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How a Planner’s Emphasis on Facts Led to a Young Spikes Gold Award
A Young Creative from Dentsu Awarded at the Young Spikes Asia 2018 Competition

Spikes Asia is held every year as one of the largest advertising festivals in the Asian region. Among the events at the festival are the Young Spikes competitions, which are open to participants up to the age of 30. In various categories, such as the Young Spikes Digital Competition and Young Spikes PR Competition, a team of two people representing each participating country competes by developing and presenting a campaign on a topic decided at the event within just 24 hours.

For the Young Spikes PR Competition, the representative team from Japan was selected from 172 teams. The winners were Ryo Nakagawa, a planner from Dentsu’s Creative Planning Division 5, and Kentaro Muraishi, who works on a freelance basis. Together they won a gold award at this year’s competition held in Singapore.

At the Young Spikes Asia awards ceremony

In this installment, we talked with Ryo Nakagawa about the difficulties and challenges they encountered from the time they were given the topic to the end of their presentation. Having overcome those challenges and won a gold award, he also spoke of what he gained from the experience.

Ryo Nakagawa, Creative Planning Division 5, Dentsu

Why the unwavering devotion to competing after entering over 15 competitions?

You have entered numerous advertising competitions over the past eight years since joining Dentsu, so you must be feeling very gratified to have won this gold award.

I turned 30 this year, and I have entered the Japan qualifiers for the Young Lions competitions held in Cannes more than 15 times. Those competitions are open to various types of work in numerous categories besides creative projects. Unfortunately, however, I never had any success. It was depressing every time that happened, so I just tried again and again because I had nothing to lose.

I had always hoped to be a creative even before joining Dentsu, but I was assigned to work in a promotions division during my first five years, and then the next two years after that I worked in a sales division, which is now a business producers division. Last year it became possible to transfer to other company divisions by taking a creative test. Fortunately I passed, and started my current creative position in the autumn of last year.

Although I had dreamed of being a creative, I began doubting myself as the years went by since joining the company. It was in that context that I kept on trying to enter competitions. I thought that pursuing the challenges set out in the competitions would be the best way for me to affirm my own abilities. Actually, I entered not only the PR categories but also the film, print, and media categories. With the exception of PR, however, I failed in all of them.

Last year I reached the finals of the Japan qualifiers for the Young Lions in Cannes for the first time, and was then chosen to represent Japan. I put everything I had into that competition but we did not win at the festival. I was mortified by the loss and cried my eyes out at the venue. I didn’t feel any better for the next few days, and for the first time in my life I shaved my head bald, which, in Japan, is a traditional way of dealing with a failure. Now looking back in retrospect, I think I just tried too hard.

After a year passed, I wanted to take on another challenge so I teamed up with a freelance creative, Kentaro Muraishi, and we entered the Japan qualifiers this year.

And, of course, that led to your selection as Japan’s representative team in the Young Spikes PR Competition*. What project were you given there?

Our task was to propose a way to raise awareness of the Rohingya people, who now live in the world’s biggest refugee camp, and to encourage donations to charitable activities for its children. The client was BRAC, a non-profit organization that supports refugees. The orientation for the competition was led by the advertising company Ogilvy, which has already carried out a campaign for BRAC called #SpaceOnEarth. We were told in the orientation that it wanted to create a second campaign. In addition, we were requested to come up with a concrete idea for a socially driven campaign that many people could participate in, like the ice bucket challenge.

* The Japanese team competing at the Young Spikes PR Competition held in Singapore is selected from those who competed in the Japan qualifiers for the Young Lions in Cannes.

Searching for hard facts when creating a PR campaign

How did you create a campaign in response to that assignment?

First of all, we thought about how to change people’s perception of the world’s biggest refugee camp. There may be as many as half a million Rohingya children, so with that in mind, we wanted to redefine the refugee camp as a home to half a million talented kids. We proposed a campaign that would seek out and support the most talented children from the world’s biggest refugee camp, and named it “REFUGEENIUS,” by combining the words “refugee” and ”genius.”

Courtesy of Spikes Asia 2018

In PR work, I learned about the importance of facts from my older colleagues. For that reason, I start by looking for facts when conceptualizing any PR campaign. After finding facts that will surprise others, I consider how they can be the basis for a story about people. Doing the same thing at the competition, we discovered that many superstars were actually refugees. Luka Modric, the Croatian national football team player who was named the world’s best player by FIFA in 2018, as well as the singers Rita Ora and the late Freddie Mercury all grew up as refugees. From those facts, we came up with a social audition campaign to search for another generation of talent from among Rohingya refugee children.

How did you respond to the request for the socially driven component of the campaign?

We proposed appointing famous people who were originally refugees as “scouts,” and then have them promote videos via social networking services of refugee children who are really good at playing sports or singing and so on. So, we met the request by making it possible to support new talent by encouraging a lot of people to share such videos. Then uniforms, CDs, and other items connected with the kids who become popular can be produced and sold, with the proceeds donated back to the refugee camp as a whole. Every time such a famous “REFUGEENIUS” finds success, we can use that as another story of a refugee discovered through the project. That creates a framework for maintaining public awareness and a steady stream of donations.

There are people who feel pity toward refugees, but perhaps we can encourage them to take a more positive outlook through the project and try to help and support refugees instead. We wanted to change the direction of spotlight towards refugees.

What was important in the process of conceptualizing the campaign?

Originally we had decided to do another campaign called Space Out, but my partner, Kentaro Muraishi, and I reconsidered whether it was the best idea many times over. Even after agreeing to do it, we doubted whether it was worth pursuing. The concept of Space Out was that people in refugee camps do not have the luxury to lounge around and “space out” at home. Treating that as a fact, we thought about producing and promoting a video that could shock friends and others who are just taking it easy like that. The idea came from the request for a socially driven campaign similar to the ice bucket challenge that had been mentioned in the orientation. It was to be the sequel to the #SpaceOnEarth campaign that had already been carried out. Nevertheless, we did not think that campaign could win so we continued on with “REFUGEENIUS.”

Why did you think that the other project would not win?

The Space Out concept better suited the requests in the orientation for a socially driven campaign and one that would follow up on the previous campaign, but we thought that the judges might react negatively to it. A video designed to shock people who are “spacing out” might be enjoyable to watch, but it would not be pleasant for the people it shocked. Personally, I don’t like being shocked like that. Although such a funny video might be shared a lot for a while, ultimately, we felt it could not really capture the basic problems confronting refugees. Therefore, we reconsidered the orientation, grew more interested in learning about the Rohingya refugees, and decided to present a campaign aimed at providing support for them.

The Young Lions and Young Spikes competitions are rather unique because participants compete over a short time with untested ideas. In my everyday work, I have become conscious of this conceptual process of finding facts first and then using them as the basis for creating stories, which can be expanded in events, films, and websites.

This year, you were awarded a prize for best newcomer by the Tokyo Copywriters Club for an ad for rice that also aims to recruit rice farmers (http://www.atotorimusuko.com/en/). Did you apply a similar process for that work?

Yes, the product was good-quality rice grown in the city of Kiryu in Gunma Prefecture. Originally we were asked to handle only the packaging design, but after having numerous meetings, it became clear that the local farmers had practically no successors. When we examined that further, we learned that this is a nationwide problem: the average age of farmers in Japan is 67 and the percentage of farmers under the age of 30 is only three percent. The best advertising for farmers is the delicious produce they grow, so by making the rice package itself into a recruitment ad, we devised a way to encourage people who buy the rice to gain experience in growing it, too.

Learning about the importance of facts through competitions for young creatives

The barrier separating PR and creative work is expected to become lower in the future, so perhaps the importance of fact-based conceptual processes will become more obvious in competitions.

When trying out for the Japan qualifiers every year, I learned from older colleagues who have a lot of PR experience that PR is about consensus-building. What became important during those times were facts. When we write the word “fact” it can have a slightly pompous tone, but for a company, it can mean what was done and what is being done, and for the public, it can mean what happened and what is happening. Therefore, I began to deeply examine the clients and products I was newly assigned to handle.

When we talk about PR, there is a tendency to focus on the amount of exposure an item receives after it is picked up by the media. However as I think about how things are received by the public at large, I don’t think there are such barriers between PR and advertising on an essential level.

I will do my best to apply the experiences I gained from winning the award in my work in the future.


Ryo Nakagawa / Copywriter / Planner / Creative Planning Division 5

Ryo Nakagawa

Copywriter / Planner
Creative Planning Division 5

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