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John Jay has an unusual monthly commute: As executive creative director and partner of Wieden + Kennedy, he divides his time between offices in Portland, Ore., Tokyo and Shanghai. Grueling, yes, but mandatory, too, Jay said, because of Asia’s increasing importance in global affairs.

“After 500 years of Western control of the world, the 21st century will see a shift in the balance of power from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” he said, noting that the World Bank projects that by 2020 the seven richest countries in the world will be China, the U.S., Japan, a united Korea, Indonesia, India and Germany.

Using those statistics as a platform, Jay delivered an address that looked at the psychological and cultural drivers in China and Japan — factors that many Western companies fail to take into account when they enter a country, he said.

Jay began with China, noting that by 2014, the Chinese will have “displaced the consumer as the engine of growth in the world economy.” Despite its increasing dominance on the world scene, though, “little is known of what motivates and drives the Chinese consumer,” he said. “Cultural knowledge is critical for building iconic brands, and yet it’s sorely lacking in most managers’ arsenals. Rather, such knowledge requires the managers to develop new skills.”

What’s particularly important to take into account is how quickly consumer attitudes are developing, Jay said, noting that for the first time ever, young people in China now have options and opinions. He likened the rapid pace of change in China to compressing 400 years of Western civilization into 40, adding that there has been a convergence of global taste-makers in the country, bringing with them incredible surges of creativity.

Further complicating matters is that every generation and geographic region in China is different, and the dilemma for marketers is clear: “As I watch my clients coming into the country, the difference between cultural arrogance and cultural ignorance is not that big,” Jay said. “The challenge is to innovate by learning from the world, and competitive advantage in the future will come from discovering, accessing, mobilizing and leveraging knowledge from many locations around the world.”

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s what W+K did when it was deciding how to launch Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign in China. “We came in thinking, ‘This is the powerful Nike brand,'” Jay said. “As we dug deeper, we found out we’re not going to teach these kids anything. They’re already living a life of ‘just do it.'” To that end, W+K “threw out all of the old rules,” combining traditional and non-traditional media. The opening campaign involved online documentaries and an invitation to young Chinese people to send in their own life stories. In just three weeks, the Web site received over 7 million hits and 1,000 story submissions. “In the age of interactive media, customers don’t want to communicate with brands or their spokespeople anymore,” Jay said, “they want to communicate through them.”

During the second half of his speech, Jay focused on Tokyo, where he said that a new beauty attitude is beginning to emerge, one that values inner beauty as much as outer beauty. “Beauty is no longer about youth and specific features, but true beauty lies in the visage,” he quoted from a popular magazine. “What they’re talking about is inner beauty coming through — that how you live your life, the kind of food you eat, the exercise you take, are you happy — all of that is coming through, and you’re judged on more of an inner beauty.”

To that end, a plethora of health and well-being magazines have sprung up in Japan, devoted to the convergence of inner and outer beauty. Magazines are also becoming more interactive, opening salons where cosmetics that have been featured in the pages of a magazine are displayed on a table. Beauty editors, too, are setting up their own salons. One such salon has over 1,000 members, who pay about $19 on their first visit and then an hourly fee. “These young beauty writers are collecting their own audience, building a community, and people trust them,” Jay said.

Jay concluded by urging beauty brands to innovate more in their approach to advertising and cultural communication, giving the audience five big-picture questions to consider:

  • What are the values your brand represents, and how are they coming across?

  • Do you have a voice that is unique and true to your culture? Why do you exist? Why should anyone care?
  • Is there any intimacy in your communications, or is it only scientific? Do you respect the intelligence of your consumers?
  • Are you using the Internet and digital communications to have a dialogue, or is it simply a one-way conversation from your corporate point of view? Are you building a community?
  • Where is the sense of heart in your brand and product communications? Does it come across?