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Taking the creative leap of faith: Masako Okamura

Masako Okamura, Dentsu’s first female creative director, flies from Vietnam to the Philippines to become head creative at Aspac

Dentsu’s first female creative director has spread her wings once again and found herself flying from Vietnam to the Philippines. Last July 2017, Masako Okamura became Aspac’s first international executive creative director after the agency joined the Dentsu Aegis Network in Manila.  

Aside from holding the distinction of being Dentsu’s first woman creative director, Masako wears a string of advertising trophies from Cannes, Clio, Spikes Asia, London International Awards, and AdFest.

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A lawyer by training, Masako decided to jump course and become an advertising professional. She made another turn in her career to become a copywriter from her earlier position in Dentsu’s PR department. 

She then made her biggest leap in 2014 to become executive creative director of Dentsu Vietnam after more than a decade of working in Dentsu’s headquarters in Tokyo. 

Masako is now part of the female triad of top lionesses at Aspac, with CEO Susan Dimacali and President and COO Angel Antonio. 

Would-be lawyer becomes sought-after creative

Masako was on her way to becoming a full-fledged lawyer after passing the bar examinations. She skipped the final interview, because she had her heart set on entering the advertising industry. 

Before she made the decision to change career paths, she asked several lawyers what their experience was like in the legal profession. She found that opportunities for women lawyers were limited, because they were almost always asked to handle only divorce cases. 

In contrast, the advertising profession provided more opportunities for women. “When I interviewed with the Dentsu people, (they said) you can do anything,” Masako shared. 

Customers First. “Samurai” ad for Shizuoka Broadcasting

Masako first entered Dentsu as a PR professional before former creative chief and Japanese advertising legend Akira Kagami asked her if she would be interested in being a copywriter. She took the copywriting test and passed. 

Her first breakthrough in the industry was in 1995 for “Water-man”, a TV commercial for the Ad Council in the US and in Japan. The ad was made as an awareness effort for an environmental program promoting clean water. “As the human being is made of 70% water, I made a crystal clear human being,” she recalled. 

The idea came to her when she thought about her swimming lessons in high school. Her coaches used to remind her not to drink water from the pool, because it is dirty in one way or another. On the flip side, they also warned their students against making the water dirty for other swimmers. “You make the water dirty; it comes into your system,” she said. 

Something the Internet Can’t Do. “MEET” ad for Toyota

Making the overseas leap

For most of her professional life, Masako was quite comfortable working in her home country. But after getting opportunities to work on international projects as well as judging work for different award shows abroad, she found that she enjoyed the experience. After eight years of asking for a post overseas, she finally had the opportunity to do so. 

Masako Okamura with her Dentsu Vietnam team

The leap happened after one of Masako’s closest friends died which made her spend time soul searching over her own life and career. It was then that she received a call from Dentsu Aegis Network’s Chief Creative Officer Ted Lim who asked her if she would be interested in heading creative in Vietnam. She took the job. “If she didn’t pass away, I will stay in (Dentsu) Tokyo, because it has great people, good staff, and good work,” Masako shared. 

(READ: A day in the life of Masako Okamura)

During Masako’s stay in Dentsu Vietnam, her leadership earned the agency account wins such as SABECO (Beer 333, Saigon Red), Jetstar, and Vinamilk. Internally, she encouraged the creative team to become more cooperative and collaborative with one another as well as with their clients. 

(READ: Dentsu Inc. creative leader Masako Okamura takes top job at Dentsu Vietnam)

“History of Women’s Empowerment” poster

From Vietnam to the Philippines

After a remarkable stint in Vietnam, Masako went on to the Philippines to take the creative reigns of sister agency Aspac. 

The first day she stepped into the Aspac office was even before her official start date. She was then immediately invited to visit a production shoot. Her immediate reaction was a surprise over how professional and collaborative the agency team was among themselves, with the production team, and with the client. 

The experience made her even more curious and excited to work in the advertising industry in the Philippines. 

“I went here (to the Philippines), because it’s competitive. I was curious as to what is going on in Asian countries, and the Philippines is one of the most competitive,” she shared. 

In an earlier statement, she said, “Manila is a hotbed for world-class creative talent. I see greater creative freedom and opportunities in this country to compete globally. Aspac is a battleship run by smart, equally driven talented people who also know how to have fun. I feel humbled but at the same time, excited to make this move. Looking forward to joining the energetic team and making something maverick happen.”

For now, Masako is studying her new environment, agency dynamics, market characteristics, and the industry landscape. She aims to make ASPAC as one of the country’s top agencies in the next two years. 

The creative of the future

A creative who has developed more than one skill will be valuable in the future, according to Masako. But more importantly, she said, a creative must also be a professional. There must be discipline in his/her work. 

She emphasized getting to know technology developments, but most of all, to still have storytelling at the heart of the creative process. “We have to know the kind of technology (coming out). We have to know, to master the storytelling. Only the professional can do that,” she said. 

Masako outside agency life

Many creatives find other outlets, interests, and hobbies outside of their agency day jobs. For Masako, it’s studying, understanding, tasting, and of course, drinking sake as a “sake sommelier”. “I’m here to promote sake to the Filipino people,” she exclaimed. As sake sommelier, she has produced charity events for sake breweries hit by disasters. 

Masako is a sake sommelier

She also continues to swim today coming from her training back when she was still in school. When she’s not in the water or tasting sake, she’s watching and following her beloved Chelsea Football Club.

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