John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August, 2005

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August 31, 2005
An ad agency principal tells clients what their ad agencies wish they understood. Here’s the article, from the Macon Telegraph (GA):
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If it’s a freshening of David Ogilvy’s “How to Be a Good Client” (Confessions of an Advertising Man, 1963) and “Open letter to a client in search of an agency” (Ogilvy on Advertising, 1983), it’s a welcome one. Spec creative, in particular, is an issue that comes up repeatedly, and my answer is the same as Ogilvy’s: to be effective, creative execution must come at the end of a process establishing strategy, not at the beginning.
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August 30, 2005
This piece, from Fast Company, features the wisdom of several people responsible for brand turn-arounds:
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Reviving a once-hot brand is one of those situations in which brand equity is both a positive and a negative. Most of these turnarounds pivoted on leveraging what was already there to move forward, a job that requires insight, subtlety, and the ability to juggle a complex set of attributes and perceptions while handling the curve.
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August 29, 2005
A quick follow-up to the automotive retail marketing and advertising situation typified by GM’s employee discount pricing followed by Ford and Chrysler, from Reuters via Yahoo! News Asia:
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Well, this is exactly how I thought this would end up (see July 26 and April 19 for two such entries), with Toyota, Honda, and Nissan continuing to add both long-term market share and profits while GM and Ford sacrificed profits in a big way to drive sales but not share. Even Daewoo, Kia, and Hyundai are on the up.

When a company has two retirees drawing pay while sitting at home to every one current worker, that’s not a situation that advertising or marketing is going to solve unless the goal is to change expectations. For instance – and I don’t want to get political, but this is a good example of using the press for marketing towards a goal – might be how the U.S. government across several administrations has talked about Social Security issues: slowly, most people are coming to terms with adjusting their expectations and preparing for self-sufficiency.
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August 26, 2005
Here’s some fun stuff to think about for the weekend. The BBC is planning to put at least one of its TV channels online. Here’s the official story, straight from the BBC:
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This is partly an extension of the BBC public charter, but it’s also a response to the fact that some of its programming has already been bootlegged online. Right now, the plan is to restrict simulcast viewing to UK internet users.

As I mentioned on July 13, I’ve been watching TV shows online for a couple years now. Mostly, it’s been shows from the BBC or (in the past year) WDR in Germany. Resolution is low but acceptable, and with a fast connection the programming plays well even with my archaic computer. Anyway, back in July I whined about the fact that content would be increasingly provided on a pay basis rather than free. But it occurs to me that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of ad-free programming for free, which begs the question: where will content providers make their money? The BBC, for instance, is supported by license fees paid by television set owners in the UK. Here in San Diego, I get a free ride.

So, programming will either be supported by advertisers, which presents a number of challenges when you’re talking about a global medium, or by subscription.
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August 25, 2005
A local story that’s making national news: San Diego-based online florist ProFlowers is sued by rival FTD over “misleading advertising claims.” Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
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Most of this feels like semantic arguments over a basic difference in business models. However, the proof of advertising claims rest largely on actual customer experiences. The fact that neither of the two major competitors have chosen to match ProFlowers’ 7-day freshness guarantee speaks volumes. While the lawyers debate the terminology surrounding process features, the more-important customer benefit battle isn’t even being engaged.
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August 24, 2005
Remember those Cracker Jack prizes where a little picture on a card appeared to move as you tilted it and moved it around? Well, now there’s a company making billboards and posters like that, but with vastly more “movement” capabilities. Here’s the story, from BusinessWeek Online:
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This is just way cool. Possibly dangerously so for a billboard aimed at drive-by traffic, but for walking traffic I think this is a great media option. And it’s not just attention-getting and responsive; it also can communicate a compelling story.
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August 23, 2005
There is more than one way to skin a cat or gain market share against an entrenched competitor. In the digital music player market, Sony is attempting an end run play against Apple Computer by resurrecting the concept of unrestricted peer-to-peer file sharing. Here’s the story, from the BBC:
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Unit sales claims made by Creative Technology aside, Sony has emerged as the only end-to-end competitor to the iPod, and it’s having its own problems. My problem with most of these legal digital music download services, has been finding the music I want. For instance, my entire library (such as it is) of 1970s-1980s L.A. scene punk/new wave rock is pretty much unavailable in legal digital form, and may not be available in unlicensed form either since I’m probably the only person in the world who wants it. So, I still have a couple yards of vinyl on my bookshelves, and I regret every album I chose to buy on cassette tape because magnetic drift made them unlistenable years ago. (Some might say they were unlistenable when they were new, but there you go.)

To get back on point, Sony’s action is a good example of using support material distribution as a competitive edge for a product that has its own distribution channels. I think that’s smart marketing.
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August 22, 2005
Recent ad campaigns are showing more-realistic images of female beauty. Here’s one article, from the Detroit Free Press (MI) via The Clarion-Ledger (MS):
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This sort of visual appeal comes and goes, and the fact that it’s been picked up by the mainstream press seems to indicate its wane. It’s a natural cycle, though, as we alternate between wanting to see an optimized version of our real selves in ads and wanting to see an optimized version of our idealized or internalized selves.

Right now, reality is in, both in programming and advertising.

I take issue with the head of the marketing consulting firm, who says the ads fall short because there’s no “promise of big results.” First, I think there is a big result promised: you will feel good about yourself. That’s a powerful promise. Second, I think people these days are cynical enough about advertising to make big promises an ineffective approach unless those promises can be well-supported (which ties in with the math/science trend bit from August 18th). Third, double-digit increases in retail sales (according to an article in Business Week August 17, 2005) have already proven her wrong.
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August 19, 2005
First, a bit of amplification on my post yesterday, about the entertaining possibility that math is the new sex, at least in advertising. I think what’s driving this trend, if it is one, is that as consumers we’ve become jaded about sexual appeals, particularly in ads. But math remains an area in which most of us are pretty innocent. So it’s easier to deceive us with math than with sex.

Next, this story, from The Independent (UK, and funnily enough, in cahoots with a major corporate sponsor), about future lifestyle trends:
Advertising copywriter blog link

All of these are interesting. Of course, branding was always a multi-sensory, multi-level experience. The Coke bottle, for instance, is hardly a new concept in marketing, nor is the Harley-Davidson exhaust sound. Even the use of  sensory references in advertising copy is not new. Remember car interiors finished in “rich, Corinthian leather?” (Go ahead, say it; you know you want to do your Ricardo Montalban impression.) In the 1970s, Mazda television and radio commercials made a point of what today might be called sensory branding for their rotary engines: “A piston engine goes boing boing boing. But a Mazda engine goes mmmmmmm.”

Anyway, some fun forecasts for the weekend.
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August 18, 2005
Advertising media research is often biased and sometimes questionable. But the standard of media research towers over that of research done by companies to support advertising claims. Here’s the story, from the Guardian Unlimited (UK):
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Secretive (“proprietary”) testing, minimal or absent controls, highly selective test parameters supporting broad advertising claims. In short, the science may be good but the research is not.

And, as the article points out, scientific research, or the appearance of it, is the new hard-sell. Busy, cynical consumers demand facts and figures. The problem is, those figures are as empty as previous promises to increase one’s sexual attractiveness.

Maybe sex, having been poked, prodded, numbered, studied, and otherwise revealed to death in popular culture, has been replaced by math as the great ponderable. We read (or buy, anyway) best-sellers about the origins of the universe and string theory. Geeks are hot. Math is now that thing we wonder at, the mystery we try to unlock, the universal activity we think we understand and at which we like to think we’re better-than-average, but we probably don’t and aren’t.
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August 17, 2005
A quick follow-up to my August 11 entry, about Creative Technology’s plans for the future, from the San Francisco Chronicle (CA) via the Detroit News (MI):
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Does Creative Technology founder and CEO Sim Wong Hoo have vision? Or hubris? Only time will tell. But, if licensing Creative’s technology is going to be the key to its future, it may find itself in a situation eerily similar to its retail situation, with multiple competitors offering cheaper or better-branded technologies. When you consider that well-funded innovators like Sony, Microsoft, and Intel are in the field, that’s going to be a tough row to hoe.

Still, conventional marketing wisdom says there’s little to be gained by going after smaller competitors in an effort to consolidate market share. The traditional role of the #2 company is to go after #1. My question is this: is Creative Technology really the #2 player?
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August 16, 2005
Despite all the so-called alternative media opportunities, the key differentiator in whether or not an ad is effective lies in creative relevance. Hereís the story, from Media Week (UK):
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Two caveats in reading this article: the author works for an outdoor media company, and the research quoted was performed on behalf of the same outdoor media company. Asking consumers about their media preferences during their daily commute is likely to produce very different results than asking them the same set of questions in their homes at the end of the day.

But the issue of ad avoidance is real. And, what all the research boils down to, is something Iíve said all along: all effective advertising is fundamentally interactive. If advertising fails to connect, it fails period. Which, given the explosion in alternative media, puts significant weight on creative as perhaps the key factor in the success of an ad campaign.

Itís a great time to be in advertising!
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August 15, 2005
A new study indicates that people skeptical of advertising may be more-persuaded by emotional appeals, while non-skeptics are more moved by informational appeals. Here’s the brief, from the University of Washington via Newswise:
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While I have no problem with the results, I have a huge problem with the research methodology. See, the study wasn’t a pure A/B test. Instead, television commercials categorized as emotional were stacked against television commercials categorized as informational. But the products or even the product categories weren’t controlled. So, a wine ad (emotional) was compared to a dishwashing detergent ad (informational).

There are enough differences in the products, their positions, and their target audiences to question the results, even though those results validate what is well-known to most advertising copywriters: that providing information without first establishing rapport and credibility is a waste of ad dollars.
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August 12, 2005
Pure fun for the weekend, from the BBC: a one-minute movie website, on which you can submit your own one-minute movie or watch (and rate) those that have been submitted:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yeah, it’s amateur minute, but the good ones are refreshing little pauses. The best ones seem to be created by people with backgrounds related to film, their sure touch revealed by pacing alone. You also can get a feel for just how hard it is to fill 60 seconds with a meaningful story. The tips are good reminders, too, for anyone writing anything.

Anyways, a fun little distraction for a Friday.
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August 11, 2005
Inventory continues to climb and profits continue to slide at Creative Technology, maker of MP3 players in competition with Apple iPod. Here’s the story, dated tomorrow, from Bloomberg News via the International Herald Tribune:
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If this is a case where I get to say “you heard it here first” (April 22 2005, October 28 2004),  it’s also a case where advertising is a miniscule part of the problem. The attempt to trade profitability for market share against the Apple iPod has resulted in neither profitability nor market share, as predicted and for reasons I went into four months ago. It still seems to me the problems lie in core business operations, from cost control and inventory management to brand management and retailer distribution.

So, what do I think might be an effective next move? Assuming that the products are up to snuff, I think one smart move may be a big promotion, along the lines of GM’s recent inventory sell-off. First, an aggressively advertised rebate promotion, instead of price discounting which has a heavier effect on value perceptions, particularly among non-buyers within the target audience. Second, leveraging the list obtained through the rebating program to launch an aggressive follow-up campaign aimed at getting subsequent purchases at reasonable margins. In other words, essentially doing consumer-driven sampling using existing inventory, while building a list (and a community) to market to directly.

Yeah, this smacks of more of the same – relying on pricing to compete with branding. However, it’s also a way to use an asset, inventory, which has already been written down once and continues to depreciate, as a means of opening a direct channel of communication with the consumer. Key success factor: handling the promotions in a way that builds the brand as a real alternative to the Apple iPod, rather than as a fire sale.
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August 10, 2005
This story, from, highlights a new campaign for adult toy retailer Ann Summers. It uses in-bar digital screens instead of terrestrial television, presumably to avoid advertising censors but really just smart targeting:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like the media buy more than the creative itself, which strikes me as see-say. It would have been stronger without the ending line (which tries to be edgy but misses, because the set-up makes it obvious and pedantic). This is the difference between writing copy and writing text, and a case where the copywriter should have used that delete key a little bit harder.
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August 9, 2005
Budget UK airline Ryanair’s recent ad response to the terrorist attacks in London, featuring Winston Churchill, is upheld by the British Advertising Standards Authority. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
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The line “Let’s Keep London Flying” is similar to GM’s “Keep America Rolling” campaign after the 9-11 attacks in New York City. What’s interesting, is that corporations nowadays are acknowledging in advertising the impact terrorist acts have on the economy, and are quicker to fight back using the tools of capitalism.

Personally, I like the Ryanair ad; it’s irreverent and reverent at the same time. I’m sure the agency anticipated the complaints, and counted on cooler heads at the regulating agency.
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August 8, 2005
An article about fixing the ad industry, by Jack Trout via Forbes (NY), with which I agree completely:
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What Trout says is reasoned, forceful, and honest. And, as it aligns neatly with what I have said here many times before, I have nothing to add.
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August 5, 2005
Just a quick one about great advertising slogans and taglines, from McGraw-Hill via (Santa Barbara, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key statistic and point: of the top 100 slogans, 11 are about 40-50 years old, about 50 are 30-40 years old, and 20 are about 20 years old. How have slogans from the 21st century fared? Only one made the top 100. That shows the value of persistence and longevity. Sometimes, what separates a clunker from a clarion call, is corporate stick-to-it-iveness.

The other interesting trend, especially for those of us who create ad slogans for a living, is how the brand messages have evolved toward evoking a sense of community.
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August 4, 2005
From the BBC comes this story about Craigslist:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Craigslist is an online community of localized classified ads and forums. I know several successful companies that use it as their only advertising vehicle. While eBayís sheer size and reach makes it a great place to test marketing appeals, Craigslist offers a similar testbed on a more-localized scale, for free.

In checking the fact sheet, I see that I discovered the San Diego Craigslist shortly after it was launched in 2000, because it was just after my first kid was born.

Because Craigslist is fundamentally a text-oriented medium, ad copy is extremely important. Want to test your copywriting chops? Sell something on Craigslist. Stuff Iíve sold includes two cribs, a changing table, baby stuff, two rocking chairs and a glider, an inkjet printer, pots and pans, lamps, and a bunch of photo gear. These sales, though, must be offset by my many purchases, including three guitars, my wifeís exercise equipment, and the dining room table and laptop Iím writing on right now.

However, Iíve had little success in selling clients, who frequently equate media cost with value, on the benefits of a Craigslist campaign.
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August 3, 2005
Why is there so much bad advertising? Could part of the answer be that much of it works? This article, from the Economic Times (India) via Agencyfaqs!, explores the ups and downs of creative advertising:
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Extracting a good creative brief is the job of the agency, so the blame there canít be placed entirely on the client.

One key factor is that, all too often, ad agency creatives take the word “edgy” to mean “irrelevant.” So, the ads end up producing the same, insular, talking-to-yourself results as the dullest ads. In a which-smells-worse contest, an ad that everyone notices but no one understands is worse than an ad that fades into the background but communicates clearly.

Of course, our job is to create ads that grab attention immediately, deliver messages clearly, and call for action urgently. There’s ample room for both the breakthrough and the tried-and-true. For instance, while out-of-the-box innovation is often the most-effective way to capture relevant attention,  the act of persuasion usually follows a well-traveled structure.

All of which is a lot easier to manage against a background of mediocrity than a background of excellence. Thank goodness for bad ads!
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August 2, 2005
Here’s an article, from the Denver Post (CO), about companies using good deeds as promotions:
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Giving away soup or popsicles, paying for parking meters, and the like could be viewed – rather cynically, I think – as ad creep. Or, such giveaways could be categorized more-appropriately as plain old promotion. Some of these concepts, like the Joan of Arcadia giveaways, strike me as an attempt to create buzz more than good will. And, as far as branding, it takes more than a one-off promotional cup of coffee to build a relationship with a customer.
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August 1, 2005
Advertising is programming, and vice versa, as more advertisers discover the clout of music. Here’s the story, from Reuters (NY):
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Anyone remember the old Firestone Christmas record albums? It was an odd convergence, a tire company and holiday music, but no more odd than some happening today. What made it work, was its consistent quality and persistence through the years.

However, what’s happening today goes far beyond a seasonal goodwill promotion. Breaking the next big act is an increasingly important part of branding as well as a retail-oriented promotional hook. In an age of free downloads and easy digital bootlegging, it provides new artists with both audience exposure and a reliable source of income. Finally, for listeners, it provides a welcome break from the restricted playlist deployed by radio stations, even though the sponsorship is more transparent.
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Backwards in time to July 2005

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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