John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter

www.kuraoka.com
(619) 465-6100
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July 18 2014
Collaboration is the hot trend in advertising these days, or perhaps it just seems that way in the media. But here’s a good look at the power of creative collaboration, from Campaign India:
Advertising copywriter blog link

All advertising, good and bad, is collaborative from start to finish. It’s a collaboration between agency and client, between creative and research and media and account services, between art and copy and production. And it’s exciting to integrate new disciplines into the creative process because they give us new tools to work with and new ways of seeing things.

That said, though, there is one danger in collaboration, and that’s diluting the vision.

I’ve found that collaboration works best when everyone shares ideas, and worst when everyone shares the work. Beyond a certain point, for instance, collaboration doesn’t help in writing copy; it either throws up roadblocks and detours or adds too many voices.

Maintaining focus used to be the province of the creative director. But now, as cross-disciplinary teams get larger and more diverse, I think it’s best to delegate downward: keeping an eye on the ball is everyone’s job. That gets the most out of both the collaboration and the individuals within it.
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July 16 2014
A recent study shows that storytelling across sequential ads beats multiple direct call-to-action ads on Facebook. Here’s the story, with a link to the full report, from Marketing Land (Redding, CT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This isn’t a new phenomenon, although it may seem so because it’s being applied to a newer medium by researchers who either don’t know or don’t remember old-school direct-response packages. But look at all the most-effective traditional direct-response ads. Were they one-shot messages with a call to action? Sequential calls to action? No; most were long-copy direct mail packages, often containing three or more elements including an interactive piece such as a scratch-off card, a choice of bonuses, or a questionnaire. In print advertising, again long copy ruled. Direct response print ads occupied a full page at least, if not a spread. And direct-response TV commercials took 60, 90, or 120 seconds or longer.

It takes time to build a case for action. You must call to mind the problem, pick the scabs, expose the problems of inaction. You must establish credibility. Only when all that has been done can you offer your solution with a fair chance of converting exposures to sales.

Updating the actual traditional direct response model to online media gives you something a lot more like a sales funnel than a so-called “performance ad.” In fact, the old-school model goes far beyond that, integrating many more pieces including layered ads, interactive experiences, email follow-ups, and multiple websites.

As for what the study calls traditional “performance ads,” they have more in common with billboards than direct response. Presumably, they rely on big data to deliver relevant messages. But big data is no substitute for persuasive ad copy.

I’ve said for years that banner ads are usually misused as direct-response vehicles, regardless of the channel on which they are deployed. And the main creative reason they fail is simple: they ask for the sale before they’ve done any selling.
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July 15 2014
The war in the Middle East is also being waged on social media. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

That military forces are deploying current propaganda tools in sophisticated ways should come as no surprise. Likewise, that both sides are trying to reach both internal and external audiences. That tactics are swiftly countered, both directly and indirectly. And, that both sides actively target journalists for maximum spin (a powerful aspect of social media that is overlooked by many corporate players).

What struck me, though, was the relative lightness of messaging. In an advertising category in which audiences expect – and are, perhaps, somewhat inured to – dramatic, gritty realism, both sides use cartoons, humor, interactivity, and snark to attract, intrigue, and persuade.
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July 14 2014
Top brands lists seem to be the thing to put together on a slow news day. Here are two. The first, from Business Insider (India), looks at top US brands and the second, from The Drum (UK), examines top UK brands:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

With lists like these, it’s important to look at the metrics, including who was surveyed and what they were asked. In the case of the “most-respected US brands” list, the survey group consisted of 10,000 executives at fairly large companies. They were asked to rate a list of 500 brands by familiarity and “favorability,” which was defined as management capabilities, investment potential, and “overall reputation,” whatever that means to executives. Not noted, is how many of those surveyed actually completed the survey.

At any rate, it’s no surprise that the top ten were mostly massive consumer brands: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Harley-Davidson, IBM, Apple, Kellogg’s, and General Electric.

The second list, about brand storytelling, is smaller but more interesting. To compile it, 2,000 actual shoppers were surveyed about what brands they thought were the most authentic (whatever that means any more) and believable, and which brands they were most-likely to talk about with other people. That list’s top five were Apple, Cadbury, McDonald’s, Ikea, and Walkers. Virgin Media and YouTube also made the top ten, supplanting longtime consumer brands Heinz and Kellogg’s.

No brand made both lists’ top five. The only brand to make both lists’ top ten was Apple, which, along with Google, is consistently mooted as one of the world’s “most-valuable” brands. Google, by the way, was notably absent from either top ten list.

These are fun, but it’s easy to get deceived into thinking they’re important. I think the only real way to rate a brand, is by category market share relative to its competitors. Except in cases of emerging and very young categories, for the most part all branded consumer goods are adequate. They all do the job pretty well, and functional differences between competing goods are incremental at best. Which is why differences in sales can be largely put down to the attraction of the brand.
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July 11 2014
It’s easy to be creative when you have a cool consumer product to advertise. It’s harder when you're advertising something ordinary. Or is it? Here’s a look at the basics of using creativity as a lever to elevate one “low-involvement” product above the rest, from Business World (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I go back to the admonition that there are no boring products, only boring ads. Terrific, clutter-busting work has been done for prosaic products like glues, tape, and paint, and also for everyday stuff like milk, insurance, and transit safety.

I question the concept of high-involvement vs low-involvement products. There’s nothing innately low-involvement about water heaters or switch gears, for instance. The moment you need them they become high-involvement products.

That said, whether a product is classified as high-involvement or low-involvement, I don’t think the key is differentiation. The key is always catching attention. If you can grab attention and differentiate your product simultaneously, that’s optimal. But unless you get a person’s attention, you have no chance to differentiate, substantiate, or elaborate. The opportunity is lost.

I also think it’s a common mistake to focus entirely on B2C advertising when it comes to selling “low-involvement” consumer goods. If I were marketing a new kind of electronic cabling, for instance, my initial move probably wouldn’t be consumer advertising. I’d market to the electronics trade and retailers first, backed by consumer-focused packaging and point-of-sale materials. I might not advertise to consumers until I got a whiff that competition was brewing, although ideally I’d launch the consumer campaign just before competition stirred, the better to stomp it down and kill it.

Even in B2B, though, the goal is to set your product apart. And the best, most cost-effective way to do that across all media channels, including social, is through better creative.
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July 10 2014
Just a quickie to point out this article from yesterday on naming brands, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve done naming for brands, products, and services, although nothing yet on the scale of Placek’s firm. But I wouldn’t call naming a “dark art.” Like any other creative project, it begins with a strategic brief. And then it goes into a free-association, quality-through-quantity thing before doing a quick sort and sift through existing trademarks. From there, it’s simple marketing: looking for something catchy, memorable, different, and relevantly evocative.

Just like concepting an ad headline.
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July 9 2014
Here’s an interesting article exploring obstacles to agile advertising, from iMedia Connection:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I totally agree that agility is a key differentiator in today’s instant-up-always-on media environment. A brand’s ability to respond to events in real time is a fantastic and powerful creative opportunity. (As an example, look at all the brand tweets for the 2014 World Cup, in which today’s Germany win over host nation Brazil was the single most-tweeted topic ever, easily surpassing the Super Bowl.)

But, blaming “process and risk aversion” may be blaming symptoms for the disease. I think the real reason brands don’t take advantage of advertising and marketing opportunities as nimbly as they should, is a lack of trust.

But even that could be a symptom. As marketing and advertising tasks get more and more fragmented, serviced by a growing army of siloed specialists, what often gets lost is the One Brand Voice. There’s no single agency tasked with managing the whole spectrum of marketing communications.

That not only makes it hard to build the kind of deep, broad relationship that is the very foundation of trust, but, worse, it can put the various arms at odds with each other. The result: a brilliant agile advertising idea executed in one channel may have difficulty getting the coordinated, overarching support that could drive it over the top. It may even be sabotaged by those with competing interests.

I have ideas about how one might approach the problem, but I don’t have answers. Different situations require different solutions. But I believe the ad industry will work its way toward increased agility.

In the meantime, though, the whole marketing environment favors strategically focused, tactically agile opportunists like me. It’s a great time to be in advertising!
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July 8 2014
I think the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) is one of the greatest things that the Internet has wrought. The ability to audit the offerings of some of the world’s top universities from anywhere with an internet connection is simply revolutionary. Here are a few top professional development courses, from Coursera via Business Insider (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

These look interesting. I may sign up for one or two (or three or four).

One benefit to professional development is that it can also lead to personal growth. But I’m partial to the opposite approach: taking MOOCs about diversionary interests and, somewhat unexpectedly, discovering ways they relate to what I do for a living.

For instance, literature classes teach good copywriting, should the learner care to notice. History classes offer lessons in strategy for those wanting to conquer market share and expand their spheres of influence. Science classes show how to demonstrate or prove a point, and how to be methodical in one’s quest for discovery.

I’ve been participating in a few course offerings on Future Learn, which is a UK-based project of the Open University in collaboration with other colleges and universities. Sadly, I’ve completed but a few of the courses I started – I seem to be greedy about wanting to learn all kinds of things. But even the classes I had to let slide I thoroughly enjoyed until life got in the way of even a few-hours-per-week commitment.

Also, there’s a lot to learn from the way the MOOC works. It’s fascinating to get an worm’s-eye view of a guided online group collaborative experience. This is social media put to measurable, task-oriented work, and some approaches seem to resonate better than others. Experiencing the process from within is valuable by itself. After all, advertising is in many ways customer education. So it’s all good, useful stuff.
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July 7 2014
A mobile payment app is re-branding after it finds itself sharing a brand with religious militants. Here’s the story, from NBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While I agree that the rise of an identically named militant group is unfortunate and unforeseeable, I also think this whole thing falls into the category of turning lemons into lemonade. Most people obviously had no idea there was a wallet app out there named Isis. Now, thanks to news stories like this one, they do, and it’s a hook that will culminate in the unveiling – with full press coverage – of a spiffy new brand.

Lemons, as I said, into lemonade.

As another example of this trend in action, look at GM. In the news daily with coverage of its expanding recalls, yet also setting sales records. Far from being negative commodities, automotive recalls have become valuable consumer touchpoints and surefire ways to attract current owners back into the dealerships.

In branding as in life, it pays to look on the bright side.

As a side note, I think it’s funny – and telling – that even in tweets about Isis the mobile payment app, the militant version of the brand, ISIS, dominates.
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July 3 2014
Since his latest book launch, John Hegarty seems to be everywhere. But he’s always worth listening to. Here he sounds off on what he sees as the lack of big ideas in today’s advertising efforts, in The Drum (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I agree that advertising has gotten very metric-happy of late. But that’s because we have all these great new ways to measure things. Had these tools been available 20 or 40 or 100 years ago, advertising practitioners would have used them. For the moment, metrics are the shiny new object grabbing everyone’s attention.

On top of that, we have media channels that didn’t exist just a few years ago. One would have to be a fool – or comfortably removed from the trenches – not to seize them with both hands, if only to experiment with their possibilities.

But I don’t agree that those things lead to a lack of big ideas in advertising. In fact, I think in many cases ideas have gotten bigger. They extend over more media channels in more ways, delivering more cumulative impact than before, in more-individual ways than before.

If Hegarty has, as he says, sat in meetings in which he’s had to suggest improving the product as a means of improving market share, then I wonder if maybe his agency has grown too big to handle the kinds of accounts in which real innovation is taking place. It seems that, in many industries, there’s something of a size limit on game-changing reinvention. Google and Apple may be exceptions, or not, as both have a recent history of acquiring and absorbing small, innovative ventures.

As companies and industries grow, they become increasingly invested in the status quo. Smarter people than I have noted that that’s why, after more than a century of automotive development, most of us are still driving around on four wheels, on public roads, burning fossil fuels in our internal combustion engines and using friction-based braking systems. But I digress.

Here’s what I think happened. Audiences changed. They’re more distracted and fragmented, and at the same time easier to distract and target as fragments.

Which really raises the question: what is a big idea? In the old days, it was a concept that appeared in mass media and affected people en masse in a sweeping, general way. That approach still exists, of course. But nowadays, a big idea could also be one that reaches a single individual, and connects in a very deep, intimate way to evoke a specific, measurable action.

Such big ideas often operate under the radar, especially to those outside the immediate target. Today’s big ideas may not make as big a splash about pushing the brand towards people. Instead, they quietly attract people to brands. That’s what advertising is all about. And that’s why I think the big idea remains alive and well.
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July 2 2014
After the U.S. men’s national soccer team was eliminated from World Cup contention by Belgium, many brands took to Twitter to capitalize on popular sentiment. Here’s the story, from Business Insider (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First off, it’s great to see so much positivity in marketing. Most everyone wisely kept their snark hats off, and if they couldn’t think of something clever to say they at least stuck with nice.

That said, some of these are clever tweets. But the really clever bit has gone uncommented: that many of these brands have neatly associated themselves with the U.S. national team despite not being official sponsors. In other words, yes, they have effectively hijacked the World Cup brand, with the apparent complicity of all involved.

One really good tweet, or, better, series of tweets, can garner the same consumer-level attention that an official sponsorship might receive. But here’s the rub: the tweets have to be good. They have to be authentic and contagious. And that’s where skillful copywriting comes in.

For instance, of the examples shown, the Bounty and Baskin-Robbins tweets come off as a little too self-serving, a bit too contrived; one senses the hand of the copywriter behind them. Denny’s is authentic, but it’s not really retweetable. But Miller Lite’s tweet has both authenticity and passalongability.

I’d anticipate more of the same thing during the Olympic Games in Rio a couple years. Only the creative bar will be higher. And, given the IOC’s traditionally hard-line stance on ambush and bootleg marketing, it’ll be interesting to see what the official response will be, if any, to non-sponsor companies creating commercial tie-ins via Twitter.
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June 30 2014
Here’s a happy little story about how Hindi has made English its own, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of the Hindi creations, I especially like miss call and back and jack, the latter of which has an Anglo-Saxon rap that just feels like urban corruption.

The English language has absorbed many influences and cultural perspectives over its lifetime. And, it has evolved geographically to the extent that American English and British English are distinct languages, each with grammatical rules and usages that require separate modules in most text-to-speech and speech-to-text devices.

Japanese English, especially in advertising and commercial design, strikes me as a separate creation that transcends mere written or verbal communication. I suspect that the English words and phrases are used as much for their sound and graphic design as their meaning.

So I think it’s cool to see that English is alive and evolving in India. After all, India gave us wonderfully evocative words that, despite their many syllables, trip lightly off the tongue: veranda, calico, avatar, juggernaut, and – one of my personal favorites – hullaballoo. It’s only right that we should return the favor.
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June 27 2014
Volkswagen in China is being accused of plagiarizing an ad, or at least its “mechanics.” Here’s the story, from The Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One is a movie theater ad that tied in a localized transmitter to trigger people’s mobile phones. The second is a web-based system in which people are directed to download and watch a video, which uses submitted data to trigger their mobile phones.

In both cases, the unsuspecting viewer/s start out watching a POV video of driving a car and, upon being distracted by their phones at a specific moment, look up to see a horrific road accident.

It’s a great idea, and a smart use of technology to break that fourth wall and really drive the message home. But plagiarism? I’m just an advertising copywriter with no law training, but I’m doubtful you can copyright the idea of interrupting an ad with a phone call. There are differences in medium and delivery methodology and even the type of accident that occurs.

The VW ad may even help raise the profile of the earlier advertising system, especially as a ready-to-go, licensable technology.

I think a lot of times an idea is seeding the air, finding fertile ground in many places and growing into similar ads and campaigns for different products in different categories. See April 16 2014 for an occurrence from my own career.

However, in this case five years separated executions. Also, and significantly, the people making the infringement allegation have more skin in the game than an ad concept. They invested in and developed the technology to deliver the key element of that concept. That’s what makes the whole thing so confounding: technological advances have made individual experiences deliverable on a mass scale (and vice versa) pretty much across the board. Furthermore, as more people live on their mobile devices, it’s already possible to bypass the media middleman entirely, delivering the entire advertising experience direct-to-mobile.

Plagiarism? It doesn’t feel like it to me. But it is an interesting story about how an advertising concept can jump from one technological medium to another with minimal change in the viewer experience.
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June 26 2014
Here’s an in-depth look at the ad agency-client relationship, complete with infographics, via Co.Create (from Fast Company):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s a lot of talk about building trust. But I think some of this research approaches the issue from the symptom side instead of from the relationship side, which is the same brand of thinking that leads to tired old axioms such as “you start losing the account the day you win it.”

I think it’s a huge leap of faith for a client to commit to an advertising agency (or, ahem, a freelance team) in the first place. Something clicked. That initial deal isn’t the beginning of trust; it is trust. And it’s risky for both parties, each in different but highly valued ways.

I don’t think it’s important for an ad agency to understand everything about the client’s business, and I doubt most clients think it’s important either. What we’re hired for, is our expertise in advertising. (And, incidentally, what makes that expertise effective is understanding not the client’s business but the client’s sales process and customers.)

That’s why collaboration is essential from the get-go. What the two parties bring to the table are different knowledge and skill sets. That’s not a problem, that’s the very foundation of doing great things together.

Doing great things, increasing market share, building a brand, lowering the cost of sales – that’s what a good partnership can achieve. Jerry Della Femina said advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And, like that popular activity people engage in with their clothes off, it’s infinitely better with a partner. That’s the naked truth.
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June 24 2014
Native advertising is rapidly becoming just another name for product placement. And, in an increasingly “ad-free” TV environment, injecting brands into program content has never been hotter. Here’s the story, from The Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Everything old is new again, again. (See, for instance, my Ad Blog entry from 11 years ago, March 13 2003 – scroll down to the date – in which this same issue arises.)

Sometimes it seems we’re back in the 1960s with “The F.B.I.,” in which every car was a late-model Ford product, a sponsorship prominently disclosed in the closing credits.

But 40 years before that was the radio daytime serial, broadcast content created by advertisers and designed to sell stuff. And, although scripts, roles, and even actors were rigorously screened for morality (or what passed for it then), there weren’t nearly as many scruples as today about disclosure or the nature of promotions and giveaways.

There’s much to be gained from a study of that seedy past because many of the underlying techniques remain relevant. I highly recommend James Thurber’s readable, anecdote-packed, five-part study “Soapland,” based on a year-long journalistic dive into the world of radio soap operas. It’s collected in The Beast in Me and Other Animals and maybe other volumes. Here’s a snip outlining the basic serial formula:

A soap opera is a kind of sandwich, whose recipe is simple enough, although it took years to compound. Between thick slices of advertising, spread twelve minutes of dialogue, add predicament, villainy, and female suffering in equal measure, throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce, and serve five times a week.

Nowadays the music is indie and the announcer is either absent or replaced by a character/POV narrator who fulfills a similar function. The biggest changes are duration and frequency.

Someone will be the first to run a nationally viral native+social promotion using TV programming, and it’ll be big news. But the radio soaps did it long ago, and even offer a blueprint for how to make it work. Let the race begin!
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June 23 2014
Here’s yet another story about how social media fails to live up to the hype as a marketing tool, this time from the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What this means is that those outside marketing may at last be evolving a more nuanced view of the role social media plays inside marketing. I’m sure there was a time when business columns said TV was the killer medium; it turned out to be just one more tool in the toolbox. Just like social media.

That said, though, the transformative power of social media to engage customers one-on-one continues to be overlooked in the attempt to make it do the work of a traditional mass medium. That’s what led to the race for fans, likes, followers, and ad exposures on Facebook and Twitter – digital metrics that are futile unless they represent genuine human interactions.

That kind of thinking is what leads in turn to things like Gallup poll results in which nearly 2/3 of adults say that social media has little or no influence over their purchasing decisions. Well, there’s an increasing disconnect between what people say and what they do, a disconnect that’s growing commensurate with concerns over privacy. In other words, yes, out of those 18,525 U.S. adults surveyed between December 12, 2012 and January 22, 2013 (a period that is (a) ages ago and (b) covers the consumer frenzy that is the holiday season, but no one seems to be pointing out that either makes a difference), I say a lot of them are lying.

Or, rather, some of them are lying. Some are telling the truth. And most are simply not self-aware enough to recognize the role social media plays in their lives.

No one wants to admit he or she can be manipulated by advertising. But social marketing has never been about advertising. It’s about presence, and that’s what social media delivers in a big way; a way with such sheer volume that it’s easy to overlook the frequency, the harmony, the individual interactions that make the whole thing work.

And that leads us back to the key question to ask about social media consumption: how is it used? And it’s notable (but, again, skewed by the holiday season) that 94% used social media to connect with friends and family. That’s a huge amount of influence on tap right there. Nearly 30% used it to follow trends and find product reviews and information – activities intimately connected with purchasing decisions. And fully 20% used it to actively engage in the social media ecosystem by contributing comments or reviews.

All of which, contrary to the WSJ headline, points to a lively, healthy, growing social media marketing environment. For those marketers savvy enough to understand how it works.
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June 20 2014
After stirring up a social media uproar, Ikea has cautiously climbed down from its cease-and-desist order on IkeaHackers.net, although it’s not yet saying it’ll change direction entirely. Here’s the story, from Core77.com:
Advertising copywriter blog link

All Ikea did is open a dialog, which should’ve been the first step anyways. So what’s really going on here is a correction, with management getting involved and temporarily restraining the legal hounds protecting its brand.

My initial thought (see Monday’s Ad Blog entry) was that Ikea had prepared its own branded social media program to take over the turf from which IkeaHackers was forced. But now it seems there was no such conniving behind the move. Indeed, the whole kerfluffle may turn out to be simply a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing, a fairly common event in large enterprises.

Mind you, the fate of IkeaHackers is still up in the air. But without a program of its own in the wings and the budget to maintain it, I think it’s in Ikea’s best interests to to extract itself gracefully and set the whole shebang free. Especially now that some of its most-ardent fans are watching.

Ikea could, as some suggested, align itself closer with the IkeaHackers community. But I think the brand and the community are already aligned as closely as they can be without polluting the community. Draw closer, and the fan community will be suspected of acting as a corporate cat’s-paw. Plus, in this case it strikes me that a close relationship could raise liability issues should someone be injured from a poorly modified product. The wiser decision – for the health of the community and the brand – is to unwind the last week and back off completely.
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June 19 2014
I love awesome outdoor boards. Here’s a handful of brilliant ones from around the world, compiled by Business Insider (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Outdoor represents the most-condensed distillation of a brand’s ethos. Plus, many outdoor media opportunities are located right in among the people. So a creative team can really reach out and engage its audience on a tangible, physical level.

Some of these concepts would’ve been impossible to execute just a few years ago, like the British Airways board and Pepsi Max bus shelter, which almost invisibly integrate some pretty advanced technology to deliver a viscerally engaging experience. Others are low-tech but powerful ideas, like the Kit Kat bench and the biodegradable Prius “billboard.”

I think these are all cool. Many seem like they could be good smaller posters as well, or even reimagined in some other medium. But some – the best, really – could only be executed in outdoor.
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June 18 2014
The Washington Redskins football team may have to come up with a new name. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, under mounting pressure from Native American groups and others, cancelled the Redskins’ trademark, pending appeal. Here’s the story, from The Washington Post (DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What wasn’t negative in 1932 or even 1962 is negative today. Many brands, faced with the same problem, have rebranded under new names. Philip-Morris found its name too closely aligned with tobacco products to support diversified growth, so it became Altria. Kentucky Fried Chicken determined that “fried” was a negative to today’s health-conscious consumer, so it rebranded as KFC.

Sometimes, what’s deemed offensive about a brand name has nothing to do with the name’s origin. A popular casual restaurant chain called Sambo’s was in fact named by combining the names of its founders. But in the 1960s it started featuring illustrations from the old children’s story “Little Black Sambo” in its menus and décor, and that connection proved to be its undoing. While the plot of Little Black Sambo wasn’t racist – it’s about a child who outsmarts a gang of tigers – the names of the characters and the original illustrations definitely evoke the Colonial plantation stereotype. By the late 70s, the restaurant chain was in retreat, under fire by communities and civil rights groups. By the mid-80s it had vanished, a victim, at least in part, of its own promotional tie-in.

The Redskins should’ve rebranded a while ago. Instead, anxious to protect a proven revenue stream from merchandising, it opted to fight on the wrong side of history. I think this shows little faith in the merchandising machine, which will keep pumping out dollars no matter what the team name is or when it’s changed.
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June 16 2014
In protecting its brand Ikea may have made a rare social media gaffe. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s active protection of one’s trademark and over-active over-protection of one’s trademark. This feels like it falls into the latter category. Forcing down a fansite really kills the love.

Does it matter to Ikea? Probably not; the brand is so big it can afford to alienate a significant social media audience in order to clear the ground for its own social media maneuvers. This is where the virtual power of influencers meets real life, and eventually real life always wins.

But spare a thought for Ikea and its ilk. Brand owners have always had to balance competing urges. On the one hand, they want the sway that can come only from sources outside their corporate walls. On the other hand, they want to own their own influencers, the better to control the messages. That’s not an easy task.
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May 30 2014
Here’s a collection of allegedly banned movie posters, courtesy of The Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Posters and billboards are an advertising copywriter’s greatest challenge. They demand overwhelmingly strong visuals that instantaneously provide context and clear communication. And, in the case of a movie, there’s often no brand to leverage – it’s all new.

Movie posters must attract, intrigue, and persuade, all with just the movie title, concept, and sometimes a short line of copy. That’s why they’re such great sources of creative inspiration. And, as for these particular posters being banned, well, they each push the limits of acceptability in different ways. But that doesn’t keep them from being very useful as idea fodder.

Of the jump galleries, the Christie’s rare film posters, history of the Tube posters, and Amnesty International posters are each worth a look.
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May 27 2014
Can a brand be too successful for its own good? Absolutely. This article from BBC News looks at the ongoing challenge of protecting the trademarks of popular brands:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think it’s worth noting that as the original brand declines in marketplace power, so too does the use of the brand as a verb. For example, take Xerox. Once it was common, if wrong, to call photocopying a document “Xeroxing.” That was when the brand was at the peak of its power in the market. Now, though, it’s far more common to say “copying.” It’s no coincidence that Xerox market share has plummeted, and there are far more office copiers made by Canon, Sharp, Ricoh, Konica/Minolta, and even Panasonic and Brother than by Xerox.

Today, most people wouldn’t know what a “Radarange” is. It’s appliance maker Amana’s branded line of microwave ovens, and when microwave ovens were still something of a novelty there was the risk of Radarange becoming the generic term. Amana took to advertising “If it isn’t an Amana, it isn’t a Radarange,” just to make things clear. But within a few years, Amana’s line of well-built, expensive microwave ovens was overwhelmed in the market by cheaper imports with more bells and whistles, which in turn fueled even further popularity. Now the microwave oven is a fixture on most household kitchen countertops. And the term “microwave oven” has been generically shortened to “microwave.”

This decline is much more-likely with tech or tech-based products, where change happens quickly and there's always the risk of new competitors emerging along entirely different lines. (For example, in document copying and distribution, consider cloud storage as an emerging threat.)

Being so popular that you have to defend your trademark against being used generically is what I’d call a positive problem. The bigger challenge at that point, is to keep inventing ways to keep the brand relevant and connected.
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May 26 2014
Following up on Saturday’s comment about rebranding contributing to an organization’s demise, here’s a look at some major rebranding failures over the years, from DealNews:
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Most of these were caused by middle-aged executives trying to look young and hip, and they come off like a poorly fit toupee.

In Tropicana’s case, the marketing team deliberately walked away from decades of visual equity for no good reason. I understand the desire for a sleeker package face, and I love the cap/leaf interaction and the way the line “squeezed from fresh oranges” sits at the top of the carton. But I still don't understand how a savvy branding firm could have recommended dumping the orange and straw, or gone along with that direction without a fight.

As for New Coke, that wasn’t a rebrand. That was a product reboot. In retrospect it might have made more sense to extend the brand rather than replace the flagship product, and for that matter that’s how similar marketing objectives have been achieved since then (think, for instance, of all the Tide brand extensions). But back in the early 1980s there was just Coke, and even launching Diet Coke in 1982 was a big deal in terms of the brand. After all, Coca-Cola already had Tab, the company’s best-selling diet cola.

There are two issues with brand extension. First, it can be a cautious, risk-averse approach to innovation, and real innovation both demands risk and deserves its own identity. Second, a brand can get over-extended, and it’s hard to know in the moment, especially from inside the brand itself, how far it can stretch before it either snaps or becomes too diluted to have any meaning.

Anyway, a fun retrospective on some interesting cases in branding.
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May 24 2014
A weekend post to lament the closing of a unique local concert venue that social media and email blasts failed to save. Here’s the story of AMSDConcerts, from today’e San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Word-of-mouth failed to ignite largely because there was no marketing aimed at generating the necessary buzz. See, all those stories you read about enterprises booming without spending a dime on marketing thanks to web-based media? In almost every case, the company succeeded by substituting time for money, investing heavily in its social media presence and tying in its brand and benefits.

Emailing customers is just preaching to the choir. You have to reach beyond your existing audience if you want to grow a sustainable business.

The rebranding also didn’t help. The original name, Acoustic Music San Diego, was at least clear communication, something that can't be said of AMSDConcerts. That kind of thing works, if it does, only after a company achieves success and notoriety.

Finally, AMSDConcerts faced a challenge precisely because it was unique. There wasn’t anything to label it as, except esoteric. And, contrary to their own beliefs, people don’t really want to participate in an esoteric singularity. They want to be part of a crowd. That’s what branding – and social media – are all about.
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May 23 2014
A college professor may have proven a theory about how to be impressive. The key, he says, is enthusiasm. Here’s the story, from Barking Up The Wrong Tree via Time magazine:
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When identical course content was presented with greater enthusiasm, student evaluations shot up. Even in areas that should be completely unrelated to presentation energy, such as the perceived organization and knowledge of the presenter, the amount students thought they learned in the class, and even the quality of the textbook.

This is why enthusiasm, typically in the form of humor, is so effective in advertising. Not only does it make the message itself more accessible, but it also makes the content more impressive, more memorable. And, there’s another bonus for advertising: enthusiasm is contagious.

Isn’t that great?
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May 22 2014
Uh-oh, here’s an article touting insomnia and all-nighters as a prod to musical creativity, from The Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s worth noting that none of the projects in the article were done to a brief or with any kind of commercial intent. They were sidelines, purely personal projects that, once finished, were duly sent forth into the world with little or no regard for actual sales.

Creating advertising, though, requires more mindful focus than that.

While we’ve all slogged through an occasional all-nighter to get something done, in my experience very little truly creative happens after, oh, about 2 am. By that hour, things have gotten either hysterical, scatterbrained, or, best-case scenario, past the point of creative decision and into actually cranking through production. In which case everyone’s retreated into their own corners to do their work.

I used to be a night owl. But when my kids were born, I became a morning person because one of us had to and I was the natural choice since I wasn’t totally sleep-deprived from night feedings. I now love early mornings for concepting. Often I find that my best ideas of the day emerged in a dim pre-dawn glow, while the rest of the house slept on. But I still prefer to write later in the day.

Different times for different tasks.
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May 21 2014
Psychological studies reveal the best way to make people change their minds. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising people, and especially ad copywriters, are all about getting people to change their minds: switching from one brand to another, changing perceptions, and influencing influencers.

But ad copy, when it tries to put forth an argument, tends to be laden with answers and reasons. However, the research shows once you activate a mindset based on reasons, people tend to close their minds, maintaining previously held opinions. Also, the research reveals a much more-powerful persuasive tool than telling reasons: asking people how their beliefs would work, step by step, to cause a desired outcome. It’s the power of implications, the “and then what happens?” argumentative structure.

I’m reminded strongly of SPIN Selling, a sales technique based on research into tens of thousands of direct sales calls and polished to a high gloss by Neil Rackham. As I recall (and a quick online search confirmed), the SPIN Selling process flows through four distinct question phases: Situational questions, Problem questions, Implication questions, and Need/Payoff questions.

One common error is jumping in with a solution right after hearing a problem, instead of coaxing out the implications and consequences of the problem and discovering what the customer would actually value in a solution. The other common error is immediately basing entire creative strategies on outrageous implications a la If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, again without learning what customers actually want in a solution.

All of which leads back to the idea of persuasion and how to more-efficiently coax potential customers into switching to your product or trying your service. I believe persuasive power is rooted in empathy. And empathy, or as near an approximation to it as possible, stems from questions.

As James Thurber said in Fables for Our Time: “It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all of the answers.”
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May 19 2014
Words, words, words. Tools of the trade for advertising copywriters. Here are three articles about new words, old slang words, and verboten words from, respectively, Time, BBC News Magazine, and CNN Money:
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Advertising copywriter blog link
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Merriam-Webster is adding 150 new words and definitions to the collegiate dictionary it’ll publish later this year. I always think this is a lottery, in that if a word is hot during the year or two prior to the publication of a new dictionary it may get in; if it’s hot in the years between editions it has no chance and will soon be forgotten. As many of this year’s selection of words will be. In particular, turducken probably got resurrected thanks to its inclusion, and hashtag already has the feel of yesterday’s social media environment.

If keeping track of new words and meanings is hard, doing so for slang is even harder. After all, slang is meant to be incomprehensible to outsiders; by the time a word catches the ear of linguistic hunters and gatherers it’s almost always spread beyond its source community, where it already may have been replaced. Dictionaries of slang (and I have a couple) are like histories of fashion and advertising award books: terrific sources of inspiration, but hardly canonical.

Onto the banned words and phrases article: advertising copywriters get accused of using weasely language all the time, but we’ve apparently got nothing on frightened auto executives. Replacing “safety” with “potential safety implications” is open to easy shots. But a closer read reveals a rise in an offhand writing tone that needed correction in corporate documents, especially those relating to serious problems and solutions.

Thanks to social media it seems everyone favors a world-weary, snarky writing voice. But it really is more satisfying to the writer than useful to anyone else to fire off a memo calling something “Corvair-like.” That’s getting into the area of slang, more obscuring than revealing. And, while the Corvair was, rightly or wrongly, the vehicular icon of corporate malfeasance in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it lacks impact today when there are more recent and arguably juicier examples to be had.

Like merged poultry, flip references to Corvair sound fresher than they are.
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May 16 2014
Has DeBeers advertising really convinced people to spend one to two months’ salary on a diamond engagement ring? Worldwide it appears so, according to this story from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

With “A Diamond is Forever,” consistency, and the salary formula, DeBeers pulled off the best marketing campaign ever, taking a non-scarce industrial commodity and turning it into personal decoration and a direct declaration of personal worth.

It’s apparent by the national averages that most young men heed the advertising and do indeed spend one month’s (UK), two months’ (US), or three months’ (Japan) salary on a diamond engagement ring. But the genius part of the campaign lies in the acceptance as fact that they will spend that money on a diamond ring.

Because I only fairly recently read Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when I think of diamonds lately what comes to mind is what Holly Golightly says: “... it’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty; and even that’s risky. They only look right on the really old girls. Maria Ouspenskaya. Wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds: I can’t wait.”

It seems almost sacrilegious, doesn’t it? And definitely not the image of fresh-faced romance that DeBeers has in mind. Maybe that’s why it stuck with me.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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