PERSPECTIVE: It's decision time for Dentsu, but will it go with WPP or Bcom3?

Japanese advertising operates in another dimension, somewhere where

the 100-year plan is the norm, clients still embrace the commission

system and agencies can work for multiple clients in the same industry.

So the effect of Dentsu's partial flotation planned for later this month

was always going to be interesting. The question is, what events will be

triggered on the international stage when it goes ahead?

It's indicative of the culture of certainty that colours all Dentsu's

decisions that I can still write "when" in that previous sentence. For

even with the shockwaves of 11 September still reverberating around and

the advertising boom of the past few years coming to a shuddering halt,

one can say that Dentsu's IPO will go ahead. As one of the last big,

privately held blue-chip companies in Japan, it has an unassailable

position with a 24 per cent market share and some 3,000 clients. For

such a company, long-term vision is the only vision and a little global

downturn is a mere blip in a long history of blips and recoveries.

But for a healthy company famed for its stability, Dentsu has been

woefully late in boarding the global bandwagon. Elsewhere in the world

global ad agencies (for better or, usually, worse when it comes to

creative standards) are mirroring client companies by pushing ahead with

mergers and integration. WPP buying Young & Rubicam last year,

Interpublic snaffling True North this year ... such moves were typical

of the past ten years in global advertising where most of the top ten

groups were repeatedly involved in mergers and acquisitions activity. In

that same period Japan's only large-scale merger was between its

number-three agency, Asahi Tsushin, and the number seven, Dai-Ichi


Which isn't to say that Dentsu did not have global ambitions, it just

never managed to transfer its expertise outside Japan. CDP did not match

up to any of the international networks when Dentsu took an initial

stake in it in 1990. Its seven US agency purchases, similarly, remained

imperceptible and were folded into the network of Bcom3 in which Dentsu

purchased an initial stake last year.

And then there's Dentsu Young & Rubicam. Established in 1981, it was

largely unruffled by WPP's takeover of Y&R and, along with Bcom3, it

remains one of the two safe pairs of hands Dentsu can use to place

business in all over the world.

Now, ever mindful that it must protect those 3,000 clients from

marauding global advertising and media networks with a presence in

Japan, Dentsu faces a big decision. Does it use the money from its IPO

to build its relationship with Bcom3? Or does it commit more fully to

the Y&R link and WPP? Funnily enough, as these big decisions in life

often do, it may come down to a question of chemistry between Dentsu's

formidable head, Yutaka Narita, and Bcom3's Roger Haupt or WPP's Sir

Martin Sorrell.


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