In a bold move, D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles Communications have elected to differentiate themselves from the mainstream of agencies in Japan by focussing on their approach to media. It is a bold move because eight of Japan’s top 20 agencies are owned at least partially by media companies. And the two largest, Dentsu and Hakuhodo, both independently owned, buy approaching half of Japan’s media space and time and set the tone of the entire industry. One way or another, the links between Japanese agencies and media are so deeply embedded that they are usually taken for granted. In contrast, Western agencies – with the exception of McCann Erickson – have found it hard to become competitive media players in Japan, due mainly to their tiny market shares.

The opportunity DMB&B sees is in media planning. ” Media planning is somewhat alien to Japanese advertising culture, but we are seeing more Western style developments in Japan, and the media market is opening up a little bit. We see media planning in Japan as our added value. It is very difficult to compete with the buying clout of Dentsu, but that does not mean you cannot outsmart the market. One of our core strengths is our media planning so what have decided is to develop that resource in Japan as differentiating feature of our agency in Tokyo, ” says Arthur Selkowitz, DMB&B’s chairman and chief executive officer. According to Selkowitz, the agency is introducing the first optimization systems designed particularly for the Japanese market – called Minimizer. A focus on media in Japan reflects the agency’s overall plans to developing its own media specialist, MediaVest, throughout Asia this year: an initial office opened in China this January.

The pace of expansion for media specialists in Asia looks like continuing as energetically as last year. Omnicom’s Optimum Media Direction has now opened in Singapore following a merger of the media departments of DDB, BBDO and TBWA. The media planning and buying agency is staffed with people from each agency under the direction of Kate Stephenson, the managing director of OMD in Southeast Asia, who joined from Carat. OMD operates another office in Hong Kong and will open in Shanghai and Taiwan shortly. Japan will not move to the top of OMD’s agenda till the two Japanese agencies Omnicom bought last year have been successfully assimilated. This could happen rapidly for Nippo-TBWA but may take another year for I&S, a larger, more traditional agency that Omnicom awarded to BBDO Japan.

The planning niche may yet prove the roller that levels the playing fields of Japan’s media market. Both Carat and CIA are now deeply involved in partnership negotiations that will enable them to open in Japan this year, while WPP and Asatsu continue to plan the launch of MindShare later this year. As the story moves on P&G Far East, a consideration in DMB&B’s decisions and also Grey’s earlier, low profile, introduction of MediaCom, seems likely to join the list of sophisticated Western advertisers who are quietly pressing for transparency and change in Japan.

By: by David Kilburn Published by:Media Week



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