Terence Oliver – Pioneer of Japan’s “brand” business

Contributed by Ayako Fuse

I once heard a certain scholar say, “Japanese think thought is something that comes from beyond the sea.”  A “brand” is also just something from across the sea.  Earlier this month, Terence Oliver, the chairman of Interbrand Japan, resigned from the company where he is credited with spreading and establishing “brand” and “branding” as a business in Japan.    During my time at Interbrand, I was fortunate to work with Mr. Oliver and learned many things from him and the company, some of which I want to share in this entry.

Mr. Oliver started the company more than 30 years ago from Interbrand’s predecessor.  At that time, CI (corporate identity) development was popular, but the word “brand” was unknown to Japanese corporations.
In the beginning, the company’s main business was naming development, as both Interbrand and Interbrand’s predecessor were naming specialists.  When I was at Interbrand, there were mountains of old naming project files, all of which were safely kept and stored.  Mr. Oliver told us that naming files were assets from the company’s beginning and to store them carefully.  At that time, I didn’t completely understand why this was necessary.  I felt that keeping paper files was an old way of doing things and that they should be quickly stored as digital data instead.  Looking back, I think Mr. Oliver might have wanted us to learn that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  During the company’s early days, team members worked extremely hard on brand penetration projects and sales.  Each and every project was what built Interbrand Japan.

At my company orientation I was told, “the most important part of a “brand” is naming.  This is because if the naming changes, the brand takes on a different existence.”  Like a person, a brand’s name isn’t something you can easily change.  We were also told that while copywriting is important to naming, it is also necessary to think about what it should do in order to build a name into something of value.

Today Interbrand is a global, renowned brand consulting company.  I’m sure that things have changed from when I started with the company.  As an Interbrand “graduate,” I have always and will continue to hold onto the knowledge and words I received from Mr. Oliver as I continue to take on branding.

*Note: Interbrand now uses the term verbal identity for naming, etc.


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