The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

A[P]SOTW Assignment: Turning Japanese [And I Hope Anyone In Advertising Has A Go, Not Just Planners]
March 26, 2008, 7:30 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

25/03/2008 Do the assignment or the cat gets it!

So last month I was in Tokyo and while there, I met this horrid bloke called John who is a planner at BBH.

I should point out that I don’t mean he was horrid in the same sense that I am horrid – I mean it in the way that he was too nice and clever for his own good.

Anyway, I asked if he would like to do the next A[P]SOTW assignment and he very kindly agreed so below, you will find a task doesn’t just require you to use your brains to come up with a solution to a specific business problem, but also requires you to get into the mindset of a Japanese consumer.

Now you may think this is unfair – especially if you live in Nottingham – however great communication is when you have relevance and resonance with the target consumer so if you don’t relate to the situation, find out ways to truly get under their skin – from conversation to reading to visiting to experimenting etc etc.

Right, before I go, I need to give you some rules/deliverables …

1 The date for submissions is APRIL 25th 2008 [the address to send them to is here]

2 All submissions should have your name and email on the title slide

3 Questions regarding the subject matter of the assignment should be directed to John

4 Questions regarding the deliverables of the assignment should be directed to me

5 This is not about doing ‘ad’s or a proposition’, it’s about coming up with an idea that will solve the problem set below. If you end up doing ads, then fair enough – just make sure it is being used to ‘communicate’ the solution to the masses rather than be the solution itself.

[I’ve written about this sort of thing [and the importance of doing it in a brand appropriate manner] at various times in this blog so have a look – to start you off, go here]

The criteria for judging will be based on the following areas: Feasibility / Scale / Potential for Success – so make sure your presentations cover these areas.

Interms of judging, we have a panel that covers the whole spectrum of marketing and communications because my attitude is great thinking should inspire EVERYONE, not just bloody planners!

With this in mind, our panel of judges includes …

Arun, Deputy Editor of MEDIA Magazine [Asia’s ‘Campaign’]

Lee, a very “big wig” at Virgin

Sarah, a member of Apple’s amazing product design team

John, a marketing expert and serial conference attendee 

Andy, the brilliant [but disgusting] Global CD of cynic

Lauren, a conceptual installation artist and lover of tatts.

Howard, a director of the wonderful Lonely Planet

Jill, an amazing graphic and product designer/inventor, despite being my wife

… and of course, John and myself.

We are treating this seriously so while we demand resonant, relevant, effective and exciting solutions … it is important you enchant, charm and inspire us because in the ‘real World’, ‘how you say stuff’ is as important as ‘what you say’.

Please note this doesn’t mean you can/should go into pages and pages and pages of ‘wank’ … think of it as a story – with a beginning, middle and end all expressed in an infectious, enthusiastic manner.

Finally, if you want my view on planning/creativity – I ask you to read the first few paragraphs of this post – which is why I hope some creatives also take this project on, not just planners.

Right, now that’s all over and done with, lets get on with things and so it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Lovely John


In response to Rob’s last Earth-destroying Hummer project, I decided to jump on the Green hybrid-wagon in an attempt to save our beleaguered Mother Earth, so perhaps you could take your laptops out into the garden and listen to your ‘Essential Panpipes’ or ‘Best of Whalesong’ compilations for inspiration [on second thoughts not the whalesong one actually, this brief is about Japan] 🙂

Firstly, a bit of background.

Anyone having visited Japan will doubtless have been amazed and bemused by this most unfathomable of cultures. Even after living here for over 7 years as I have some things continue to amaze, while others, unfortunately, leave me in dismay.

Packaging in Japan does both.Tsutsumi bunka – ‘packaging culture’ as it is known – has been a fundamental part of the Japanese identity for centuries.

No gift would be complete or in fact deemed acceptable to offer without elaborate presentation; anyone who has bought a souvenir in Tokyo will have experienced the incredible attention to aesthetic detail that goes in to the simplest of purchases, from a coffee mug in Starbucks to a ten dollar toy in Kiddyland.

One only needs to go into any convenience store to see the effect this has on consumer goods and the shopping experience.

The quality and diversity of shapes, sizes, textures, colours, sounds and even smells is astounding, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

With such a huge rate of product development and saturation of most categories, packaging is often the only clear differentiating factor and a reason to try something new.

chewing gummery Gum Heaven

functional water products Water Confusion

The downside of this attention to detail is that packaging, both decorative and functional, becomes more than a nicety – it is expected and without it, a product loses value.

And as consumers expect this level of attention to detail in presentation when they go shopping, the level of waste generated by perceived value-adding packaging on even the most everyday, throwaway purchases is ludicrous – especially where food and drink is concerned.

Order a takeaway iced coffee from the average café, for example, and you will receive the drink in a plastic cup [with lid], straw [in paper outer], a carton of gum syrup, a carton of UHT milk, a paper towel, a stirrer, all presented in a nice paper bag [with the corner edge nicely folded over for aesthetic purposes]

At the convenience store, you buy a bento or lunchbox [with chopsticks in wrapper], ice cream [with spoon in wrapper], and a banana [individually wrapped of course] – all three come in separate plastic bags, all of which will of course be binned in less than half an hour in most cases.

banana Wrapped Banana

mackerel bento open Mackerel Bento Box

14032001 Individually wrapped snacks

The result of this obsession with convenient consumption: 773,500 tonnes of plastic lunchbox cases a year; 27 billions sets of disposable chopsticks in 2007; and 30.5 billion plastic shopping bags a year, some 300 per person, a figure which does not include the tons generated from the individual serving wrappers.

Tackling this seems to be a twofold issue – firstly, getting Mr and Mrs Japanese Public to see that this level of waste is [a] unnecessary, [b] unsustainable is vital because they will ultimately decide whether this change in ‘wrapping mentality’ happens because in Japan, the customer isn’t just King, they’re God.

Secondly, there is also a need to fully convince businesses that they have a vested interest in providing new solutions to this issue because the desire for convenience and appreciation of packaging are unlikely to disappear overnight, if ever, however where there is consumer interest in practical but eco-sensible options, there is some serious yen to be made.

When I saw this piece on Unpackaged in London – an organic store which only sells products with no packaging [essentially an old-school grocer’s] – it made me wonder how this might work in Japan, particularly as the Japanese are traditionally very thrifty.

unpackaged Unpackaged London

Awareness of  the importance of ‘eco’ behaviour is clearly becoming more widespread, however big brands routinely feature eco-messages in their advertising; stores with greener attitudes towards packaging exist in funkier shopping-hoods; the ‘designer eco-shopping bag’ was rated one of the big hit products last year.

Eco is trendy and increasingly important to the consumer, but is yet to have much of an impact on daily consumption.

The pervading notion remains that even everyday products without the aesthetic appeal and attention to detail afforded by packaging have less value, not to forget being less convenient- consequently, retailers are apprehensive about making a stand on excess packaging, wrapping and waste, lest they lose a customer base who have come to expect the service.

Don’t get me wrong, in other ways Japan is a hugely environmentally-conscious country, way ahead of most in awareness of recycling and energy-saving technologies. But there are many bizarre oversights and this is one of them.

I would love to see a  conscious shift in consumer attitudes towards unnecessary packaging in daily shopping, and to see Japanese consumers make their voices heard.

In a society of typically time-starved workaholics with a desire for ‘convenience’ who are less inclined to voice a lone opinion on such matters, it’s certainly not an easy task.

Thus the brief in a nutshell is how do you convince Japanese consumers that unpackaged goods are more aspirational than packaged goods?

All that post for that simple challenge! God, planners do like to talk alot don’t they!

Right, that’s it … get your thinking caps on, have fun, anything is possible [as long as you can justify/validate it] and I/we look forward to seeing what you come up with to make the World – or Japan at least – a better place.


Some Reference Links:

Traditional packaging …

Unpackaged …

Wrap-Happy Japan …

Packaging For The Sake Of It … 

Even Japanese Shops Are Packaged Beautifully … 

The ‘PS’ Section:

The reason I have put [Planning] in brackets in the Advertising [Planning] School On The Web is because I think everyone should [or at least have the right to] contribute to the development of the idea.

Just because you have ‘planner’ on your business card doesn’t mean you are the font of all knowledge. If you can’t inspire and excite the wider team [including the client and the consumer] then as far as I am concerned, it’s indulgence, not intelligence.

Communication development works best when [1] its done in an atmosphere of inclusivity [2] executed with a real understanding of people’s lives [not just relying on what you read in a research paper / academic book] so remember that as you approach this assignment and make sure you have some bloody fun!

Finally, please don’t worry if you’ve never done something like this before – the role of these assignments is to make you better, not destroy your passions/dreams – so regardless of what you do for a living or where you do it, have a go and I promise we’ll give you constructive feedback, regardless how much we’d like to express our inner Simon Cowell’s!

39 Comments so far
Leave a comment

good fucking assignment campbell. and john.

Comment by andy@cynic

this is gonna be awesome!!

Comment by lauren

Excellent assignment John, I hope people think culturally big rather than just advertising big. This will be most enjoyable.

Comment by Lee Hill

Great challenge. I can’t wait to get cracking and see what everyone comes up with.

Comment by Dave Mortimer

Come on Dave – you’ve got a month, what are you waiting for 😉

Comment by Rob

Nice Read 🙂 its going to be interesting!

Comment by Mike

I’ve just seen where/who you work for Mike, maybe you should sponsor the assignment, ha!

Comment by Rob

Easy one. I’ve been thinking about this for years. Incidentally for those working on it. If you can persuade the Japanese to forgo packaging you can persuade the world.

Go for it.

Comment by Charles Frith

how to save the world in one easy planning assignment 🙂

Comment by lauren

Easy one? EASY ONE?

You show off Frith 🙂

Comment by Robert

Rob, are you trying to get into John’s pants?

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Great task.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

[…] Account Planning School of the Web returns with this interesting “challenge” set by John Connell of BBH Japan and hosted by Rob Campbell. Go and have a look but more […]

Pingback by Package Flu

[…] nicht bereits schon fester Bestandteil des Produktes? In diesem Zusammenhang mache ich auch auf eine interessante Challenge für Plannerboys von Rob Campbell aufmerksam. Trackback-URL dieses Beitrages Schlagworte (Tags): Design, foto, package, Planning, […]

Pingback by Reality bites | Werbeblogger - Weblog über Marketing, Werbung und PR » Blog Archiv » Reality bites

well done john, every fucker i meet is talking about this assignment, maybe you should write all of robs posts from now on 🙂

Comment by andy@cynic

Wicked. really looking forward to seeing what comes out of this…

Comment by john

Hell yeah, let this packaging burn!

Comment by Waldemar

is that your submission waldemar?

Comment by andy@cynic

Consider yourself lucky I’m not judging this Waldemar.

Comment by Marcus

you should be marcus, campbell is a slack shit for not asking but then with the amount of fucking judges hes rounded up, its probably more than the number of fucking entries anyway.

Comment by andy@cynic

I requested not to be included. The responsibility of guiding young creative minds AND working in the shed was simply too much for me.

Comment by Marcus

I’m guessing the voting will take the form of a live-streamed eurovision style finale streamed live with Emah and Katerina doing the scores on the doors and George doing the Woganesque commentary.

Comment by John

its pretty fucking similar marcus and john, put it away you dirty little old fucking bastard. god i like you dodds.

Comment by andy@cynic

does anyone else think this blog has come back to life?

Comment by andy@cynic

When John says anything about Emah things usually perk up a bit, yes.

Comment by Marcus

one thing perks up at least but its only a small bump according to the walls i read across the city

Comment by andy@cynic

Good evening Singapore, thank you for the wonderful show tonight. The scores from our telephone vote are:

Assigment A – Two Points

Comment by Rob Mortimer

is that your brothers entry?

Comment by andy@cynic


Comment by Marcus

Don’t worry folks, Andy is now on a plane and normal service will resume. Oh hang on, that is normal service – OK, boring service will resume.

Comment by Rob

Might be…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I have a solution!!

Comment by Hoon

come on then hoon, spit it out.

hang on, are you the hoon rob loves? the evil fuck in tokyo? the evil fuck in tokyo who is mr big evil fuck at bbh? the evil fuck in tokyo who is mr big evil fuck at bbh who drives an evil fuck black merc? you sound fucking great 🙂

i know im a judge so shouldnt enter this thing but my idea is to encourage china to give the japs what theyve been wanting to give them for years and as the nuclear dust cloud settles all over the city, no one will give a flying fuck about packaging.

actually they probably fucking will because itll be protecting whats inside from radiation.

fuck this “thinking” bollocks can be quite tough sometimes cant it? come on them evil hoon, spill the fucking beans.

Comment by andy@cynic

Sorry Hoon
Sorry John
Sorry B.B.H.
Sorry Japan
Sorry China
Sorry World

And for what it’s worth, he was actually being complimentary with all that ‘evil’ stuff 🙂

Comment by Rob

who the fuck could think otherwise?

Comment by andy@cynic

Your job at the diplomatic corp is ready …

Comment by Rob

I’m pretty damn sure you already have something in mind as you gave away a lot of hints in the links you posted. Heh!

Comment by Andrea

[…] should just be APS and not on the web only but anyway. A while ago a brief has been issued over @ Rob Campbell, addressing the problem of Japanese people being too fond of packaging in everyday life and […]

Pingback by APSotW « More Stupid Than the Others

[…] So, I’ve come up with the following idea: the digital brief. (I will need help for the name). It’s inspired by the account school of planning Russell I think and is now carried out by Rob. […]

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