SDGs in Action: BranCo!

Feb. 3, 2020
  • Viewpoints
  • CSR

The Hakuhodo Group is committed to doing its part toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this interview series we introduce key initiatives undertaken by the Group featured in Creating Happiness: 2019 SDGs Collaboration Book published by the Hakuhodo DY Group.
In this article, Fumitaka Mafune (The University of Tokyo) and Masanori Miyazawa (Hakuhodo Brand Innovation Design) discuss BranCo!, an interuniversity competition that fosters understanding of the social importance of brand design.

The University of Tokyo & Hakuhodo

Among the 17 goals and 169 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this campaign contributes to SDGs 4.4, 4.7 and 17.17.

Brand Design Competition for Co-Creation among University Students

BranCo! is an interuniversity competition launched with the aim of communicating to university students the social importance of brand design, one of the fundamental activities at Hakuhodo. Participants learn how to solve issues the Hakuhodo way and execute the whole planning process, from input (information) to output (idea) in teams. With the concept of “working together to tackle questions with no correct answer,” the competition was started in 2012 as an extension of Brand Design Studio, a joint educational project launched in 2011 by the University of Tokyo and Hakuhodo in the form of a class. Some 837 students from 89 universities across Japan participated in its seventh edition, held in 2018.

From Left: Masanori Miyazawa (Hakuhodo) and Fumitaka Mafune (The University of Tokyo)

“Co-creation” is the mother of innovation and sustainability

― What was the challenge facing the University of Tokyo (UT)?

MAFUNE (UT): Thanks to entrance exams, the students were used to finding the right answers on their own, but were not so good at co-creation in a group of friends. That was half the challenge. The other half was that “active learning” was a buzzword when we started this initiative, but the teaching staff did not really know what it meant. Although we set up a classroom for active learning, we did not know what to do with it. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to consult Mr. Miyazawa.

― Why did you make brands the theme of the project?

MIYAZAWA (Hakuhodo): First of all, we defined a brand as “something that cannot be found anywhere else.” We have helped our clients find how to create something that is unique to their company or the product concerned. As we talked about how to create a brand at corporate training sessions, we began to feel that the topic was so informative and universal that it would be relevant to people outside the business community. From the perspective of students, considering themselves as a brand and creating their own unique life path is a crucial part of education.

MAFUNE: We were completely in the dark at first. But through trial and error, we came up with the tagline “working together to tackle questions with no correct answer.”

MIYAZAWA: The students were really good at tackling questions with a correct answer on their own, so we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. The UT College of Arts and Sciences is unique in that all undergraduate students go through it regardless of whether they are majoring in the arts or sciences. So I thought it would be better to encourage interaction among students while they are studying in the College of Arts and Sciences. Given that UT does not have a faculty of fine art, however, we subsequently invited students from Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA) to participate in the project. Now that business people have joined in some of the activities, I believe we succeeded in developing a truly diverse space for the co-creation experiment.

Scene from the Brand Design Studio class: Students learn from each other, ideate and build consensus in groups, rather than from the unilateral transmission of knowledge such as in a lecture.

Learning about diversity involves mutual respect

― In what ways did you feel that diversity and co-creation were improving?

MAFUNE: The participation of TUA students had the greatest impact. They completely changed the output. They tend not to write text but to draw pictures instead, thinking in visual terms.

MIYAZAWA: This class was named “ribbon thinking.” Students conduct research, develop a concept, and then produce an output—a straightforward process. The practice reminded us that everyone has their own preferences. TUA students are good at producing output, but cannot necessarily verbalize the process. Humanities students at UT can easily perform the task because they are relatively good at conceptualization, thus gaining respect from TUA students. Science students are good at scrutinizing and analyzing the whole process. This complementary relationship brought home to me that diversity is crucial if we are to create something new. Also, mutual respect is vital. UT students respect TUA students, and humanities students respect science students. Respect is essential in learning about diversity.

Students used the Ribbon Thinking framework to generate ideas through an Input → Concept → Output workflow.

― What kind of challenge or theme have you adopted for the class?

MAFUNE: Our rule is to set a theme that everyone can address on an equal footing. We are now branding music. The class is generally entitled “Branding (something),” such as “Rebranding Tokyo Tower” or “Branding Cats.”

MIYAZAWA: Since we define all themes as “something with social value that is unavailable elsewhere,” we don’t know the form of the final output, whether a product or a shop. But the point of the class is to develop skills for co-creation and ideation. An interesting output would be great, but the main purpose is to make students learn how to verbalize or analyze the process leading to the output.

― Why did you adopt the form of a competition when opening the class to BranCo?!

MIYAZAWA: Active learning means self-initiated learning, so I thought the ultimate form of active learning is a competition with a given theme. For example, high school students are dedicated to baseball because of the national tournament. We thought it was necessary to set a goal to encourage self-driven efforts.

In December 2018, many students participated in the first round of BranCo! 2019. For details, see (in Japanese)

Co-creation is required in a world of silos

― What are your objectives and aspirations for BranCo! and the class?

MAFUNE: We need feedback. When students start to work for various companies, we may well integrate ideas that they develop during the course of their work. Since education is an ongoing activity, we should obtain feedback while progressing.

MIYAZAWA: I’m thinking about extending the skills learned by university students downward and upward, ranging from elementary school pupils to high school students. The spirit of co-creation and collaboration may be internalized more easily when learned at an earlier age. The project may also cover businesspeople. BranCo! Next was tentatively launched in 2019, in the hope of achieving a great outcome from BranCo! graduates thinking together with them. Co-creation is necessary because a silo-based organization with top-to-bottom sectioning is highly efficient but not so effective. That’s the biggest problem in running an organization. Recently, this problem has occurred in the whole of society, not just at the corporate level. Silos are developing in every part of society: there is no exchange of information between an industry and its neighboring industries, or between universities and businesses. That could be a serious stumbling block when the world requires something brand-new or more innovation. For this reason, I believe that horizontal collaboration will be essential for society, sustainability and innovation going forward. I hope to scale this project to facilitate such development.

Since 2015, Brand Design Studio has been working with Tokyo University of the Arts. The theme for BranCo! 2020 is “Designing a New Brand for Secrets.”
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