John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
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April 2010

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April 30 2010
Here’s an interesting piece about the emergence of “ghost estates,” near-derelict new housing communities, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article addresses the problem in Ireland, but here’s one from this side of the pond, about an exclusive community turned “gated ghetto” in Hemet, California, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although it’s easy to point fingers after the fact, the truth is that the boom was, as one economist says, a “property drug” that too many people took. There’s nothing new there; most booms are, at their bottom, addiction-based. But enough of that.

I find it fascinating reading, like the story of a shipwreck or other man-made disaster. Plus, I love looking at photos of abandoned urban fixtures (in the past I’ve pointed to websites and articles about abandoned and lost railway stations, urban exploration, and derelict shopping malls). There’s a Pompeiian time-capsule quality to them, at once ethereal and gritty. Someone needs to stage a movie in one of these places. Or a reality show.

Or a TV commercial.
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April 28 2010
Australia just took tobacco marketing restrictions to a new level, banning cigarette logos or even distinctive colors on packaging. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the first time any nation has banned logos. So much for branding. One wonders if the logos will be allowed in advertising at all, including opt-in mailings, and if so, how much good they’ll do after a while.

The article points out a major problem with the pending legislation: that it’s tantamount to a government takeover of intellectual property. However, I see additional potential problems arising from counterfeiters and bootleggers substituting cheaper goods for name brand products. Challenges will be forthcoming, no doubt.
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April 25 2010
Happy Sunday! I saw this and just wanted to bookmark it. It’s an interesting look back at some of the dumbest business mistakes of the past century or so, from MSN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Any compilation is sure to lack some big clangers. For instance, there’s the story of David Dunbar Buick.

Buick, whose name graces one of General Motors’ upmarket divisions, made enough bad business decisions to be my nomination as the worst executive ever to lead a successful company. He had all the makings of being a huge success. Among his many patents include a way to bond porcelain to metal, a technique still used for sinks and bathtubs. A gifted mechanical innovator, he jumped into automobiles when the industry was in its infancy. He developed the overhead valve engine, the grandfather of today’s overhead cam engines. He designed, built, and marketed the Buick Model B, one of the first successful cars and arguably one of the best of its day.

But, he got out of things nearly as quickly as he got in. He bailed out of most of his companies, usually for pittances and often with an eye on the next Big Thing. He kept developing inventions for the auto industry and kept trying to launch new companies, but the stars never aligned again and he died in poverty.

Lesson, from Buick and many others: it’s tough to be a creator in a world of consolidation. That’s what makes certain corporate success stories, like those of Apple and Google, so admirable. They managed to constantly reinvent themselves, harnessing the forces of creative destruction to drive increased growth and profitability.
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April 24 2010
I have a rare Saturday Ad Blog entry to point out a local story that probably will be national news by Monday. A local political party has placed an advertising insert directly into the official sample ballots, due to be mailed next month for the June election. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The single-page glossy insert will endorse candidates and votes on key ballot measures. It’ll be center-stitched into the sample ballot, and essentially mailed for free. A lawsuit aimed at stopping the ad was ruled against in Superior Court because the law didn’t seem to specifically prohibit it.

Politics aside, this is a brilliant demonstration of creative, highly targeted media buying. A lot of the uproar could be ascribed to sour grapes, and in fairness it must be pointed out that the tactic has been used before by both major parties. This seems to be the first such insert to support party candidates and votes on non-partisan measures.

For now, it’s totally legal, although as one of my childhood heroes, Hipshot Percussion, was once quoted, “Legal ain’t always right.” This ain’t right, and it should be changed.
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April 23 2010
Increasing numbers of socially connected, pop-culture-conscious, tech-savvy young TV viewers are forgoing cable TV for its online equivalent. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

If it wasn’t for the fact that I write off my cable bill, because being able to check locally broadcast commercials are an essential part of my business, I’d have cancelled the cable TV years ago. What with Hulu, Fancast, YouTube, network streams, foreign programming (the regional German station remains a favorite), and DVDs from the library, I actually can’t remember the last full program I watched on regular TV. It might have been the Rose Parade.
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April 22 2010
Given a choice of adjectives to describe online ads, internet users in the UK overwhelmingly chose “boring.” Ayup. Here’s the story, from Net Imperative (London):
Advertising copywriter blog link

More than half said more-interesting or relevant photos or illustrations would make them more likely to notice or click. And yet, what do you typically find in banner ads? The same old royalty-free stock images you’ve seen elsewhere. The stack of money. The hands shaking. The smiling family in front of a house. The juggler. The happy, hip, ethnic guy or gal in cool glasses. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I think part of the problem lies in the relatively low cost of online ad production and media. Advertisers have a hard time rationalizing a $1,000 photo to earn a 10-cent click-through. That’s the wrong way to look at it. The key factor isn’t what the production or media costs. It’s what the customer is worth.

Here’s a news flash from an advertising copywriter who knows his way around the stock libraries: budgeting for original photography and great art direction are darn good ways to get more-effective creative.
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April 21 2010
Constantin Films, the studio that made Der Untergang, the movie on which all those hilarious Hitler-tantrum YouTube memes are based, is getting the parodies shut down. Here’s the story, from PC World via
Advertising copywriter blog link

My personal favorite parody, now vanished, was the one in which Hitler reacts to the use of Helvetica.

I think the film’s director makes an important point: when historical figures are demonized and dehumanized, it makes them easier to categorize as an aberration, something apart from ourselves. The reality is far more terrible: these people could not have come to power and perpetrated such crimes against humanity without the assistance, tacit and otherwise, of a significant part of that same humanity. The real historical evil is that it served so many, for so long, to look the other way.

<soapbox mode off>

I think the parodies are well within the boundaries of fair use, especially since they typically satirize something outside the film itself. And, even though the more recent ones have been fairly predictable, I’d like to see them restored.
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April 20 2010
Hey, Yahoo is now making a profit. How? Advertising. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s interesting is that revenue went down a bit but profit went up a lot. That shouldn’t be surprising, advertising sales being a leading economic indicator. But what’s interesting, is that it demonstrates the space for additional advertising revenues to be gathered online. It may also demonstrate the space for a non-Google search solution, which, if it happens, could be game-changing.

Apple is riding the trend as well, with its iAd in-app mobile advertising platform (scroll down to April 9). As annoying or ignorable as I suspect it will be, Apple is all but bound to make money with it. Already advertisers seem to have bought into these new new media opportunities; anything else just seems so old-fashioned. Let the good times roll!
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April 19 2010
Office equipment diversion, because sometimes office equipment is just so darn diverting. Or distracting. I just fixed my fairly new (but probably out of warranty), recently erratic HP LaserJet P2015dn laser printer by baking one of its circuit boards in the oven at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Here’s a discussion thread with more how-to details, from (scroll down to about the upper middle, 8/28/09, past the whining and ranting):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The printer problem had been developing over the past couple months, but lately the errors got so frequent that I couldn’t print without going through all kinds of circuitous machinations (some of which turn up early in that thread) to get the printer to work. Today I realized I needed to either scrap it or fix it. Before scrapping it or calling my technician, I did a quick online search for the problem and found that thread.

I am so not a handy fix-it person. But, it proved to be a snap. I unplugged and disconnected the printer and moved it to the coffee table in the other room while I pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees (our oven runs hot, so that’s really about 375). The side panel of the printer simply pries off from the back. The board connectors are impossible to mix up or reverse, and each pulled out with a firm, gentle tug and a bit of palsy-like wiggling. I was glad someone in the thread mentioned that the screw heads are soft, because forewarned was forearmed: I applied counterpressure from the other side of the printer to stabilize the screwdriver in the heads and took it slow.

I used a Pyrex baking dish with four vintage Fire King custard bowls to lift the board off the bottom of the dish. I removed the stickers from the PC board, and then baked it for about eight minutes. Apparently, that gently melts the solder so all the electrical connections are essentially regenerated. After baking, I removed it from the oven (carefully, so nothing would fall off the board) to let it cool down. When it was cool to the touch, I put the stickers back on and re-installed the board in the printer. And it worked like new!

Total time: about an hour, including baking and cooling time.

I wonder how many other circuit board failures could be resolved by oven baking? How about deep frying?
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April 16 2010
What do you do when an essential piece of your brand’s unique selling proposition is legislated into fine print? New Balance is treading a risky path with its “Made in the USA” positioning. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

New Balance has a point, of course, which is why the company is sticking to its guns. What with mass production in a global economy, it’s all but impossible to claim 100% local, regional, or even national content. You start having to split hairs: how much of a recycled material was produced in its original form overseas? Does it matter?

The more complex the product, the fuzzier things get. For instance, there are practically no truly American-made cars, not by the strictest interpretation of the FTC’s rule: “all or virtually all.”

Yes, it’s semantics. But, once New Balance staked its claim on a survey-derived 70% of value or more, “Made in the USA” became entrenched as part of the brand. And, like any other piece of intellectual property, the claim had to be defended, in courts of law and public opinion.
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April 15 2010
Happy Tax Day! Here’s a possibly unintentional look at the darker side of sign spinning and human directionals, from the Silicon Valley Mercury News (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article focuses on Liberty Tax Service, the tax preparation business that pops up like roadside poppies every year at about this time. If there’s one near you, you’ve seen the people dressed as the Statue of Liberty, holding signs and waving at passing cars from the sidewalk. According to the manager interviewed, human directionals bring in 80% of the business. That proves how effective they are as a form of advertising and even direct sales. In almost any other company, a salesperson who brought in 80% of the business would own the place in a year or two. And that’s where the story turns a bit seamy.

As with many other businesses, including car lots and condominium complexes, local managers hire those workers directly, on a temporary basis. The workers get paid $8 an hour for an all-day split shift that starts at 9 a.m. and goes until 8 p.m. Even if they get paid for the break, which they probably don’t, that’s $88 a day, with no benefits, not even basic things like health coverage. What’s worse: according to the article, farm work pays about the same.

That’s the social cost of your 99-cent lettuce and $2.99 strawberries. And, your $8-an-hour worker who brings in 80% of the business.
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April 14 2010
Recent TV commercials for Burger King have riled mental health professionals for its perceived denigration of people suffering from mental illnesses. Was that neutral enough for you? Anyway, here’s the story, from Fox News (Sacramento, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

You’d think the over-the-top nature of the spot, complete with a resin-headed mascot crashing through glass chased by men in white coats, would be a tip-off, but no, these are serious people engaged in serious work. Not like those disrespectful, undisciplined creatives at the ad agency, no sir.

So the word “crazy” is now off-limits? That strikes me as a disrespectful and non-inclusive point of view. People with mental illnesses have illnesses. Doing something stupid, wacky, or far beyond the bounds of everyday behavior – that’s just crazy, and we’ve all done it, or most of us have, anyway.

Those advocates probably thought they’d get some buzz by attacking an ad. And, to a certain extent, the tactic worked. But if they truly think that that Burger King commercial is offensive, then, well, they need their heads examined.
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April 13 2010
Twitter is starting to accept advertising, using a new “promoted tweets” model. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It sounds a lot like the sponsored results in Google; if so, there won’t be a need for a third party filter app because people will filter out the ads the old-fashioned way. They’ll ignore them.

As for the alleged challenge of hooking customers in 140 characters or less (see the “analysis” sidebar), that comment demonstrates how thoroughly editorial writers are befuddled by the advertising copywriter’s job. Hey Mr. Editor, copywriters have dealt with shorter, more demanding ad formats for hundreds of years. They’re called billboards.

So, once again, for all the hoopla, there’s still no news.
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April 11 2010
I saw this and just had to point it out as a Sunday funny. Giant outdoor apparel brand The North Face has settled its trademark infringement lawsuit against a small casual apparel brand called (wait for it) The South Butt. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

As the owner of North Face stuff from back when they sold kits, I find this hilarious. Almost, but not quite, funny enough to buy a South Butt fleece jacket if it weren’t for the fact that my stained, mangy Patagonia fleece still works fine (and, by the way, a temporary repair made with fishing line and first aid tape can last for years). I also think it demonstrates how, when brands get big, they lose their sense of humor, along with other human characteristics. Unfortunately for the companies, those human characteristics are intrinsic to the brand. For instance, The North Face gear used to be more than a bit countercultural; now it’s the establishment. And when that happens, no matter how much better the new stuff is than the old stuff, a big chunk of authenticity gets lost.
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April 9 2010
Apple is launching in-app mobile advertising: iAd. Nope, no joke. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As if there isn’t enough advertising out there as it is.

Thing is, at what point do people just ignore the ads? An ad that is ignored is a waste, whether it’s in print or in a brand-new media channel.

Tactically, though, such an environment may throw things like the importance of a consistent look-and-feel out the window. If a viewer or user is to notice an in-app (or in-game or online) ad at all, it needs to look like something new, something he or she hasn’t seen before. If that’s not handled very carefully, it could erode more strategic efforts, like, oh, branding.
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April 8 2010
Golf/advertising icon Tiger Woods has come back swinging, so to speak. And Nike, one of his long-time corporate sponsors, is backing him with a commercial that brings his father back to life. Here’s the story, and a scathing critique, from Fox Sports:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Meh. The commercial is nothing, a boardroom circle jerk that no doubt had a lot of people spouting off about emotional resonance and flawed humanity making for a more-accessible hero. (“Ooh, see, it’ll have the look and feel of a duotone, and the sound of a home recording ... it’s ... edgy, yeah, and authentic but it’s also contemplative. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”) Bigger celebrity graves have been robbed for smaller stakes.

The thing is, Nike could hardly have used Tiger Woods in its advertising without acknowledging events of the past several months. That was always going to be a painfully self-conscious effort. The good news, for Nike, is that now it’s done and out of the way, and Nike – and perhaps Tiger Woods – can go back on game.
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April 7 2010
Gateway founder Ted Wiatt has the misfortune to ride a second trend straight into the ground. The first time it was branded computers, felled by ill-fated ventures into branded retail outlets and flat-screen televisions. This time, it’s real estate. Here’s the story, from the Star Tribune (Minneapolis MN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s a wonderful photo book in the ghost towns of the new millennium. Unlike the ghost towns of old, which boomed before they busted, many of these new suburban ghost towns were never so much as occupied before they vanished into the tall grass. That makes them monuments to avarice and poor planning, rather than ordinary human ambition.
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April 5 2010
One of my most-used apps on my iPod Touch is eReader, so all the hype about the Apple iPad stirred me to look into other ebook readers, just for fun. I checked out Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Amazon’s Kindle, and Apple’s iPad. I was thoroughly underwhelmed and disappointed.

I began by looking, not at features, but at available content – the very purpose of an ebook reader. And that is where my brief foray hit the wall. I had expected to tap into vast competing inventories of books. Instead, I found the same classics I already can get for free at, and not much else I wanted.

I searched for books by a dozen authors, including James Thurber, Robert Benchley, J.B. Priestley, Graham Greene, Jonathan Raban, Elizabeth McCracken, and historians Paul Fussell, Studs Terkel, and Bruce Catton. Among them, they’ve probably written over a hundred books. I found three books available as electronic editions.

Ebook reader functionality means nothing without content, and right now content is lacking unless you want to collect a library of today’s best-sellers. Instead of opening up the literary world, ebook readers are playing a role in consolidating it toward the lowest common denominator. It’s all about the latest psycho-social self-improvement, the business strategy du jour, the current political intrigue, the hottest gossip; it’s Literature As Seen On TV. What a waste of a great idea.

On the other hand, that could be an opportunity for advertising. After all, corporate sponsors once brought great contemporary theater to the masses via radio and television; why not ebooks? It would be a great way to demonstrate thought leadership. Hmm.

UPDATE: Later in the day it occurred to me to look for poetry. I found ample Bukowski, but very little Langston Hughes, Anne Sexton, Marianne Moore, or even, for that matter, e.e. cummings. I found a few collections of William Butler Yeats, but there was more of his drama and short fiction to be had from
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Backwards in time to March 2010

My experience as a copywriter.

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Advertising strategy and other lies
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Long John Silver on writing ads
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
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The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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Phone and fax: (619) 465-6100

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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