The executive creative director at MRM Japan on how technology has shaped his career, working for Nike on a global and regional level and what the Japanese really think of their country’s creative scene
MRM Japan executive creative director Kazz Ishihara is a creative with a belief that for advertisers to utilise the true power of what technology can do, they need to use their imagination to stretch the limits of what a product can do. This is something he’s implemented into his own work with brands such as Nike, Citroen, Smirnoff and SK-II. Since his beginnings in New York working for R/GA to working for Nike on a global and regional level, Kazz has been at the heart of the creative scene for almost two decades.
Here LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Kazz to hear more about his belief in the power of technology, what makes Japanese creativity tick and his career to date.
LBB> Your philosophy is that “technology should be a force for good”… Tell us more.
Kazz> Essentially, advertising is "an industry that turns innovation into an industry”. For example, the job of an advertising person is to convey the experience value of a completely new product, such as a car, a refrigerator, or textile for clothing, by mobilising all of one's imagination. Therefore, I believe that our work has always existed as an extension of technology and innovation. Some people get anxious about technology and innovation, but I believe that if you communicate in the right way, it will excite everybody.
That is why MRM is now proactively working to solve social issues through innovation. We want to make innovation something that is more personal for consumers so that they can feel ownership. I believe that by doing so, innovation and technology, and even the brand itself, will be transformed into having meaningful value for consumers. Creators of the future need to be constantly aware of what kind of society is ideal and what issues need to be addressed. It will be important to think about how to connect these issues with brands and help build a meaningful relationship between the brand and consumers.
LBB> With that in mind, how has technology evolved over your career and which of these changes have stood out to you the most?
Kazz> When I started working at R/GA in New York, I was asked as a Japanese, "Do you know that there is a technology called QR code in Japan? Do you know about it?" As a Japanese, I was often asked this type of question. However, now, we are in an era where even currency is disappearing. What I find interesting is that the more technology evolves, the more the opposite becomes possible. For example, a nomadic lifestyle without a house is an alternative to a free and analogue lifestyle that is at one with nature thanks to the evolution of technology.
With Covid-19, I think we have experienced how technology can create a whole new way of life and values. Furthermore, I think we experienced the moment when our sense of values suddenly changed through technology. Speaking of new values, I thought it was very interesting to see the NFT digital art that Takashi Murakami recently mentioned in his social media post. Maybe the day will come when a single image in digital form will have the same value as the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.
LBB> Which pieces of technology do you work with most in your role?
Kazz> I think it is 5G. As 5G will enable us to handle large data content and interactivity in real time, which will allow us to handle higher quality and more video content than ever before, and I think we will see new forms of real-time interactive communication, such as support centres. Also, as AI evolves, more and more creative work will be automated. In the near future, CMS may disappear as well. In the past, even if you wanted to do something using a large amount of data, it was difficult to collect the data in the first place. In addition, computer specifications were poor, so what could be done was limited. I believe that 5G will change our work style at a rapid pace in this sense.
At MRM, we are exploring the possibility of a new work environment that incorporates technology, not only in advertising communications, but also in our own creative work.
LBB> Going back to your own career, how did you get into the creative industry?
Kazz> The reason why I became interested in advertising was when I joined the Nike Lab team led by Rei Inamoto at R/GA. At the time, I was working as an artist in visual expression such as 3D and motion graphics. At the time, Nike Lab was producing a series of experimental advertisements based on innovation and technology, and I was fascinated by the experience created by the fusion of art and innovation.
LBB> How much has advertising changed over the two decades you’ve been in it and also with that in mind what have been your favourite campaigns/brands to work with?
Kazz> I believe advertisements always represent the values of the time. For example, if you look at advertisements from two decades ago, the values are completely different, and there are many things that would cause a huge uproar today. I think this is because the advertising industry has always captured the most advanced values of the times.
Nowadays, I feel that advertisements often show the brand's POV on social issues. In that sense, I worked for Nike for a long time, so I'm always interested in their campaigns. The Dream Crazy campaign a few years ago was really nerve-wracking.
LBB> I'm interested to hear more about your work with SK-II - they're such a well-known Japanese brand and have done so many campaigns over the years. What was it like working on the brand's campaigns?
Kazz> What I learned from my work with SK-II was that beauty is directly connected to a better world for women. Just as Coco Chanel improved the status of women through fashion, I thought it would be wonderful to contribute to the improvement of women's social status and empowerment through skincare. Just as I mentioned earlier that advertisements always represent the values of the times, the values of beauty and luxury are also changing with the times. I expect that both of these will become more inclusive in Japan in the future, and when the barriers between men and women, rich and poor, disappear, new creative ideas will be born. It was also interesting to see that while each country in Asia alone has a completely different value system for beauty, there is a common global insight.
LBB> You've worked with Nike on a global and also a regional level, tell me more about the experiences.
Kazz> Sports in Japan are completely different from sports in the United States, where Nike global is located. In Japan, sports are not about winning or losing, but more about heightening spirituality. For example, high school baseball and high school soccer have a strong educational aspect, almost like an army. Nike's philosophy is always new, free and innovative for Japanese athletes. For example, in the "9 HEROES" campaign targeting high school baseball players, Nike created a digital platform to connect high school baseball players from all over the country, opening up a hole in the communication between high school baseball players that was previously closed. We did this at a time when social networking services did not exist. I learned that if the brand itself has power and vision, that power will move people's hearts beyond the borders of the country.
LBB> What do you think makes Japan's creative scene so unique and what can the rest of the world learn from the country?
Kazz> While Japan ranks high on the list of creative countries in the world, if you ask Japanese people, "Do you think you are creative?” most people say no. In other words, the Japanese creative scene that is highly regarded overseas is surprisingly not highly regarded in Japan. However, thanks to the Internet and social media, I feel that we will be living in an interesting era where the culture that Japanese people have taken for granted until now will inspire and mix with the culture of other countries.
The opposite is also true, and I believe that one of the strengths of the Japanese is that they have always been good at copying the original, being inspired by it, and then reconstructing something new or reinventing something new. In this sense, I feel that overseas culture will also influence Japan, and as a result, creativity from all over the world will influence and refine each other to create something new. I think a world like that would be most enjoyable.