It was a critical time for the agency, TBWA Hakuhodo President-CEO
Ichiro Zama said. "We don't have any product, we have to serve our
clients with our ideas. The earthquake was Friday. They went to
clients on Monday to propose the ideas and communications they
could [carry out] during this difficult time."
The agency's chief operating officer, Luis DeAnda recalled, "We
said, let's get people into the office. It wasn't a mandate but it
was everybody's will, we knew there were opportunities for us to
help the situation."
TBWA Hakuhodo's quick, sharp reaction helped the 5-year-old
agency achieve 9% growth in a year when many marketers in Japan
were slashing budgets. In addition to assignments for global
clients like Nissan, Procter &
Gamble, Adidas and Apple, the agency added four accounts,
According to clients, what makes TBWA Hakuhodo a valuable
marketing partner is its unusual blend of East and West: an
international outlook and resources combined with deep local
knowledge. Business is about 70% international and 30% local.
"As a foreign agency, you really can't make any dent in the
Japanese market unless you have the media clout of Hakuhodo or
Dentsu," said Keith Smith, TBWA president-international, reflecting
on the joint-venture with Hakuhodo that created the TBWA network's
only agency in Japan. Hakuhodo is Japan's No. 2 agency, after
"But we didn't see it as a defensive posture," he said. "We saw
it as an opportunity because there's a lot of great creative talent
coming out of Japan and a lot of great creative talent at TBWA and
we thought marrying the two would be a very interesting combination
and that 's proved to be the case."
In a profoundly sad year for the country, TBWA Hakuhodo created
memorable and effective work based on the agency's motto, "Think
With P&G, it developed Ariel detergent's "Cheers for You"
program to provide clean laundry to earthquake survivors living in
shelters. Their laundry was collected, washed in a nearby area that
had water and electricity to run washing machines, and delivered
back to shelters a few days later. Locals were hired to staff the
effort to help boost the area's economy, including female workers
since Japanese women might be embarrassed to hand over dirty
underclothes to a male stranger. Retailers pledged donations as
word of the program spread, and sales of Ariel more than
"Having the ability to create a strong message that can travel
(across various platforms and media) is really critical to us to
further build our communication capabilities," said Yukiko
Tsujimoto, director of external relations for P&G Japan. "TBWA
Hakuhodo has a strong ability in that area that I think is really,
The agency also put an upbeat spin on broad energy-saving
measures as Japan struggled through post-quake power shortages.
Adidas launched a line of ClimaCool apparel just as the
government urged white collar workers to dress more casually in
offices that suddenly had little or no air conditioning. TBWA
Hakuhodo's marketing campaign offered discounts matching the day's
temperature, and when the mercury reached 35 degrees Celsius (95
degrees Fahrenheit), the website played a cheerful animated movie
titled "Happy Hot Summer."
"People were getting excited and cheering, even around our own
office, 'C'mon, it's only 33 (92 degrees F)!'...And we had no AC
and it was sweltering," said Dave Thomas, VP-marketing for Adidas
"It was a quick reaction, the government was pushing cool biz
(cool business attire) and we jumped on that ," Mr. Thomas said,
adding that ClimaCool sales rose 32%. "Let's own the temperature
and when it hits 35 degrees, let's everyone celebrate."
Other work for Adidas included the "Kutsukasu" (Japanese for
"shoe rental") effort for AdiZero running shoes. Consumers could
try out a pair for several days and return them if they weren't
satisfied. All 2,100 pairs of shoes offered were instantly rented,
and most decided to keep them.
Mr. Thomas, who had been hesitant about the idea, said the
program increased market share and led to a 17% jump in sales over
the previous year. Adidas is now talking about doing the program
two or three times a year.
TBWA Hakuhodo also helped revive flagging interest among young
Japanese in Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants baseball team, which has a
licensing agreement with Adidas. The agency created a "Digital
Tryout" iPhone app that let fans measure their skills in pitching,
batting, running and catching. Top performers met the team and
competed against real players using the app.
"It was a low-cost, high return, neat idea," Mr. Thomas said.
"It was one of our first attempts at an interactive app, it's an
area we've been a little slow in...this was quick, simple and fun.
It got addictive."
The app reached No. 1 in the sports category, and sales of
Adidas baseball gear went up 200%.
TBWA Hakuhodo now handles planning and strategic work for
Adidas, as well as doing creative.
"They have given us better results by managing initiatives and
categories end-to-end," Mr. Thomas said. "Sometimes we can get a
little stuck in the mud and so I've given them the mandate to push
us. The client isn't always right."
Other 2011 work included shifting Nissan to a more
digitally-focused marketing strategy, and launching the iPad2 and
iPhone4 in gadget-obsessed Japan.
The TBWA and Hakuhodo cultures continue integrating, with the
staff growing to 366 from 315 last year. The agency's two-floor
office is in a historic amusement complex in downtown Tokyo, where
rumblings of bowling balls can be heard from the lanes one floor
up. This year, the fast-growing agency will also take over the
first floor, once an infamous discotheque called Juliana's where
normally demure Tokyo office ladies went to bump and grind.