John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August 2007

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August 31 2007
The American Cancer Society has shifted the focus of its ads to the need for health insurance. Here’s the story, from the New York Times News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Even beyond the possibility of doing something positive for the greater good, this marks a major strategic shift. But, it could vault the American Cancer Society from being a niche non-profit – the largest in its category to be sure, but still a niche category – to being a major non-profit brand. I think that’s very exciting.

Naturally, some people within the organization, particularly those focused on retail results in terms of local foot traffic, are less thrilled. They feel that the $15 million could have been better put toward, say, more free cancer screenings.

But the advertising budget was going to be spent anyway (and apparently has not increased in eight years). No one would argue, sensibly anyway, that the organization should transfer its entire ad budget into field services. That would do wonderful things, for about a year. Then the whole organization would fold up its tent for lack of ongoing contributions in support of those field operations.

This is a smart way for a niche organization to gain broader relevance. And, to accomplish bigger goals.
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August 30 2007
File these under Desperate Acts. First up is a self-important press release from Chrysler announcing that it’s turning to its dealers for advertising ideas promoting its new warranty. Here’s the puff piece, from PRWeb via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s clever is that the ad agency dodges accountability by foisting the creative duties off on the dealers, who have the most at stake in driving up sales. Plus, on a corporate level, co-op advertising dollars need to be allocated anyway, so the prize consists of the money that’s always on the table.

What might be the outcome of such “creative energy and product knowledge?” Well, look across the pond at another puff piece in The Evening Times (Glasgow, Scotland) for an example of an employee-created ad for Ballantine’s whiskey:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Fortunately, the ad will never see light outside the corporate walls. If it did, no doubt plenty of people would point out that it is indeed an “inspired idea.” Inspired by – or derivative of – the Absolut vodka ad campaign.
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August 29 2007
Just a quickie pointing out a subtle but significant change in Japanese beauty product advertising, from the Associated Press via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hey it took American health and cosmetic advertising, what, 100 years or so to start focusing on real people and attainable beauty. But that’s not the point.

Those who don’t get what’s cool here are overlooking advertising’s influence over, and barometer of, social culture. Given the rising importance of social connections in advertising and marketing, and the speed with which global trends spread, I see implications that go beyond any single regional branded product category.
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August 28 2007
I found this annual round-up of the worst TV commercials on
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, I think the article swaps credibility for snarkiness. For instance, I think Digger the Dermatophyte was great. Cringingly great, but if you suffered from toenail fungus, the commercials would make you curl your toes, clench your sphincter, and reach for the product. Likewise the HeadOn commercials, which effectively launched not just the product but the whole --On brand.

The fact is, the more tightly you target your creative, the more people are likely to regard your effort as a Bad Ad, because they're not the ones being addressed. It’s irrelevant to them. Even with a mass medium like broadcast television, people still experience ads individually. And, even at the risk of offense, creative is a great way to slice and dice a large audience to reach just the people you want.
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August 27 2007
Could this be the end of the Gateway brand saga? The Gateway/eMachines conglomeration has been sold to Taiwan-based Acer for $710 million. Here’s the story, from PC World (San Francisco, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Mind you, that $710 million represents a premium of more than 50% over the share price last Friday, so some people might say it’s too much. On the other hand, those shares, now selling for less than $2 each, sold for $81.50 in 1999. Of course, that was before the eMachines merger, before numerous rebranding schemes, before real estate turned sour, before HP turned on the afterburners and turned up the pressure. The technology world was oh so different in 1999.

I don’t think the Gateway or eMachines brands carry much clout, particularly over a rising brand like Acer. The brand momentum there was definitely on the downward swing. Could $710 million in savvy advertising and marketing brought the Acer brand a higher perception of value? Probably. No, definitely.

But, on a retail level, shelf space has tremendous value. Acquiring access to more shelf space for Acer, whether under its own brand or another, represents a pretty sound investment. Also, Acer gained the ability to sell different branded products to different retailers. That’s increasingly important as specialized computer retailers (like CompUSA as a recent example) start fading away in favor of traditional retail brands like Wal-Mart, Target, and Sears, which use the brands they carry to both draw customers and to differentiate themselves. Look, as an aside, at the brand challenge Dell faces in trying to embrace everyone from the Wal-Mart customer to the enterprise IT client.

Also, the deal effectively blocked Chinese competitor Lenovo from scooping up the Packard Bell brand, giving it a familiar low-end nameplate for the U.S. and a strong existing retail distribution channel in Europe. As a defensive tactic, the move may have been worth the cost, or at least the premium, right there. Even if Lenovo does end up winning the right to buy Packard Bell, the price it will pay will likely be substantially higher.

In one fell swoop, Acer created a strategic problem for Lenovo and Dell, two of its biggest competitors. And, it positioned itself size-wise to go after HP/Compaq. But, Acer still lacks top-tier brand with which to go after HP, and that is Acer’s big marketing challenge over the next few years, if it’s going to reap the full benefit of its investment.
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August 25 2007
This weekend story in the business section of my local San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) caught my eye. It’s from The Washington Post (DC), about those ubiquitous home loan/line of credit ads:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Creatively, the pitch hasn’t changed to keep up with reality, which is that the days of screaming deals on home loans are over. Rules have tightened. Employment on an individual level is shaky and getting shakier. And, in many markets, home values have stagnated or even dropped, leaving more-recent purchasers with little or no (or even negative) equity.

Within every change lies opportunity. But, it’s hard to see the advertising opportunity here unless something else changes: either the loan product, or the market, or both. Otherwise, you’re just selling hope, and hope based on an outdated model at that. And, the more people who don’t actually receive what they’re hoping for, the less credible the ads – and the companies running them – become. That alone might be a good reason to alter tactics.
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August 24 2007
What was my key word Monday? Relevance. Here, from BusinessWeek, is a piece about the least-skipped TV commercials according to TiVo research. The results might surprise those who believe that advertising’s primary job is to entertain:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the top three least-skipped TV commercials were all retail-oriented and laser-focused on the broad target audience. And that last point highlights an important tactic: with all the talk lately about micro-targeting, it’s easy to overlook the bigger common denominators that connect mass audiences. Yes, persuasion happens one-on-one, but a broader appeal reaches ones by the thousands instead of ones by the ones.

And another thing: when will media planners start getting credit for the creativity the job now requires?
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August 23 2007
More about online video advertising, this time going for the small commercial user, from businesses to ordinary people with stuff to sell. Here’s (appropriately enough) a video report, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As webspace gets cheaper, this medium can only expand. But it’s still primarily a medium, not a channel – in other words, you still have to either push your video out to the audience or pull the audience in. Developing, producing, and posting the video are just the first steps. Ah, but to be the channel – that’s the opportunity being hotly pursued by several companies, including one featured in the story (and the BBC itself). Existing media companies hold a significant, if fast-dulling, edge in the scramble for market share.

The key takeaway, though, is that video is now an essential marketing component. Like the man says, even classified advertising has progressed from text-only origins to photos (when was the last time you bought anything from eBay or Craigslist that didn’t have a photo?) and now video.
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August 22 2007
YouTube is now running in-video ads, and users are Not Happy. Here’s the story, from E-Commerce Times (Encino, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What, YouTube isn’t profitable enough with its existing ad load? Not every online property has to be “monetized” any more than every piece of real estate should be commercialized. There need to be places to live, and that’s what drives most communities, both online and off.

Anyway, I doubt very highly that Google is going to make a huge mis-step; I think the nay-sayers will be force-fed this new revenue model and shareholders will rub their hands with glee. And, from a creative standpoint, it does offer a way for content creators themselves to get compensated for their time and talent, although so far I don’t see any indication that the revenue generated will necessarily find its way back to them.

From an advertising perspective, I think the results are skewed. Users clicked on the ads because their very existence was a novelty and therefore intriguing. Once users get past the novelty, the ads will either be (a) an annoyance or (b) ignored. Either way, it’s not good for advertisers.
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August 21 2007
Two-second radio commercials are gaining traction as their effectiveness at promoting television programming is proved. Here’s the story, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I talked about nano ad spots on June 20. Not much has changed since then, but here are some key quotes, from three different people: the media rep, the advertiser, and an agency guy.

“... the mini-ads worked particularly well for companies with recognizable brands and in conjunction with longer ads.”

“They are great frequency builders, especially when you have iconic sounds associated with shows.”

“I think a few advertisers have found a strategic way to use it, but it’s not something that’s going to work for the majority of advertisers.”

I think two-second radio spots are most-effective when they reach out and stimulate, through an “iconic sound,” an immediate listener response of concept completion or continuation. See, that’s interactive advertising.
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August 20 2007
I saw this article in in the newspaper over the weekend, and found it online today. It’s a look at how advertisers are trying to tap into the growing market of mobile phone users, while not alienating everyone. Results are ... mixed. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News (Canada):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It all boils down to one key word: relevance. If the advertising message is relevant in the moment it is received, it will at least not be perceived as an pollutant.

Of course, that’s true  of all advertising. And at least with wireless technology, you know how many are actively blocking or skipping your ad message, unlike, say, a magazine ad where ads are blocked invisibly, automatically, and subconsciously.
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August 17 2007
A lot of companies aspire to the kind of marketing Apple does. But few understand what really makes it tick. Here’s a short piece dissecting one facet of Apple’s marketing juggernaut, its appeal to teens and young adults, from BusinessWeek via Yahoo! News (Asia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s notable is that Apple became a youth-marketing powerhouse not by directly targeting them in advertising. Instead, it filled a global need, executed well all the way through including product design and packaging, tapped into an emotion, then stood back and let the consumers take over.

See, it’s not just about striking advertising. It’s not just about branding. It’s about relevance, from start to finish and beyond.
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August 16 2007
Phil Rizzuto Lives! Well, in a now-vintage Money Tree TV commercial, anyway. Here’s an entertaining look at Campy Television Commercials Using Celebrities, from YouTube and ABC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think one of the worst (or best? no, worst) was a clunker created by the great David Ogilvy, featuring Eleanor Roosevelt shilling for Good Luck margarine. It’s not on YouTube, but occasionally crops up in collections of commercials. It lacks just about everything a good television commercial should have, including relevance and believability. It was bad beyond good-bad, beyond train-wreck bad, and well into the category of the simply irretrievably bad.

Ogilvy on Advertising contains Mrs. Roosevelt’s report that the mail she received was of split opinions: “One half was sad because I had damaged my reputation. The other half was happy because I had damaged my reputation.”

Anyway, here are my quick takes on the commercials linked in the article. I think the Lauren Bacall spot for High Point coffee veers perilously close to the Roosevelt nadir, although there’s a definite camp factor to it today. Mickey Rooney’s Rainier beer spot tries for whimsy but falls short, while the Fabio spot for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter is ridiculous enough to work. Jack Palance’s spot for Mennen Skin Bracer plays well as a caricature, and there’s enough of a sparkle in his eye to let the viewer in on the joke. Some spots, like Keith Hernandez’s for The Mortgage Shop, are simply forgettable, like whatever real estate venture Erik Estrada is pitching in infomercials now.

The Japanese-market commercials are probably incomprehensible to westerners in both concept and language, but I think Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for very opposite reasons, bring a genuine believability to their roles. And, come on, the Hulk Hogan spot for Hitachi is just irresistible. The surprise there is that he actually has a nice smile and a pleasant singing voice.

And Phil Rizzuto’s spots for The Money Store? I remember them, and I thought they were bad-good campy fun when they ran in the 1980s. Now that time has worked its magic on them, I think they’re bad-great.
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August 15 2007
Hey, an article about advertising that was written by someone who understands copywriting! It’s a piece called “Why Most Ads Fail,” and it comes from Entrepreneur via
Advertising copywriter blog link

I won’t bother commenting on the list of four common mistakes, because their truth is self-evident. But I will add something.

The purpose of advertising is persuasion. Not entertainment. Not decoration. Not awards. The point is to move a person (not a “target audience” but an individual person, because that’s how life – and advertising – is experienced) from the place they are to the place you want them to be.

People are moved by emotion. Movement is sustained by rationality, by making continued movement the sensible thing to do.

Integrating those two sometimes-opposing forces in a single ad is hard. That’s why I think most ads fail: because somewhere during the creative process, someone got lazy. Someone settled on a logo and slogan and called it branding. Someone settled on a list of features and called it detail. Someone got scared of their boss, or a marketing committee, or the shareholders, and replaced standing out with blending in. 

See, I believe that anyone beyond the level of Advertising 101 knows this stuff. But effectiveness in the field depends, not on knowledge, but on execution.
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August 14 2007
I am back from the mountains, refreshed and reloaded (if not entirely rested). Anyone who has gone tent camping in the Sierras with their two small children know exactly what that means. Anyway, here I have a feature story, from Computer Arts (UK) arguing that the visual is even more important now in the face of increased media noise:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I totally agree, by the way; all my best ads have started as sketches of visuals on either my pad or my concepting partner’s. I enjoyed the back story on the “peace” symbol; I knew it was from the nuclear disarmament movement in the late 1950s, and was dimly aware of some of the symbology behind it, but I didn’t know how it came about.

But, what I really liked was how the story explored graphics beyond logos and single-media executions. It’s a visual world, more so now than ever, whether one is agitating to change social paradigms or to change one person’s brand of toilet paper.

So what’s the use of a copywriter? Same as always: to persuade. It’s like I always say: design opens doors, and copy closes the deal.
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August 7 2007
Oops! A Scottish anti-drug campaign had the effect of stimulating interest among certain audience segments. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While the campaign was effective at discouraging use among one key target group, young students, it also apparently had the effect of raising awareness and, to a limited degree, interest.

That’s a real problem with anti-(whatever) advertising. By bringing up an issue, if it’s not dealt with decisively in the creative execution then the issue is left sort of hanging.
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August 3 2007
Several advertisers pulled their campaigns from social networking site Facebook after their banner ads appeared in rotation on a page related to the controversial British National Party (BNP). Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The BNP, by way of essential background information, is a far-right-wing political party holding views many in the UK find offensive.

But this points up the real problem with advertisers trying to tap into user-generated content sites by merely running ads: there is little control over where those ads run. Obviously the advertisers who pulled their ads hold views in opposition to those espoused by the BNP; but the potential for a run-in of this kind would have been foreseen by any media person who truly understood the channel, as opposed to someone who was merely buying a spot on the bandwagon.

Anyway, this gets back to what I was saying yesterday, that the real opportunity here lies in owning the content, something I was saying nearly four years ago, back on December 4 2003.

I’m taking another little break from advertising to recharge and spend time with my family – summer being the time for that – but I will be back online probably before anyone realizes I’m gone.
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August 2 2007
I have two stories today, both from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA). The first is something of a follow-up to the story on July 26 about Mattel and its rigorous management of its vendors and manufacturers in China:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Isn’t that just the way it works in corporate PR? Just one week (to the day) after getting some positive press about its quality control processes, Mattel finds itself in hot water over that very issue.

Well, at least when the problem – lead contamination in the paint on certain toys – was brought to its attention, the company took it seriously and responded quickly. We’ll see how this plays out.

But, could this spell the beginning of the end for China’s dominance as a chief supplier to U.S. consumerism? Can it, even?

The second story is a little buzz about LonelyGirl15 making the jump from YouTube to ... MySpaceTV:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertisers are ponying up with product and even corporate placement deals. And, with more entertainment industry heavyweights entering the fray, and at least some consideration to a profit-based business model, it appears the web-based programming bandwagon is only starting to roll.

And yet, the field remains wide open for another advertiser to own its own programming in a big way, blending the scope of 1920s radio soaps with the one-to-one interactivity of digital delivery. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a great time to be in advertising!
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August 1 2007
It seems to be a big week for no-duh research results. Today JupiterResearch released a report showing a significant rise in the number of online video viewers. Here’s the story, from TechNewsWorld (part of the E-Commerce Times News Network, Encino, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The key positive change I’ve seen over the past couple years, is the increased willingness of advertisers to create specific online video ad content rather than simply throwing their TV spots online.

The other change is behavioral and personal, although I’ve noticed more business associates doing the same thing. In response to the rise of auto-loading video ads on websites, I tend to surf the web with my speakers muted or turned way, way down. If there’s specific audio or audio-visual content I want, reactivating my speakers is the press of a keyboard button away.

From a consumer perspective, every move is countered except that which is opted into.

Which points to developing unique and relevant online ad content as being the keys to success. You can’t just throw an ad message out there and hope it sticks. Like the analyst says at the end: “Switching costs online are so low it’s easy for someone online to get annoyed at an overbearing ad or too many ads or too many repeats of the same ad and go away ... I think it’s very, very hard for a company to win that consumer back once they've been driven away.
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Backwards in time to July 2007

My experience as a copywriter.

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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
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How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
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Long John Silver on writing ads
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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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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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