The Chief Creative Officer at Dentsu Inc. and recipient of the 2020 President’s Award on his practice, his agency, what he looks for in a creative, and how the pandemic has changed his way of working.
“I believe in the power of creativity,” says Yuya Furukawa, “I believe in its power unconditionally.” Under his leadership, Dentsu’s creative teams work on projects ranging from product development, branded content creation, pure content creation – including TV programmes and movies – content export, space planning and design, digital platform development, business strategy, consulting, PR and traditional advertising. Yuya himself is involved in government projects such as the Olympic Games and the National Stadium. He is also Director of Dentsu Lab Tokyo, an initiative to bring new forms of creation through technology by combining research, ideation, and development.
International accolades for Furukawa include awards at Cannes, D&AD, One Show and Spikes, among others, as well as Grand Prix at Adfest. In 2005, he won the Japan Advertising Agencies Association’s Creative Person of the Year award. He has also been selected Campaign Brief Asia’s Creative Director of the Year for three years in a row. He is a familiar face as a judge at international awards such as Cannes, D&AD, Clio, Spikes and Adfest, and as a speaker at various conferences, including D&AD President’s Lectures.
Yuya is also a member of the D&AD Advisory Board as well as the author of the book All Work is the Work of Creative Direction. Under Kate Stanners’ Presidency, he was awarded the 2020 D&AD President’s Award. In this interview conducted by Japanese magazine Brain, Yuya provides insight into his career and practice.
Congratulations on receiving the President's Award
Thank you. I was terribly surprised. I was asked to attend a D&AD Zoom meeting by Tim Lindsay, the Chairperson, and to my surprise, I received the news of the award from Kate Stanners [D&AD President 2019-2020] who read out the reasons for the award to me! When I look at the previous recipients, it's not only about how happy I am to be among them, but rather that I'm intimidated. The President's Award is given to an individual, but I think it was given to all of Dentsu Creative as a whole.
Over the past decade or so, Dentsu's creative presence has been growing overseas. What is behind that expansion?
The first is the breadth of the field. Dentsu's work includes mass media, digital media, PR, media, and big events such as the Olympics and Paralympics. In a nutshell, Dentsu is a company that does all kinds of work that requires creativity. No other agency has such a broad spectrum. In the past, it used to feel like everything was impure, but nowadays I'm rather envied by international creative people. I can do everything related to communication on my own. I think the breadth of categories we've won awards in over the past decade proves this, including film, design, PR, media, innovation, content, digital and data. The second, of course, is the quality of each creative we bring. It's important to aim a creation with a combination of depth and width.
The other thing is it's a unique culture, especially the way we communicate visually. When one looks at our creativity on the global stage, outside our culture in Japan, it probably feels foreign and it then becomes unique in a good way. I began to feel confident that our work has reached a global level while being grounded in its own culture.
I began to feel confident that our work has reached a global level while being grounded in its own culture
It's been over 20 years since I started working as a Creative Director, and at some point in time, I started to make a conscious effort to work on awards not only for my own work, but also for the entire creative process at Dentsu. I gave detailed direction to projects that were about to emerge, improved award videos, broadened my perspective by inviting people from my area of weakness to participate in internal selection meetings, and strategically kept an eye out for everything creative, from traditional to new things. The last decade in particular has seen an expansion of creative work, not only in traditional commercials and graphics, but also in creative innovation, entertainment and social engagements. I think this situation has been a tailwind for agencies like Dentsu. We were able to build up a high quality of work in new areas by a diverse group of creatives using a variety of methodologies. This has resulted in a group of works that is rare in the world.
How did you become involved with international awards?
About 15 years ago I was sent by my company to participate in international awards as a judge. That's when my perspective changed. I realised that Japanese creativity is truly unique and that no matter how high the level of technology is, it is difficult to be understood overseas. After that, I began to watch various awards continuously and reviewed our work. At the same time, participating in international awards has enriched my own archive and increased the denominator of my ideas, which has created a kind of diversity within me. I think that this has definitely changed my brain structure, as it has allowed me to understand things that I didn't understand when I was looking at foreign collections in Japan. I was grateful for the fact that I was able to acquire a different circuitry than the one used in my brain to create hit work in Japan, and it was an enjoyable experience.
What piece of creative work from your career to date are you most proud of?
The answer to that should be “My next project” (laughs).
How has the global coronavirus pandemic affected the way you work?
Due to the situation with Covid-19, we are forced to make online meetings using applications like Zoom. I have no problem with meetings for information sharing, but I think it's hard to have meetings for creative discussions sometimes. People seem to think with their heads, but actually they think with their bodies. We receive with our bodies, feel with our bodies, think with our bodies, react physically, and then our bodies transmit. As Maurice Merleau-Ponti writes, "The body is consciousness," and we receive exactly what emanates from the other person's body in a physical sense without going through the brain. What is filtered through our brains and converted into text is important, but the information that is perceived by our physical intuition and instincts is what is most valuable to us as creatives. But when we meet online, we can't share our physical senses with each other, so that part of the process slips away. You have to work with 60-70% of the power, so to speak. I fear that we may see the effects of that in the future.
The information that is perceived by our physical intuition and instincts is what is most valuable to us as creatives
There is a sense that many of the creatives at Dentsu pursue their personal interests in doing their jobs, how does that work?
Of course, most creative work is based on client work, but from now on, I think there will be an increase in work that starts from one's own interests and awareness of problems. "Tuna Scope" is a project in which AI learns the advanced know-how of artisans and acts as a connoisseur of tuna on behalf of them. This idea was led by Creative Director Kazuhiro Shimura who has turned his personal interest in constantly tasting tuna, his favorite food, into a challenge and created a business solution using ideas and technology. When we think of social engagement, we tend to have an attitude of looking things at a global level and trying to find some challenge to solve, but I think this work proves that challenges that come from an individual's keen sense of self are more likely to produce realistic and compelling ideas. I think excellent work comes from the route of starting from one's own personal interests and arriving at social and business solutions.
What do you look for in an individual or their portfolio when seeking out new talent for your creative teams?
I'm happiest when I meet someone who has a completely different opinion and perspective than someone who thinks the same way I do, and I focus on that. But what I value most is the "upbringing" of the person, how they have been raised. Specifically, how much they have thought for themselves, how much they have spoken in their own words, what they have seen and read, what they have listened to, and who they have interacted with. The most important thing is still the person's archive. Because ideas can only come from memory. In the end, I think people can never produce more than the archive they have.
How would you define your creative philosophy?
There is nothing in the world that our creativity can't tackle.
Interview courtesy of Brain Magazine, Japan. Edited by D&AD for the 2020 digital Annual.