How does Creativity that excites the world come to life?  The seven rules of TBWA

11 October 2023

How does Creativity that excites the world come to life? The seven rules of TBWA

“How does TBWA\HAKUHODO continue to deliver creativity that wows Japan and the world?”

Our agency was very happy to receive the above question, to which our Chief Creative Officer Takahiro Hosoda answered as follows.

It’s a great honor to be asked this question, it reminds us that our work is being received positively both within Japan and globally.
Delivering creative that wows our local market but which also has the capacity to amaze globally is what we have continually strived for, from before I joined the agency.
What we strive for is a fine balancing act of creative quality, marketing results, local sensibilities and global aspirations.

TBWA\HAKUHODO was born in 2006 as a joint venture between the global creative collective that is TBWA and the Tokyo-based Hakuhodo. In the beginning there were moments that the two different cultures clashed, but over time, they have merged and fused into something unique that is forging its own path and way of doing things. I have merely been given that baton in this relay race and am running as fast as I can. Today though, I’d like to focus on the “seven rules” we have in place that help foster our distinct thoughts and actions.

1. First, destroy it. Then create. – The Disruption® methodology

Since the 1990s, TBWA has systematized its methodology under the term Disruption®. In Japanese, this term translates to “creative destruction. It may seem odd to use the word “disruption” for a company that creates things. However, in the case of products, architecture, and art, new and truly valuable things are born out of a repudiation of the past.

Our work takes the steps of identifying “common sense” and “biases” that people are trapped in at an unconscious level and then thinking of ideas to break them. We pay particular attention to the thought patterns of “it can’t be helped” or “that’s just the way it is.” For example, “Hotamet,” which won the Gold Prize at Cannes this year and became a topic of conversation. This project started from a point of view that questioned the assumption that discarded scallop shells are garbage, and rather imagined a future in which scallop shells could be turned into a scarce resource. The project originated from a futuristic imagination (1).

By identifying what is to be destroyed, we delineate what is to be created. This is the foundation of our planning process.

(1) HOTAMET / Koshi Chemical Industry

(1) HOTAMET / Koshi Chemical Industry

2. More than just the market. Shaping culture.

No matter how disruptive an idea is, it is meaningless if it is not accepted by society. The next most important thing is an eye on culture.

Marketing usually means, as the name implies, analyzing the “market” and coming up with strategies and representations. But sei-katsu-sha (consumers) do not inhabit a marketplace, do they? If you live a normal life, you are bombarded with all kinds of cultural phenomena one after another in your field of vision. Movies, animation, manga, music. In the midst of all this, you have to get people to swerve to your brand and love it. So you have to understand culture in a broader sense than the market.

Nissan’s Tech For Life, which started in 2016, is one of our longest running and most cherished projects. At the time, automated driving technology was thought to be a long way off. The technology of the future was to become an everyday topic of conversation. To do this, we came up with the idea of converting and illustrating automotive technology into everyday life. The first project we worked on was an office chair that automatically returned to its position. This became a worldwide sensation. Since then, we have continued to roll out a variety of initiatives, including “slippers” that automatically stow away and “golf balls” that can always get a hole-in-one. As a result, we have attracted attention not only from the rigid economic news, but also from variety shows and cultural media around the world.

In 2022, in conjunction with the NBA JAPAN GAME 2022, we launched the “ProPILOT MOP,” a mop that automatically sweeps the floor. The stadium guests uploaded the video on their timelines, and it quickly spread around the world.



McDonald’s Generation Z McDonald’s Crew Recruitment Campaign has released a music video in collaboration with artist ano, aka “Ano-chan”. The lyrics of the song “I won’t give you a smile” by McDonald’s, famous for its “0 yen smile,” convey the generosity of McDonald’s, which tolerates diverse personalities, and have garnered much public sympathy (3).

YouTube channels, programs and new types of content.
Many of our work surprises people after the fact, who remark that they had no idea an advertising agency was involved. We hope to continue to be not only a proxy for advertising, but also a string-puller in a variety of interesting cultural phenomena.

(3) McDonald’s × ano “won’t give you a smile”

(3) McDonald’s × ano “won’t give you a smile”

3. Don’t stop at thinking. Don’t compromise on creating.

This may seem sudden, but what do you call an advertising production? A work of art? A commission? In the case of TBWA, we use the blunt word “product” all over the world. This is because we define ourselves as a manufacturing company, not a service company.

Whether it is a commercial, content, or experience, it is the product that we create. Recently, advertisements tend to focus only on the mechanisms behind the media and the use of AI, but it is meaningless if we cannot arouse people’s emotions in the final phase when facing the consumers. In the end, it is the “quality” of the product that counts.

If so, shouldn’t we have a world-class “coal face” within our company? With this in mind, we launched a content studio called Disco in 2019. The studio is equipped to handle all stages of production, including planning, scriptwriting, filming, editing, and computer graphics. This studio is responsible for the production of a variety of content, including commercials and music videos, as well as TV programs, movies, and YouTube channels.

Most recently, Disco handled everything from planning, scriptwriting, and direction to finishing touches on NHK’s “Okaeri Ongaku Shitsu” (Homecoming Songs), receiving more response than we could have imagined.(4) More and more people are using Disco to expand their careers from commercial planners and copywriters to script writers and authors. In the future, we aim to create not only content in existing formats, but also new content formats themselves.



4. A brand is all about the experience.

Of course, what we “create” is not limited to video and graphics. There are an infinite number of moments when consumers feel a bond with a brand. The pleasant itch of an app that is used daily, the breezy conversation with a familiar store clerk, the enthusiasm of a user community. Naturally, a brand must be designed as a series of experiences that are meaningful to the user (5). Of course, the most important experiences include TV and newspapers, but it will be necessary to edit the points of contact between consumers and the brand more broadly.

(5) Conceptual Diagram of TBWA's Disruptive Brand Experience

(5) Conceptual Diagram of TBWA’s Disruptive Brand Experience

To this end, the team includes a variety of professionals in interaction, space design, and experience design, all of whom were brought together for NISSAN PAVILLION, which opened in Yokohama for a limited time in 2020(6). In addition to immersive participatory video events and digital interactions, the brand’s vision for the future was expressed in a comprehensive experience that included cooking and serving food in a café using energy stored in the EV’s battery. The know-how and skills cultivated at these big events will be applied to the creation of a 365-day brand experience.



5. Not just Japan. Will this idea astonish the world?

This year we happened to win an award at an international advertising festival, but we never set our sights on winning awards in the first place. What is most important is to thoroughly grow the brand with Disruption®. However, we are always conscious of whether our work is at a world-class level from the perspective of strategy, ideas, and craft, and whether it can serve as a model for the world. This is where TBWA’s global network comes into play.

TBWA is a creative collective known for the close proximity and friendship among its offices in different countries. In the Asian region, we share projects and exchange ideas with each other every month. Also, about twice a year, creative leaders from all over the world gather in one city for three days to thoroughly deliberate only on products. Naturally, there is praise and unreserved criticism. But there is no doubt that the cutting-edge knowledge and advice we gain here helps us improve the quality of our products.

“SWAT” is also convened when global knowledge is needed somewhere in the world. Creative teams from around the world are dispatched to the host country to develop ideas intensively over a period of one to two weeks. Although once suspended due to the recent pandemic, exchange programs to other offices will also be restarted in FY2023. One of our missions is to nurture globally-minded creators from Japan through these opportunities. Many entrepreneurs and managers are now leaving Japan, where the market has begun to shrink, to go out into the world. We are sure that more and more people who understand Japan and the rest of the world and who can incorporate this understanding into their creative work will be needed.

6. Every creator shall also be an entrepreneur

Of course, supporting entrepreneurs is not enough. Creators need “entrepreneurial spirit” as well. AI cannot answer the question, “What do you want to do?” In the future, the most valuable creative work will be the act of posing questions on one’s own. Talent with a will must be supported in every possible way.

For example, there is a system called TH For Good. If the plan is recognized as “creating meaningful change in society,” the program provides the minimum amount of funding necessary to launch the project on its own. Some of the products and services created through TH for GOOD are about to grow into major businesses with the cooperation of other companies.

Instead of just waiting for an assignment to be given to them, they are motivated by their own awareness of the problem and act on it. Entrepreneurial spirit is now expected of producers.

7. Create meaningful change in society.

Let’s conclude by explaining the fundamental reason why we continue to be creative. To put it simply, we exist to “create meaningful change in this society.” Right now, we believe that there is an area where the corporate entity as a unit can change society much more efficiently than the national government. We can act more quickly, flexibly, and greedily.

For example, consider a subject such as “increasing the number of part-time jobs.” In a society with a declining population, we must improve the workplace to make it more attractive to the younger generation. On the other hand, we also need to create a scheme and environment so that senior human resources can play an active role. In this way, the act of a company trying to fulfill its objectives will lead to changing society to a better place than before.

I am not personally a fan of the use of “social good~~” or “purpose-driven~~” language that emphasizes social justice. I believe that the dichotomy between philosophy and profit is nothing more than a convention (mediocre thinking born from an existing framework) that TBWA abhors.

We want to change both the brand and society at the same time for the better. This is where we want to put all of our team’s creativity. Eliminate accidents and traffic jams. Make it a place where people can enjoy longevity. Protect both industry and nature at the same time. Preserve traditional technology forever. Create a new energy cycle. All around us are problems waiting for Disruption.

How does Creativity that excites the world come to life?  The seven rules of TBWA

TBWA\HAKUHODO Disruption school

The 4th Disruption School will be held at Sendenkaigi from November 24, 2023, with creative and strategy instructors from TBWA HAKUHODO. The curriculum is designed to upgrade students’ ability to think, think out of the box, and express themselves through work sessions and dialogues with the instructors, while systematically learning the universal methodology of Disruption®. The course is one of the most satisfying with an average student evaluation of 4,6 points (out of 5).

Outline of TBWA\HAKUHODO Disruption school

◯Start date: Friday, November 24, 19:00-21:00
◯Total number of lectures: 11. Held every Friday.
◯Class format: Classroom setting for close communication between the instructor and students
◯Capacity: 25 people on a first-come, first-served basis For details and application, please click here.