The Word Works

: Consuming Japan


Winners' Circles (Designing the Database)

Published By: John on 01/09/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

Getting down to the nitty-gritty. If you need a quick introduction to the basic principles of database design, this is the place to look.

The database in which the credits data used in the social network analysis are stored was developed in Filemaker Pro. In Filemaker Pro the data are stored in tables and displayed and manipulated in layouts in which data from multiple, related tables can be combined. This database has three primary tables: Ad, Creator, and Role, which currently contain information from the TCC annuals from 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2007. In total the database contains records on 4536 ads, 8579 creators, and 34907 roles linking creators with ads.

But why these three tables, and how do they function? The following discussion is a bit technical but deserves close attention from readers who wish to know how the analysis reported here was done as well as the conclusions drawn from it.  It may also be useful for those contemplating similar research to know that working out these details took me several months of intermittent hacking before I got them clear.

In this type of database, the data are stored in fields, with the fields referring to a single case combined in a single record. To readers familiar with spreadsheets, it suffices to say that if a table is represented in spreadsheet format the fields are the the columns; the cases are the rows. But why, in this database are three separate tables required?

It is a basic principle of database design that there are three and only three fundamental relationships between the data contained in separate fields: one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many. If the relationship is one-to-one, the two fields can be combined in a single table. If the relationship is one-to-many, two tables are required, with a unique identifier that appears in both tables used to link one to the other. If the relationship is many-to-many, three tables are required. Two of the tables have a one-to-many relationship to the third, called the join table, that provides a bridge between them. To see how this works in practice, we now take a closer look at the data contained in the Ad, Creator, and Record tables.

Each ad that appears in the TCC annual is a unique case, with several attributes, each of which stands in a one-to-one relationship with the ad in question. Each ad has only one sponsor, one lead agency, one industry category, one year and one medium. These basic items all appear with the ad in its record in the Ad table. Calculation fields (a special kind of field that displays the result of a calculation) are used to code the raw data in the basic fields; so that, for example, ad agencies can be coded as Dentsu=1, Hakuhodo=2, ADK=3, and Other=4.

Each creator has a personal name and surname. But here we have a problem. Different individuals may have the same names. The solution is to assign each creator a unique serial number. A calculation field is used to combine the first three letters of the surname with the serial number to create the name used in the social network analysis. Thus, for example, a copywriter named Maki Jun (where “Maki” is the surname and “Jun” the personal name), whose unique serial number is 65, becomes Mak65.

While calculation fields are used for coding information in both the Ad and Creator tables, the basic one-to-one relationship between the fields in each table remains undisturbed. In the Role table, which functions as a join table and provides links between ads and creators, things are a bit more complicated.

The problem here is that creators and ads have many-to-many relationships. The same creator may be credited with several different roles in the production of an ad: the same individual may, for example, have played three roles, creative director, copywriter, and planner. In addition, two or more individuals may be credited with the same role: thus, for example, multiple copywriters may have worked on the same ad. Records in the Role table each contain three vital pieces of information: a unique identifier for an ad; a unique identifier for a creator; and a category label for the type of role in question: copywriter, art director or film director, for example.The unique identifiers are automatically generated serial numbers assigned when new ads or creators are added to the database, and the pair of unique identifiers specify precisely the particular role in question. It is the roles specified in this way, as unique combinations of ad and creator that become the links analyzed by the social network analysis software.

In sum, the ads and creators are nodes in the networks analyzed. The roles are the links which connect them.

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Winners' Circles (Assembling the Data)

Published By: John on 01/09/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

Where did the data for this research come from? What are the sources and how were they used? These are basic scientific and scholarly questions for which this section begins to provide some answers.

Anyone who studies the Japanese advertising industry confronts mountains of data. Like the field geologist confronting a range of real mountains, he will not be able to disassemble and analyze the whole range. Question No. 1 is what and where to sample. The samples, moreover, are bound to be incomplete. This research makes use of archival data; but archival records are, in fact, like geological strata, sometimes twisted or broken in ways that leave gaps in the record.

One possible approach would be to explore the trade press that has, in some cases, covered the Japanese advertising industry for a half century or more. Sendenkaigi, a monthly magazine devoted to “marketing and creativity” started publication in 1954, the same year that the ADC was founded. Sendenkaigisha, its publisher, now publishes a variety of similar periodicals that target advertisers, designers, sales promotion and PR experts, and editorial writers. Koukoku Hihyou (Advertising Critique), which ceased publication in 2010 after a forty-year run, aimed to provide a critical (but supportive) perspective on the relation of advertising to mass culture. Business periodicals like those published by Nikkei Shimbunsha (the publisher of the Nikkei Shimbun, Japan’s equivalent to the Wall Street Journal) might also be consulted. The Nikkei Advertising Research Institute’s annual white paper is a source of which heavy use is made in this research. And of books about Japanese advertising, both single-author and collections, there seems to be no end.  All of these sources need to be used with care, since changes in format and editorial policy may have altered the types of information they provide. When, for example, I first subscribed to Sendenkaigisha’s Brain magazine, its focus was market research. The current incarnation of Brain covers advertising art and design. We shall return to these issues in Part II, when we look more closely at the historical context of the trends revealed by the social network analysis.

The data for the social network analysis reported here are taken from the Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Annual. This annual is not the only publication of its kind. The the first edition of this annual was published in 1963, the year in which theTokyo Copywriters Club (TCC) was founded. The Tokyo Art Directors Club (ADC) was founded nearly a decade earlier, in 1954, and it, too, publishes its own annual. The All Japan Radio & Television Commercial Confederation (ACC) annual, which contains the results of the yearly ACC CM Festival and has been published continuously for forty-five years. All three annuals provide credits data like that used here. There is much overlap between them but also differences. To choose to use data from one instead of the others is, thus,  to adopt a particular perspective on the industry as a whole.

The author’s choice to use data from the TCC annual is, like much anthropological research, opportunistic. He became acquainted with this annual while working as a copywriter, used it as primary source material while teaching, and acquired the collection of recent volumes whose perusal inspired the research reported in this book. Other perspectives will be considered, but the research reported here is focused primarily on the world of Japanese advertising as seen by those who, like the author, has pursued careers as copywriters and creative directors.

The reader should also be aware that, while the TCC annual has been published continuously since 1963, the data reported here are only from the 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2006 annuals. Why not all of the data since 1963 and why these particular years? The author’s collection of these annuals includes a continuous series starting in 1979. His collection of the earlier volumes is incomplete. It would, of course, be desirable to have data from all of the available volumes in the database; but since the data must be transferred manually from the printed pages of the annuals to the database, the expense in both time and money prohibited this choice. Data from the 2001 annual were used while designing and testing the database, and the decision to cover three decades at five-year intervals resulted in the years indicated above.


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Winners' Circles (Why Social Network Analysis?)

Published By: John on 01/07/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

In this section of the introduction, I talk about how social network analysis became the focus of this project.

My first encounter with social network analysis was in the late 1960s, while still a graduate student at Cornell. I no longer remember precisely whose work I was reading. It does seem likely, however, that it had to do with the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute research in Central Africa directed by J. Clyde Mitchell. Mitchell’s students were all involved, in one way or another, in studies of individuals who had migrated from tribal homelands to cities in search of employment opportunities. In this new setting, their behavior could no longer be attributed solely to the implications of tribal institutions. How they formed ties and interacted with co-workers from other tribes as well as their own had to be considered. According to Lin Freeman’s history of social network analysis, it was Mitchell who recognized that a series of studies on superficially different topics shared this structural core (Freeman, 2004:4).

At this point, however, I was unaware of social psychologist Jacob Moreno’s work in the early 1930s on small group dynamics and his invention of Sociometry, the identification of social stars and later key opinion leaders whose interest becomes the tipping point at which new trends take off. I was also unaware of developments in graph theory, the branch of mathematics on which network analysis tools are based. As I then imgined it, social network analysis was, in effect, synonymous with the study of what sociologists call “informal organization,” social relationships that escape the boundaries of formal organizational structures. It may have been some notion of the importance of informal relationships that led to my seeing Chinese ritual as more about establishing and manipulating relationships than simply affirming corporate group or territorial boundaries. At this stage, however, my use of the concept of social network analysis was only metaphorical. It was neither empirically grounded nor solidly quantified.

In any case, interest in social network analysis receded into the background and became a path not taken until 2007, when casting about for a new research project, I noticed that, while teaching a seminar on the making and meaning of advertising at Sophia University, I had acquired a small collection of recent volumes of the TCC?L???R?s?[?N?? (TCC koukokukopii nenkan, Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Copy Annual). The annual, published every year since 1963, contains the output from the club’s annual ad contest. Every year, several thousand pieces of advertising are submitted as entries to the contest. About ten percent of the entries make it into the annual, divided into roughly a dozen industrial categories (the exact number of categories has changed a bit over the years). Each and every ad in the annual comes with a set of credits that list not only the medium in which the ad appeared, its sponsor and the agency and/or production houses that paid for and produced the ad but also the names of the individuals who made up the team that created the ad and the roles for which they are given credits. It occurred to me that if the credits were put in a database, I could use social network analysis to see which individuals worked together in winning teams, identify key figures and trace their careers over time.  I could also map how how their relationships changed over time and explore how these changes reflected the development and overall structure of the industry. I would have a solid framework on which to hang historical and ethnographic data.

Thus it was that an overall plan for the project took shape. It would start by creating a database for the credits data,  studying social network analysis and learning available software. Meanwhile, on a separate track, loomed another task. The key figures in the networks examined in this are often authors in their own right. They have written or contributed chapters to books in which they expound their views of how advertising works, what makes a good idea, what goes into a good presentation, how the work should be produced, team-building or leadership. They are also frequently interviewed in an active trade press, asked to comment on current topics of interest to the industry. The publications in question produce hundreds of pages each month and are available in series that go back for half a century or more.  For this part of the task, the anthropologist would have to be an historian and had a lot of work to do. Finally, there was the holy grail. Having done the social network and historical analysis, the ethnographer might be able to interview some of the people in question, to hear what they had to say, to correct or add to his findings.

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Winners' Circles (The Anthropological Observer)

Published By: John on 01/06/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

The previous post addressed the influence on the author of being a participant in the industry he is studying. Here the focus shifts to his academic training as an anthropologist and how that is reflected in the structure of the book.

The anthropologist who peers over the shoulder of the adman in me is the product of late 1960s graduate training in anthropology at Cornell University and two trips to Taiwan (1969-71 for dissertation fieldwork; 1976-77 for advanced training in Chinese). It was during the first of the trips to Taiwan that I was asked the question to which this book is my latest answer.

Clancy Engler, the Maryknoll missionary who was priest of the local Catholic parish in Puli, where my fieldwork was based, had been in Taiwan for fifteen years and spoke Taiwanese like a native. The first time he asked me, “What can an anthropologist teach someone like me?” I had no ready answer. It seemed absurd to imagine that a fresh-off-the-plane, green behind the ears, just starting to learn Taiwanese young anthropologist like me would ever have anything to teach an old hand like him.

A year later, I had an answer. I could point out a few things about Taiwanese ritual of which Clancy was unaware. I had had the extraordinary privilege of spending a whole year with no other obligation than to talk to people and look for answers to whatever questions occurred to me?\and more important here, my training as an anthropologist had given me questions to ask that had never occurred to a priest busy running his parish.

The late 1960s were an exciting time to be a novice anthropologist. All sorts of new ideas were in the air. I was excited by Claude Lévi-Strauss’ advice in the “Overture” to The Raw and the Cooked to look for the logic in tangible qualities (that later would help the adman a lot when it came to talking with art directors). Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger epitomized a renewed focus on social and cosmological categories and, in particular, on people and things that fall in the cracks between them (which later resonated a lot with my advertising colleague’s rule-breaking habits and endless search for something new).  I was persuaded by Clifford Geertz that ethnographers should strive to produce “thick descriptions”(1973:3-30). I was particularly impressed by the opening paragraph of Geertz’s essay “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man.”

Toward the end of his recent study of the ideas used by tribal peoples, La Pensée Sauvage, the French anthropologist Lévi-Strauss remarks that scientific explanation does not consist, as we have been led to imagine, in the reduction of the complex to the simple. Rather, it consists, he says, in a substitution of a complexity more intelligible for one which is less. So far as the study of man is concerned, one may go even further, I think, and argue that explanation often consists of substituting complex pictures for simple ones while striving somehow to retain the persuasive clarity that went with the simple ones. (1973:33).

Geertz’s amendment of Lévi-Strauss is a fair amendment of what this book strives to be. It substitutes complex pictures of Japan’s advertising industry for the simple ones with which it begins. The research it describes begins with a simple visual image of a range of mountains that captures a bit of commonsense knowledge about the industry’s overall shape. The research uses scientific tools to analyze the structures that underly the topography and the processes that have led to their formation. It also employs interpretive, historical and ethnographic methods to explore what the history revealed by the scientific analysis meant to some of the key figures involved in making that history.

But reader be warned: neither science nor interpretation can claim to be a complete account. Japan’s advertising industry is a very large and complex business. An active trade press, government and private researchers have been generating data about the industry ever since the 1950s. This data stream is a river flowing into an ocean where it mingles with other political, economic, and cultural information. The picture presented here will be complex but it remains at best a cartoon. Those who wish to learn more or to challenge its depictions will have plenty of work to do.


Geertz persuaded me that ethnography should produce thick descriptions. The only problem was that he never explained how to do it. It was my good fortune, however, to spend a year at Cornell while the British anthropologist Victor Turner was teaching there. Turner remains to this day my model of how a great fieldworker goes about his research.

Turner was British, and like other British anthropologists, was trained in social anthropology, regarded back then as the branch of sociology that studies people who lived outside Europe and North America, where the rest of sociology conducted its research. A former Communist turned Catholic and a member of the Manchester School, he was deeply immersed in Marxist theory and, it now seems to me, conceived of his research paradigm in terms of infrastructure (production and reproduction) and superstructure (ideas, religion, art, theater). Thus, his research began with sociological fundamentals: demography, village maps and house diagrams, kinship, marriage, property, inheritance and succession to office. These would be synthesized in an overview of social structure and process that would frame his research on more cultural topics: rituals, symbols, social dramas and the role of performance in social life. He taught his students that we begin with social structure and process, to which we add what we see (our own observations) and what we hear (the native exegesis, what the people whose lives we study tell us). None, he insisted, are the answer to the ethnographical puzzle. All are pieces that go into the final picture.

Turner’s model defines the structure of this book. Following this introduction, Part I will present the results of social network analysis of the credits associated with the ads that appear in the 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 editions of the Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Copy Annual. This analysis shows us who worked with whom as members of the teams whose ads won places in these volumes. It allows us to identify key figures in the networks that connect the members of these teams and to trace several distinguished careers over the decades covered by these data. It also reveals the impact on both networks and teams of fluctuations in Japan’s economy and, on the media side, of the rise of TV and decline of print media during the period in question. Part II begins by recounting the history of a long and sometimes heated debate over what the roles of copy in advertising and of copywriters in producing advertising should be. I concludes with extracts from conversations with several of the key figures identified by the network analysis, to explore how they see this debate and the ways in which the industry has changed over the years in which they have worked in it. The conclusion pulls together what we have learned, examines the limitations of the study in terms of both data and method, and suggests directions in which similar research might be improved.

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Winners' Circles (The Frog in the Well)

Published By: John on 01/05/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

The next bit of writing for Winners’ Circles, the book I am working on. It describes the advertising industry participant’s perspective I bring to the book.

When I followed my wife Ruth to Japan in September 1980, I was an unemployed anthropologist. Ruth had followed me to Taiwan for my dissertation research, so it seemed only fair that, when she, who was studying Japanese literature, got her fellowship for a year at the Interuniversity Center in Tokyo, I would follow her to Japan. Besides, our daughter was four, and we didn’t want to break up the family. Having spent the previous year working as a research assistant in the Yale Computer Science Department’s AI Project made me more knowledgeable than most about digital technology at a time when Japanese high-tech companies were starting to flood the world’s markets with electronic typewriters, PBXs, PCs and dot-matrix and laser printers, copiers and fax machines. That, and a connection provided by one of Ruth’s colleagues, got me a job with a small corporate communications company that led, three years later, to my being hired by Hakuhodo to write English copy for export advertising. A few years later, I was part of the team that produced the pan-European launch of a new autofocus camera system, having won a competitive pitch against several European agencies. Following that break, I was promoted to “International Creative Director” and began carving out a niche helping my Japanese colleagues present their work on domestic campaigns to international clients headquartered outside Japan.

I mention all this because, while I was trained as an anthropologist and had done fieldwork in Taiwan, I was not doing fieldwork while working at Hakuhodo or later, after leaving the agency, as Ruth’s partner in our company The Word Works ( I was busy with whatever the workday demanded and never got around to the systematic research that fieldwork entails. Thus, when I offer anecdotes based on my own experience, I am at best an informed informant, informed in the sense that I have some idea of what that other me, the anthropologist, is looking for. The social network analysis of archival materials, historical research and interviews with industry figures that make up the bulk of this book are essential grounding for arguments for which my haphazard memories are, by themselves, too weak a support.

That said, there are a few anecdotes that should be told because the incidents in question have shaped my interpretations of the other evidence the book contains?\at least as much, I suspect, as the academic ideas that have gone into its construction.

I vividly recall Kazuhiko Kimoto, the senior creative director who had given me my job at Hakuhodo, swearing after six months or so that he would never, ever hire another academic. To put the matter bluntly, my writing was still pedestrian; I would still get lost in the technical details of the products for which I was writing advertising and fail to extract a compelling story and squeeze it into the space allotted for the ad in question. Fortunately, Kimoto never tired of providing the verbal whacks on the head that eventually led, Zen-like, to enlightenment and the realization that deciding what to say (never everything; there was never room for that) and how to say it (to seduce instead of bludgeoning the reader) were essential aspects of the trade into which I had stumbled. There are other ways to craft effective advertising; but, working with Kimoto, I learned the art of isolating a critical detail in a product and constructing a story about it that would fit the client’s image of what the client wanted to communicate.

Thus, for example, the first of my ads to win a prize in a local English-language advertising contest was written to publicize the client’s introduction of a new printing technology for its line of electronic typewriters. The technical point was a mechanism that ensured that in every line typed the characters would be perfectly even. Having started business as a camera manufacturer, the client was obsessed with image quality. The winning headline read, “We put our reputation on every line.” Another example was a small print ad for a concert program. The client was a tire manufacturer that sponsored a Japanese youth orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall. Leafing through the client’s annual report, I noticed a picture of an airliner touching down on a runway. Any chance, I asked the account executives, that the airliner that carries the orchestra to New York land on the client’s tires? Their “Yes” led to our using the picture I’d discovered and my adding the headline,“Another way [the tire manufacturer] supports the arts.”

I also recall two conversations with Kimoto. One occurred at a time when the agency was making one of its periodic efforts to make people in the creative division conform to company work rules, i.e., show up and go home on time. Kimoto told me, “There is only one rule. If the agency gets business because you are here, you can ignore the other rules.” During the second conversation we were talking about the way in which young non-Japanese (yes, I was still very young then) would demand greater responsibility for the work they were doing. Kimoto remarked, “Look around you. This is a big company, and there is more responsibility to be taken than there are people willing to take it. Don’t try to do what somebody else is already doing. Find something that ought to be done that no one else is doing?\and just do it.” The result would be, he said, that within three months you would be the person in charge of doing whatever that was. He was right.

These interactions and conversations made an indelible impression on me. In retrospect, I now realize that much of what I learned from Kazuhiko Kimoto was conventional wisdom ?\ the conventional wisdom, that is, of people whose job is to find critical details and construct compelling stories, people who are always looking for something new, something no one has done before, people who break rules to strengthen the impact of what they produce, people I admire as mentors and models, the individuals whose lives and works are the focus of this book.

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Winners' Circles, A Work in Progress (Introduction)

Published By: John on 01/04/11
Categories: Winners' Circles Consuming Japan Advertising

After three years of preparation, John is finally getting started on writing up his Winners’ Circles research using social network analysis to drive ethnographic and historical research on the advertising creatives whose ads have been published in the Tokyo Copywriters Club Advertising Annual. I will be using this blog to post drafts of material intended for inclusion in the book whose writing is now in progress. For example, the following introduction…

This book lies at the intersection of one life and three perspectives. For thirty years I have worked in and around the advertising industry in Japan, for thirteen of those years as an English-language copywriter for Hakuhodo, Inc., Japan’s second-largest advertising agency. While working at Hakuhodo, I acquired a narrow understanding of how export advertising is made in Japan and developed a desire to know more about the Japanese advertising industry and the world of my Japanese colleagues who create advertising for Japan’s domestic market.

I am also an anthropologist, whose fieldwork in Taiwan led to a dissertation on the symbolism of Daoist magic. My participant’s desire for a broader understanding of the advertising world in Japan has stimulated my thinking about how to extend ethnography?\the anthropologist’s face-to-face encounter with those whose lives he studies?\to do research on a multi-billion dollar industry that employs thousands of individuals, who are, at any one moment, working on hundreds of projects in multiple media that are, themselves, continually evolving. The approach I’ve adopted here is to combine personal experience, interviews with key industry figures, and historical research based on trade publications?\with the use of new scientific tools for social network analysis.

Putting together the results of these various forms of research has led to consideration of philosophical issues that divide researchers across the full spectrum of social sciences and humanities, pitting those who favor quantitative analysis and computational modeling on the one hand against those who insist that research on human beings requires a qualitative, interpretive approach. After a long intellectual journey that began with growing up in a deeply religious household and has led through philosophy and history of science to anthropology and advertising, I find myself straddling the two sides of this argument. My position, as of this moment, is that all anthropology is at the end of the day like archeology, an attempt to assemble convincing stories from fragmentary data and should, thus, wherever possible include scientific analysis. Those who work in advertising may also see similarities to a process that attempts to meld marketing research and creative inspiration into compelling business propositions.

The result is a book that readers with different interests may read in different ways. Some will have a particular interest in Japanese advertising. Here they will find a history of Japanese advertising with a particular focus on the 1980s, 90s and naughts, a period that saw the rise of TV and the decline of newspapers as Japan’s major advertising medium. The thematic focus will be on advertising copy and the role of the copywriters who produce it. Others may start with a broader interest in advertising per se or in advertising’s role as one of the “culture industries” that produce media content and shape the public imagination. They may find it interesting to learn that the Japanese advertising industry differs in organizational structure and approaches to handling clients from its counterparts in North America and Europe. A few may wish to pursue the scholarly issues raised. For them the book’s success or failure will turn on how well it succeeds in extending ethnography and incorporating both quantitative and interpretive approaches to the data it considers.

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