CEO’s Talk: Masayuki Mizushima Meets Toshihiro Yamamoto

May 23, 2018
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Hakuhodo DY Group seminars at Advertising Week Asia 2018

Global Keynote Series:CEO’s Talk Masayuki Mizushima Meets Toshihiro Yamamoto

Advertising Week Asia was held this year for the third time at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, Tokyo from May 14–17, 2018. Bringing together a total of 13,000 people across four days, the event’s seminars were very well attended. The following is a report on the first of this year’s keynote addresses, titled “CEO’s Talk Masayuki Mizushima Meets Toshihiro Yamamoto.” A chat between Hakuhodo’s President & CEO, Masayuki Mizushima, and Dentsu’s President & CEO, Toshihiro Yamamoto, the session was moderated by Advertising Week Asia’s Executive Producer, ignite, inc. representative Yoshihiko Kasamatsu.

(From left to right) Masayuki Mizushima, President & CEO, Hakuhodo Inc., Toshihiro Yamamoto, President & CEO, Dentsu, Inc., and Yoshihiko Kasamatsu, Executive Producer, Advertising Week Asia.

“Advertising is giving an object higher value and making it valuable to the individual.” —Toshihiro Yamamoto, Dentsu CEO

“Advertising is the act of moving and connecting. That’s the advertising that I do.” —Masayuki Mizushima, Hakuhodo CEO

Kasamatsu: This is the first time the two CEOs have talked in public, so I’d like to ask them not just about heavy subjects, but also their opinions, as individual ad people. So why did you join Dentsu and Hakuhodo?

Yamamoto: Unlike it is for today’s students, looking for a job out of college back in the day was a pretty laidback affair, so I’m a bit reluctant to talk about it in a forum such as this [laughs]. I started college in 1978 and graduated in 1981. It was the time of the so-called “moratorium personalities” [young people who found it hard to adjust to adult life], and as one myself, I wanted to put off becoming a productive member of society for as long as possible. So basically I chose advertising because I didn’t want to grow up. I went with Dentsu because I failed the Hakuhodo exam [laughs]. My first assignment was in the TV and radio division, where I was responsible for Nippon TV’s Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya stations.

Mizushima: I joined the company in 1982, so I’m one year junior to Mr. Yamamoto. Which means I had the very similar student days to him. When I was looking for a job after graduating, I wanted to do something different to everyone else. And since it would be my job for life, I thought wouldn’t it be better to do something interesting. In that case, it’s got to be advertising, I thought. I joined Hakuhodo because I failed the Dentsu exam [laughs].” I was assigned to account service and spent the next 30 years in account service, although my clients and office location varied along the way.

Kasamatsu: What does advertising mean to each of you? Any definition is fine.

Yamamoto: Taking the question exactly as it was put to me, advertising to me is my work and the thing I am most interested in. In terms of what I think the functions of advertising are, in that case, then as now, that is taking the object of the advertising—whether that’s a product or service, a company or NPO, or an idea or opinion—and giving it higher value to individuals or society, and making it more valued. First, there is learning what was not previously known, then we take something that people know but can’t imagine how it is of value to them personally and make it better and more personally valuable to them.

Mizushima: Similar to what Mr. Yamamoto said, besides creating markets and value, I think that making something relevant to an individual and creating pathways to personal relevancy is a critical role of advertising. Put simply, moving people’s hearts moves products and sales, and our client’s product selling well moves the world around us. I think this “moving” is a function of advertising. Also, and since I am from account service, I think “connecting” is another key function. For instance, connecting companies and products and people through the means of the communication that is advertising. Connecting the science of research with the art that delivers it to people. Or connecting advertisers with media companies. Creating a brand is the work of connecting it with sei-katsu-sha emotions. Turning this moving and connecting cycle; that’s the advertising I’ve been doing.

What’s needed is concrete responses to change and the desire to change ourselves

Kasamatsu: What will the advertising of the future look like? Please give us your opinions, taking any approach you like.

Mizushima: The early 1980s, when I joined the company, were what could be called the age of pure advertising, when we would have one visual and great copy for instance in graphic ads, or quite diligently made, finely crafted TV commercials. Then campaigns became part of advertising work, and we would be thinking about how to create a peak and use media and sales outlets for the launch of a product. Then from the mid-1990s, branding became a key role of advertising and, recently, integrated communication has become required as digital increases. In this way, advertising has changed with the times, and it will, I think, change even more markedly in the future.
In particular, now that we can gather all manner of data on sei-katsu-sha, agencies and advertisers can now learn all sorts of things. So we are going to need to provide services of a higher level and, conversely, I think ad recipients will also look for higher level communications, thinking “since you know me, come harder at me.” So we will go beyond the bounds of simple campaigns and integrated communication, and advertising will grow to encompass app services say, and product development.

Media is changing rapidly, too. From mass media, which tells us things we don’t know, we now have digital media that allows us to search all kinds of things and enables individually-tailored communication. Once the Internet of Things spreads, homes, towns and society can all become media, paving the way for new content and services. We need to develop the work we do by also seeing these things as advertising in a bigger sense, and being curious about it is the way to go, I think.

Yamamoto: I one hundred percent agree with what Mr. Mizushima said. If I was to add anything, it would be that intent is important, too: having the determination to respond in concrete ways to the ever-evolving society while simultaneously thinking about how to change advertising ourselves. As I said earlier, the function of advertising is basically unchanged today from what it’s always been. The important thing is the intentions people in advertising have—including Mr. Kasamatsu and Mr. Mizushima, and everyone here today. In other words, what kinds of advertising do you want to do in a society in flux? In these changing times, while thinking about ways to better leverage the things we’ve gained from our advertising work and the skills we’ve honed, don’t we also need the determination to make advertising higher quality, more highly effective, more efficient, more accurate, and more expandable, more fun, more beautiful and more powerful than it is today? Without this we are just passing it down the line and the mid-term goals we should’ve set to refine our functions will become their own goals and, if we’re not careful, there’s also the risk of losing sight of the real function of advertising. In the end, no matter how much we think about it, no one knows how the future will turn out. No matter how it changes, I think the important thing is the intentions that you have.

Kasamatsu: There’s no end to what we could say about how advertising will change, is there? As you have both said, as domains change rapidly, our turf will change, too. And, as Mr. Yamamoto said, if aside from adapting to societal changes we don’t also think about what we want to do ourselves, we will find ourselves getting stuck. I quite agree.

So toward tomorrow, how do you think agencies should change, or how would you like to change them?

Yamamoto: I believe that extending, utilizing and applying the skills we should have acquired through our advertising work, and expanding the places and instances we use them is a necessary change for agencies. Toward this, the ad industry probably needs to ask itself again what its value to society is. If we come to the realization that advertising is useful to society, with this realization we need to ask how we can change to make ourselves even more useful to the world at large. This is the change that I’d like to make.

Mizushima: I, too, think that the key thing is how we change the reason for our existence. Actually this has changed a great deal until now, I think. When I joined the company, there were still customers that posted notices saying “No advertising” [laughs], but gradually we have become useful in all sorts of ways. Work that contributes to advertising department staff still makes up the lion’s share, but work for operations departments, which handle brands and, more recently, work for chief marketing officers, is on the rise. As is work resulting from requests from client management. So in that sense, it’s fair to say that what we do and what others look to us to do for them is constantly evolving. And the thing we have been developing along the way can, I think, be summed up as “creativity.” Not so much the creativity of creators, but rather the application of creativity to bring value to the world. This is the company’s very function—its DNA—I think. In what ways will this function be in demand? And what meaning can we imbue it with—that is extremely important, I feel.

At a time when digital transformation is changing the very structure of business, perhaps we advertising companies can create or bring about new value in the innovation and business development realms? That’s one dream and something I think that agencies will need to be more involved in going forward. But, we shouldn’t forget to enjoy the excitement and anticipation. And if advertising companies get involved in such areas, I think we need to give our clients things that have them going, “Wow, this is what you’re thinking!” Things that consequently surprise sei-katsu-sha. I believe that this is a critical area where our functions can come into their own. For me, it would be great if we could be much more useful, doing cool things with our work.

Advertising has unlimited potential. I want to be curious, with awareness and resolve, broad vision, and the decisiveness to let go of successful experiences

Kasamatsu: What professional mindset should every ad person have in order to make the industry cooler in the future?

Mizushima: The ad industry has unlimited potential in a good sense. Curiosity is the most important thing, I think; being interested in how things will change and which way to go to make things more interesting. We may lose some youngsters to other industries, but the fact that you can do just about anything is one of the great things about ad agencies. Since there is unlimited potential, giving full play to your curiosity and enthusiastically taking on challenges at the company where you are now, that’s the basic and most important thing, I think.

Yamamoto: I feel exactly the same as Mr. Mizushima. To make this happen there are three things I think we will need to have in particular.

There are two kinds of advertising: that directed towards people and that directed toward society. In the latter, in particular, we will technologically be able to do more and more, as we come to really understand people’s lives. In that sense, we will be more deeply involved in people’s lives and society, so greater awareness and resolve will become more essential. As will, I think, insight, ethics, humility, plans and ambition.

In addition, advertising is one process in the activities of business—an accounting item, if you will. It has always been so and that’s probably not going to change. As the boundaries of advertising get blurred, more and more we will need to see it from the perspective of business in its entirety, because if we don’t, it will become alienated from the bigger picture.

The final thing required is the decisiveness to let go of successful experiences and past methods. In addition to passion and drive, the resolve to constantly—every day—let things go is necessary, I think. With these three things, I hope we go places where others wouldn’t think to go, with joy and curiosity, as Mr. Mizushima mentioned.

Kasamatsu: Finally, if your college senior self was standing before you right now, how would you recruit him to join the company?

Yamamoto: I’d tell him, “You can be president.” I wouldn’t say how tough it would be once he got there, though [laughs].

Mizushima: I would say the same: “Even you can become president.” [Laughs].

Kasamatsu: I see [laughs]. Thank you both.

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