Dentsu highlighted its changing business model at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with the announcement of artist collaborations and investments in robotics and technology in its quest to become a "visionary solutions provider."
Leave it to other agencies to squabble about advertising; Dentsu Inc. (Japan) has a larger agenda that includes futuristic, talked-about projects.
Data creativity and communication robots were the two big themes explored by Dentsu at this year's Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Dentsu's data creativity play
The mature economy may be saturated by smart devices, but emerging markets are just getting started. Wearable devices and sensors are everywhere — creating the Internet of Things. "Data is the new air," said Koichi Yamamoto, head of the Global Planning Office at Dentsu. "It's so prevalent we're drowning in it."
He adds: "Last year alone 4.4 zettabytes of data were created, and 90% of all available data was produced in the past two years alone. The explosion and influence data has on our lives is just getting started and what we're seeing is an extraordinary order of change."
According to Yamamoto, data makes creativity richer. He cites the example of last year's big winner "Sound of Honda / Ayrton Senna 1989," which used simple data to create something very unique. "This work shows that data is the new medium to create mesmerising stories," he adds.
One rapidly growing area for the company is data visualization. As part of this, Dentsu Lab Tokyo is teaming up with artist Bjork to experiment with "a higher level of data visualization and expression."
Joint efforts will be devoted to deliver "surprise and innovation to change the creative world into something that was, until now, unimaginable."
Kaoru Sugano, creative technologist at Dentsu, and Daito Manabe, media artist at Rhizomatiks Research will be spearheading the project. The two previously collaborated on 'Sound of Honda / Ayrton Senna 1989', which won the Cannes Lions Titanium Grand Prix last year.
Dentsu Lab Tokyo was established in June 2014 with the objective of developing solutions based on technology that go beyond conventional advertising. The variety of talent collaborating on projects will not be limited to Dentsu staff but will also include creative directors, technology experts and artists. Its three core pillars are sports, music and the performing arts.
Bots to combat loneliness
In two separate sessions, the Japanese agency highlighted its investments in robotics and the capability of personal robots to change lives.
SoftBank Robotics and Dentsu introduced the potential of communication robots as a creative platform. The talks also featured Pepper, the world's first robot that has its own emotions created by both companies in collaboration with other partners.
Pepper showing his human side.
With Pepper, the goal is to see how talking, human-like robots might help people in a society where more and more people, including the elderly, live alone. This is especially relevant in Japan where more than 22% of the population is already over the age of 65 and fertility rates are declining.
What makes Pepper unique, says Kaname Hayashi, development director of SoftBank Robotics, is the robot's ability to estimate human emotions and produce its own emotions. The technology enables the robot to artificially generate its own emotions modeled on the human release of neurochemicals in response to stimuli perceived by the five senses.
Pepper has been modeled on 20 character traits and stands out for its honesty. Making people laugh is also key to marketing the robots. In June, SoftBank said it sold out its entire stock of 1,000 in the first minute of sales.
Brands have already started showing interest in Pepper. In December last year, Nestle Japan added Pepper to its human sales staff across 20 stores in a marketing ploy aimed to sell its coffee machines. Nestle hopes to add Pepper to 1,000 of its stores by the end of 2015.
Hayashi claims that Pepper's emotions are influenced by people's facial expressions, words and also by the surrounding environment. "Pepper remembers each and every action and interaction," he says. "He can prioritise memory by emotional moments and has the freedom to choose how to react."
When asked about the fear of robots going rogue, the director said Pepper's reactions are moderated and the robot is designed to be "patient". "Our aim is really to make people happier."
Celebrity endorsements get a facelift
Yasuharu Sasaki, executive creative director at Dentsu, and Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University are in the midst of creating what they call a robot society.
Ishiguro has created several androids and has extensively experimented in this field. But his most popular creation is the android replica of Japanese celebrity Matsuko Deluxe, named Matsuko-Roid.
"To support a robot society researchers need to study the fundamentals of robotics and develop human-like robots based on human science," Ishiguro said.
Indeed, Matsuko Deluxe and Matsuko-Roid are a spitting image of each other. At present, the android version is vocalized and controlled by a voice impersonator. But Ishiguro is working on voice and facial recognition features and hopes to make Matsuko-Roid operator-free.
In this session hosted by A-Lab, Sasaki says having human-like robots is beneficial in a country where celebrities play a crucial role in advertising. "Our job as an agency will be much easier if we can use celebrities whenever and however we want. That's not possible today because most celebrities are busy, expensive and demanding."
He says the Matsuko-Roid project caused some disruptions in the advertising industry. For one, Matsuko-Roid is changing the television landscape with her own programme on a popular TV station. She's getting endorsement deals and part of the fee goes to Dentsu.
More importantly for Dentsu, this is changing its positioning from a full-service advertising agency that provides marketing and communication strategies for advertisers, as well as media and content holders, to a "visionary solutions partner," Sasaki points out. "We no longer simply create ads," he says. "We have begun invading other fields to disrupt the traditional agency structure and create new social values along with new business models."