The CCO of Hakuhodo International, Hakuhodo Kettle’s Founder and ECD and Hakuhodo Inc.’s corporate officer explains why advertising is the perfect link between the conscious and unconscious and his take on the open-mindedness of creativity
Creative, CCO, corporate officer and executive creative director are just a few of the words that can be used to describe Hakuhodo’s Kentaro Kimura. He’s also a musician, traveller and a boundary-breaking individual. Kentaro began his career in 1992 as a strategic planner and has since climbed up the ranks of Hakuhodo’s leadership team.
In 2006 he and six colleagues decided that the world needed more unconventional solutions to problems and they set up Hakuhodo Kettle with the slogan ‘as the world becomes cooler, it's time for someone to heat things up’. Perhaps this sums up exactly what Kentaro has been doing throughout nearly three decades in the industry.
Excited to hear more from him, LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Kentaro.
LBB> Firstly, tell me about Hakuhodo Kettle, which I know you helped establish in 2006. Where did the idea for the agency come from and what have you achieved since then?
Kentaro> Before we established Kettle in 2006, integrated campaigns were usually based around a core of a key visual and key copy. But we believed that the best option is not always an ad-driven integrated campaign. It might be a digital service-driven, outdoor event-driven, social movement-driven, or entertainment content-driven campaign, to name a few possibilities. In other words, we found a big opportunity to offer our clients better solutions by creating integrated campaigns without key copy and key graphics.
But we needed a different creative process to develop this new type of campaign at that time. Hakuhodo had 3,000 employees and they had grown used thinking in conventional ways. Innovation always occurs at frontiers. That’s why my six colleagues and I decided to establish Kettle as a small in-house creative boutique that would set the world aboil by bubbling up non-conventional ideas.
LBB> Let’s backtrack a bit, was creativity a part of your early years?
Kentaro> My mother was a piano teacher so I learned piano from the age of five. She wanted me to have a career in music. I didn’t want to go that way, but I did write music and played in a band. Writing showed me that an interesting world exists between the conscious and the unconscious. Advertising is similar in that it is an activity that transforms unconscious feelings into conscious ones through art and copy. In that way, I experienced creativity without knowing it.
LBB> So, what made you want to get into advertising?
Kentaro> When I was 20, I travelled to around 20 countries in a year as a freewheeling backpacker. Every time I crossed a border into an unknown country, I felt like I was liberated from conventional thinking. Every country did things differently. And every country had an impact on my perception of people and ways of living. I soon became a very tolerant and open-minded person. I learned that when people change their perceptions, they become happier. This open mindedness inspired me to work in advertising.
LBB> After making this decision, what was your first foray into the industry?
Kentaro> I started my career as a strategic planner. I developed core ideas for campaigns and new products by looking for peoples’ hidden desires. I learned that people don’t actually know what they really want. If I show them something new and they want it, they are very thankful. Human beings are complicated and mysterious, and I learned this early in my career. It is also something that offers great opportunities for advertising.
LBB> What does it mean to you to go 'beyond the bounds of traditional advertising methods'?
Kentaro> Let me give you an example. A mobile carrier once asked us to create an ad, but we thought we had a better solution. We created a chandelier made of 100 mobile phones and hung it in the coolest place in town. Another non-traditional idea was putting open-topped double-decker buses out on the road so people could get the best photos and videos of Christmas illuminations. In other instances, we created a 24-hour high school romance drama on a mobile, edited a textbook for high school kids, and started a mobile phone recycling movement.
There are countless opportunities out there if you care to look outside the box.
LBB> Asia is going through a shift with the rise of digital and short-form content being more popular than ever, what are the challenges that come with this and how do you overcome this?
Kentaro> Digital technology has brought many benefits to our lives. The most significant being efficiency, speed, accuracy, and convenience. But we believe we can create value with digital technology; that we can leverage it to enrich our emotions and create more opportunities to enjoy our lives. That’s a very exciting future.
LBB> What has been your favourite campaign to work on and why?
Kentaro> Japan suffered a massive earthquake ten years ago. The subsequent tsunami washed away not only people’s houses but also the precious memories in their photo albums, tapes, and hard disks. So, we supported Google to create a platform called "Memories for the Future by Google" to recover the lost memories of tsunami survivors. It was sad job in some ways, but it proved that our passion, creativity and technology could help people experiencing the worst time of their lives.
LBB> Outside of work you're a keen traveller and have even written a book, tell me more!
Kentaro> I travelled outside of Japan for around 100 days a year in the five years until the pandemic hit and it was the best way to stimulate my creativity. Seeing things from different angles in different places and talking with different people in different countries always provides me with fresh perspectives. Since I can’t be on the road due to Covid, I am finding ways to travel while in Tokyo. During online meetings in the Covid era, we tend to discuss only essential topics and I think that doesn’t provide enough inspiration. I try to talk about non-essential and off-topic things as often as possible. I hope that by doing this, I will encounter unexpected and interesting ideas.
Outside of work, I watch documentaries I’ve never been interested in before and read novels that have never been on my list of favourites. In other words, I’m intentionally doing as many different things as possible. That’s how I travel without travelling.