John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August 2009

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August 22 2009
From this morning’s Wall Street Journal comes this brief look at “The New-Media Crisis of 1949,” extracting lessons from the past:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The transformational power of media as exemplified by radio and then TV is a well I’ve returned to time and time again over the years. (See, for example, Ad Blog entries going all the way back to March 13 2003, September 19 2003, and December 4 2003.)

I’d point out a fourth lesson, though. There were, both in the rise of radio networks and the rise of television networks, a number of upstarts challenging the major media players. Very few outlived their energetic, visionary founders. Consider the fate of the DuMont Television Network, started in 1931 by DuMont, one of the premier brand names in television sets. (Among other things, the company made the first all-electronic TV set for the mass market.) 

DuMont produced and broadcast many top-rated programs running into the 1950s. And it died, in large part, because it couldn’t gain enough traction fast enough because it depended on a third party, AT&T, for carrying its signals nationwide. DuMont tried, but it didn’t quite own the channel.

From there it was a decade-long decline. DuMont had a troubled relationship with its key partner, Paramount Studios, which came to a roaring head when Paramount launched its own television stations carrying its own programming. And, one of the factors Professor Teachout identifies, the ability of existing media companies to draw on their radio revenue until their television networks became profitable, threw DuMont into a death spiral practically at start-up.

Upsetting the status quo is possible. But it’s hard. The corporate world is littered with the remains of once-major independent players. In TV, DuMont. In cars, Studebaker and AMC. In personal computers, Commodore. In watches, Hampden. I have a deep affection for lost independents (lost independence?), partly because their stories are cautionary tales of commercial train wrecks and partly because their stories are instructional tales of how dedicated underdogs can challenge the commercial overdogs.
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August 21 2009
Insurance behemoth AIG has not only given insurance a bad name, it’s given itself a bad name. So, of course, it’s rebranding. Here’s the story, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s funny; when I first read the name, I thought the new name was “Catharsis.” But no, it’s “Chartis.” Catharsis would have fit – this situation and almost all the other rebranding efforts over the years.

By and large, companies almost always jump the gun when they rebrand, especially in this age of reduced brand loyalty and short attention spans. Look at WorldCom’s rebranding as MCI six years ago. (See the Ad Blog from April 14 2003.) Do you even remember the WorldCom scandal? As I said then, in most cases, the problems could be rectified by taking the money allocated for rebranding, and putting it into (a) improving the product or service, (b) improving the customer experience, and (c) marketing the improved customer experience. Rebranding as part of a turnaround usually means paying for one object two times.

That said, I never liked initials as brand names. There are, of course, exceptions. HP. IBM. Heck, one of the most powerful sets of initials doesn’t even belong to a private company: I.R.S. But, for AIG, moving to a more humanized name looks like a good move. The name concept itself, evoking navigation and informed direction, seems sound. It should work.

Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t live up to the potential. The logo design looks like a bullet hole. Or a spiked cuff bracelet. One thing it doesn’t look like particularly, is a compass rose. The relationship of the graphic mark to the logotype feels random, and that has me wondering if what’s shown is the finished piece; if it is, then the design has the look of instability to boot.

It’s too bad, because the art direction could make a difference. A rebranded insurance company needs every edge it can get.
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August 20 2009
The September 18 issue of Entertainment Weekly will have the first-ever video ad to appear in print! Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Interesting, although I wonder about the effective CPM compared to an actual TV spot, especially once the novelty wears off. The cool thing though, is that frequency will far exceed the number of insertions, since the flat video device will have its own rechargeable power supply and pass-along viewership will undoubtedly be high. I wonder if the device will be able to download content. That would be very cool, partly because it would enable more interactive engagement with the user but also because it would enable tighter tracking of responses and better user data.

Note that I say user instead of customer. Such a promotional novelty, whether it’s an imprinted pen or an embedded video device, typically has users because the object’s utility typically outweighs its message. That shouldn’t be the case, but most advertisers barely integrate creative with the medium in their ad campaigns, let alone their tchotchkes.
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August 19 2009
MSN’s “Elkhart Project” is a long-term look at one city in this recession. It’s been riveting reading, largely because it brings home the live human drama of middle America and the terrible costs of economic uncertainty. I think the whole project is a marketing lesson, because it tells the story of people who are simultaneously highly targeted by mass marketing and widely derided by self-proclaimed creative hotshots. Occasionally there are stories with specific branding and advertising insights. This is one, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Even Amish businesses are changing, as one owner says, from “being order-takers to being marketers.” Too many businesses attempt to start up by putting the product or service first, and that’s a mistake. First comes the customer, then comes the marketing, and then you build the product or service around that.

Also, I love “Get better, not bitter.”
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August 17 2009
A recent short-term study shows that 40% of Twitter tweets are (and this is the exact, technical term) “pointless babble.” Of course, this story has probably been tweeted about a bazillion times. Anyway, here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s the breakdown of more than 2,000 Twitter messages that were sorted into six categories: 40.5% pointless babble, 37.5% conversational, then a long drop to 8.7% having pass-along value, 5.85% self-promotional, and 3.75% spam. The article doesn’t say whether tweets could be put into two categories (self-promotional tweets with pass-along value, for instance), nor what percentage was put into the sixth category, news. Assuming tweets could belong to one category only, which is unrealistic given the human nature of the beast, mathematically the remainder is the smallest slice at 3.7%.

Also, if this news story got into the Twittersphere (as it undoubtedly did), was it news the first tweet, self-promotion on the retweet, conversation on the second retweet, and spam upon the bazillionth retweet? If it was auto-retweeted, was that conversation or more pointless babble?

Anyway, the research firm plans to repeat the study every quarter. I think they need to rejigger their parameters a bit.

What I found refreshing, was the volume of pointless babble and conversations. Frankly, I’d rather hear about someone’s sandwich (especially if it’s a really good one) than read about this story for the umpteenth time, umpteen being a considerably smaller number than a bazillion and more reflective of the number of people I follow.
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August 14 2009
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction Dept.: Myra Janco Daniels, advertising powerhouse and wife of fellow advertising powerhouse Draper Daniels (the inspiration for Mad Men character Don Draper) has released an autobiography. Here’s a great excerpt, from the Naples Daily News (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s fun to read personal stories about an ad legend and someone I’ve only read about in a business sense. But these aren’t just stories; they’re real, and they’re lessons.

Advertising still needs to engage people one-on-one. Copy is still a dialog, whether it’s in an ad, a brochure, or a website. In business, vision isn’t something you have in addition to the fundamentals, it’s one of the fundamentals. And, in life and love, you get what you go for. Cool!

I feel sorry for her former fiancé, though. The poor guy was outmaneuvered and outgunned by one of the best in the business!
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August 13 2009
A newly released study in the EU indicates that (news flash!) consumers don’t want to pay for online content. Ayup. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

And here’s a link to the whole report as a PDF:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, this seems to be the Theme O’ The Week. News, entertainment, movies, music, programming, even porn – no matter what it is, its consumers don’t want to pay for it. They consider the fact that they get served advertising as payment enough, a point of view both sophisticated and self-centered. Still, any reasonable sales person could have predicted the outcome. (Remember WIIFM?)

Among the findings: in France, more than 13.7 million films were distributed on P2P networks, vs. 12.2 million movie tickets sold; in Spain,1.6 billion songs were downloaded illegally, vs. a piddling 2 million legal downloads. When you also consider that it’s impossible to estimate how many pirated copies were passed along by just burning copies, you start to get a grim idea of the sheer magnitude of the problem.

Content is king? Yeah, maybe. But without controlling the channel, it has a very small domain.
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August 12 2009
My hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune is going through some significant transitions as its new owners take the reins. Here’s the story, straight from the U-T (CA) itself:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Leaner staffing, more content, targeting specific communities. It all sounds great, until you realize that the same steps were taken by the players in the porn industry (see the Ad Blog entry from a couple days ago), without success. So the question is whether or not mainstream content publishers will find themselves with more advertiser opportunities than niche or fringe content publishers. On the face of it, one would think so, but I wonder. One way to find out, would be to try a small advertising campaign and track the results. Unfortunately, I can think of more cost-effective approaches, and that could be the biggest obstacle for newspapers – and other content publishers – in the coming years.

The smart thing, is that they are trying to build up the online asset in yet another example of owning the channel.
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August 11 2009
So my sons (9 and 7) decided to start their own business selling rocks they gathered while camping. Here’s their first ad, scrawled on a piece of small scrap of memo paper and distributed by hand to family members:

Oh I am so proud.

Ral’s Rocks stands for Roy And Leo. If you can’t read a nine-year-old’s writing (and sometimes, who can?), here’s a transcription:

Ral’s Rocks are an easy, inexpensive way to get nice rocks. They have deals, free rocks, and more. Also sells rock games ($3.00 each) and Mega Bloks ($0.50 each pack).

Then there are three coupons.

Hey, it’s pretty tight copywriting. And, except for the fact that the accounting department will have legitimate concerns about that last coupon, this is at least as good as some of the stuff I see produced.
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August 10 2009
I’m not quite home but I’m back in civilization, or what there is of it in L.A. And the morning newspaper, the first one I’ve seen in ten days, had this story about how the recession and free content is hurting the porn industry. Here’s the story, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Normally, porn is a leading indicator, in technology, apps, and sales. But now it seems to be following a different path than other industries. The danger for those industries, is that porn may still be a leading indicator and this is a picture of post-recovery life.

A few common chords are struck, including tighter budgets, fewer opportunities, the impact of free content, and the sustainable value of having a strong brand. But there are a few interesting, um, wrinkles. For instance, the shift from a service-based economy to a product-based economy runs counter to the trend elsewhere. On a micro-level, I’ve been urging art directors and designers I know to position a few packaged service bundles as products, or to create a few cool graphic products (like T-shirts or stickers), but so far no one has put any sustained oomph behind the effort so the results are inconclusive.

Another surprising thing, is that a lot of porn websites aren’t making money either. So this search for content-based ROI – is it futile?

An oddball side note: You can buy seven hours of a porn star’s time for $300? That’s $42.86 per hour, cheaper than even an entry-level freelance copywriter or designer. Given the porn industry’s successful track record of adaptive market penetration (no sniggers now), I think it’d be a smart business investment to buy two hours of a rising porn star’s time just to talk to her about what’s working and what isn’t in moving forward.

One thing that does seem to be turning out exactly as I had predicted years ago, is the value of owning your own channel. Content is the product. But the channel is the distribution, and managing it well is critical to long-term success. You can’t manage what you can’t control. These individuals and companies have already learned the hard way that public content delivery platforms are not their friends. I wonder how long it’ll take for run-of-the-mill organizations to learn the same painful lessons about YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
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Backwards in time to July 2009

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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San Diego, California

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