This Agency's Crazy Photography Project Helps Its Creatives Break Free of Logic

Hakuhodo wants to make your brain drool

In speaking to creatives at Clio judging this summer, a recurring theme—not surprisingly—was the ongoing specter of data and how a logical, numbers-based approach to advertising continues to erode faith in creative intuition. 

Alex Schill mentioned it in advocating for "crazy-tivity," saying you should throw out the rules of what's "right" and instead just do what's memorable, even if it's illogical. Mark Tutssel, Joanna Monteiro and Denise Rossetto all spoke similarly about the need to remind clients of the power of creativity amid the onslaught of numbers. 

Most fascinating, perhaps, was Masaru Kitakaze's perspective on the matter—and the book of photos he brought with him to back it up. 

Kitakaze, global chief creative officer of Hakuhodo (and a 2018 Clio judge in Digital/Mobile & Social Media), recently launched "Brain Drool," a project in which art directors at the Japanese agency are paired up with photographers from its production company, Hakuhodo Products. They are given a theme they must communicate purely visually, through photos, which are then mounted as an art exhibit. 

For creatives used to expressing themselves logically, usually with copy, it's a challenging exercise—but also a liberating one. Freed of client constraints, they can explore their creative instincts. And while "Brain Drool" produces art, not ads, the process teaches them the power of thinking visually and creatively—which will help them push back against being so logical in the advertising they do make. 

Kitakaze's book showed year two of Brain Drool—photos from 23 creative teams, all exploring aspects of the broad theme of "desire." 

The one series that was a consensus favorite among Kitakaze's fellow judges was "Fried Boys." The art director and photographer behind the series, Katsuhiko Suzuki and Hideyuki Takahashi, were tasked with communicating "desire for food." The hilarious photos show two boys being covered in flour and egg, rolled in breadcrumbs, deep fried and doused in sauce—to their endless giggling delight. 

It's completely illogical—people aren't food—yet the photos are irresistible and an incredibly memorable way of depicting the theme. As Takahashi says on the Brain Drool website: "They look fun and delicious. Their performance contains impulsive energy that stirs up the appetite. Aren't you hungry now?"

Fried Boys

Year one of the project, in 2016, was themed "Voices." "There were no words, no logic, but you could hear the voices from the visual art," Kitakaze tells Muse. But he decided the project needed more of a conceptual hook—indeed, more of a brand. 

Thus, "Brain Drool" was born as the overarching theme for year two—a name that connotes a visceral reaction by a body part more associated with thinking than feeling. 

All advertising, of course, would like to provoke "brain drool" by mesmerizing, getting attention and sticking in your head. But doing so without words or logic can be particularly powerful and have profound effects, Kitakaze says. 

"By showing this kind of visual art to the audience, it could be some new way of communication to make them think about the world's issues and problems," he says. "You not only just feel something from the visual, but it makes your brain feel some problem, some issue, some question—so you can solve something in the world." 

A good example is a series called "Afraid of Human." Art director Toru Ichikura and photographer Tetsuya Tsuji were asked to depict "desire to protect." Their photos appear to address the issue of people attacking each other online—with images of a woman screaming and waving around a smartphone, which has a black, oily substance spilling out of it. 

"People tend to attack others in any sort of ways in these days," says Tsuji. "But if I change my point of view, I might see that the attacker is only trying to protect herself." 

Afraid of Human

Another series, called "Too Much Love," was created to depict "desire to dominate." The photos show body parts disfigured by disturbingly deep hand prints—the marks of a possessive lover. 

"With a slight shift of the heart, love can become control," says photographer Tomoko Shimamura, who made the series with art director Ryoko Nagamatsu. "Maybe the excessive sense of control comes from our adoration of others." 

The photos are as affecting as any traditional domestic violence PSA—indeed, maybe more powerful, as the images speak for themselves. 

Too Much Love

Kitakaze explains "Brain Drool" at further length on the website, explaining how it differs from the advertising process. In creating an ad, he says, the strategy is what must be done, while the creative is what might be done. Finding a good balance—achieving an expected goal through an unexpected message—is what makes a great ad. 

But these days, the "musts" are gaining power over the "mights," he says, throwing advertising's balance off. "Everything has to be based on data and logic," says Kitakaze. "Yet when an idea comes up, we generate it as if 'sensing' it, having nothing to do with logic." 

"Brain Drool" tries to re-establish that balance, or at least help point the way there for the Hakuhodo creatives—though maybe for others, too. Kitakaze would like bring the project around the world, and hopefully inspire similar projects in places like London and New York. "I really believe this concept could save the world, or something like that," he told me at Clio judging. 

Kitakaze and Hakuhodo are now working on year three of "Brain Drool." And if the uncertainty of art can help disrupt the increasingly codified world of marketing, that will be a victory all its own. 

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of Clio Awards.