One hundred years after the birth of its founder David Ogilvy, advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather still follows one of his core philosophies — sell or else. Times change, technology changes but the challenge remains to figure out what is going to sell.
With over 450 offices in 120 countries, Ogilvy & Mather uses its global network to help its clients build enduring brands and create campaigns that address local market needs. The company has had a presence in Japan since 1995 and today has six disciplines which have different marketing specialties and a newly established design unit. Clients in Japan include BAT, Ajinomoto, American Express, Castrol BP, Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, IBM and many more.
Overseeing operations in Japan is Kent Wertime, President and Representative Director of Ogilvy & Mather (Japan) GK, and Chief Operating Officer of Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific.
Born near Philadelphia, Wertime started his advertising career in New York where he worked with agencies DMB&B, TBWA and BBDO. In 1990, he moved to Asia with BBDO, working in Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok. He joined Ogilvy & Mather in Thailand in 1999 and took up his current assignment in Japan in March of 2009.
Wertime has written articles for The Asian Wall Street Journal, Asiaweek and other publications. He wrote the book “Building Brands and Believers” (2002) and co-authored a second book, “DigiMarketing,” in 2007.
Japan Today visits Wertime at the offices of Ogilvy & Mather in Tokyo’s Ebisu to hear more.
How did Ogilvy & Mather Japan perform in 2011?
It was a very challenging year. Sales will wind up flat for 2011. There was less new business coming in for about six months after the March 11 disaster. But in the latter part of the year, we saw the level of economic activity slowly returning.
How did you respond to the events of March 11?
Advertising agencies are impacted by how our clients do. So it varied by client. Some were directly impacted by the disaster and that caused them to slow their marketing. Others weren’t directly impacted; in other cases, their business went up. We had our own challenges as a company. We had to be in tune with our clients’ needs and help them in different ways.
What are Ogilvy & Mather’s strengths?
We’re not like other agencies because we don’t buy media. We’re less media-focused, which means we are much more neutral. It’s a lot like a financial adviser. If you go to an independent financial adviser who doesn’t benefit from selling one particular product or the other, they give you neutral advice. We’re like that. We focus purely on the business issue – strategy. And that may involve us advising a client that they don’t need TV advertising. Or maybe they should focus on social media or try a new PR campaign and rethink their product placement.
Another strong point is that we are one of the leading global networks and by far the largest advertising agency in Asia. More clients are coming to us to not just help them in Japan but to help them go overseas. They want advice here in Japan to craft a strategy that will be workable in foreign markets.
How do you work with clients?
We start with their business problem. Then we provide the services for a solution, which could be formulating brand strategies, developing product concepts and advertising ideas based on insight, formulating communication and digital marketing strategies and implementing them. Clients are looking for more forms of creativity, ideas, more effective use of social media.
What is your core philosophy?
It has been the same since our founder David Ogilvy started the company – we sell or else. It’s not about new technology; the age-old principles still apply. It’s not just about an emotional connection. In some cases, it is about new information; in some cases, it is about reframing of an issue. In any given day and age, you have to figure out what is going to sell – that’s the reason people come to us.
Can you give us some examples of new ideas?
Castrol was one of the global sponsors of the last World Cup. They came to us and said they wanted to promote their sponsorship, but they didn’t have a whole lot of funds to do it. Instead of press releases and an ad campaign, we came up with a plan to build the world’s fastest kicking machine. It generated millions of dollars of free publicity online by going viral. A large part of the story wasn’t just the end result. It was a multi-month process covered online about how to build the machine.
Another example is a global campaign we did a few years ago for Dove. Globally done research has shown dramatic evidence that 9 out of 10 women do not find themselves attractive. That was an incredible damnation of the impact of communication that women had a stereotype they couldn’t live up to. The new campaign challenged the notion about the way advertising typically worked.
What are some unique characteristics of the Japanese market in your business?
I always have two views on the issue of uniqueness of Japan. One is that Japan is truly unique and the other is that Japan is unique in thinking that it is unique when it is not. I think Japan does have many deep cultural issues. For example, there is a deep-seated connection to seasonality of food that I think is beyond anyplace in the world, save maybe France.
The incredible demanding level of Japanese consumers for quality is another characteristic. That’s one reason the prices aren’t mentioned in a lot of advertising. If you haven’t got quality, consumers are not interested. But having said that, we are starting to see prices mentioned more often, especially in direct marketing campaigns. There are more consumers looking for value too, not just quality.
Do Western techniques like comparative advertising work in Japan?
You don’t tend to do comparative advertising here for social reasons. However, Japanese do respond to comparison – it depends on the nature and tonality of the comparison. They may not respond innately by saying one brand is better than another one. But if the comparison is not brand to brand but to something in nature or to a standard they recognize as being the highest, they may respond differently. You have to find a way to do it culturally.
How important are cultural factors?
One of the things culturally that I do find interesting about advertising in Japan is that the nature of the relationship in every sense is so important. There is a patience to brand builders in Japan that is lacking in other parts of the world. Japan tends to have a lot of things that seem off the world to foreigners’ sensibilities. But when you look at advertising, I think Japanese marketers are much more disciplined and patient about building a relationship with their customers, about proving quality, and not just sticking a price on it and assuming that’ll work. In that sense, sometimes Western advertisers can be impatient.
How about the use of celebrities in ads in Japan?
Celebrities are used because it is a short cut to a variety of values and associations. If you get it right, it can benefit a brand. Now that doesn’t mean that if you like the star, you’ll buy the product. It’s much more about if the star creates recognition and the right type of implications for the product that make it believable, and then whether you like the implications. So if you have a beverage and you are trying to get across a youthful image, does the use of that star make you believe it is a youthful brand. If it appeals to you, then it does work.
How has the media landscape for ads changed?
Japan is an incredibly communicative market. TV advertising, as a proportion of total spent by clients, has declined unlike the world average. But the Internet has gone up by 20 percentage points. That’s probably because the young male audience has been moving way from TV in favor of digital media. Marketers follow a very simple approach. They go where the people go, where the audience is. That hasn’t changed and never will.
Have you seen any ads in Japan that impressed you?
I really like the Softbank campaign. As an emblem of advertising in Japan, it is very interesting. To a Westerner, it looks crazy and off the wall, but if you look at it over time and start to dissect it, it’s actually very disciplined. They have stayed with it.
Japanese commercials always win their share of international awards unlike Korea. By and large, for a country that is so digital, there are not a lot of awards. Japan is still a more inventive place than most.
Is your company a fun place to work?
Our business always has to be, to some degree, fun or it just doesn’t work. But it’s got to be fun with a purpose. We are trying to promote a corporate culture in which pervasive creativity works, meaning that everyone is thinking creatively and exploring.
We have a fairly young staff, although we do have some employees in their 70s. We hire graduates every year. We have an initiative called Creative School where we train young creators for three months to specifically develop talent. We also have an internship program.
We also get staff from other agencies or clients. Where they come from and where they go to tends to be very diverse.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up here at 7 a.m. and tend to leave at about 8 p.m. I’m in and out; there is no typical day. I don’t believe in sitting behind a desk. My days are focused on our clients.
How would you describe your management style?
Leading from the front is my management philosophy. I tend to be hands on with senior clients. There is a lot of work that goes on for a client and you need to be there at guiding times.
How do you like to relax?
That revolves around what my kids are doing. I’m an average skier, but I love it!