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Tea with GT

Hange Man

Hange Woman

Before I met GT Inc. on Friday I had a scout around their website in preparation. The ‘Love Needs Distance’ project that is featured on there was so powerful it actually made me cry – I knew this was going to be an interesting meeting!

I met with Naoki Ito, Creative Director, and his assistant Takayuki Rokutan. They describe GT Inc. as a 360° Agency – working across all types of Advertising media – interactive, video, ambient, outdoors and good old-fashioned print. The entirely independent company is 3 yrs old and made up of a core team of six.

They took me through some of their showcase projects. Firstly they had to explain the strange figures (above) that were in the meeting room with us – an Out of Home campaign for a Japanese mobile game called “Hange” which translates as “Half”. They created these enigmatic ‘half’ people and dotted them around key spots in Tokyo – using FeliCa software (previously referenced in an earlier post) a passerby could touch their phone to the quirky creatures to download the game for themselves.

They then took me on a fantastic journey from the sublime – a beautiful piece of print for the Japan Interactive Advertising Annual, based on the layout of a blog, in which they re-inforced the concept of 360° thinking by designing a 4-way mirrored typeface (this took a lot of explaining as my knowledge of Katakana isn’t exactly brilliant!) - to the ridiculous with the hilarious viral ad for Coffee Max (canned coffee that features heavily in my drinks machines study!). This features a ‘Human Car Race’ so inline with our western perception of crazy Japanese gameshows one might almost think it was a real event!

But of course I was most taken with the blind-branded entertainment project that they created for Sagami Original and the “World’s Thinnest Condom” (0.2 mm to be precise). GT were charged with creating a condom “power brand”, something that didn’t exist in Japan, and for this Naoki felt they had to move away from crude ideas around Sex to abstract, gentler universal themes of Love. Tying into concepts of distance (0.2 mm?), safety, restraint and passion he came up with the concept of “Love Needs Distance”.

Tapping into the Japanese passion for reality TV (although, I should add ‘Big Brother’ has not made it here!) they selected a real couple in a long-distance relationship willing to run for 24 days (1 Billion millimeters!) to meet each other in Tokyo, not only that but prepared to make all communication in that time – sms, video calls, faxes (yes, apparently the Japanese still have an attachment to the fax machine – a nostalgia for a simpler time, perhaps?) available to the world.

What I found most interesting about this advertising narrative was not only that they ran a ‘blind’ campaign for a month drawing people in to the human and romantic tale of two lovers running to see each other, but that once the reveal had been made the campaign had a second, perhaps even more powerful, life as a ‘making-of’ piece. Everything was up for grabs and interest was totally sustained, rather than the audience feeling in any way duped.

The project was PR’d with data research on long distance relationships – it emerged that 50% of Japanese people had experienced a long distance relationship in their lives and of them 50% of couples in this situation had cheated. This research was seeded and linked to the ‘event’ on Japan’s answer to Facebook, Mixi.

Naoki worked for ADK (the third largest Japanese Ad agency) before joining GT and covered in all areas of the business – Sales Promotion, Account Planning, Interactive Production and PR before crossing over into the creative realm. This experience feeds his holistic approach to campaigns and strategy – he strongly believes in creating a core concept and then working to cleverly integrate this idea into all areas of design, content and publicity – something he is exceptionally good at. He talked energetically about moving into Chinese markets where the work is less domestic, and of constantly breaking new ground in all media. Having seen the work, met the man and been totally inspired by his approach, I have no doubt.

Clever clients find clever creatives

Yesterday I met Toshiya Fukuda of 777 Interactive. He leads a small, highly creative team who have been rolling out a string of award winning digital projects since their inception in 2004.

Toshi took me through some of his favourite projects including an epic ambient-media project for Sony, entitled ‘Colour is Magic’ where users could change the colour of their flagship store in Ginza through a website and watch it happen in real time. (I asked what happened when lots of people hit the site at the same time and the answer was, quite simply; “they have to wait”.)

He also told me about their work for Pachinko company Heiwa. Unsurprisingly, Pachinko companies have lots and lots of money so when challenged with promoting a new machine featuring a famous Japanese Manga series about a diamond thief called Lupin III they saw no problem with 777′s idea of offering 5 (count ‘em) ¥1,000 000 diamonds as prizes for the lucky site visitor able to crack the website’s code!

My absolute favorite story was of the campaign for the Future Marketing Summit 2007 where they installed a parrot in a cage with a webcam for 3 months (it’s OK, apparently “Fyu-chan” only worked for 8 hours a day) and invited users to try and to train it to say ‘Future Marketing”. The parrot was then wheeled out at the launch in the hope that he would say the name of the event on stage. He didn’t.

777 often work through Advertising giant Hakuhudo which Toshi cites as having many benefits when working across many mediums as they can focus on the concepts safe in the knowledge that they have the media/creative/strategy specialists to facilitate them. They also team up with companies like TYO Interactive and new digital production companies 602 and Kayac to develop larger projects. Toshi’s reputation is such that ideas, not size, are important to the clients they attract. As Toshi says “Clever clients find clever creatives and vice versa”

It struck me how much collaboration there is between the guys I have met on these pages to deliver big ideas within small companies – maintaining great relationships with clients and with each other as a network of digital visionaries, rather than business rivals. Toshi talked about Koichiro Tanaka (Projector),  Naoki Ito (of GT, who I meet tomorrow) and Takayoshi Kishimoto from Unit9 (to whom I am forever indebted for making all of these introductions) and how important it is for the Japanese industry to have aspirational figureheads driving forward great concepts with great execution, integrity and attention to detail.

I was also interested to learn that Toshi teaches weekly at both Musashino Art University and Tama Art University progressing ideas of information and interactive design within their traditional Graphic Design courses. He feels he has an important role in facilitating new ways of thinking about changing media in Advertising and Design at student level.

It was a fascinating afternoon – we talked so much that I barely had time to eat the lunch that 777 had so kindly presented on my arrival. A small box which succeeded in simultaneously catering to my love of neat packaging, condiments AND coleslaw. Damn, these guys are good!

Great Work(s), great people

Last Friday I was very kindly invited to join Great Works for their weekly lunchtime get-together. We ate delicious Chinese bento boxes whilst they told me a bit about themselves and the work they do in the Tokyo branch of this Swedish digital media company.

Jun Inoue is the Creative Director and the company’s core team is made up mainly of Project Managers and Account Directors (like many small creative agencies here in Tokyo they rely on a network of trusted freelancers). They also often work in collaboration with sister company TYO interactive and there is lots of cross-fertilisation from the offices in New York, Stockholm and Barcelona (how cool?). They develop interactive campaigns, magazines, machines, movies, songs, websites and games and seem to all have a lot of fun doing it.

Their main clients are Audi (site launched in the small hours of last week) and H&M. For Audi they handle Japan’s overall online presence targeting both existing and aspiring Audi owners. They develop interactive video content as well as managing the site and the CRM (something they are being asked to do more and more).

They describe their working hours as ‘pretty crazy’ (there are TWO beds in the meeting room!) and are all very excited by the challenges brought about by emerging technologies, the Japanese passion for gadgets and interactivity and some very tech-savvy clients.

Long hours, fun times, thanks guys.. it was great to meet you all.

(Portraits taken from the company site)

Beyond Logic

On Thursday I met with a bona fide digital guru. Koichiro Tanaka is Creative Director of Projector – the team that create the amazing, multi-award winning digital work for UniQlo.

Koichiro has been working with UniQlo for the last 4 years and was originally appointed as their global digital consultant by their new Digital Communications Director. The online presence over this period has very much been the vision of two men, one of whom (not Koichiro) came from the banking sector!

Koichiro talked of the difference between forcing your audience to engage with a brand, i.e. TV or traditional print media, and getting them to choose to engage. That’s where he saw his challenge – giving users a reason to engage and then share. To create a piece of branded entertainment that had the creative integrity and intent of a film, a magazine or a piece of music.

It all started with a YouTube ad that earned 2 Million views (and counting) and blossomed with the UniClok. UniQlo and Projector work with musicians, artists, actors and choreographers all over  Japan to create their content and are constantly developing new ways to boost the positive global perception of Japanese modernity and align it with that of the UniQlo brand.

You only have to look at the stats on the world map of the UniClok to see the global impact this project has had. With the next UniQlo creation the pressure was certainly to take it to the next level but Koichiro and Projector had earned the creative credit to take the time to get it right. They spent 6 months developing the next concept compared to just 4 months on the build. But, as Koichiro is keen to stress, this is just a framework – like the UniClok content will continueto be developed for the site and fed to the external widgets. For him, a project merely begins with the launch of the site.

The UniQlo Calendar was released a month ago and has had 2 billion sessions so far. Say. No. More. I could write endless paragraphs about how beautiful and clever it is but I think the biggest compliment I can pay it is that I have found it more useful than the Lonely Planet in deciding where to travel to in my second month here.

I asked Koichiro why he thought these applications resonated so powerfully with users across the world and he cites being able to harness a connection between utility and expression in a way that, like a piece of art, transcends local trends and engages universally. “We create something that is useful but that also goes beyond logic, to be hypnotic, rhythmic and mesmerising.”

Ladies who lunch

Today I met Miho Tanaka of Three White Design. Miho studied at the Royal College of Art and returned to Tokyo in 2000 with in interesting objective – to set up a Japanese graphic design studio modelled on a London one.

As I mentioned in my post about TYO-ID roughly 90% of Tokyo design studios work through the two main advertising agencies here. Miho gained experience in this area and whilst she did some excellent, high profile work she found the need to communicate directly with the client too important to operate as, effectively, a third party.

Miho’s experience in London was moulded by her involvement with a Japanese/English arts magazine called ‘Exposure’. She still works with some of the people she met on this publication and cites the experience of working closely with the writers and editors – of a real collaboration between verbal and visual thinkers – as something that has driven her direct and selective approach.

Miho’s ‘life’s work’, as she describes it, is photographing Taxi Drivers around the world and has exhibited this collection extensively. She is currently most excited by Three White’s involvement with two Japanese sweet and cake companies and she sees a role for them as a promoter of Japanese food culture, an area she is passionate about. Talking of which we had a delicious lunch of sour fried pork and pumpkin after our show and tell session!

I also met Miho’s intern Karin Kunori who is studying at RISD under the auspicious tutelage of John Maeda. She told me that he hosts regular early morning jogging sessions with his students and local entrepreneurs in Rhode Island. Karin goes – she’s a smart and dynamic girl – so much so she even beat me to today’s write up!

Posthumous Technology

Yesterday I met with the guys from TYO Interactive Design. We took over the upstairs meeting room and had a lovely mutual show and tell over some iced coffee. In the meeting were Takashi Sugimoto, (Senior Administrator) – who very kindly organised the afternoon, Issaku Masuda (Creative Director), Yukiya Shimba (Creative Director), Yuko Nishimura (Art Director), Natsuko Nodomi (Designer),  Kurumi Honda (Designer), Junichi Saito (Project Manager) and Captain Kero.

TYO-ID are a team of 35, with 15 creatives and about 4 Flash developers. In general they work as a team of rostered digital agencies for the 2 largest advertising groups in Japan – Dentsu and Hakuhodo. Their clients include Pepsi Nex, Mercedes, and Sony. They also work directly with clients such as H&M and NHK – Japan’s national broadcaster – Captain Kero is a regional reporter created by TYO (the client didn’t ask for a character but they got one as a labour of love thrown in with the project, “Kero” is the sound a frog makes in Japanese). We very quickly got around to mobile technology (Japanese phones have Flash.. listen up iPhone) and I learned that while the agencies themselves are not pushing these technologies as there is more profit in traditional platforms the clients are driving the demand. We all talked of a utopian world where campaigns were integrated across all media but here, like everywhere, it doesn’t often happen.

We also discussed free pitching (only when direct to client and not very often – it’s a competitive market in Japan but there is generally enough work to go round to avoid it), working hours (11am to 9 or 10pm ), Awards (Cannes Lions and Tokyo Interactive Awards are the big ones here), CMSs (The nature of the promotional sites that they do doesn’t often call for it but they have plugged into clients existing systems and are increasingly using Flash Air and Moveable Type.)

It was a really interesting and enjoyable afternoon, spent with a group of people clearly excited by the work they do and the people they do it with. My favourite discovery of the day was that the Japanese have so embraced QR codes (the better-than-barcode things you can scan with your phone to get more info about something) that people have taken to putting them on their gravestones… How. Good. Is. That?

Brainstorms are good but the people in them must actually have brains

The W+K Reception - an idea for F+J.. Naked portraits of the staff?

The W+K Reception - an idea for F+J.. Naked portraits of the staff?

Today I met Shingo Ohno he said that. I will be saying it again. Quite a lot. He is a Creative Director at W+K Tokyo. He does some great work for clients including Google WHO, by the way, are the SECOND most popular search engine in Japan. Yes that’s right. The Japanese prefer to “Yahoo-whack” which is surprising to say the least. I also learned that the Japanese phone systems here use a smart card system called FeliCa which means you can use your phone as, amongst other things, a subway pass and an internet credit card. This offers lots of interesting opportunities for print ads effectively driving to URLs as you can literally walk up to a poster and touch your phone on it to visit a site.

Shingo is also a bit famous for holding a world tour from his bedroom using Ustream. A problem borne out of having too many international friends and not being able to settle on a single time for them all to see him play he ran a program of events at different times for Europe, the US and Japan.. theming each gig and even selling T-shirts. What a dude.

On a culinary note (I have decided this blog will have a ‘today I have mostly been eating..’ string to it) we had a delicious lunch involving steamed, thinly sliced pieces of pork, cabbage and beansprouts with a sour dip, chives, a green paste that was made out of a special kind of lime on the side, pickled fish, an orange root vegetable that was sort of candied and rice. It was fabulous. Thank you Shingo. You rock (from your bedroom, mostly).

Hello

I'm Franki Goodwin - freelance Creative Director and Digital Strategist. This blog was started whilst on sabbatical in Australia and Japan in 2009 and is now my day to day professional ramblings, drawings and interesting-ish happenings. A selection of my work is also showcased below. franki@frankigoodwin.com