Universal language is not English, but insight: OJT in Malaysia

Jan. 21, 2019
  • Viewpoints

The need for staffers able to handle international work is rising rapidly in line with globalization. Accordingly, Hakuhodo has been training global personnel by sending Tokyo headquarters staff to Group offices around the world every year to work with local staff for three months. In 2018, a total of four staff were sent to Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam from October to December. Activation Planner and Copywriter/Commercial Film Planner Masahiro Mishima reports on his experience of training in Malaysia.

Send off on the last day of training

Hakuhodo Malaysia

Hakuhodo Malaysia is an advertising agency in Kuala Lumpur. It is Hakuhodo’s oldest overseas office, and consists of about 50 staffers in the key fields of account service, strategy and creative. Hakuhodo Malaysia holds monthly birthday parties and other festive get-togethers to build corporate bonding and culture. In 2018, it won Agency of the Year Award at the Kancil Awards, Malaysia’s most prestigious advertising competition, so they are on a roll.

Experiencing the culture of Malaysia

Advertising is deeply rooted to local lifestyles. Japanese know Japanese best and Malaysians know Malaysians best. I’ve always thought of advertising as a domestic industry. So, my first task was to experience and learn things about Malaysia. The following explains three aspects of what I learned during my stay in the country.

Workshop with Muslim colleagues to gain insights

First, Malaysia is a multiracial nation. There are three main races: Malay, Chinese and Indian. The national language is Malay, but the common language is English, because Malaysia was once colonized by the British. Needless to say, ethnic Chinese speak Chinese, so three languages are spoken. Advertising is created for each ethnic background in their respective language. For example, in a series of advertisements, situations and expression would differ depending on the target audience’s race. Accordingly, advertising agencies must hire several copywriters, each familiar with their own mother tongue.

Second, Malaysians live harmoniously with religion. Followed by 60% of the Malay population, Islam is the dominant religion. In addition, typically Chinese follow Buddhism and Indians Hinduism. There are also Christians. How does this impact life here? In a nutshell, meals change. Muslims don’t take alcohol or eat pork. Hindus don’t eat beef. Some Buddhists are vegetarians. We Japanese tend to think as one, but our way of thinking is not applicable here.

And the last point is that Malaysia is a motorized society. Compared to Japan, radio and out-of-home are still popular media in Kuala Lumpur, because Malaysians generally commute by car and traffic jams are likely owing to heavy rain and floods. Globally, digitalization is booming. Still, we must understand and heed local lifestyles and media consumption patterns to come up with the most effective campaigns.

How to make the best creative

“Make it simple!” This is what our Chief Creative Officer, Woon Hoh, and Regional Associate Creative Director, Nicholas Kosasih, said to me from my very arrival. They always select simple, strong taglines over intricately thought out ones. When targeting an audience with diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, we need to forgo fancy expression in order to tell the true message. Though I had been conscious of making it simple before, I made true sense of the meaning of this through this training program. That is an insight itself.

Dinner with creative staff between shoots (left)
A picture of concentration: checking the monitors during a shoot (right)

This is easy to understand by taking a social issue as an example. In Malaysia, obesity is a big problem. People do not mind their figures, as they don’t have any problems even if they are obese. They can commute by car door to door and Muslim women hide their skin and body lines so they don’t have to care about how others see them. But how about when it comes to their children’s health? I’m sure that parents would take action for their children’s health. This enables us to design a campaign based on family love. A simple message along with this insight would be strong enough to penetrate. I realized that simple ideas work when pursued together with expression.

What is required of a global ad person?

In global business, I think that it is essential for us to be ready to change the world and to make it a better place. To solve social issues—what we call social good—requires looking deep into many insights. I mean, traffic jams are a social issue in Malaysia just as much as obesity is. Although foreigners like myself cannot understand the local language, “insights” can be our common language. What can we do as an advertising agency? This mindset enables us to create new ideas that excite team members, clients, and sei-katsu-sha.

Hakuhodo Malaysia’s President Oda as Santa Claus at the Christmas party (left)
The Christmas party dress code was white (right)

Making use of my experience

According to James Webb Young, an idea occurs when you develop a new combination of old elements. Now I can make use of this experience. Specifically, I want to challenge making very simple and strong creative, TV commercials, activation, digital, and so on. I can be sure that it is the best creative execution if I can explain the idea easily to my friends in Malaysia.

Moreover, through this training program, I experienced the Muslim way of life. I would like more Muslims to visit Japan. It is estimated that the number of Muslims worldwide will increase from 1.5 billion to 2.2 billion by 2030, and they are potential visitors to Japan. I will try hard to share information about Muslim culture, including halal food, praying behaviors and the hijab (the vail for Muslims woman), with people in Japan. There are a variety of things we could do to extend Omotenashi—the art of Japanese hospitality—to Muslims. I’d be glad if I can help.

Masahiro Mishima
Hakuhodo Inc.
Masahiro Mishima joined Hakuhodo in 2013. He has been working as Activation Planner and Copywriter/Commercial Film Planner in the Creative Division.
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