John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August, 2006

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August 31, 2006
Four top UK-based ad agency creatives reflect on the best media people they’ve known. Here’s the article, from Media Week (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Maybe the split between media and creative had to happen, in order for media to be taken seriously. But, reading these recollections, it’s obvious that media was always part of the creative mix and good media people were always part of creative teams, whether or not the relationship was official. In particular, the campaign for Interflora benefited dramatically from the media person’s contribution. Indeed, her idea didn’t just make the concept, it was the concept.
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August 30, 2006
Freelancers face the same challenges whether they’re in the UK or the US. Here’s an article about the perils of freelancing, from (London):
Advertising copywriter blog link

These people seem a bit downcast to me, but they echo sentiments I’ve heard from US-based freelance creatives from coast to coast.

Here is the underlying problem: most freelancers manage their work as outsourced employees instead of as businesses. This is especially true of freelance writers. Few make investments in equipment, training, technology, or even marketing for crying out loud. As a result, they struggle to scrap for piecemeal project work, instead of building a stable of long-term clients.

I’m a freelance advertising copywriter. That’s what I do, but it’s also my business. Here’s a story. When I started freelancing two decades ago, I had a computer and printer (a Commodore SX-64 and an Epson FX-85), and a fax machine, all of which represented a business investment of about $1,500 at the time (and the computer was bought used). That was a sizeable chunk. But remember, 20+ years ago, most copywriters worked on typewriters, and only larger businesses had fax machines.

The computer enabled me to turn around copy revisions in hours instead of days. The fax machine enabled me to deliver copy to clients and samples to prospective clients without leaving my desk. The efficiencies in workflow and throughput were huge benefits to me and my clients, and even became a key competitive edge. I remember potential new clients being amazed: “you mean you can fax us what we need? When can you get started?”

The next jump was email. I enjoyed the efficiencies of email back when having an email address was a rare thing among individuals. Yes, it was a string of numbers at my ISP (remember those?), but the same thing happened. Potential new client: “you mean you can email us copy? When can you get started?”

Next was the web. Then search. Then blogging. And now ... well, I can’t say for certain what the next business differentiator will be, but I can say that I’m actively doing various things that make sense to me. Just like most businesses, but unlike most freelancers, and that has made all the difference.
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August 29, 2006
In the rush to move existing youth-oriented brands to the web, yet another heavy hitter learns that owning a great brand means nothing if the execution isn’t right. Here’s the story about Viacom-backed MTV and its online venture MTV Overdrive, from the Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, the MTV model was (and still is) largely one-way communication; the MySpace and YouTube model is fundamentally two-way communication. For MTV’s online components, the missing piece is dialog. And that’s going to become increasingly important in media.
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August 28, 2006
Consumers can now name their own products – even branded ones – and personalize packaging (for a price). Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is cool, but it’s also a little silly. As an ad guy, I think it’s a nifty tactic to get customer involvement. As a consumer, I think it’s yet another attempt to make me feel special just like everybody else.

Of the personalized products listed, I think Jones Soda is the only one to hit the right price premium. Also, maybe, the personalized postage stamps, although those are priced more for commemorating special events or promotions than an ongoing cool factor.
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August 27, 2006
A Sunday entry to point to this article from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA). It features a local former graphic designer who collects Absolut vodka magazine ads:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, so a lot of people like the ad campaign. It is even collectible in its own right, like Coke advertising. The question about branding, though, is whether or not it drives purchase preferences. Here is one Absolut ad fan’s answer: “I’ve never had a sip of Absolut.”

Although she has a predisposition to the brand, she’s just not a vodka drinker. And, branding ads aren’t designed to drive category sales, so there should be no expectation of direct results.

However, this is a good example of branding that has a life beyond the retail category.

For more about Absolut advertising, I recommend Absolut Book by Richard W. Lewis (1996, Journey Editions), which tells the story behind the development and maintenance of the iconic ad campaign. 
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August 25, 2006
From Manchester Business School (UK) comes a research paper about if and how branded litter affects the image of the company associated with it. Here’s the story, from edie news centre (Surrey, UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is one of those phenomena that the mere act of observation changes. Once a study participant is consciously registering the brands on packaging litter, you’ve changed the process. Litter, like unwanted advertising, is largely ignored, and its effects, if any, take place on the subconscious level.

I think branded litter merely reinforces individual brand or category perceptions. Upon seeing a discarded Coke-branded cup, a non-smoking Coke drinker might get an unconscious sense of participation in something popular, while a discarded cigarette pack might reinforce a belief that smoking is a filthy habit.

Here’s a quote from the research study author:

“We really don't know how a post-purchase litter context may affect a consumer’s perception of a brand.”
The reality is, purchase behavior on these items is circular. Post-purchase exposure consists of consumption. Almost everything after consumption is pre-purchase again. To the litterer, the litter might be part of the (very short) post-purchase cycle, but to the litter viewer, it’s most likely to be part of the pre-purchase cycle.

Still, if a valid test can be created, one in which the study itself doesn’t form a background opinion among the participants, the additional study results will be interesting. I would like to think that seeing branded litter diminishes the brand. But I rather suspect that the conclusion will be much more complicated than that.
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August 24, 2006
Today is a day of follow-ups. First up is this article from (TX) about Creative Technology receiving $100 million in a settlement with Apple over music player technology patents:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For the trail of Ad Blog entries going back nearly two years, see October 28 2004, April 22 2005, and May 19 2006.

Thing is, there’s still a huge marketing problem. A one-time payment of $100 million and the right to create and sell iPod accessories isn’t going to cover a $118 million loss in 2006 alone (against sales of $1.1 billion). Where, in all of this, is the Creative Technology brand? Diminished to the point that the model name, Zen, probably has more marketplace equity.

Next up, is this article from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about John Hui, the former owner of eMachines, offering to buy it back from Gateway:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For the trail of Ad Blog entries, see April 19 2004, September 14 and 17 2004, February 10 2006, and my white paper about brands and branding.

It’s the same story here: there remains a huge marketing problem. Selling the retail arm, even at a premium price (which the current offer is not), leaves Gateway a brand without a sales channel.

That April 19 2004 Ad Blog entry has a link to an interview with John Hui that is well worth re-reading in light of current events. In particular, look at the Best Buy “value formula” that drove eMachines product development. This formula evaluates and articulates the value a consumer places on a particular feature independently of its cost or price. And, branding carries a direct dollar value on the shelf.

Just a few years ago, Gateway spent a ton of money to acquire this consumer-focused, value-oriented vision. And, in just a few years, it lost it.

Both Creative Technology and Gateway are at high risk of becoming this generation’s Hupmobile: one-time mainstream brands that failed to keep up with changes in the market and became marginalized to the vanishing point.
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August 23, 2006
File this under protecting your brand. Microsoft is pursuing legal action against owners of domain names that are typographical errors based on Microsoft trademarks. Here’s the story, from ClickZ News (New York, NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like the bear analogy. And, indeed, with trademarks the best defense is a persistent and consistent offense.

However, how far can Microsoft go? For instance, Merriam-Webster has Word.Com, although the word-processing software product by that name preceded the URL by several years. Also, with many word-based names already taken as URLs, I wonder how nonsense-word trade names will fare. In other words, what’s the difference between Exelbigglety and Exelbiggelty?

It’ll have to come down to intent as well as precedence and pursuit. With Merriam-Webster and Word.Com, there appears to be no intent to capitalize on Microsoft’s trademark, so perhaps it’s okay, or perhaps an agreement between the two companies has been already been reached.

But, in the case of recent brands based on made-up words, things will get a lot more dicey.
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August 22, 2006
It’s only late August, and there are already articles about the year’s best and worst ads. Here’s one person’s list of the best and worst television commercials, from MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s interesting, is that some of the worst will also make other peoples’ lists of the best. The GEICO commercials, for instance, which my sister thinks are hilarious and memorable. And that HeadOn spot is so bad it’s good.

A search on YouTube for HeadOn turns up not only the commercial, posted several times and viewed tens of thousands of times, but also two- and three-minute remixes and several parodies. Look up the Real California Cheese cows, which the article author picked as the best television commercials of the year, and all you see are the spots themselves – no spoofs, no parodies, no audience interaction, and relatively few views.

I think the HeadOn thing is merely Phase 1 of something larger. If so, it may be very close to being brilliant, if it isn’t already.
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August 21, 2006
More about the ineffectiveness of groupthink brainstorming, this time from The Wall Street Journal via The Miami Herald (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like I said on July 19, I think the best creative thinking is done by a team of two people, who work both independently and together.

Key quote, about research conducted by Paul B. Paulus, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington:

Paulus conducted research on the number and quality of ideas of four people brainstorming together versus four people brainstorming by themselves. Typically, group brainstormers perform at about half the level they would if they brainstormed alone. (Emphasis mine)

Another key quote, from John Clark, a former university dean of engineering:

“I can’t remember a single instance where a group produced a really creative idea.”

The thing is, any given brainstorming session may or may not be efficient, depending on whether or not it chances upon a winning idea or, indeed, whether a winning idea is even recognized and implemented. You can’t quite apply typical ROI formulae to the act of brainstorming. But, if done right, you certainly can measure the success of the results.
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August 18, 2006
Here’s a great multi-product launch case study (complete with screen captures if you follow the links), from the folks at MarketingSherpa:
Advertising copywriter blog link

By going online and interactive with their new model launches, John Deere accelerated their information push to consumers by several weeks. This is very cool.

What’s also cool, is how the company leveraged the approaches and systems that were already in place, albeit in another division.

As for the creative itself, there’s nothing particularly wonderful about it. The main thing, was doing it in the first place. The process itself was the big, creative idea. Branding the campaign. Keeping the campaign opt-in separate. Promoting the campaign both offline and online. Maintaining exclusivity. Additional creative could add only incremental results, and, perhaps as a result, I think the emails themselves could’ve been even stronger. But, looking at the creative samples, here are two small details I particularly like.

First, I like how the unsubscribe information is at the top of the email. This is something I haven’t seen before, and it dramatically adds to the credibility of the message that follows.

Second, I like the cross-selling on the thank-you page. This is one of the campaign’s key non-exclusive selling opportunities, and John Deere took advantage of it.

As for criticism, I think the landing page for the microsite could have been tied in more closely with the campaign. As it is, I see no “First-to-See” campaign identifiers on it or anything else to communicate a sense of preview exclusivity.

Anyway, this is a step-by-step look at a very successful opt-in campaign. It’s well worth a look.
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August 17, 2006
According to the latest media research, product placement is set to triple by 2010. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the report is behind the curve. Product placement may well triple in the next year or two. But by 2010, the market will have moved on to something else, and product placement as it currently exists will be yesterday’s gambit.

If iPods and YouTube and their ilk represent the future of entertainment media, you have to wonder: how much impact will a teensy tiny drinking cup in the corner of a teensy tiny screen command? Exactly. Mere placement won’t be enough. The next trend, will be product integration.
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August 16, 2006
Here’s a good article, with three brief case studies, on the effect of improved data mining on advertising and marketing results, from CRM (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It should come as no surprise that better data on customers and customer behavior translates almost directly into better results if the creative implementation actually makes use of the data. In the real world, the problem is typically either irrelevant data, or no access to the data you need to develop and drive appropriate creative executions.

Another problem arises in the form of corporate cowardice when a truly innovative solution is presented based on customer data, but that’s beside the point here.

The point is that data mining, by itself, does little to help the marketing process no matter how finely the customer relationship is parsed. What matters, is how the data is actually interpreted and used.

So, what about what I said yesterday? Isn’t behavioral targeting a fine example of real-time data mining and utilization? Well, yeah, it is. But it’s a clunky, primitive, intrusive thing. Far better, are those solutions that mold the processes themselves around customer data – the marketing process, the sales process, the customer-retention process. It’s harder work, of course, which is why most marketers focus on advertising as a concrete milestone. But milestones are meant to be passed on the way to something else.
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August 15, 2006
I am back from a week-long camping trip near the Sierra Buttes with my wife, two kids, and dog. We had a dirty bathwater contest at the hotel on our way home (it was a two-day drive), which the kids won handily. The dog came in dead last, the cleanest of all of us.

Anyway, the first thing I saw in my local newspaper this morning, was this article about behavioral targeting and online searches, from The New York Times. Here it is, republished in my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ad relevance is the driver here, but, in the online world, more relevance means less privacy. We’re seeing the Amazonification of the Web, a world in which every click needs to be monetized in some way, every query needs to be upsold. I think that’s sad.

There is more to life than consumerism. And, if the Internet becomes just another retail outlet, no matter how wonderfully predictive, then that point marks the beginning of the death of the Web.
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August 7, 2006
A mid-vacation note, thanks to this tip from my long-time partner-in-crime, Blaise. It’s an article from via MSNBC, about the top marketing trends going forward:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s nothing ground-breaking here: experiential branding, brand creep, online power, multi-culturalism, micro-niche targeting, oddball offline media, social networking, blogs, the usual stuff.

The value here, is that this is the stuff that is working already. These trends are already well-entrenched. They should be notable only in their absence from any given marketing plan.
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August 4, 2006 Part 2
I’m taking a break from advertising for a few days. One needs to, occasionally, to refresh the senses and recharge the spirit.

Here’s a quote that I find reassuring when I’m struggling to come up with the Big Idea. It’s from Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955): “To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith.”

Well, you can’t be quite that laissez-faire on a deadline. The struggle and the sweat are part of the creative process. But so are taking a break, sleeping on it, switching attention to something else. You learn to trust the process itself to deliver the good stuff.

I will return laden with the treasures that come to those not seeking them.
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August 4, 2006
On October 2 2005, I predicted that Lenovo would overtake HP to challenge Dell within 18 months. It has been 10 months, and Lenovo has stormed into the #3 position, right behind Dell and HP. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s amazing how fast this has happened. In 10 months, Lenovo has built its brand (see my Ad Blog entry just four months ago, on April 12 2006) at the expense of Gateway, eMachines, Compaq, Toshiba, Sony, and many others. We’re seeing a premier case study in branding and marketing right before our eyes. And remember, folks, this is a Chinese company, which until very recently has meant that most marketing people (self included – see July 21 2005) have dismissed its ability to understand Western-style branding.
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August 3, 2006
More about online advideos, this time about creating trailers for new book releases. Here’s the story, from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this concept works better when the trailer adds insight and information instead of revealing plotlines. The advideos that follow the movie trailer model infringe too deeply on the realm of the reader’s imagination, and limit, rather than enhance, the power of the written word. Of course, maybe that’s what consumers want; that’s why books based on television shows and movies are so popular. But, as an avid reader, I find it much more interesting to get added insights: the author discussing the writing and editing of a work, literary analysis, or experts showing applications of the book’s content.

Advideos, though, are rapidly becoming the next email spam: cheap to produce, cheap or free to distribute, and capable of reaching theoretically huge audiences. And, as the volume of noise increases, the value of the channel diminishes.
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August 2, 2006
Not every advideo posted to YouTube has viral intent. Canadian oil company Petro-Canada has used YouTube for the distribution of a series of talking head videos addressing gas prices. Here’s the story, from the Globe and Mail (Toronto, CAN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, they are basically video press releases. Yes, they are some of the most-boring things I’ve seen on YouTube or anywhere else (I’ve seen PowerPoint presentations on economics that are more engaging). And yes, 2,000 views is not a lot. However, those 2,000 views represent people who may never before have been exposed to a message about the economics of oil and gasoline. Plus, there’s the value of the downstream data – finding out who’s viewing, and how they got there (for instance, did the press coverage give views a bump? are people going to YouTube or viewing the videos on-site?). That information alone may be worth the $20,000 budgeted, which for Petrocan is a tiny investment.
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August 1, 2006
Large Black women with don’t-mess-with-me attitudes seem to be the hip persona du jour in advertising, as usual following several years behind the same point in pop culture. Here’s a look at the trend, from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Caricature is never pretty. But, in advertising you have mere seconds or even fractions of seconds to create recognizable personalities so you can get on with the story and deliver the message. That’s not an excuse, by the way, just a fact. A fact that makes using caricatures the quick and easy way out. The bumbling dad. The harried mom. The clever kid. The vacant slacker. The cranky oldster. Just pick a location (a park, a kitchen, a driveway, an office cubicle), then mix and match caricatures to populate it. Make sure you have a “diverse” ethnic mix too: the hip Black. The smart Asian. The wisecracking Hispanic. The uptight Caucasian.

A cranky, aging Black hipster and a harried, uptight Caucasian Mom in a kitchen. A wisecracking Hispanic and and a vacant slacker in an office cubicle. You’ve seen these ads, or ads very much like them. Can you see the problem?

Caricature-driven ads feature the caricatures. Not the product. Surrounded by so-called personalities, the product is reduced to a supporting prop, without a personality of its own.

I think that’s a big problem.
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Backwards in time to July 2006

My experience as a copywriter.

Main page | Consumer goods | Food services | Free red pen | Healthcare | Hospitality & tourism | Internet | Manufacturing | Packaged goods | Portfolio | Real estate & construction | Retail & restaurants | Service | Technology

Answers to frequently asked questions.

Why should you hire me as your advertising copywriter? | FAQ

Advertising & marketing advice.

Advertising strategy and other lies
An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books
Brands and branding: a white paper
Do you make these mistakes in advertising?
Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
Four ad copy traps that ensnare even experienced copywriters
How to become an advertising copywriter
How to take your copywriting portfolio to the next level
How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
More career advice: what’s it like being an advertising copywriter?
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
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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Me, me, me.

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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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