a word: “Toyota”, and it describes the emergence of their “lean manufacturing” … [Read more...]

The Japanese Advertising Industry in a Nutshell #2

The Japanese advertising industry is not well understood from the outside. In fact, I am not sure it is that well understood from the inside. In a post I published in 2014 called “The Japanese Advertising Industry in a Nutshell” I tried to sum up what makes it unique, the characteristics of the advertising itself, and explain why it has remained dominated by domestic agencies. In the context of my readership the post "went viral", still gets a lot of traffic, led to a bunch of speaking offers, and sparked off a lot discussion among my peers who work in advertising here in Tokyo. From all of this I learned a tremendous amount and it helped to solidify the ideas, and hence this post is an overdue follow up that aims to: Summarise the original article’s assertions Describe the … [Read more...]

The right OS for planning brands

The following essay is based on a lecture I gave on April 27th 2016 in Japanese, hence the Japanese slide visuals, as part of a series of open events called "Profero University". The intention is to frame how to think about planning brands in their proper context, and it establishes 7 brand planning principles based on fundamental human psychology: Brands exist in people’s brains as a complex set of memories, relationships, associations and emotions. People tend to think about brands as if they are people with personalities and relationships to other things, like people they know Strong brands are distinctive when they engage your senses and the more senses they engage you through the stronger they are Strong brands are unique and distinctive, so brand communications should … [Read more...]

Why US brands are investing in Japan today

This post is based on a speech I gave on March 18th at an event to celebrate the opening of my network MullenLowe Profero's new San Francisco office, attended by friends and clients.  There is a lot written about Japan and it’s basket-case economy in the US press, and most of it is wrong. The reality on the ground is quite different, and I would like to tell you about a few of the smart American brands that understand this and are profiting. In doing so I am going to try answer a pretty simple question: Why do some great American brands choose to double down and invest in Japan today, while others pull out? Is it hard to do business in Japan? Well, it’s not yet a vassal state of California, but it is a relatively easy country for brands to get up and running in, with the … [Read more...]

The Art of Localising Brands to Japan

Localisation is the process of turning brand communications, like TV ads, websites etc, from their original language and culture into something that works in another market, language and culture. In this post I am going to categorize 3  or 4 archetypal approaches to doing this and use well-known brands to illustrate. Hopefully anyone working in this space or interested in brands - or just global culture in general - can take something from it. I have seen this process from both sides, initially while working in the UK office of a big international agency, where we were the hub, creating and “distributing” campaigns to other markets. But ever since arriving in Japan I have mainly been "on the receiving end" as it were, and it is exacerbated by the fact that Japan really is a … [Read more...]

How good is Japanese customer service, and how bad can it get?

Japan has, I believe, a good image for customer service and I have certainly had numerous conversations over the years with foreigners visiting Japan who have been blown away by the attention to detail, courtesy as well as genuine human kindness. Some of the traditions that set Japan apart are things like beautiful and meticulous gift wrapping in retail stores, similarly delicate presentation of food in restaurants, cleanliness in general,  things running on time, and on a higher level safety and reliability. At the same time I have heard many anecdotes, mostly from foreign residents in Japan, but also sometimes from visitors, telling of mind bogglingly annoying treatment. What’s going on here? Is this another one of Japan’s “contradictions”? Japanese cultural stereotypes This … [Read more...]

“Willing complicity”: what advertisers (and users) really want from social platforms

I was recently asked by Campaign Asia to contribute a comment to the news that Snapchat, the newest kid on the chat-app block, is starting to monetise through advertising. As always happens to my comments, it got edited down, (I am yet to master the soundbite!) so I felt compelled to develop the point I was making and share here. I have pasted the original in at the bottom. 4 or 5 years ago Facebook's strength was seen to be the number of ways OTHER than advertising it could monetise its users, at least from the point of view of tech industry savants and savvy investors. Now, post IPO and obligated to maximises profits for its shareholders, Facebook is riding high on its advertising revenues, comprising over 90% of its total, and the tools it provides to its ad publishers like us are … [Read more...]

Becoming a creative hybrid – Tokyo Memoirs Chapter 6: The app store gold rush

This is the 6th post in my "Becoming a creative hybrid" series recounting my experiences building and ultimately selling a digital agency in Tokyo. This post covers the arrival of the iPhone and later Android smartphones, roughly between 2008~2011. Previous memoir episodes series have described how we cracked the code for making content-based promotions in Japan (as with the Puchi Bruce campaign for Die Hard 4.0 explained here), or how we got a taste for building technology solutions (as with the iTunes blogparts explained here). But no account of this period in the late noughties would be complete without documenting the disruptive rise (and rise…. and rise...) of the iPhone, and thence the smart phone, and it certainly had a big impact on the Alien-Eye business too. Zooming forward to … [Read more...]