John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August 2008

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August 26 2008
An anti-hot dog commercial from a vegetarian group runs afoul of, oh, the truth. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hmpf. I’m happily omnivorous, and I could easily beat that lame effort as an anti-meat spot. Trying to paint hot dogs with the taint of childhood colon cancer is not only fallacious, it’s also absurd. For most normal people, hot dogs are in the category of junk-like quasi-real foods, like Spam, beef jerky, or pepperoni. Yes, the fat load and the salt load and possibly the chemical load are high; that’s why they’re not part of a normal person’s regular diet. As for the half-dozen or so hot dogs my kids eat each year at birthday parties and campouts – as a concerned parent I’d say the memories outweigh the risk. As a marketing guy, I’d say if you want to go gunning for a meat target, go for the category leaders: chicken, beef, pork.

And as for an anti-hot dog ad, you know what I’d have done? Told the truth about them, like the article did: “the government does allow them to contain pig snouts and stomachs, cow lips and livers, goat gullets and lamb spleens.

As anti-hot dog copy, that’s hard to top.

The ad would have been a lot stronger and swayed more people, if the group behind it had stayed focused and dug deeper.
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August 25 2008
Here’s some refreshing straight talk about award shows from Eric Hirshberg, an award-winning creative director and frequent advertising award show judge, in Crain’s Creativity (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Heck, I’d be happy if ads submitted to award shows had to be accompanied by proof they were actually commissioned by a paying client and run in real media. Yeah, there’s enough wriggle room there to allow some fake ads, but at least it would screen out the pure-play fake ads, the ones created just for the shows and tailored specifically to the tastes of ad award show judges.

Anyway, I agree with everything Mr. Hirshberg says, right down to his ultimate advertising award show concept. My only regret would be that it eliminates the opportunity to salute – and learn from – the spectacularly innovative marketplace dogs, which play their own important role in pushing us along.
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August 22 2008
Here is a significant advertising success story out of Montana, where up until this ad campaign broke a couple years ago, the state was battling a severe meth problem among kids. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The disciplined approach to “un-selling” meth use was spot on; lifestyle choices including drug use are about image, branding, and perception. Also, I like the pre-emptive approach of  “not even once.”

But the thing to learn from this campaign, is this: because it was privately funded, it was sustained for two straight years, something few public agencies have the freedom to do. Most of the time, you’d barely get a campaign started when it was time to send out RFPs and go through the whole qualification and proposal process again, a colossal waste of time, energy, and awareness.

Yes, the graphic images helped. Yes, the high level of production quality helped. Yes, the media budget helped. But the biggest contributor to the success of this campaign – and it was successful, slashing meth use in the state by more than half – was the strategic commitment to keep hammering away for two solid years.
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August 21 2008
I have two today. First up is this one, about owners of creative copyrights moving to embrace – and possibly legitimize – YouTube pirates, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The main thing is, the original copyright owner gets the revenue from the advertising, if any, and gets to place an ad of its own in the form of a credit line.

This strikes me as a pragmatic solution to a real issue, especially when the “pirates” are merely enthusiastic fans. And, as for real intellectual property pirates, the revenue gets siphoned off so there’s no incentive.

My next story is related to intellectual property and trademark law. A recent trademark decision in Hong Kong turned down Rolex’s argument that Seiko’s Roox sub-brand was an infringement. Here’s a PDF of the decision, well worth a read in part because the registrar, the delightfully named Ms. Fanny Shuk Fan Pang, had marketing insight, common sense, and a wry sense of humor:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of note: the designer, Ryoichi Kishi, submitted his rationale for the name and the logo design as a statutory declaration, and that became, in the absence of directly questioning him, a key piece of evidence for independent creation of the mark.

Also of note: the registrar took into account the two company’s branding efforts, noting that the positioning disparity made consumer confusion all but impossible.

So, it’s an interesting inside look at how the legal system works, even globally. Personally, I think the outcome of the conflict was never really in doubt, but it was something Rolex had to pursue to protect its turf. The next watch company to think of doing, oh, Rimix or Rohox or even a real word like Relax might think twice about it, especially if it lacked the resources of Seiko (which by the way, is the goliath in this case). And that was the point Rolex needed to make, and it made it by being scrappy and forcing the issue as far as it did.
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August 20 2008
As the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing draw to a close, London is ramping up its 2012 effort. And here is a preview of the thin end of the upcoming advertising wedge, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Umm-hmm. The first thing that poster brings to my mind is the title sequence of EastEnders, the popular British soap opera. The second and more important impression, is that it looks more like a fisheye aerial view of London, not London-as-Earth. Yeah, the art director tried, by putting stars in the background. But it would work better if there was a shadow indicating a day/night terminator or an object in the foreground like the moon or a satellite or something to place me way out in space instead of merely high up in the air.

I also don’t like the words “Visit London” appearing twice. It looks like someone lacked confidence in the branding.

It’s a decent concept, but someone needed to sweat the details a bit more before sending this one to press.
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August 19 2008
Record-setting Olympic gold medalist and swimmer Michael Phelps is the next big celebrity pitchman. The open question is, will he have staying power? Here’s a look at his advertising potential, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I had shoved into the dim recesses of memory the fact that Mary Lou Retton had won just a single gold medal, so skillfully has she and her handlers parlayed that accomplishment into a lifetime career. I’m of a generation that wouldn’t necessarily dismiss Mark Spitz as an example of an Olympic athlete who lacked staying power in pop culture; it seems he was a major spokesman and celebrity well into the 1980s. The same is true of Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner. More recently, and considerably closer to home, I was surprised that champion snowboarder and 2006 Winter Games gold medalist Shaun White hasn’t made the transition into mainstream pop culture.

One wonders if there’s a gender gap in play, with female athletes being more bankable over the long run than male athletes. Think of, oh, Mia Hamm, Nadia Comaneci, Olga Korbut, Dorothy Hamill, the list goes on and on, all the way back to Sonja Henie.

From a marketing perspective, though, the brand is the key. It would be hard to attach a single-word attribute to Spitz, Jenner, or, for that matter, White. But almost everyone could ID Mary Lou Retton in a word: “spunky.” As tiresome as that no doubt became, it was key to her success in the world of advertising and pop culture.

So, what is Phelp’s one-word brand? “Best” lacks emotion. “Driven” is better, but lacks the likeable, unexpected hook of  “spunky,” which for those reasons is the Olympic personal brand to beat.
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August 18 2008
To every trend, there is a counter-trend. Call this the micro-brewery backlash - the beers du jour are old-line blue-collar brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing is, this isn’t about nostalgia, although that’s a funny aside for older people. The hip young drinkers choosing PBR wouldn’t identify Father Knows Best as anything but retro-camp, right in there with McHale’s Navy and Sgt. Bilko re-runs on Hulu or Fancast. (And, by the way, and not to take anything away from Tim Conway and Phil Silvers, Joe Flynn and Paul Ford were incredible comedic talents with flawless timing and a gift for the perfect micro-expression.) It’s also not about the beer, although taste preferences are an acquired thing anyway.

What this is about, is a reaction to marketing. And not just mass-marketing, but the kind of precise target marketing done by niche brands – like microbreweries. The consumer group is a subset within the niche that defines itself by rejecting the niche, a rising category if ever there was one. That’s the part that’s important to understand.
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August 17 2008
I’m back from the mountains, where we had perfect weather and a wonderful time!

And, on the long drive home, I saw an example of really smart marketing. It was a crude, hand-painted sign at one end of a nursery next to the freeway. It read:

Okay, that’s positioning. It also may be careful copywriting. Note, for instance, how it throws the benefit to the future while making the promise explicit: not “landscaping that sells houses” but “landscaping that will sell houses.” Also, note the impersonal plural: “houses” instead of “your house.” So this nursery isn’t targeting individual home-sellers, but banks, mortgage holders, and real estate agents.

The only thing I would add, is a branded URL to close the loop.
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August 7 2008
It looks like the economic stimulus checks have been spent, and retailers are bracing for a tough third quarter and even worse holiday season. Here’s the story, related to the one from yesterday, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t personally know anyone who spent his or her economic stimulus rebate check on new purchases.

Anyway, if anyone cares, here’s my marketing recommendation for retailers. If you’re going to use loss-leaders to get foot traffic up (yeah, yeah, that’s what everyone’s already doing), then – and this is the critical part that so far most retailers have yet to implement well – use heavy point-of-sale marketing to wring more out of each potential customer once they’re in the store. In a down economy, impulse buying still exists; it’s just that now consumers respond to a different kind of item. For instance, a roll of bargain-priced paper towels instead of a candy bar. Retailers are going to have to work for the sales now.

Speaking of working, I’m taking a little time off to recharge and play with my family. I will be back, refreshed, reloaded, and ready to go!
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August 6 2008
As Back-to-School shopping season opens, retailers are rolling out big discounts and trying all kinds of promotions in an all-out, almost desperate effort to get foot traffic. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The dismal economy and the lack of “must-have” fashion items for kids, to my eye, go hand-in-hand. After all, why spend money to develop and promote a fad if the market for such products is declining? And, on the consumer side, the return to fashion classics reflects the increased importance of getting more use out of what is purchased. If there’s a hot item this year, it’ll be on the accessory front, it’ll be cheap, and kids will buy it for themselves and their friends.

Oh, and it probably won’t be marketed primarily through traditional media, discounting, or promotions.
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August 5 2008
This is sorta kinda a continuation from yesterday’s entry about children’s programming that’s really branded advertising. Here’s the flip side, grown-up advertising that’s really programming, from The Times (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like the author points out, branded programming has been around forever. But these are some interesting ways to incorporate brands into lifestyle events like offbeat comedy films, novels, videogames, and web-based entertainment. What I think is interesting, too, is that these efforts typically zero in on just a single facet of the demographic/psychographic make-up of the target consumer. That tight focus part of what makes them work.
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August 4 2008
Here’s one local journalist’s reaction to the launch of a cable channel offering 24-hour children’s programming, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising aimed at children is a hot topic, but few are addressing the more insidious threat of programming that targets children. It’s as if no one wants to address the real problem: children being trained (by “educational” television, naturally) to derive their physical wants and emotional needs from stuff on TV.

See, in my home scenario, there could be no power play for the remote control because neither the parents nor the children seek entertainment by mass media. I went into all this for the umpteenth time on July 30, but it seems like advertising or programming aimed at kids is in the air again, as the summer drags on and parental imaginations are drained of Fun Activities For The Kids.

How about, instead of watching something, doing something? That would probably help with the childhood obesity thing too, with the adult obesity thing thrown in for good measure. All by just turning the TV off.

The only thing that should be 24/7 in a childs’s life, is love.
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August 1 2008
San Diego is a big tourist town. But this year, our tourist season has been weak. Not tanking, but weak. Here’s a story about plans to ramp up regional ads and fire up some free gas promotions, from my hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I hate to take issue with the city’s plans to attract more tourist dollars, since I know some of the people working on ConVis. They’re smart people. I’m pulling for them, and I hope their plans work.

But, um, those people in Phoenix and Las Vegas? They’re worried about losing their jobs, their homes, their health insurance, just like everyone else in America. They aren’t about to fly or drive here this year.

And the staycationers? What part of “vacation at home” is not understood? Yes, locals might go to Sea World or the Zoo. But, more likely, they’ll hang out at Balboa Park (free), or the beach (free) or their local community park (also free). And they’re not booking hotel rooms, which is where the city picks up its transient occupancy tax.

So the whole second-wave plan looks like it was based on boom-time research. You can’t use last year’s data and last year’s plans and expect last year’s results because it’s not last year any more.

What does a little ol’ freelance advertising copywriter think, going forward? Well, I don’t have access to the information the people actually working on the account have. But it seems to me that the big opportunity is overseas, where people can pay for our recession-economy rates with powerful Euros or Pounds or Kroner.

Germany, Great Britain, Scandinavia, those are places where we should put our marketing dollars if there’s enough money left to get a message through. Especially since we can get a second tourist season as winter closes in on northern Europe and we can offer a glorious place where the temperature’s up and the currency’s down.
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Backwards in time to July 2008

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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