Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

01 August 2022

Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

Today, many companies are trying to transform their businesses through the power of digital. In what can be called the heyday of DX (digital transformation), data is revered as a savior in marketing, while the “power of words” that used to be at the center of advertising appears to have been put on the back burner. Yet a calm and unsentimental look at brands around the world that are successfully handling this “transformation” reveals that they are taking words more seriously than ever before; by discovering the brand’s raison d’etre and engaging the hearts and minds of users. Sometimes, interacting with users works hand-in-hand to create a new way of life.

With this in mind, Takahiro Hosoda, CCO of TBWA\HAKUHODO and Miwako Hosokawa, Creative Director at a Creative Unit (tsuzuku) discussed the possibilities of words in the DX era, at a session held in Adversiting Week Asia 2022. This article is the summary report of their session “Copywriting In the DX Era”.

“Human beings”, not numbers

Taka: I’m Taka, CCO of TBWA\HAKUHODO, joined by a creative director and copywriter Miwako Hosokawa. After her days at Dentsu she is now a member of a Creative unit called (tsuzuku).

Hosokawa: (Tsuzuku) is a team of five creative directors, including myself.

Taka: The theme of the session is “Marketing and Words”. When digital technology was first introduced to the advertising industry in the past, it was expected to create a two-way dialogue between companies and consumers. But what about now? In the marketing industry in Japan, unrestrained words like “enclosing/capturing” or “collecting/cutting off” users, or “soaking up” information are often used, as if companies can control people at will.

Hosokawa: Words that are uttered unthinkingly show a person’s usual thoughts. Unconsciously, we may be influenced by social frameworks and assumptions that have been imprinted on us. Recently, there have been active discussions about the usage of “language” – and when the language doesn’t seem to regard people as “human beings” but as mere KPIs or just numbers, people feel their dignity is damaged. In advertising it should be the exact opposite. I believe that brands and advertisements should be created focusing on “each individual’s story”.

Taka: I agree. Of course I understand that both marketers and creators are under pressure with various KPIs being imposed on them. However, that is why I believe that it is a fundamental and important role of creatives to redefine people not as “numbers” but as human beings with dignity.

Hosokawa: I feel that this is where marketers and creators can truly show their ability. Companies that only aim to achieve numerical targets and advertisements that drive desire in the short term will not last for long. I think it is important for advertisements that aim for the longevity of corporate activities to deliver something useful by staying close to each individual’s life – and it’s something that I would like to keep strive for.

Analyze the past with numbers. Envision the future with words.

Taka: It is numbers that analyze the past, but it is words that envision the future. Our first discussion theme is “words as a banner of transformation.” Not a day goes by without hearing the term “DX,” but what is the purpose of “transforming” in the first place? What do companies and brands envision beyond the digital transformation? When I ask these questions to people who are involved in “DX”, they are often lost for words, because they just have a vague sense of mission, “I have to change somehow” without clear picture of how and why.

Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

I see the New York Times as an example of a successful corporate digital transformation initiative. Some of you may have seen the news that in the most recent February 2022, they reached their goal of 10 million paid subscribers, three years ahead of plan. In 2019, the NY Times held up the copy “The Truth is Worth It“. It was the time when the problem of fake news spread through social networking sites emerged as a social issue. To fight against the era of easily-spread fake news, they set forth the will to spread the truth in digital. You could call this a “Purpose” of a company.

Rather than simply promoting a digital version of the magazine, the campaign emphasized the value of truth that can be pursued because it is digital. By talking about the future of digitalized newspapers, they could move people’s hearts and the campaign became a topic of conversation around the world. I would like to see this kind of dynamic movement happen at Japanese companies as well.

Hosokawa: I thought the sentence that comes after “The Truth is Worth It” was powerful that reads “important than ever”. I thought it was a great copy that captured not only the universality but also the timelessness of the message.

Taka: One more thing – we can easily imagine that it would have been tempting to say “The New York Times has value”, changing the subject matter to the name of the company. But the NY Times has teakin the subject matter of the copy one step further. In other words, it has redefined the business itself, from “newspaper business” to “truth business”. I think this kind of language usage will become more and more important in the future when promoting DX. Coud you share the example of one of the campaigns you participated in that shows a company delivering a social message?

Hosokawa: Let me share with you a recent example from Tokyo Gas’s campaign “#Parenting as a Team Play“. I have been working with Tokyo Gas for almost 14 years now on a series of advertising campaigns titled “Family Bonds”.
From the start, we have been working on the definition that “Tokyo Gas is not a company that sells gas appliances to households, but a company that creates family gatherings.” Based on this premise, this year we further challenged ourselves to expand the definition of family. Specifically, my team proposed that positive changes in child-rearing could be made if families were viewed as “society as a whole,” including grandparents, local people, and corporate services, rather than just parents and children. The “#Parenting as a Team Play” project, which was likened to the team play in baseball, made a lot of people join in conversations about child-rearing on social media.

Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

Taka: Recapturing the definition of a corporation first and then expanded the meaning of family – so you are updating it with language to keep up with the times.

Hosokawa: That’s right. Rather than a project that is like a fireworks that ends in an instant, I wanted to propose words with the hope of finding a star that can aim in the same direction together with the company.

Writings that create conversations rather than confrontation

Taka: It seems that finding the “North Star” will become even more important in the future to continue unwavering corporate activities in an era of rapid changes. After finding the star to aim for, how should we communicate with our customers and consumers? For the second theme, “Words to Live by Digitally,” I would like to discuss with the example of P&G Pantene campaign that you were involved in, “#What’s wrong with my hair?” (#HairWeGo)

Hosokawa: When I mentioned “finding the star” – I meant something we aim to achieve together with our clients, and at the same time, a policy that we can aim for with everyone in the world. What kind of words would make people want to “aim to achieve” and participate? Of course it is not easy to find such words, but one that I think we have successfully found was the question of “#What’s wrong with my hair?”

My team came up with the words after having close group interview and conversations with Japanese high school students, where they told me that they were told to “dye their hair black” even though they were born with naturally light hair. Students were troubled by school rules, but actually have half-heartedly given up because they couldn’t change the situation even after appealing to the school.

Taka: I also often hear a lot from companies that “their voice is not heard” by Generation Z. However I thought that the problem may come from the fact that they haven’t been “hearing the voice” of Generation Z. This campaign, which reflects the problem that high school students’ have, has generated discussion not only among the generation concerned, but also involving their parents’ generation. What I especially like about the campaign is the composition that does not make the teachers the one-sided villains.

Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

Hosokawa: Originally, the starting point of the campaign was the brand’s desire to value the individuality of each person in terms of the beauty of their hair – but there was another background which was the issue of peer pressure in Japan. For this reason, we felt that if not careful with way of communication, we might create a confrontation of “high school students vs. schools”. So, we included the idea of “creating a place for conversations” with teachers and students who thought there was no point talking to each other.

Taka: So what you suggest was “from confrontation to conversation.” The potential of digital media tends to focus on personalization for each individual in marketing, but it should also be able to create individual connections and dialogue. To this end, it may be important for companies and creators to engage in dialogue with consumers.

Hosokawa: I also feel that ways to create interactions with each other is increasing.

Taka: Let me talk about the recent campaign that I was involved, NTT Docomo’s movie “An answer speech from a Million Graduates“. At the core of this movie was the company’s desire to support today’s high school students. Creating a video that says “Go for it, you can do it” from a company is one way to show your support – but it is not the only way. We thought that high school graduates who spent two-thirds of their high school years with COVID-19 might have feelings that were untold and unshared. We wanted to support them by listening to their voices, rather than just talking to them.

Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

We interviewed about 20 high school students who were about to graduate, and based on the interviews, wrote the “answer speeches” that would be read at the graduation ceremony. Half of the footage was provided by the actual high school students, and the other half was filmed to match the episodes in the speech.

Some of the memorable phrases during the interview were, “The album is full of pictures of my friends in face-masks,” and “Youth was about proximity and density itself.” These are perspectives that could only come from students who spent school days during the pandemic.

The full version is 5 minutes long, which is a bit long to be shown on YouTube as an ad campaign, but when we released it, we received an unprecedentedly high view-completion rate. Some people talk about general theories, that a long video will cause many viewers to leave the site or that you should grab the attention in the first 5 seconds – but with this campaign I realized that there are some things that can’t be moved only by set rules.

The future form of “advertising” may be the “plaza”.

Taka: When we were talking about advertising and copywriting in the future, you mentioned that advertising in the future may be a “plaza”. Could you share the campaign for Daio Paper Corporation’s paper pants for grown-ups “Attento” that illustrates that idea?

Hosokawa: The ad was to truly “put a topic out to the plaza,” with the copy “the pants that don’t need hiding,” and asked everyone to talk about adult paper pants. The project started from the issue that many people are in need of adult diapers or paper pants but do not wear them because they are embarrassed to using them. Paper pants make life more convenient and are an important product for an aging society, but they are pushed into the shadows. This campaign was a way for everyone to engage in dialogue to change such misperception.

Taka: People often refer social media as a “platform”, which means “flat land” in the first place. In other words, it is a place where everyone gathers. Despite this, I have the impression that many of the advertisements being placed on social media are limited to one-way video broadcasts and recommendations based on analysis of interests and hobbies. Seeing this make me suspect if the companies are trying to make the “flat land” where dialogue can take place into a place to merely enclose livestock, for corporate convenience.

Hosokawa: We received more feedback than expected on the plaza centered around the hashtag “#Let’s replace common sense”. Several of them pointed out that the package design was too explicit making it difficult to buy, so we created a stylish package to reflect users’ needs. This was a project that allowed the advertisement to become a plaza, created together with current users and people in the world who may become users in the future.

Taka: I think it is useful to view the brand as a plaza or a platform in the future. One of the ideal forms of digitalized creativity will be to engage in dialogue with the people who gather around brands, and to listen to and tell each person’s story.

As an example of how I realized this, I would like to introduce Nissan’s #CIMARestore. An actor Ms. Kazue Ito has been driving CIMA for over 30 years, and when she had her car inspected, she posted on twitter that Nissan staff sent her flowers in celebration of using the car safely for 30 years. That became a topic of conversation, and people responded to Nissan with comments like, “Please make sure to give her support so she can drive it for a long time”.

After discussing with Nissan, we decided to restore the car (*total repair and parts replacement). The restoration process was reported on Nissan’s on-demand media, and we actively engaged in dialogue with the fans. Through the process, I think the brand’s love and care for the care and its users was well conveyed to the brand users and general public.

※ Official page: https://www3.nissan.co.jp/first-contact-technology/technology-contents/restore-cima.html

Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”
Haven’t we forgotten to “move people’s hearts” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”

Hosokawa: Such a wonderful initiative! Most of the cases mentioned today were cases in which digital technology has enabled companies to listen to the voices of individual consumers and make use of them in their communications. Until now, advertisements have played the role of delivering information about companies and products to consumers, but I feel that from now on, advertisements will be more useful in delivering consumers’ voices to companies. I would like to see marketers and creators demonstrate their abilities in this area.

Taka: User data will be analyzed by machines. However, the feelings of consumers cannot necessarily be deciphered from data. We, as creators, must always use our imagination to think about “what really makes people happy”.

Let us conclude by sharing a few words about our aspirations for the future, as a copywriter should. My aspiration is to “create meaningful change in our society.” We want to stay focused on whether the changes in companies and brands are meaningful to consumers.

Hosokawa: For me it would be “put life and livelihood back in the hands of each and every one.” I feel that the trend toward efficiency and short-term corporate activities are taking away the focus on people’s unique “lifestyles” or “living”, and I would like to use advertising to help bring it back. The voices of consumers in their daily lives will change companies and make them more beloved, which in turn will change the world. I would be happy if I could create such a change.

(Left) Takahiro Hosoda, TBWA\HAKUHODO, Chief Creative Officer / (Right) Miwako Hosokawa, (Tsuzuku), Creative Director, Copywriter

(Left) Takahiro Hosoda, TBWA\HAKUHODO, Chief Creative Officer / (Right) Miwako Hosokawa, (Tsuzuku), Creative Director, Copywriter

Takahiro Hosoda, TBWA\HAKUHODO, Chief Creative Officer
Hosoda joined Hakuhodo in 2005, and after his stay at TBWA\CHIAT\DAY in Los Angeles, he joined TBWA\HAKUHODO in 2012. He is responsible for overall creative direction for a number of global brands, and also responsible for corporate vision development and business, product, and service concept development. He has garnered attention for his activities beyond the advertising industry. So far he has received more than 500 prestigious national and international awards, including the Cannes Lion Gold, or Grand Prix from NY ADC, CLIO, Spikes Asia, ACC, and Creator of the Year Medalist. In 2016 and 2018, he was named as Creative Person of the Year by Campaign Asia in Japan/Korea region. In 2020 Hosoda was also selected as one of the 40 under 40, representing the creative industry in Asia.

Miwako Hosokawa (Tsuzuku) Creative Director, Copywriter
After working as Group Creative Director, Hosokawa left Dentsu at the end of 2021. She established the Creative Director Unit (Tsuzuki) with the aim of creating brands with stories that will be loved for a long time. With a focus on words, she continues to take on the challenge of creating a good relationship with the world by combining advertising and PR, mass media and social media. Recent work includes Attento “#Let’s replace common sense,” Pantene’s “#What is wrong with my hair,” and Tokyo Gas’s “Family bonds” series. She has received numerous awards both in Japan and abroad. Hosokawa has also served as a jury member, including Chairman of the ACC Film Jury, a jury member of the Branded Communication, TCC Jury, and the Cannes Lions Film category.

※ This article is a re-post of the aritcle from Hakuhodo Web Magazine The Centeral Dot. “Haven’t we forgotten “how to move people’s heart” in the age of digital transformation? – re-thinking the power of “copywriting”” (July 29, 2022). To read the original article (Japanese) please see: https://www.hakuhodo.co.jp/magazine/99022/