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5 Minutes with… Yukiko Ochiai



The president and CEO of GREY Tokyo on working with Chanco, enabling women in the Japanese ad industry, the impact of the Olympic postponement and why she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty

5 Minutes with… Yukiko Ochiai

Yukiko Ochiai has had an exciting career throughout her time at GREY Tokyo since joining in 2011. However, despite rising through the ranks to president and CEO she pinpoints the exact moment she realised she was a ‘female powerhouse’ at a meeting with Japan Advertising Agency Association last year. That one fleeting moment as the only woman in a room with 35 men proved to her just how much work there is to be done – and how much power and responsibility she has to change things for female creatives.


Perhaps it’s this drive and also Yukiko’s understanding of how the Japanese public do not embrace differences well, that has given her the ability to create campaigns that uplift and celebrate individuals in all their shapes and forms.


Yukiko speaks to LBB’s Natasha Patel about how Covid-19 has the power to change the Japanese advertising industry’s obsession with working long hours and why she believes postponing the 2020 Olympics has given the industry motivation to be even more creative.




LBB> Tell us about your start in the industry.


Yukiko> My first job was as an assistant director at Fuji Television, producing live sports broadcasts for the network. Assistant director sounds very fancy and sophisticated, but my real job was to take care of the staff's meals and beverages and to keep the breakroom clean and organised.


One day, I forgot to put out three separate trash bags (one for plastic, one for burnable waste and one for cans), and I had to go through and separate the recyclable garbage. I was feeling very sorry for myself, studying and graduating from top schools, getting a job at the top TV station, and doing a job I had not foreseen myself doing this!


The producer of the program came up to me and said, "do you realize how great this is for you. Everybody is watching and will remember that you picked through the garbage all day for them. People will know that you are not just a privileged girl but a humble person that doesn't run away from rolling up your sleeves and doing what no one else wants to do. So, when you become a director, your staff will listen to you and do their best for you. Take your time, and make sure everybody sees you doing this." His words still live with me today, and I would like to pass on this advice to the younger generation. Nothing is a waste, and any experience can become valuable if you can find meaning to it. The skills needed to succeed in our industry is much more complex, and there is no quick and easy way to get it - it isn't a place for instant rewards.



LBB> You’ve been at GREY since 2011, how would you describe the journey you’ve been through in the past nine years?


Yukiko> I have loved the career journey so far and enjoyed a series of moments rather than one in particular. Perhaps I can tell you the most recent standout moment. This summer, GREY Tokyo won a YELLOW PENCIL for their Hankograph (Wild Aid) campaign and its extra special because its the first D&AD win in GREY Tokyo's history and the first D&AD win for our ECD, Masanori Tagaya.


It was uplifting news, especially appreciated during these times and a super accomplishment for the GREY Tokyo team. I'm really proud of them! Also the recent wins at the One Show felt really good because the hard work put in by the team and that too for a great cause paid off. Shows creativity can definitely help with raising awareness and can help towards solving real issues. 



LBB> In that time have any particular campaigns stuck out to you as being poignant?


Yukiko> I have been fortunate enough to have worked on many great campaigns, it's difficult to choose, but I like the ones that help make a difference or start you thinking. But just a few weeks ago, we launched a powerful campaign that gave me goosebumps - so let me explain.


The campaign is for a P&G skincare brand SKII, it's an amazing brand that works on your skin DNA and supports you to "Change Destiny" of your skin and life. The brand partnered with Ikee-san, a 19-year-old promising female swimmer, who was aiming to win medals at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. However, she had to give up her dreams of Tokyo 2020 as she was diagnosed with leukaemia and had to undertake cancer treatment instead. The campaign re-introduces Ikee-san to the world after a long and hard battle with the disease, as she accepts her new self by taking off her wig in public for the first time. It is a powerful gesture that encapsulates the idea "Change Destiny" and gives hope to people, not only to people suffering from illnesses, but even people facing difficulties say, due to Covid-19, right now. 


The campaign inspires people, who have been taken away something important because of the pandemic, to stay strong and push forward to change our destiny. The campaign was well received and had a big response and reaction from consumers and the media. I think the most effective campaigns are born when brand purpose and consumer insights are in sync and are executed in an impactful way. These great campaigns have the power to ignite a change in your fundamental behaviour - the SKII campaign is one of the many examples of how Grey has successfully done this.



LBB> You’ve been CEO at GREY since 2015 and last year were announced as president, would you describe yourself as a ‘female powerhouse’?


Yukiko> I have never viewed myself as a "female anything" until I became the board member of the JAAA (Japan Advertising Agency Association) last year. There is only one female board member (myself) among the total 35 members. It made me realise how difficult it is for women to succeed in the Japanese advertisement industry, and that I have a responsibility to change things.


Personally, I count myself very lucky to be surrounded by people, both clients and in the agency, who have valued me for my work. I also have a great support system to keep going. But, I am now aware that this is not the case for many other women who work in our industry. Grey Tokyo has implemented more than 40 measures to support work-life balance, and for female advancement in our company. I am very proud that we have one of the highest female (employee) ratio and the highest female-manager ratios in Japan. But we still have a long way to go. Our client P&G is now pushing for gender equality in advertisement production, specifically to increase work with female directors. I am very excited and want to support this mission by working with P&G, and I think this will help open up our industry further too.


I also want to mention a campaign we did for Pantene a few months ago "#HairWeGo: My Hair Moves Me Forward" which took up the challenge against the unspoken rule of conforming to uniformity and a specific 'job hunting hairstyle' which is a neatly tied up ponytail. Pantene collaborated with government departments and companies to co-create the diversified job-hunting hairstyle project which featured actual employees in out-of-home and newspaper ads, showing a wide variety of hairstyles, to encourage job seekers to be their authentic selves. What was also heartening to see was that more than 139 companies, a mixture of established, emerging and start-up companies, across different industries, participated in the project. I can see we are evolving in many ways, and that change is taking place.



LBB> Wow, it seems campaigns centered around hair have been important to your career as you always worked on Hairy Tale. Tell us about what and what inspired it?


Yukiko> The Hairy Tale project all began when a US magazine clip was sent to us from the P&G Beauty Care CEO, Alex Keith. Alex was the one who got the idea and asked our team to think about a Baby Chanco campaign. We interviewed Chanco's mom, and this deeply inspired the creative team. Chanco's mom is truly an amazing woman who has embraced and loved the differences in her baby. To be different in Japan is very difficult, and people try to conform to normality as much as possible.


I almost cried listening to the mother's interview, remembering how emotionally fragile I could get when my son was little and often compared to other babies. I think what made this work extraordinary was the team hitting the right balance between positivity and seriousness. The idea of inviting viewers (not just mothers) to pause and think deeply about individuality but also ensuring it's not preachy, instead, to introduce the idea in a warm and gentle way. The learning from this project is that inspiration can come from anyone -even the client CEO. That work that is authentic and developed with creative passion -resonates with the viewers. Finally, one should never underestimate their audience because they will know the difference.



LBB> Do you think the industry in Japan will become more progressive once impacts of Covid are over?


Yukiko> While Covid-19 will have a negative financial impact on our industry for this year, I believe that the changes we have all had to adapt to during this period will empower the industry in the long run. The Japanese advertising industry is famous for its long working hours and unpredictable schedules, giving it a reputation for being unhealthy and sometimes even dangerously stressful. It is especially challenging for parents with small children.


The Covid-19 situation has forced the entire industry to work remotely, has pushed us to make priorities, sharpen our internal communication and drive efficiency. Also, cutting transportation time from-and-to the office has given us more flexibility. Post-Covid, I believe our industry will change for the better and become a much more appealing workplace, and an industry where people can succeed while still leading an enriched personal life. In this respect, Grey Tokyo is one of the pioneers as we have always encouraged remote work - employees can work from home for two days a week. I see a huge opportunity to push even further for a flexible and efficient work style, and I hope this will also attract a lot more people to our industry.


LBB> How has the postponement of the Olympics impacted the industry? Is there a lot of uncertainty?


Yukiko> There is no doubt that the postponement of the Olympics has had an effect on our industry and our clients. We have been planning largescale Olympic campaigns for years, and postponing all the plans and developing replacement campaigns under the Covid situation has been at times, challenging.


But I am also feeling creatively inspired by how this sudden and unexpected postponement has given a deeper meaning to the Tokyo Olympics. The first Tokyo Olympics in 1964 was extremely emotional as it symbolized Japan's progress and re-emergence, and reacceptance into the global community post-WWII. In comparison to 1964, the Japanese public was not finding a deep meaning for 2020, and what it stood for. The message Tokyo/Japan wanted to say to the world was not clear and not as convincing.


Assuming that the Tokyo Olympics resumes after the world overcomes Covid-19, there will be a new, deeper, richer and more meaningful reason of why all nations are gathering in Tokyo, and why we are celebrating the greatness and significance of sports. I, for one, am looking forward to my team's creativity and insights on this new challenge of finding the true and meaningful reason of Tokyo 2020, and how it will deepen our Olympics campaigns. For the world to have gone through Covid -I think it will affect the way we all will see things, perhaps through a kinder and more authentic lens which is also full of gratitude.



LBB> Covid aside, what are your plans for the future?


Yukiko> I honestly love what I am doing and can't think of anything more exciting than what I do. I love it because I am exposed to the highest level of creativity, and we are solving a wide range of problems through our creativity every single day. I love the complexity and sensitivity of Japanese communication and the push for the creative excellence that excites Japanese consumers. So, I don't have any plans for now. I will continue doing what I am doing until I don't love it anymore.

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LBB Editorial, Fri, 03 Jul 2020 13:27:56 GMT