Turning Japanese With Wieden+Kennedy

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W+K Tokyo MD John Rowe and ECD Tota Hasegawa talk product launches, approaches to creative management and tiny street doors…
Turning Japanese With Wieden+Kennedy

If put up against the right challenge, Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo MD John Rowe (pictured) thinks agency creative talent are highly capable of coming up with great products. It isn't easy though, and each agency has to ask itself whether or not it’s the best use of talent and time. 

“It takes a very long time to build a brand and a very long time to make money from your own products. There's an opportunity and a cost to every decision,” he admits.

Just shy of four months into his new role as managing director of W+K Tokyo, Rowe says the journey so far has been great. “I love Tokyo and can't wait to explore more of Japan and Asia. The wonderfully diverse team at W+K Tokyo has been so welcoming and helpful with my transition. It certainly hasn't been easy, but it really shouldn't be. I relish challenges and adventure. It's why I'm here.”

Leaving his post at W+K Portland, where he worked as an account director on Facebook for the past three years, Rowe has partnered with senior executives at the social network to help develop the brand’s first communications platform for both national and global advertising campaigns.

Speaking of his time on the account and the challenges he faced, Rowe says: “Think of how fast Facebook has grown – a billion-and-a-half users in just over 11 years... with almost no marketing. In addition to that, when it comes to users, they aren't selling anything. This presents many challenges in terms of determining the value of creativity and marketing for the company. Luckily, they're a very smart team over there, and they seem to hire well, so we had great allies in navigating these challenges.” 

Reflecting on his current position, working alongside executive creative directors Tota Hasegawa and Mike Farr, Rowe thinks the true value of a three-man management team is reaching a higher potential together, rather than alone. 

“I think it takes time, but I am encouraged by the progress we've made so far. At W+K, we prioritise a creative point of view. It's why two ECDs and one MD run each office. After 10 years at W+K, I bring a keen understanding of this philosophy to the table and honestly wouldn't have it any other way.” 

When probed on Japanese creativity, Rowe believes the country to be one of the most inspiring in the world, and that the level of creative talent outside of advertising is almost “mind-blowing”. But what surprises him most is that creativity in advertising is “so poor”. 

“We have to do better...all of us, particularly as we head into the 2020 Olympics. I was not at Cannes this year. I don't believe in allowing others to set the creative bar for us. We have to set our own bar. And then keep raising it. Over and over again. Otherwise, you lose track of your own vision and end up satisfying judges versus yourself and your clients.” 

Although disappointed with Japan’s overall adland performance, he continues to be surprised by a city that offers more than meets the eye. “My favorite unexpected thing so far is the incredible things you can find behind tiny doors in Tokyo. Seriously, if you're walking down a street, any street, and see a tiny door, please open it. You won't be disappointed.”  

W+K Tokyo ECD, Tota Hasegawa, agrees there are plenty of opportunities to open new doors of discovery in Tokyo, particularly within the area of product development. “In Japan, there are so many good quality product makers who are in need of creative ideas,” he says. And he should know. The agency, under his creative direction, has been busy launching designer eyewear brand Type alongside retailer Oh My Glasses. 

Inspired by the similarities between the function and design of typefaces and glasses, each pair is handcrafted in Sabae city, known as the home of Japanese eyewear craftsmanship. To celebrate the launch of the new models, W+K launched a popup shop to introduce all models of TYPE, including the newest (American Typewriter, Bodoni and Times New Roman) and current models.

Running from September 3rd to September 13th, the pop up had a hotel-themed special photo booth where you could test TYPE models and take photos of yourself. “1LDK AOYAMA is one of the nicest select shops in Tokyo, so you don't have to shout around to gather people,” says Hasegawa, of the pop-up shop’s location. “For TYPE, we would like the brand to grow organically with the right kind of people. We kept our communication very simple.” 

But just how hard is it to launch a product in Japan’s design conscious city? 

“Japanese customers have the most evil eyes for detail, so we needed to spend a lot of time refining the shape of each model. Luckily, we met our craft and retail partner, Oh My Glasses, before we started this project, so we didn't have to start things from scratch. We tried to keep the brand as authentic as possible and when you are responsible for the creative output, as well as sales, you try to balance those two ends and end up losing sharpness of the brand. The manifesto on TYPE’s site was very useful for us to stay true to the brand.” 

When quizzed on what a dream product development and launch would look like to him, Hasegawa is fast to respond that he is currently focused on making TYPE into a solid brand, but given the chance, he’d personally love to work on something used in daily life, like soap: “Many agencies are having a hard time making soap look interesting, and it would be great if we can make an interesting soap.”

Follow TYPE’S Instagram account (@type_gs) with #type_gs.

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Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo, 4 years ago