Getting inspired with the unconventional creative teams of Dentsu Japan Inc.

Celebrating its 118th anniversary this year, Dentsu Japan Inc., one of the world’s largest advertising companies, is under a transformation to meet the ever-changing business challenges of its clients by leveraging its creative talents and innovations. It has revealed to Marketing’s Sharon Kwok some of the creative methods it employs to obtain new business in unconventional ways.

As Marketing exits the lift to an office in Dentsu’s 47-storey-high skyscraper – which has an impressive view overlooking Tokyo’s Sumida River – one is greeted by open areas and coffee tables for employees to brainstorm and exchange creative ideas. Meanwhile, dark rooms are located to the side for those who prefer to work undisturbed. Employees immerse themselves in this comfortable office setting where many avant-garde advertising campaigns were born. 

Indeed, spearheading innovative approaches to solve business challenges and encourage thinking outside the box is Dentsu’s forte. But the agency has taken a further step in setting up a creative team with the (deceptively simple) title of “Team B”, led by industry veteran and creative director, Hidetoshi Kuranari.

Team B consists of over 50 researchers across Dentsu who have a distinct “B-side”. If their  A-side is their advertising profession, then their B side is something that they are really passionate about outside of their usual work responsibilities. It could be a hobby, a side-job, or a unique skill set. There is a belief in the philosophy of “Do what you love, and success will follow.”

Each of the researchers represents a unique category such as music, literature, peace activism, education, extreme sports, and architecture. Team members are responsible for developing alternative approaches towards creativity and innovation by leveraging that creative B-side. 

Kuranari champions the idea saying, “Team B not only helps to get new businesses and new clients but also helps to retain our young talents as it is an opportunity for them to enjoy their work.” 

“In most cases, plan A is a safe and the correct option, but plan B is more experimental and interesting,” he adds

Kuranari further explains how Team B members work from that B perspective while still riding on their  A-side professions in the creative industry. This hybrid style allows the team to provide solutions from research and ideation to executions including communication, within a single team.

A few Team B members tell Marketing that they are currently working on projects with no urgent deadlines to meet. However, they make clear that they are constantly collecting relevant information and potential ideas from their B-sides to bring solid products or campaigns to fruition.

In fact, Team B has created more than 500 projects across 50 categories. One of them being “Industrial JP”, a project designed to recognise distinct images and sounds captured at Japanese factories and transforming them into music videos. Kuranari said that Fiji film has already approached them to seek a potential collaboration. 

“We believe the formula of innovation is information plus information. Ideas and innovations are born when a new combination of diverse information occurs,” says Kuranari.

Another award-winning Team B project has been the “Sweets” educational chocolate, produced in collaboration with the snack company Morinaga and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA).

Creative director Nadya Kirillova who leads Team B’s experiential education institute, explains, “It is a learning tool for kids using snacks to study about space, such as measuring the size and distance between planets, studying constellations, but they can eat the chocolate afterwards too.”

Apart from creative projects, Team B is also a regular guest writer column in Forbes Japan, where the team shares new innovative ideas once every month. So far, 49 concepts have been rolled out in the column.

“The column is getting more popular because every company needs new ways to make new ideas. We are sharing our ideas and concepts to them through the column,” says Kuranari.

Another notable creative team – the co-creation unit – leverages a people-centric strategy to create innovations that solve social problems. It has generated a number of projects that address social issues such as disaster prevention system which alerts citizens the upcoming natural disasters, “sushi mousse” which is a nutritious care food for elderly, and Father’s Nursing Assistant which is a device that allows a father to nurse his infant.

Dentsu Inc. says is attempting to adopt more teams like this that tap on the reverse pitch concept. It aims to become a “business producing company” with an emphasis on B2B partnerships – creating new business with clients as partners, and establishing new business domains and gaining revenue from sources outside of advertising and marketing communications.

Shusaku Kannan, executive communications director at Dentsu Inc. adds that the ad giant aims to source new business from technology, data utilisation, business development, product development, AI, robots, AR, and VR, through innovation, entrepreneurship, and a diverse talent pool. 

A restructure planned for 2020 is currently underway to make the company fit what Dentsu’s chief executive Toshihiro Yamamoto described – in its August 2018 earnings call –   as, “an evolving market and changing client needs”. One feels that Dentsu’s ultimate goal to meet that evolving market is to apply creativity to much more than just communication.