Hakuhodo DY Holding Hakuhodo Cannes Lions

How a Japanese ad agency built a sustainable business helping expectant mothers


By Charlotte McEleny, Asia Editor

June 16, 2016 | 5 min read

Cannes Lions Health kicks off with a session from Japanese agency Hakuhodo which will explore a project it launched alongside NTT Docomo to help expectant mothers get the right information they need at the right time.

Hakuhodo app

The Drum spoke to Azumi Maruyama, business development at Hakuhodo DY media partners and Haruko Minagawa, touchpoint evangelist for Hakuhodo/Institute of Media Environment about a future where agencies create products that truly impact people's lives.

Tell me a bit about the app. How does it help mothers?

Expecting mothers are anxious and worried and they have a lot of questions. But the mass of information they can collect through the media and various sources cause a lot of confusion. Our app allows doctors to participate and customize the information they send out which means the expecting mothers can receive reliable information in a timely manner from their doctors that they trust. This provides great support and reassurance.

Where did the idea come from? Is it a client product or more something the agency created?

The Japanese government started the “boshi-techo”, a notebook where all health records of a mother and child is kept, in 1948, and the continuous care system has been around for nearly 70 years. There were voices calling for digitization and paperless, but the movement was slow.

When a huge earthquake hit East Japan and a tsunami followed, we thought this a necessary move, and started developing this as an agency. The movement was led by us, an agency, and advertisers and sponsors joined in afterwards.

How much of your work is around creating products and services like this?

I’d say 200 per cent. An agency’s role is to provide solutions to client’s requests. My job within this is to design and facilitate communication and I’m proud to say our team exceeds in this area. We start by actively searching for agendas in our society, then, sometimes partnering with our clients, we not only find the solutions but expand them into sustainable businesses.

Is more of this innovation happening around health than other industries?

Our service is focusing on giving out the most trusted information to the expecting mothers. In this sense of giving out the most “trusted” information, it is relevant to other sicknesses and diseases too. In this sense, the healthcare industry has a higher demand to these initiatives compared to other industries.

What has the impact been?

20 per cent of expecting mothers in Japan are using our service and 12.5 per cent of the obstetrics departments in Japan are participating.

93 per cent of our users say that it has helped relieve them of their worries.

We will also start an alliance service with the Japanese government’s Boshi-techo this year.

What’s the future of the app?

Our service, “Nimpu techo” and the Japanese “Boshi techo” are life saving systems. Japan is ranking the lowest in infant death-rate because of these systems, and we see concrete effect in them. Of course, we would still like to grow our service in Japan, but we are also aiming to spread this system in other countries too, to save lives and create healthier lives for children and expecting mothers, and better our world.

What innovations are exciting you in healthcare aside from the work you have been doing?

I’m aware there are many innovative ideas in healthcare. But I must confess, I believe what we’re doing now is a great innovation. Communication can greatly advance by customization to each individual. For example, customization can make an effective tool for cancer patients. We would start by analyzing every change that occur in the patient’s bodies and break it down to create separate platforms for each stage for each individual person. This will enable them to receive vital information that is personalized and well timed, and also connect to other patients in similar situations where they can share experiences and provide support to one another. We think this is quite innovative.

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