John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
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April 2008

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April 30 2008
I have a sort-of follow-up to Wednesday’s story about creativity. Here are a few ways to break out of a rut, from a copywriter and creative director. The column comes from Adweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve used most of these techniques on an almost daily basis. For instance, I spent huge amounts of time merely pretending to work, and it’s a constant source of surprise and delight to discover, at the end of the day, how much work I got done while pretending to work. Push-starting concepting by writing copy is another reliable approach, or, conversely, starting by designing, badly, because I’m not a designer, hypothetical print ads and billboards.

Entering the product or brand into a sex content is a novel thought, though, and worth a try.
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April 29 2008
Here’s some good economic news related to advertising. Cosmetics company Avon may have spent its way to hefty revenue growth, according to this article from (Chicago, IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Let’s crunch the numbers a bit, a dangerous thing for a creative, yes, but it helps to make sense of the data. A 14% increase in ad spending has translated neatly into a 14% increase in top-line revenue. Sliced another way, an ad budget of $82 million made for an incremental increase of roughly $350 million in revenue, or nearly $4.27 for every ad dollar spent.

Now that’s  ROI.
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April 28 2008
This is a good essay on creativity, from Harvey Mackay, writing in the Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the looking-out-the-window thing may be yet another misperception about creativity.

I don’t get ideas from downtime unless I’ve already put in some serious time thinking about the problem. You read the brief, then you dig, and you dig, and you dig. Then you compile and sift and sort. Then you come up with some directions, write a few lines, or poke around for visuals. And then you take a break.

Creativity may not have a script, but it certainly has a plot, and you can’t reliably jump to the end without going through the beginning and the middle.
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April 25 2008
The advertising for the Beijing Olympic Games is just getting underway, and already the London Olympic Games organizers are bracing for ambush marketing tactics in 2012. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The mistake made by many would-be disruptive advertisers, is thinking of ambush marketing as a one-off, lone-gunman-type tactic, because that’s how it looks. However, most successful ambushes are the result of carefully orchestrated efforts, and the most-memorable ones require a sustained presence. A dozen people wearing branded T-shirts isn’t an ambush, thousands might be, depending on things like network camera positions and event newsworthiness.

As for public education against ambush marketing, I think that’s a well-intentioned effort that’s bound to fail. After all, everyone loves to root for the underdog, and, true or not, that’s what ambush marketing represents: the underdog against the advertising conglomerate that is the modern Olympic Games.
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April 24 2008
Some very high-powered creative guns spoke at the World Effie Festival. Here’s some of what they had to say about brand-building, media, and humor, from Executive Magazine (Denmark):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snip about new media, from Shelly Lazarus, chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide:

“A million people downloaded this from YouTube. What does that mean? What does that buy us? What is the role that plays in the total brand proposition? I’m sure it plays some role, but it’s not obvious to me yet that because you download a clever film means your relationship with the brand has changed.

On the one hand, I agree with her that there’s a lot of creative energy expended in directions that may not gain market share or sell product or even increase awareness. However, I also believe (with no actual proof, mind you) that a download is an action that in itself represents a small transformation on the way to a relationship. A download is a higher commitment act than, say, merely watching an ad. At the very least, there’s an element of trust there. And, at best, a million downloads beats a million rating points if only for the active involvement it requires.
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April 23 2008
Used-stuff-online giant eBay is suing used-stuff-online giant Craigslist, in an interfamilial squabble over some financial or operational maneuvering that remains undisclosed. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

EBay owns some 28% of Craigslist. It has been a wary and uncomfortable corporate relationship from the start, since eBay has everything to gain and very little to lose by ruining Craigslist, which charges very few fees and has a vast community of users. That’s even more true since eBay launched its own classified ad network.

The reason this is important to advertising, is that it’s yet another example, should one be needed, of media consolidation even in the face of increasing market fragmentation.
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April 22 2008
McDonalds is changing its uniform throughout the UK to a dreary brown and black. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t think the new uniforms are so much feel-good contemporary as down-at-the-mouth somber. Perhaps that reflects the economy. Or, maybe customers will feel better about making meals out of the 99-cent value menu if the person bagging it up looks “professional,” almost like it’s a real service experience.
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April 21 2008
Research firm Millward Brown Optimor has released its third annual BrandZ report, which evaluates and ranks brand valuations worldwide. Here’s a link to the Top 100 Most Powerful Brands 08, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

The executive summary at the beginning is worthwhile reading, if only for the cursory overview of trends. For instance, technology brands still dominate, although it seems to me that the research parameters favor technology brands to begin with. And, emerging markets are, well, emerging: the list contains more companies from China and Russia rocketing upward.

One surprise was the “growth” in brand valuation, up 21% from 1.6 trillion in 2007 to $1.94 trillion in 2008. Top-ranked Google alone is assigned a brand valuation of $86.1 billion. I’m not sure where, in a global recession, 21% growth is coming from. Then again, the fact that such growth has been meticulously charted demonstrates the relative arbitrariness of trying to place dollar values on intangible corporate assets like brands.

Still, it’s interesting reading.
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April 18 2008
I have a follow-up to yesterday’s story about mobilecasting television programming. Well, yesterday a pioneering, non-standard version launched right here in San Diego! Here’s the story, from my good old hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, wireless provider Verizon is now offering its V Cast Mobile TV service in the San Diego market. This service launched a year ago, and features live programming from the major networks. Disadvantages: you can’t download it, and you can’t watch it on-demand. It’s live programming; handy for sporting events, major news events, and traffic reports; a lot less interesting for entertainment.

Then, from the same local news source, comes this story about retailers seeking to grab a piece of the tax rebate checks making their way into the eager hands of consumers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Economic predictions are varied. But, from a marketing perspective, I think the offers that incentivize the consolidation of spending at a single retailer have a better likelihood of success if that retailer is seen as a secure place to essentially park money, or if people intend to make major, immediate purchases. After all, should that retailer go bankrupt, those gift cards would be worthless, as has already been seen. Consumers may be cautious about putting all their windfall, if they perceive it as such, in one place.

For a retailer to convert a tax rebate check into a gift card and add 10% to the value is roughly the same as cutting its prices about 9% across the board. But, that retailer captures the full amount of the check, plus it’s a government check so the funds are all but guaranteed. Plus, the state and local governments will collect sales taxes based on the higher, non-discounted, prices. Such a strategy could be good all the way around.

However, human nature being what it is, I think most of the money will be frittered away in bits and bobs, a little indulgence here, a little finally-getting-round-to-it postponed maintenance there; a little debt paydown here, a little more spending there.
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April 17 2008
Hey, another upbeat story about how television networks are finding that webcasting produces new advertising revenue streams. Here’s the story, from (part of JupiterOnlineMedia, Darien CT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What online channels could bring to, say, Olympic event coverage, is huge. Several of the events I’m most interested in have been sketchily covered in broadcast, if at all. As a consumer, to be able to go online and watch archery (or whatever) would be great. As an advertiser, the ability to target someone who’s interested in archery (or whatever) would be great.

The other interesting thing, is that what used to be considered media, the television networks, are finding themselves cast more in the role of content creators, trying to expand online through what are, essentially, old-fashioned pure-play media networks.

Key quote from George Kliavkoff, chief digital officer for NBC Universal: “We can launch a new network without spending an extra penny to create content.

Exciting times, these.
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April 16 2008
I have two stories today, both about ads with controversial creative. The first features possibly the first use of Hitler’s image in German advertising, in an ad for a hat shop in Bonn; the story comes from ABC News (Passau, Germany). The second features possibly the first use of a U.S. government economic stimulate rebate check concept in direct mail, for a New York bank; the story comes from Fox News (Tampa Bay, FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Both executions are controversial, and both are interruptive. But only one is strategically smart and, ultimately, effective.

Consumer reactions to the bank’s mortgage mailer are strongly negative; furthermore, the creative fosters a sense of distrust because the whole concept hinges on deception. That’s bad creative, bad advertising, and really dumb marketing.

In contrast, the hat shop ad is graphically arresting, delivering a simple concept that works in any language (although the use of English as a way to further frame the Charlie Chaplin reference was brilliant). Consumer reactions are almost overwhelmingly positive, particularly among the younger generation that the hat shop wanted to court.

In advertising, controversy for controversy’s sake is juvenile and stupid. An ad based on controversy needs a strong concept to elevate it from mere rudeness to inviting a conversation. It’s not enough to interrupt. Having interrupted, you also have to have something to say besides “gotcha!” And, you want your target audience to feel smart for appreciating the concept, not dumb for having been fooled by it.
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April 15 2008
Happy Tax Day! And, for fellow freelancers, Happy First Quarterlies Day as well, a doubly joyous occasion. Or not. Anyway, after Sunday’s downer of an entry, I’ve resolved, for the rest of the week, to remain positive in negative-news times. Here, for example, is news of an intriguing media opportunity. It comes from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Owners of more than 800 local television stations are trying out some ways to broadcast programming directly to mobile devices. Cool! Once a technical standard is established and approved, they’ll be able to deliver content via  mobile video as well as traditional TV and webcast. That’s not just three distinct channels; that’s three distinct audiences for the same programming, with three different feedback mechanisms. That allows deeper segmentation, more-relevant creative, and higher levels of one-to-one interaction with the potential consumer.

One potential stumbling block, is whether or not cell phone carriers will allow potentially competitive programming to take up bandwidth on their networks. But that’s something that could be negotiated when the time comes (which could be early next year). And, it’s not as if the major cellular networks have been champing at the bit to become content providers.

This is exciting stuff!
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April 14 2008
I mentioned Sunday that there were potential market and marketing opportunities hidden amid the hammer blows of bad economic news. Here’s an example. First the story, about more people being forced to take second jobs, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, something is terribly wrong when middle-class professionals have to moonlight to make ends meet. But, here’s a creative exercise: where’s the upside?

Obviously, some service providers might benefit from this environment, like résumé consultants, security firms (there are a lot of empty building to patrol), and adult education.

Among advertising opportunities, is there a coffee or tea or caffeinated beverage campaign in here somewhere? Or insurance? I don’t mean a heartless attempt to scrape money from people who are in the fight of their lives, a fight they never thought they’d be in; I mean that these emerging economic realities should prod advertisers to develop more relevant ways to reach out. Like that LoJack spot mentioned a couple days ago – just a few words of copy made the connection: hey, these guys understand me.

I have, in my reference library, Edsels, Luckies, & Frigidaires: Advertising the American Way by Atwan, McQuade & Wright (1979, Dell Publishing, NY). It has a reprint of a Scott Tissue ad from 1930 that positions its toilet paper as a way to keep your health and your job. It’s depression-era fear-mongering, plain and simple, both ungraceful and disgraceful. In contrast, the same book contains a wonderfully evocative ad for Travelers Insurance from 1935 that, upon re-reading it today, sounds vivid and fresh. It may be the best ad copy ever written for insurance, and it’s likely no one would have the courage (or insight) to run it today. (It’s on page 60, if you can get your hands on a copy, and you should.)

Good creative can add meaningful value.
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April 13 2008
A weekend story: last night, after a club meeting, I joined a small group in going out for a late dinner. That’s a rare treat for me since I usually try to get home before it gets too late so I can be up early with the kids Sunday morning, and this group is known for having to be scooted out of places long after closing time.

This restaurant, a mid-priced place with a reputation for good food, had always been packed when our group of ten or so people showed up. Last night, the restaurant was almost completely empty.

We looked around us, at the deserted booths and darkened rooms awaiting diners who might not return for years, and said to each other, this is a recession. It’s real. Here’s more on darkening consumer sentiment, from the Ventura County Star (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I, for one, hope those people in Ventura and Los Angeles indeed opt for a trip to San Diego in lieu of other, costlier vacation plans. It’s glorious here, folks!

At the same time, I count myself lucky that I can walk the kids to school and telecommute to work, options not available to most working parents.

For advertisers, success going forward depends a good deal on the clear-headedness – and sure-footedness – of your marketing team. Now more than ever, it pays to have creative people on your side whose abilities were forged and honed through several economic cycles. Because, amid the dangers, there are opportunities out there, and experienced hands can help you avoid the former while seizing the latter.
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April 11 2008
Straight talk is in, as advertisers struggle with a tough economy and balky consumers. Here’s the story, from The New York Times via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While value-focused advertising messages are one obvious tactical approach, the strategic reality is that such an approach makes sense only for those brands already at least somewhat associated with value. For others, it can lead to brand-inappropriate advertising that, in the long run, does more harm than good. In other words, don’t let one tactic degrade your brand strategy.

Even when such tactics are successful at boosting immediate sales (if not always profits, and it’s important to recognize the difference), you have to wonder about the extent to which those sales are merely being borrowed from the future, especially with durable goods like, oh, cars or home appliances. (Kind of like those economic stimulus checks we’re all supposed to get in the coming months – I still don’t understand where that money’s coming from.)

To get back on point, though, what’s smart are creative executions that add value, like that LoJack spot targeting a fresh worry.
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April 10 2008
Athletic apparel brand Adidas has moved one big step closer to securing European trademark protection for stripes. Not just its logo, and not just its well-known three-stripe motif, but multiple stripes in general. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a significant advance in protecting the look and feel of trademarked products, beyond the logo and taking into account the real-life effect on the consumer, whether intentional or not. In other words, if the effect is to confuse, then it’s not legal, and the lawyers can nitpick all they want to over quantity and width of strips or other minutiae to no avail.

Despite the new and improved larger gray area, this is actually a clarification of the obvious from the legal system.
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April 9 2008
Two quickies today. first up is the announcement that Yahoo will start running Google search ads.  Here’s the story, from Reuters via
Advertising copywriter blog link

This hook-up is driven in part by a need to make Microsoft budge on its bid to buy the company. But, it’s also the realization, in test form, of what Microsoft had wanted to prevent by buying Yahoo. I think there’s a certain amount of brinksmanship on both sides. But, from an advertising perspective, whether Yahoo joins with Google or with Microsoft, the key issue is that online media consolidation is continuing.

Next up is this follow-up to Washington’s lame state slogan (“SayWA”). I’ve mentioned this before, on March 21 and, more notably, more than two years ago (March 16 2006) when the state tourism board was all smiles over its newly minted branding initiative. Well, here’s the latest, from The News-Tribune (Tacoma, WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This proves that amateurs are every bit as undisciplined and unfocused as a “brand development task force” of 32 people. The only line with a concept is the first one, and it’s not as polished as it could be. (Off the top of my head, If you have to say “State,” you don’t get it would be more versatile, lacking the “we” that would then be assumed to be whatever organization or agency is signing the ad.) Still, it’s no surprise that it was the hands-down favorite.
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April 8 2008
Environmentalism is one of those things that’s considerably easier to talk about than to actually do. And, most self-proclaimed green products – and the companies that make them and the consumers who buy them – aren’t nearly as green as they’d like others to believe. Here’s more, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s like I said nearly a year ago, on April 26 2007, that consumerism is innately not green, and that there’s an inherent disconnect in trying to consume one’s way to a low-impact life by churning durable goods. A couple months ago (see February 18), I pointed out that eco-substance has always been harder, and carried fewer rewards, than eco-style.

Still, when it comes to conservation, something is better than nothing. No one honestly expects that their choice of detergent offsets their choice to take an airplane to a vacation destination. What’s expected, is that their choice of one detergent over a less environmentally friendly option will do a little bit of good. Or, a little bit less harm. And every little bit helps.

Key snip from the BBC article:

Mike Childs, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, says being green is hard for any company “because mass retailing is based on consumption”.

But he underlines an inherent challenge: “We haven’t a hope in hell in tackling climate change unless business is part of solution”.

And that solution includes consumers.
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April 4 2008
I have something of local interest, although it’s also an indicator of hard times in retail and possibly a misjudged brand launch. Fresh & Easy, the Tesco-operated grocery shop, is having teething troubles. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have a Fresh & Easy right down the street, and I even went to the grand opening (see February 13 2008, just over two months ago, and November 5 2007). I do most of the grocery shopping for my household, and I have continued to shop there, in part because of its proximity to my bank, in part because it has a good selection of no-salt canned goods, and in part due to strips of $5-off coupons.

This is what one retail analyst said last year:

“Tesco’s entry could potentially go down as a genuine turning point in the industry, possibly comparable with Wal-Mart’s decision to start opening Supercenters in the 1980s.”

Uh-huh. And here’s what analysts are saying now:

Prevor said U.S. shoppers have not warmed to Fresh & Easy in part because it has not realized American notions of fresh or easy.

Yeah, see, there’s a problem. A little brand disconnect. Most of my own purchases there are canned goods and staples, not fresh items (I go to a locally owned store called Windmill Farms for meat, fruit, and veg). And I rarely buy prepared meals.

Still, I hope Fresh & Easy succeeds, or at least survives. I like the efficiency of it. Hey, it’s the one place I can go grocery shopping, play a sizable discount coupon, and never have to stand in line.

Here’s one more for today, continued dire economic news about the airline industry. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Three airlines folded this week alone. My family flew two of them, ATA and Aloha Air, just last summer. The flights were fine; no-frills, but fine. I think the blood has just begun to flow, unfortunately, and I wonder which major American brand will be the next to fall.
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April 3 2008
I don’t often link to press releases, but this one has some worthwhile information gleaned from a recent survey of more than 58,000 teens in 31 countries. Here’s the PR piece (a sales pitch for the full report), via PRWeb:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some interesting results:

Put it all together, and you see that the key emerging tool is the internet-capable mobile. I was a little surprised by the power of familiarity in guiding purchase decisions. Brand loyalty still exists!

Anyway, I think these are some interesting insights from a credible source.
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April 2 2008
As the price of gas and groceries rise, consumers are looking for corporate handouts. And some of them are turning their cars into advertising vehicles. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Variations range from six-inch-tall stickers to whole-car wraps.

It looks like not much has changed since I last talked about this, on April 28 2007. I still don’t understand why a self-employed professional (last year it was a mobile notary and this year it’s a photographer) would want to advertise any website but his or her own. I can only draw, as a conclusion, that their average customer value is significantly less than the $300 a month they receive from the advertiser. Then again, my own car is totally clear of advertising. I even replaced the dealer’s license plate frame with a plain chrome one. And, in these days of electronic communication, teleconferences, and web-based meetings, I seldom drive anywhere.

My wife’s car is another story. She puts on the miles. But, her car is festooned with stickers, most of which she bought. So any advertising on it would have to compete with her own messages.

I think you could achieve similar results virally, by creating really cool design elements that people would want to put on their cars. Like what Scion (March 24) is doing. So even a media niche like mobile advertising has several tactical options ranging from the corporate mass-media buy (mobile billboards, on-car advertising) to viral.

It’s a great time to be in advertising!
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April 1 2008
You know, here in the US, we think our political advertising is something appropriate for April Fool’s Day. But in Lebanon, things really get intense. Here’s the story, from AFP (France) via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So Hezbollah has an ad agency. Seems to be a full-service shop, too, since they’re doing media analysis and placement. Well, why not? These are media-savvy times. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that our own political leaders seem to lack the vision to embrace media for more than just PR and photo opps.

So, how do the locals react to all this political advertising? According to the article, they “are tired of being bombarded with images of political leaders at every turn.” It seems consumers all over the world are getting sick of advertising noise.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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