Ad Stars Jury 2020: Dentsu One Manila’s Masako Okamura – “I’m afraid this pandemic will change consumer spending habits”

Ad Stars Jury 2020: Dentsu One Manila’s Masako Okamura – “I’m afraid this pandemic will change consumer spending habits”

Campaign Brief Asia spoke to Masako Okamura about her role at Dentsu One Manila, which rebranded from ASPAC earlier this year.


Masako Okamura joined ASPAC in the Philippines in 2017, the digital-led agency that was acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network in 2015. This year, ASPAC rebranded as Dentsu One Manila, with Okamura overseeing the agency’s Japanese accounts as Executive Creative Director.

In March, Okamura travelled to Tokyo, it was supposed to be a short trip, but due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions in the Philippines, she’s been there ever since. She is currently balancing two roles as ECD at Dentsu One Manila, while also working for clients of Dentsu Tokyo.

ASPAC recently rebranded as Dentsu One Manila. Can you tell us about the rebrand – how will it impact your role or goals for the agency?
The transition from ASPAC to Dentsu One Manila is going smoothly and we have some great new members of the agency for Filipino clients. So, I can concentrate on Japanese clients in the Philippines. Dentsu One Manila is a digital-led agency designed to answer the changing needs of clients during the markets’ move toward normalcy. It offers business solutions working closely with our sister agencies across the Dentsu Aegis Network worldwide and Dentsu Inc. Japan under the “one dentsu” philosophy.

Thanks to ‘Working From Home’, I can work for any country from Tokyo and have just started working for clients of Dentsu Tokyo. Therefore, I have dual roles in the Filipino and Japanese markets. By the way, 98% of my belongings are still at my condo in Manila. If anyone is close to President Duterte, please ask him to allow me to come back and collect them!

You moved to the Philippines in 2017. What have been your biggest achievements?
Among the clients I’ve met, Ginebra San Miguel stands out as an authentic and iconic brand for the Philippines. I am truly proud of being a part of the “Labels of Unsung Heroes” campaigns. Ginebra San Miguel is the world’s No.1 selling gin. But unfortunately, not many people know this fact, and in the Philippines, it’s viewed as a ‘poor man’s drink’. To show appreciation for its true customers, the ordinary laborers, we created Labels of Unsung Heroes: Ginebra Ako (I am Ginebra).

Ad Stars Jury 2020: Dentsu One Manila’s Masako Okamura – “I’m afraid this pandemic will change consumer spending habits”

We reimaged the iconic Ginebra label as depicting the ‘workers’ such as farmers, carpenters and porters as courageous ‘unsung heroes’. Over 30 ‘heroes’ labels were produced. We also made a music video, ‘Tagay’, to help support it. By rebranding, Ginebra has since gained new customers. Being recognized at local and international award shows, ASPAC was able to climb a few rungs on the creative rankings ladder.

Now I am working in Tokyo and, continuing the same theme. My team in Manila released a great new artwork, “Ginebra Frontliner Labels”. This time, Ginebra portrayed today’s frontline heroes who are risking their health and lives to save others in the worldwide battle against COVID-19. This went viral, so Ginebra decided to mass-produce it. The copy, “para sa tunay na tapang” (“For Real Courage”), is the catchphrase used in the ‘Tagay’ music video, too.

Ad Stars Jury 2020: Dentsu One Manila’s Masako Okamura – “I’m afraid this pandemic will change consumer spending habits”

What is the biggest challenge or opportunity you face this year?
For me, the challenge is to “moult” from the present me. During the COVID-19 pandemic, so-called “Creative” was suddenly democratized. Everyone had to stay at home, and so tried to make digital contents based on the same issue, via YouTube or TikTok. This has, as a result, muddied the border between professional and amateur. I’m also afraid this pandemic will change consumer spending habits for the long term. We now need to reconsider “What is brand value?” and even “Do we need this service or product for the future?” In actual fact, some potential clients have asked me to think about how to use creativity to invent new business for them, rather than use ‘creative’ ideas to develop one line of business.

About the biggest opportunities, this is where to work from. I’ve been wondering if I can work from Georgia, Estonia or another ex-Soviet country. Basically, as long as the Wi-Fi connection is good and there is excellent coffee and wine, I’m set. Seriously!

You became Dentsu’s first-ever female creative director in 2001. Do you think you bring a different approach to creative leadership as a woman?
Well, now I can say ‘yes’. At first, I tried to use the same approach as Japanese men: have a well-organized, top-down operation, like an army. But one day I instinctively felt I had to change all that. I found I was drawn into personal stories. I started to welcome staff with different backgrounds, such as architectural or physics graduates and sometimes ex-musicians – my major was law by the way. During my time in Vietnam and the Philippines, I hired creatives of different nationalities as well as the LGBTQ community. This has made me a more malleable person, able to accept different opinions wherever they come from. Landlord-style leadership?

Last week, I finished co-authoring a Korean book, titled “커리어 대작전 (Career Operations)”. It details the various ups and downs of when I became CD as well as what it really means to be a female creative. If you’re interested, please give it a read, but I’m afraid it’s only available in Korean.

In 2014, you moved to Vietnam to lead Dentsu’s creative department. Why were you curious to move to Vietnam, and how did living there shape you as a creative leader?
I had wanted to work overseas for a long time, and right at the point I almost gave it all up, Ted Lim, our former CCO of Dentsu APAC, called me about an opportunity in Vietnam. I said ‘Yes’ without a moment’s hesitation, even though I knew nothing about the industry in Vietnam.

Living in Vietnam taught me a lot. How to lead a creative team includes having to know everyone’s domestic circumstances, taking care of medical expenses, arranging BBQs at the client’s place as well as overseeing the agency’s balance sheet. I learned how to run a company, something I could never have done in Dentsu Tokyo. Ha! As a leader, for me the toughest, but also most noteworthy part of the role, was the battle over censorship with the communist party.

Do you have a creative process: is there a certain way that you approach a brief?
Not particularly. Especially these days, I sometimes start thinking about media strategy or new product ideas prior to the creative concept. I have many ways to approach a brief, but one thing I always do is chat with the team and decide what the target audience should feel when they see or touch the work – what their aftertaste is.

Any memorable moments since moving to Manila?
One day, while we were judging at Kidlat in 2019, a strong earthquake struck the whole country. All the judges started panicking, except me, someone used to dealing with earthquakes in Japan. I told them to hide under the desk. After the judging was over we took a commemorative photo with everyone crouched under the desk. That must have been one of the weirdest jury photos ever!

You are joining the Final Jury at AD STARS 2020. What are you most looking forward to?
As you may know, there is no ADFEST, Cannes or Spikes this year. Ad Stars might be the first big advertising awards show in the region. I’m looking forward to seeing really fresh, avant-garde work, especially from the new “Pivot” category for COVID-19 innovations as I want to see the power of professional creativity. I’d love to visit Busan in October if possible. Fingers crossed.

Masako Okamura will judge the Diverse Insights, Outdoor, PSA, Place Brand, Radio & Audio categories at AD STARS 2020. Winners will be announced on 7 September via