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Can British Producers Win Over Japanese Agencies?

Trends and Insight 330 Add to collection

LBB’s Laura Swinton shares insights and opportunities as British and Japanese companies seek to collaborate

Can British Producers Win Over Japanese Agencies?
The Brits, announces Jun Katogi approvingly to a room full of delegates on the 25th floor of Dentsu’s imposing Tokyo HQ, are possibly the third most punctual nation in the world. That’s behind the South Africans and Germans, granted, but they more than make up for that with their wealth of creative talent and  their legendary politeness. The Dentsu Creative director has worked with UK production talent and directors over 25 times and he’s got a good idea of the opportunities – and challenges – facing Japanese and British companies hoping to work together.

The talk is the latest in a series of meetings arranged as part of the Advertising Producers Association trade mission to Tokyo. 24 UK companies, from VFX and production houses to sound studios and service companies, have made the trip to discover the shape and needs of the Japanese market and to fly the flag for the UK creative industries at a time when the country is looking to work more with international markets (at the time of writing, the Brexit deadline is just over two weeks away). The trip is part of a wider push, orchestrated by the country’s Advertising Association and Department for International Trade. Throughout March – Export Month – there are a series of events aimed at raising the profile of the British ad industry internationally. There has been a strong British presence at SXSW in Austin Texas this year and a delegation of agency folk attended the Shanghai International Advertising Festival, and now it’s turn for the production community to do their bit.

We’re half way through the week-long mission and already the practical insights have been as useful as the relationships forged. The organisers at the APA have been careful to incorporate as much listening and dialogue into the week as possible – it’s not just about selling the benefits of brand Britain.

“We’re delighted to be here, we’re here to promote the UK but what we’ve learned from our events around the world – we first came to Japan in 2004 – is that that’s most useful done via communication and learning what it is the Japanese industry needs from us and adapting to that,” said APA chief executive, Steve Davies, speaking at a Ferrero Rocher-less but nonetheless sophisticated reception at the British Embassy on Monday evening.

With that in mind, the week kicked off with an eye-opening session with Julie Thomas, chief creative coordinator and global branding and marketing manager at Japan’s biggest production company, AOI Pro. As well as some crucial last-minute tips on Japanese business etiquette she shared some concrete insights – such as the predominance of the 15-second spot in Japan. While Western markets tend to create a 30- or 60-second ‘hero’ film and are relatively new to the concept of ultra-short video content (in recent years pushed by the likes of Facebook), the 15-second TVC has long been the key spot in Japan. Indeed one common assumption amongst Japanese creatives and producers is that foreign directors can’t handle the info-dense format. 

Following on from that, at Hakuhodo boutique Kettle, the group explored more commonly-held misconceptions about working with international collaborators. The language barrier, the distance, the cost and the very particular tastes of Japanese marketers are seen as barriers. The good news is that there are solutions to all of these, but my own conversations with creatives and producers and those that delegates reveal that building up sufficient trust and relationships will be a gradual process. 


One fairly big stumbling block that emerged during talks was the issue of payment terms and contracts – producers never fail to get down to business and hard numbers. Dentsu’s notoriously slow payment process was raised by the Dentsu team themselves as something they recognised as an issue while working internationally. Moreover, the global standard of paying a percentage of a production fee upfront was also not something particularly common in the Japanese market. However, what followed was an open discussion about potential solutions, such as identifying production partners earlier in the process and to work through local production companies who could function as financiers. It was the sort of discussion that shows a genuine willingness to cooperate and find solutions.

But there are plenty of opportunities for Japan’s agencies working with UK production, particularly as the Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics roll along. At each agency meeting, speakers from the UK delegation detailed their companies’ international experience and flexibility. According to the British delegates, that experience working around the world with local talent, not to mention the multicultural environment back home in London, gives UK production an edge when it comes to creating content with global appeal. 

The relatively small VFX community in Japan also cropped up as a place where the UK could support local agencies. By and large agencies tend to shy away from VFX-heavy jobs as there’s not a huge number of bigger shops – but there is still a wariness of working with international companies. 

So far, the group has visited the heavy hitters in the market. Dentsu, the behemoth that dominates with a 24.4% share of the advertising market and the media power that comes from owning many of the country’s major media outlets, and Hakuhodo were the first ports of call. But there was also an opportunity to meet brands too. Beauty brand Shiseido, for example, has one of the world’s oldest in-house creative agencies (founded in 1916) and has a track record of well-crafted comms, most recently perhaps its collaborations with director Show Yanagisawa (online films High School Girl and Party Bus). The atmosphere at Shiseido, where we met creative director Masato Kosukegawa, was noticeably less formal than in Dentsu and Hakuhodo and the assembled creatives were familiar with high profile UK work like Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner. They were also keen to understand the perception of Japanese work among foreign audiences. 

And a trip to the Japanese Advertising Museum in the basement of the Dentsu building gave the British team a chance to bone up on just that. Advertising in Japan, we discovered, has roots that stretch back to the Edo period, where businesses shouted about their products in beautiful woodblock flyers and by sponsoring Kibuki theatre shows in exchange for being mentioned within the play (who says branded entertainment is a new thing?). 

The centrepiece of the trip takes place tomorrow at an evening event called Euro Live, where visiting Brits and local talent will take to the stage. 

But before signing off, and in the spirit of collaboration, massive thanks to the energetic and irrepressible Julie Thomas who has freely given her time to support the visiting businesses and has had the unenviable job of herding the attendees – or producing the producers. And thanks as well to Mr Positive’s Peter Grasse, who has also worked with the APA to help arrange the mission, as well as introducing some lucky delegates to the dubious delights of horsemeat sashimi.
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LBB Editorial, Tue, 12 Mar 2019 17:19:09 GMT