The Future is Expandable

Jun. 28, 2019
  • Events

How creativity drives business growth and innovation

In its fourth iteration, Advertising Week Asia was held again this year at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, Tokyo from May 27–30, with a stimulating and varied lineup of sessions. In this article, we introduce the session presented by George Moro and Tatsuro Miura, both of Hakuhodo’s Integrated Planning & Creative Division.

In recent years, the work done by advertising agencies has increasingly been outside the advertising domain. Today, we hope to think about these other domains with you and get you a little excited about the future. Please go ahead, Mr. Miura.

What did you do with your Golden Week? I went to Tasmania in Australia, and actually met with trouble there. Along the way, I got shijukata (shoulder pain). And thanks to that, my photos look like this.

I was in so much pain, I decided to go to a pharmacy and buy a shippu (hot or cold compress) or something, but when I got there, I didn’t know how to say shijukata or shippu in English. You would think you could just look it up on an online translation service, right? But that would be useless. I did, and the translation was “forty shoulders,” which I didn’t even need to ask to know it wasn’t going to get my meaning across [laughs]. At that moment, I realized how hard it is to convey what is wrong with you when in another country. This kind of difficulty occurs for people who are already in strife and, as a creative, I wanted to come up with a solution for it. I didn’t think it needed to be that difficult; simply having, say, a chat bot you could use to communicate your symptoms using visual language, would make things easier. After I got back to Japan, I quickly tried to make it in real life.

When you use the chat, it understands medical English, and translates and organizes text information from chats, such as “Where does it hurt?” “What were you doing?” and “Describe the pain,” but with that alone, it was hard to grasp the symptoms intuitively. So, the chat bot produces a clear and easy-to-understand image, like a patient chart, with a design that makes it easy to share even how the pain feels: is it throbbing or tingling pain, does it hurt when you move, or is it a dull, constant pain? All you have to do is show this at a pharmacy and communicating will be smooth. It is simple, but I think even a design solution like this can communicate sore shoulders accurately to the other party, reducing the mental barriers to international travel and significantly improving travel experience satisfaction.

We think that continuously implementing insight-based ideas like this that change users’ experience will become crucial in the years to come. The reason is that we believe in a world where everything will be connected digitally, expanding the user experience will naturally expand new business opportunities. That chat bot I just talked about could lead to new domains with global potential if, for instance, it was linked to data like Japan’s medication notebooks to tie together the different drugs used in different countries or, if it was paired with an airline ticket app, it might expand into a communication business domain opportunity beyond booking hotels. Or perhaps an insurance company might see the content of the chats as totally unique data on the kinds of trouble people find themselves in overseas. When you think about it, domains of opportunity expand around the data. Our team calls ideas that expand business opportunities by expanding user experiences like this “expandable ideas,” and as we work, we are always talking about how to make our ideas more expandable.

The expandable idea process starts with a thorough review of the company or brand’s current situation. Next, we envision how it should be in the future and fill in the gap between now and the future in high definition. Then we come up with an idea with explosive expandability that can realize that future. Next, we create an interface for interacting with sei-katsu-sha to enable us to send the idea out into the world and, finally, nail the deal with art and copy that hit the spot. The idea of conceptualizing back from the future might seem novel, but this is an updated version of an unchanging process that has been nurtured by Hakuhodo over the years as its culture: that is, to not just advertise a brand, but constantly think about creating new markets for it. It is a process of thinking about how to install a brand in society from a sei-katsu-sha–first perspective. It is fair to say that this has become possible because of advances in smartphones and various other interfaces. In the future, new things will not just suddenly fall from the sky; they will be expansions of assets and purposes lying dormant within companies and brands. Think of it like this: even if a brand doesn’t start doing something totally new tomorrow, they can head toward a completely different future by trying ideas that expand the brand it is today.

The first example we’d like to introduce is VEGI-BUS. The project, which was initiated by a Shizuoka Prefecture-based distribution service and a startup, came out of local distribution people thinking they could become a platform for the regional economy. Thinking about what would be needed for that future, the idea of a bus that would enable farmers and shops to have interactions such as “We’ve harvested these vegetables,” and “I’ll order so many” came up, and our job was to give it an interface with e-commerce and social media elements. This is an example of an expandable idea because it is easy for users to use, and because the design and copy are great.

This example is also expandable into business opportunities outside the prefecture and globally and, as a user experience, the experience of buying vegetables is also expanded into something completely different. Moreover, in terms of agency business, our creativity could also expand from B2C to B2B.

That’s right. With VEGI-BUS, not only were costs lower than centralized distribution, but an environment that made it easier for farmers to produce the vegetables that restaurants wanted was also created. We believe that this will lead to expansion of the local economy, so we hope that it will grow and grow.

The next example is NHK’s Otoppe, content produced jointly by Japan’s national broadcaster and Hakuhodo. At the start of work on this project, we had a big hypothesis: that educational television would no longer simply be for sitting and watching in front of the television. Instead, it would expand into an experience where children and parents go outdoors with a smartphone for hands-on learning. So, after thinking long and hard about what content would suit this future, the unique keyword, chosatsu (learning by listening), was born. While educational content where kids learn by watching (kansatsu) already existed, there had been little by way of chosatsu, or listening to common sounds in everyday life and wondering why they sound that way. That sounded interesting, so Otoppe, a character based on the concept of sounds as a gateway to wonder, was born.

From there, we created a flow for a massive opportunity expansion, designing an experience that made viewers want to go outside by linking the TV show and the app as interfaces and producing a 3D CG animation program.

In terms of business, we expanded content into an intellectual property business. From the user’s perspective, we expanded the experience of learning at home. In terms of the agency, we expanded advertising storytelling methods we had used for years into entertainment.

Right. Within the team, we were pleased that we’d been able to zero in on chosatsu [laughs].
There is not a lot of sound-based content, but its unprecedented expansion into Amazon’s Alexa skills, new apps for the humanoid robot Pepper, and the video game Taiko no Tatsujin (Taiko Master) is exciting.

I think that what we have built up over the years in advertising really helps us to expand the business. Working on projects by putting together “springboards” that show ideas in concrete terms is a skill that as an agency we have honed over many years. In this joint project we had all kinds of stakeholders, not just agency people, so giving them concrete springboards allowed us to share the ideas and all create the experience together. The art director Jumpei Fujita gave detailed direction on 3DCG modeling and backgrounds, so the quality and worldview are really well done. Thanks to this, when it came to producing merchandise, events and other unexpected expansions, we were able to collaborate without straying from the image.

Ideas are born from visualizing a dream future. But it doesn’t stop there: the quality of the idea once it has been given shape is also really important. The creativity needed for designing this is maybe unique to us.

The final example is a project we are undertaking with Suntory and a startup called FastAid. Discussions around whether there were any new domains of opportunity around beverages, we hit upon the idea that the flexibility of empty plastic drink bottles is about what is needed for cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training, which is not widespread in Japan. This led to us wondering if we could come up with a training method using plastic bottles after the beverage is finished. This brought us to the CPR Training Bottle idea, which we implemented by way of a training video viewable on a mobile site and via smartphone and a sheet with a functional design. The project is underway with hopes that it will become a business that grows by solving a social issue through B2B.

As a business, it could be used in the disaster prevention domain, and from the user’s perspective, the training opportunity is being expanded. In terms of the agency, we could expand it into design and products and, all going well, into a business, too.

Water is stored in office buildings in case of emergencies, and wouldn’t it be good if in the future, it was all packaged in this bottle? Why, because emergency water is replaced with fresh stock periodically, and the bottles that are nearing the end of their shelf lives can reach people’s hands again at that time.

It is thrilling for a creative when you come up with ideas and expand the future by giving them effective designs that are powerful and easy-to-understand and work. I want to take on more of these challenges.

The thing that all these examples have in common is that they look at the way things are now, envision how they could be in the future, and work out what the gap is between now and then. Also, they have come up with expandable ideas that have explosive expandability for realizing that future, have an interface for sending them out into the world and, finally, have striking art and copy that hit the right notes.

We at the Integrated Planning & Creative Division are a creative team of over 100 members with a variety of specializations working toward the business growth of the many companies and brands that need to innovate due to the digitalization of lifestyles. Working with people in an array of domains, both inhouse and externally, we take on the challenges of new initiatives without limiting ourselves to the traditional advertising domain, and some of these have borne fruit. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you to create new futures.

Recently, seeing the advent of new technologies and trends one after another, I sometimes think that the biggest risk is to miss out on opportunities by not doing anything. I look forward to having the chance to realize these opportunities together with you all.


George Moro
Creative Director and General Manager, Integrated Planning & Creative Division, Hakuhodo
Tatsuro Miura
Creative Director and Team Leader, Integrated Planning & Creative Division, Hakuhodo
Back to News & Insights

Related content