Media, Entrepreneurship and How They Affect Us

by johnmccreery

That interview with Oka Yasumichi that I was worried about went pretty well.  Oka was affable, impressed and intrigued by the network diagrams illustrating his career that I showed him, and willing to answer my questions at length. Listening to the recording of the interview I realize one thing—my interviewing skills are rusty; I talk too much, wasting time better spent on listening. Still came away, however, with some interesting things to think about.

1. How media have shaped the experience of different generations. To older advertising creatives, who got their breaks in the 60s and 70s, print advertising was the prototype, the medium in which they made their bones. People in Oka’s generation, who graduated from college and went to work in the industry in the 1980s, a Japan without TV is unthinkable. The prototypical ad is a TV commercial, the core of a big campaign in which print ads are ancillary. This generation, however, is struggling to deal with the Internet, which is disrupting the TV-dominated world that is their generation’s normal.

2. The relationship of TV to its audience has not been a constant one. In a fascinating conversation with his Dentsu mentor Akira Odagiri, who joined Dentsu in 1961 and was in at the start of TV advertising in Japan (a conversation transcribed as a book titled CM (i.e., Commercial Message), they note that Odagiri made commercials on the assumption that a family was gathered in front of the TV set and that he was speaking to everyone. In contrast, Oka grew up with his own TV in his own room and makes commercials on the assumption that he is speaking to a viewer one-on-one. Odagiri started working on commercials when TV was new and exciting; the TV set was like a lover, someone you can’t take your eyes off, whose every word is important to you. By the time that Oka started making commercials, TV was at best a friend or acquaintance; someone you hang around with but don’t always pay much attention to.

3. When Oka thinks of the changes in his world that changed his life, the first is the collapse of Japan’s economic bubble in 1991. The collapse of the bubble was good for Oka’s career. Commercials during the bubble had been bakasawagi (stupidly noisy); with the bubble’s collapse Japanese audiences turned more receptive to the subtle melancholy that infused the commercials that made Oka an advertising star. The second was the decision that he and three Dentsu colleagues made to quit the big agency and set up TUGBOAT. Their decision forced others to think about whether they, too, would stay in the big agency cocoon or go out on their own. Oka was disappointed that most similar projects were nothing more than spinoffs from big agency groups, of which they remained wholly owned subsidiaries. But for him the results were dramatic. He no longer had bosses! He notes, moreover, that the fact that he and the other TUGBOAT founders quit and kept working together as a group made their situation different from that of individuals who quit agency jobs and become freelancers and often wind up working with their old colleagues in much the same way as before.

4. When I asked Oka to name those in the industry whom he considers his rivals, he said there was really only one, Sasaki Hiroshi. When I mentioned other big names, he said that he didn’t see them as rivals. They are either of different generations or playing different games. I found myself forced to stop and think about how a rival must be a peer with whom you compete in the same space.

5. Finally, I asked Oka about a sentence he had written, in which he said that he is almost never conscious of being part of a team and then went onto write that he can work with anyone who is tops in their field; after all, he said, he doesn’t have to live with them. He then pointed that team only becomes an issue when you have to pick the members of a team, A,B and C, for example, instead of A, D and F. Since at TUGBOAT, there are only the four principals and they always work together that issue never comes up. Yes, you might say that the members of TUGBOAT are a team; but they never have to worry about the issues that arise when you have to assemble a team for a new project.

Any thoughts about these remarks will be most welcome.


5 Comments to “Media, Entrepreneurship and How They Affect Us”

  1. This is just a reaction and a glimmer of a thought, but I love that point about games, rivalry and space. To me it reflects right back on the shaping of generations (of effective competitive spaces) by different media. And then the thing about teams. He seems to have a very finely tuned sense of relevance.

  2. Carl, I wonder if you might be able to use this stuff as a case for your historical methods class. The following is the field note digested in the message I posted here.


    0) Showing Oka the project outline and the network drawings of his own victories

    The 1981 mention was for a series of radio commercials in which Oka participated as 研修during his first year at Dentsu. それは、営業が地獄とまだ分かってない。1986 Unicharm copy.
    Never mentioned in what Oka writes.

    1) 岡さんは、1980年に大学から卒業して電通に就職した。今までの30年間の間には、日本の広告業界がずいぶん変わってきました。岡さんの視点から、どの変更が大きいとおもいますか?

    Oka sees two big changes. The first was the collapse of the bubble, which was good for him because he makes relatively 地味な広告で92年も伸す酷評かになった。日本人は、もうばか騒ぎな広告を見てほしくなかった。Oka’s quietly emotional commercials were in tune with the mood of the times following the bubble’s collapse, in which people no longer wanted to see crazy, noisy commercials. The industry has a whole underwent a transformation, and the subtlety of Oka’s work suddenly became popular. The bubble was very good for him. The second was the 1999 founding of Tugboat, which made all sorts of people stop and think of going out on their own. At the end of the day, however, only Tugboat was both independent and a success. The others remained subsidiaries of the major agencies.

    There are two reasons to be critical of this claim: (1) as late as 2007, Tugboat was getting 2/3s of its work from Dentsu. Even now, in 2010, around half of its work comes via Dentsu; (2) after the interview, Taniguchi mentioned 風とロック、which was founded by a creative from Hakuhodo and also operates independently.

    Oka says that there were between 10 and 15 new shops created; but from his perspective, the others ちゃんとやめなかった (didn’t quit properly; they all wound up as Dentsu subsidiaries).

    I note that for Oka, “the industry” seems to equal “Dentsu”; but, of course, that was the industry as he knew it; just as Hakuhodo was for me.

    This was disappointing, but still things were shaken up a bit.

    When I ask about Kurose (formerly Hakuhodo) joining Sasaki (Dentsu) in Shingata, Oka replies that, since Shingata was a subsidiary of Dentsu, this case was nothing more than Kurose quitting Hakuhodo and joining the Dentsu Group, i.e., not a case of people from different agencies going independent together.

    2) その変更は、クリエイターにどのような影響があったでしょうか?

    Repeats previous points.

    I ask about Maki Jun’s model.*

    As Oka sees it, freelancers were stronger in the 1980s. Agency people began to win more prizes in the 1990s. He can’t say about the 70s, when he was still a student.

    What about since 2000? That the Internet would grow this rapidly was something nobody was expecting. Still, however, TV and newspapers remain big. Internet advertising isn’t making that much money.

    I run on about Uniqlock’s production values. Oka points out that it remains a rare, almost unique example. There aren’t many Internet ads on that level.

    3) 職場の変更とか、組織の変更とか、人間関係の変更とか?

    For Oka, leaving Dentsu involved important changes in his 人間関係. He no longer had bosses! When I mention that Maki writes in 一つ上that the way he worked didn’t change much when he went freelance, Oka replies that in Maki’s case that may have been so–because he went freelance as an individual. TUGBOAT was founded by a team that left as a group and continued to work together as a group, which changed their relations to others dramatically.

    4) 岡さんが「チームというのは、ぼくわほんとんど意識したことがありません」と言いました。TUGBOATはチームではないか?

    When I ask this, Oka responds that when he was at Dentsu, you were conscious of teams because you might be working with A, B and K or C, E and G. That the members of Tugboat would work together was simply a matter of course. Not something he had to be conscious of. 選択さえあれば、意識する!

    This is a very important point for the SNA side of the analysis: Team consciousness arises in contrast to other possible team formations as well as in relation to other, existing teams.

    5) 岡さんの人脈がものすごく広い。業界だけを考えると、自分に対して、重要な先輩のtop5は、誰でしょうか?ライブルなら?

    先輩? 小田切、秋山晶、When they worked together on the JR East campaign, Oka wrote the narration but had to show it to Akiyama before it went to the client. He says that he learned how to write copy from Akiyama. He liked Akiyama’s copy. のぞえとしあき [See CM for proper name] Later became a member of Dentsu’s board of directors, now chair of the JACC (?). 佐々木宏  I ask if Sasaki is a senpai or a rival. Oka says that Sasaki is his only rival. Not only a great writer, but someone who has also been healthy and active for a long time. When I ask about Samurai’s Kawashima (?), he says, no, Kawashima is a totally different type, thus not a rival.

    Taniguchi mentions John Jay, the American CD who, I believe, was at W+K. Oka laughs and says that Jay has gone back to the States and, anyway, was more a friend than a rival.

    Here is another important point for SNA. The rival has to be seen as someone similar enough to be playing the same game. Conversely, relegating someone to another game is a way of counting him out.

    村田ともこ, who has died, was another important 先輩、important to Oka when he was young because of the encouragement she gave him when he was still unsure of himself.

    6) 岡さんのキャリヤーは、TVと一緒盛んになりました。天野祐吉の話なんですけど、TVの影響で日本人が変わりました。いかがでしょうか?

    Oka says that he finds what Amano writes 退屈、面白くない。新しい発見がない。Oka also says, 「テレビのない日本は、想像できない」I note to myself, “Of course,” TV was always part of his life. It wasn’t he explains, TV itself that made the difference to him. It was, instead, the information that he received via TV, information about what was going on at the same time in other parts of the world. He could see, for example, what kinds of commercials were being made in the UK. TV provided information and stimulation for which people now turn to the Internet. That’s a huge change.

    7) と言っても、岡さんと小田桐昭さんの対話によると、「恋人」のTVからただ「知り合い」のTVにかわりました。「茶の間」のTVから「個人」のTVになりました。「ものと人間の関係」を考えると、いま現在の日本人には、TVは何なのか?

    For Oka, the TV was something he had in his own room, something very personal. Now that role is filled by the Internet. TV has swung back toward being something less personal, more shared again. Albeit, I reflect, less intimately than when the TV was shared in a living room instead of a sports bar.

    Oka suggests that the Internet has become the personal source of information. TV survives but not in the same role that it had when it was in the living room. People don’t watch as much or for as long periods of time as before. He suggests that newspapers may not survive, but TV will, he thinks, in a role complementary to that of the Internet. As a result, making TV commercials may no longer be the 華やか商売, glamorous business, it once was. He believe (hopes?) it will be OK for his lifetime. After that, who knows? Am I going to far to detect a bit of melancholy foreboding here? When I note that Oka and Odagiri seem to believe that Japanese TV commercials have become boring, Oka replies that people have been saying that TV commercials are boring ever since the 1980s; people are always saying that. When I say that to me TV commercials are like anything else, 98% trash, he laughs and agrees.


    And the field note is, itself, an abstraction from a recorded conversation and the recollections it stimulated.

    *”Maki Jun’s model.” Maki was a famous copywriter with whom I had a conversation a few months before his sudden death at age 61 last year.
    He told me that in the 1970s, advertising creative much a much looser business. Creatives got together at a bar in Shinjuku and, if they had work to be done, said, “How would you like to work on this?” to people they wanted to work with. The 1980s saw the rise of TV production companies as powers in the business, and the 1990s saw the market controlled by the big agencies.

  3. Yes. I have a student who is working specifically on information and media in contemporary world history. This is great stuff and should be very interesting to him – I’ll point him to it!

  4. If it would help your student, I can provide him with translations and a bit of background to the questions and translations of the bits of Japanese scattered through the answers. Feel free to give him my email address.

  5. Thanks to a introduction from Oka, this Wednesday I have an interview with Sasaki Hiroshi, Japan’s most award-winning copywriter.

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