Interview with Yasuharu Sasaki, ECD, Dentsu Inc. Japan.
ANUSHA ZAHID: How did you start your career in advertising?
YASUHARU SASAKI: I joined Dentsu in 1995 after graduating with a degree in computer science. As my speciality was in computing and new media design (not creativity), I wanted to pursue market research or work on the strategy side, but the agency hired me as a copywriter. Initially, I had no idea what the job entailed but once I got into it, I found it very interesting and since then, there has been no looking back.
AZ: You have been at Dentsu for 24 years; what has kept you there?
YS: In Japan, it is the norm for people to stay at one company for a long time. At Dentsu we have a lot of clients (including Honda, Coca-Cola, Canon, All Nippon Airways, Kirin Brewery, Glico, Lenovo, Google, Shiseido and Uniqlo) and this gives me the opportunity to work on a diverse range of projects.
AZ: When you started at Dentsu, the digital medium was emerging. How did you adapt?
YS: In 1995, digital had a very negligent share and mainly consisted of banner and website ads. Over the years, we have developed dedicated digital creative and innovation teams which are always thinking of out-of-the-box solutions and ideas for brands.
AZ: During your presentation at AdAsia 2019, you said that “advertising is not enough to engage consumers.” Could you elaborate on this?
YS: As advertising creatives, our job is to develop films, good copy, design, etc., but all of this is not enough to make an impact as people do not like watching ads anymore. Furthermore, clients want to reduce the cost of advertising; therefore, we have to think beyond advertising and come up with unique solutions using technology and data. If we use digital correctly and to its full potential and technology in a relevant way, we can provide solutions not only in the areas of marketing and advertising but in the product, retail and service areas as well. If you notice, many companies are undergoing a digital transformation. A semiconductor company like Intel has now become a data company; Nike no longer just makes sneakers, they are providing digital experiences to their customers through apps to make them faster and healthier, and therefore, Nike are considered to be a health support company now. As companies transform digitally, they should focus on creating experiential ideas to engage with their customers.
AZ: What mindset should brands and agencies adopt to come up with out-of-the box digital campaigns?
YS: From a digital archaeological viewpoint, there are three types of ‘digitarians’. Neo-digitarians (people born after the arrival of smartphones and various digital platforms; they are also called digital natives); pre-historic digitarians (people born before the advent of smartphones and social media; they experimented with digital and thought of unique ways to use it); and non-digitarians (people who have never experienced digital media and technology; they have almost ceased to exist). To come up with out-of-the-box solutions, brands need people who can think like pre-historic digitarians who can invent new lifestyles for customers by pairing digital with data and technology design.
AZ: What would you say is more important: creativity or technology and data?
YS: Creativity will always be important. This year I was the Jury President of the Creative Data category at Cannes and I observed that young people do not like data. They think brands are ‘stealing’ their data and compromising their privacy. On the other hand, creative people think data is boring. I disagree. Data can expand our insights and if we use it properly, we can come up with interesting ideas to engage customers; in fact if we do this efficiently, people will be more willing to disclose their data which will in turn will lead to more insights and allow us to create better experiences that go well beyond traditional advertising.
AZ: So data can make creativity more effective?
YS: Definitely; technology can help us create better pieces of communication. At Dentsu, Tokyo, we have AI copywriters (bots who create copy based on data that is collated and which tells them what people like, what is trending and which ads attract more clicks, etc). The main challenge is that people perceive collecting and analysing data as boring, yet the fact remains that it is efficient and effective. For me, the best outcome will be when human copywriters collaborate with AI copywriters and derive creative, data-backed solutions.
AZ: Purpose is a buzzword for brands; how can digital creativity be used so that more people endorse your brand?
YS: Purpose is trending worldwide and digital creativity can provide memorable experiences and actions to accomplish brand purpose. But purpose is not just about doing good things; it is important to have a strong vision behind a culturally-relevant brand purpose as only then can relevant experiences be created. A company could say that they are changing society for the better, or saving the earth by using eco-friendly material, but for people this kind of purpose is not necessarily relevant. People want to participate and that is why it is important for brands to think of something that they and their customers can do together to improve society. The most effective way of doing so is by connecting a brand’s purpose with the culture of the society where it has a presence in a relevant way and then encouraging their customers to take action. If customers think a brand’s cause is relevant (or even if it sounds like fun), they will definitely participate in the cause and remember the brand. I call this CSA (creating sweet action) which means crafting social activations that demonstrate a relevant brand purpose customers will willingly take part in.
AZ: Do you think that digital can be equally effective as TV in countries like Pakistan where digital penetration is relatively low?
YS: Yes; people connect with each other through digital because it is an interactive medium; this is why they use mobile phones, social media and chat apps. We can enhance that experience by understanding what they need. For example, we know people want to make more friends; they want to appear more attractive on digital than they really are. We should build on these learnings to enhance their experiences. Low penetration is not an issue; the important thing is to find out what they want and like to do in the digital space and use that to the brand’s advantage.
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