John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August 2010

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August 27 2010
Advertisers are getting viewership via social gaming the old-fashioned way: they’re buying it. Here’s the story, from Mercury News (San Jose, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Paying virtual cash to get people to watch actual ads is a textbook example of borrowed interest. The goal of the viewers isn’t to engage with the brand or the message, it’s to earn points to spend on their gaming experience.

That said, I think one good use of this approach might be to drive product sampling: use the ad to generate an opt-in response tied to the delivery of a free sample product. It could be highly effective for launching a new laundry detergent. But as a branding exercise, I think it’s a waste of real money.

Interestingly, most of the advertisers seem to be either services (Air France, T-Mobile, Netflix) or major brands (Coke, Nokia, Nike), and they all seem to be making a simple volume play based on the old model of reach and frequency (although in this case the frequency is often limited to one exposure). Unfortunately, the nature of the reward structure would seem to bias that exposure to those who aren’t really paying attention.
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August 26 2010
Facebook is suing Teachbook, an online social network aimed at teachers, for trademark infringement. Here’s the story, from WebProNews:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the article may miss the point of the suit. It isn’t about owning the word “book” or even the naming format (WORD) + book. It’s about the use of that name in the social networking arena. Many potential examples (YellowBook, Blue Book, Black Book, Redbook, MacBook, matchbook, The Good Book) aren’t relevant, although the YellowBook people may have a case given Facebook’s emergence as an important online directory. (Meanwhile, YellowBook has had its own fight with the Yellow Pages people. See how messy this is?) What with digital convergence, the magazine Redbook may also have an shot at Facebook over online media and content, although the easier solution is for Redbook to connect to an extended online audience through Facebook.

I think whether a similar name constitutes trademark infringement hinges on three issues. First, was it directly inspired by, or intended to leverage from, the existing name? Second, does it exist in the same niche? Third, will it cause confusion?

In the case of Teachbook, the word “teachbook” is a created name, not an existing term like “gradebook.” I think might have been pretty defensible, but Teachbook appears to have been created to leverage users’ understanding of (WORD) + book in a social media context. So, on the first question, I think the answer may be yes.

The second question raises the issue of identifying the niche Facebook occupies. Can it claim to own all the possible verticals and tangents within social networking? I think this is where Facebook might both have the strongest arguments, and simultaneously may be most open to attack.

On the third question, I think the answer may be no. I don’t think the existence of a teacher’s networking site called Teachbook detracts from Facebook, even if it does benefit from Facebook’s known characteristics.

But, I am neither an attorney nor a teacher, merely an advertising copywriter, albeit one who’s been involved with many naming projects. I think this case is likely to get interesting before it gets resolved.
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August 25 2010
A recent pediatric study showed that media literacy instruction, aka teaching children to be skeptical of advertising at an early age, helps build a resistance to alcohol and cigarette marketing. Ayup, apparently there needed to be a study about that. Anyway, here’s the story, from Washington State University via Medical News Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The newsworthy bit was that the study focused on third-graders; previous media literacy studies focused on adolescents. Unfortunately, the study didn’t investigate whether or not the resistance sticks as the kids grow up; also, intended behavior and reported behavior often differ from actual behavior.

Still, it shows the importance of a parental dialog with kids, the earlier the better. Here’s an Ad Blog entry from November 13 2003:

When he was 2-1/2 years old, my older son knew that there were no strawberries in a Cheerios box, even though the photo on the package clearly showed several. For a while, it was a running joke. “Is there a spoon in the box?” I’d ask him, pointing it out on the package. “Nooo!” he’d reply with a gleeful smile. “Is there a bowl in the box?” “Nooo!” “Hmmm. You suppose there are ... strawberries in the box?” “Nooo!” We’d repeat variations on this joke over and over, with the delight in repetition known only to toddlers, with many, many packages around the house or in the stores.

In olden days, parents taught their children how to farm, hunt, spin yarn, and tame animals. Those skills have been replaced by others just as important to offsprings’ ability to navigate contemporary society. The world is a media-saturated place, and becoming more so by the minute, because Media Is Important. To let that media presence go unaddressed in a child’s life until the school system deals with it is practically neglectful parenting.

Here are more Ad Blog entries related to advertising and marketing aimed at children (older entries you have to scroll down to reach): June 3 2010, December 7 2009, October 24 2009, July 8 2009, December 17 2008, August 4 2008, July 30 2008, November 13 2007, October 30 2007, October 23 2007, October 18 2007, March 19 2007, February 28 2007, January 15 and 31 2007, December 19 2006, November 14, 17 and 20 2006, October 2, 3 and 27 2006, June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003.
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August 24 2010
Thanks to the persistent down economy, the time is right for get-rich-quick schemes and products and services that tap into people’s desire for easy money. Here’s the story, from Bloomberg’s Businessweek via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Lottery tickets and metal detectors are a few of the products that see more sales in times like these. I think the trend marks a certain emotional regression to childhood, when books, toys, clothes, and food simply appeared, conjured into being by grown-ups who had that magic element of money.

When we went on a week-long camping trip a few weeks ago, the boys spent much of their time looking for gold. Several hours of panning on the Yuba produced a few flecks of what might be gold, but probably is iron pyrite or mica. Still, to them, it’s treasure, fodder for endless conversations along the lines of “what would you do if you found a really big nugget?” (While the kids searched for gold, we parents happily reaped our own treasure in relatively uninterrupted time to read.)

At any rate, if a certain childlike hopefulness – or the security of blind faith – is part of the appeal, so is the more adult act of taking responsibility. With job losses continuing, second jobs are hard to come by. By purchasing a lotto ticket or going treasure-hunting, one is at least taking steps to relieve one’s financial burden, even as one knows that it’s a long shot.

Hope and action could be the dynamic duo of product positioning during economic downturns. And, so far, I think they’re relatively underexploited in the mainstream, which means opportunities abound with the right strategic thinking.
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August 23 2010
As viral marketing using social media goes mainstream, it’s losing its persuasive power. Here’s one columnist’s opinion on Twitter-driven contests, from The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Contests that demand social media pass-along to enter are today’s equivalent of the chain letter: a waste of time, effort, and reputation. In fact, cross-promotional and self-promotional pollution are two big reasons why I’ve become much less active on Twitter over the past year.

The problem is, these social media contests are too often executed with little understanding of (or respect for) how the specific medium really works. For instance, most online popularity-type contests are basically mass-market tactics in niche-market media. Yes, if you reap enough niches, you gather a mass. But the long-tail power of true viral marketing comes from the fact that it leverages genuine one-on-one social connections. To achieve that, it must first earn the privilege by delivering something of intrinsic relevant value. Unless you’re trying to build a list of serial contest-entrants, most sweepstakes are extrinsic values to a bolted-on viral attempt.

Here is my one-step, knock-out question to determine how fundamentally viral a proposed campaign component really is: Does it ask for pass-along?

If the answer is yes, then it’s wanna-be viral, not the real thing, and the creative should be dialed up, or the target should be more narrowly defined, or both.
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August 21 2010
Just a weekend quickie today to point out this article about the impact of upcoming new 1099 reporting rules on small businesses like, oh freelance designers and copywriters.  Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is something of a follow-up to my Ad Blog post on July 17.

That $600 trigger point is easy to reach: it’s just $50 a month. Just off the top of my head, I’d have to either get Federal Tax IDs or file 1099s for my wireless provider, my telephone company, a couple internet providers, and, on some years, our auto mechanic or computer service technician.

Or, I’d pay those bills via credit card.
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August 19 2010
Watch a brand self-destruct! The recently revived automobile brand Mini, which went from icon past to icon present, is scrambling to mold itself a future in larger vehicles. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

File this effort under “off concept.” A larger vehicle is contrary to the Mini brand all the way down to the very name. The Mini Countryman SUV is like the Hummer H3 in reverse, an attempt to grab more market share through (a) brand extension, and (b) physical scaling.

Still, you can see how the decision played in the boardroom.

“We need to sell more cars.”

“Hey, most people buy much bigger cars than we sell.”

“I got it! We’ll make a bigger car of our own to sell!”

Mini is, like Hummer was, a niche brand. The answer isn’t to broaden the niche, it’s to play deeper within it; be exclusive, not inclusive. Those aging Mini owners who are starting families? They’re no longer the market.

The brand required turnover, a relentless hunt for fresh customers. Unfortunately, the product itself was left to stagnate, which compounded the problem. What’s needed isn’t another Mini. It’s a new Mini.
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August 18 2010
I recently returned from a week-long camping trip in the Sierras, and have just hopped online to see what’s going on. And I saw this puff piece in my local online San Diego Union-Tribune, about a local “ad agency” that’s now crowdsourcing design via contests. Here’s the story:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Great. Wonderful. Can we diminish the value of creative any further? (After all, everyone’s creative, right?) Now, designers and art directors get to do project work on their own dime, and hope it “wins.”

Let’s call this business model what it is: Pay to Work.

Of course the agency, neatly avoiding the burden with which it saddles designers, collects a fee up front from the client side: $40 plus 10% of the prize offered.

I can’t keep calling this organization an ad agency, so let’s call it what it is: an automated, web-based graphic product broker. It ain’t about graphic design, because there’s no value placed on the design process. Obviously, this is set up to be a volume business, although it’s profitable from the get-go, which is an admirable thing for a enterprise.

It’s just unfortunate to the point of righteous fury that its business model strips the same opportunity from designers.

Oh, and I just have to address the idea that everyone’s creative. Yes, as an obsequious generality it carries truth. But if you’re building a space station, engineers have more of the creativity you need than copywriters have, just like if you’re choosing teams for tug-of-war the 250-pound weightlifter has more of what you need than has the 80-pound jockey.

Professional results come from professionals, and that’s the fundamental flaw in crowdsourcing design. Professional designers charge $5,000 to $10,000 for their work because they’re worth it as strategic assets, not mere tactical implementations. Companies and organizations that understand this will benefit even more, now that those who don’t have another way to indulge their ignorance.
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August 5 2010
Charities are cracking down on other organizations that co-opt their brand. Here’s the story, from the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Aggressively protecting trademarked slogans, icons, and even colors were formerly the province of major for-profit corporations. But now, with non-profits going increasingly global, they too are having to stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood to fight for their intellectual assets.

What surprises me a bit, is that this didn’t happen sooner. Charities have always lived in a much more competitive space than corporations. If a company sells widgets, it can safely share the market with a company that sells gizmos and another that sells gadgets. They might even find benefits in cooperation. But charities, they’re all scrapping for a piece of the same pie and it doesn’t matter that one benefits cancer patients and another benefits starving children or abused dogs or promotes healthy eating. They’re all good causes, but they’re all competing with each other for the same dimes and dollars.

That’s why it pays for non-profits to have their own, powerful brand that they can leverage across multiple event types and applications over time.

Understandably, most charities want to put their funds directly into their causes. But a strong brand is as valuable an asset to a cause as to a corporation, perhaps more so because of the fierce competition and the emerging willingness of larger organizations to brush smaller ones off their coattails.
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August 4 2010
Ad agency Leo Burnett is 75 years old, and here’s a brief history of the firm from, appropriately enough, the Chicago Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Calling Burnett the Marlboro Man of ad agencies is cute but misdirected. The Marlboro Man was one of Burnett’s most-impactful creations. But the agency itself strikes me as more Tony the Tiger or the Jolly Green Giant than Marlboro Man – more positive and friendly and interested in a relationship than rugged and individualistic and macho.

That’s why what it created worked, and worked for so long.

Here’s one of my favorite Leo Burnett quotes:

”A good basic selling idea, involvement and relevancy, of course, are as important as ever, but in the advertising din of today, unless you make yourself noticed and believed, you ain’t got nothin’.”

That counsel, like the Jolly Green Giant, still works today.
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August 3 2010
This is a fun slideshow of British posters and brochure covers aimed at promoting local tourism, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s interesting to me, is how the older work is often more effective at creating appeal. Sorry Newquay, but the new website (slide 11) doesn’t deliver as impactful or even as coherent a message as the small poster (middle, slide 5). And the web copy on it strikes me as ham-fisted SEO. It’s no wonder current tourism advertising often draws from “retro” images and designs – they work.
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August 1 2010
A Sunday morning entry to note that a San Diego county school district will soon allow corporate advertising in an effort to close its budget gap. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The school district expects to get about $500,000 this coming school year, and double that amount the year after. Note that these aren’t just sponsorships, these are actual ads that will be placed on buildings, in hallways, on lunch tables, and in school buses.

There are plenty who advocate privatization of public services, and generating ad revenue certainly falls under that heading, if loosely. Also, as has been amply pointed out, it’s unlikely any school district will allow advertising messages that are contrary to its educational goals. And, just sticking an ad in front of someone is no surefire way to get it noticed; increase the visual noise and kids will just turn even more to their friends and their iPods or laptops for the social relationships they really want.

Ah, but the branding opportunity, that’s what’s in play here: the canvas upon which to create brand awareness that carries with it the credibility of the educational system. From there, you can leverage it any way you want to, and that’s where the danger to children lies.

As an advertising professional and as a parent of two kids in the public school system, I’m not worried about the ads. I’m worried about the branding.

Here are a few more of my thoughts on advertising and marketing aimed at children (some you have to scroll down to reach): June 3 2010, December 7 2009, October 24 2009, July 8 2009, December 17 2008, August 4 2008, July 30 2008, November 13 2007, October 30 2007, October 23 2007, October 18 2007, March 19 2007, February 28 2007, January 15 and 31 2007, December 19 2006, November 14, 17 and 20 2006, October 2, 3 and 27 2006, June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003.
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Backwards in time to July 2010

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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