John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
August 2012

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August 31 2012
Craigslist has emerged as the online advertising medium of choice for millions of small and home-based businesses. But the issue of intellectual ownership, always lurking with user-generated content, has flared up again, this time over a new mapping feature. Here’s the story, from Talking Points Memo (New York):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve written Craigslist ads for clients. That Craigslist ads are creative works is indisputable. The question is, who owns them? As the article points out, nowhere in the current Terms of Service do users grant Craigslist ownership of their submitted ad content. That supports the argument that ownership rests with the content creator, with Craigslist simply acting as a middleman between seller and buyer – which has been the position Craigslist has taken whenever questionable or illicit content has attracted legal attention.

Still, wholesale lifting of Craigslist content isn’t right, either. Advertising content may not belong to Craigslist, but it’s also not public domain. It belongs to the content creators, and reproduction should require permission.

Craigslist ads are not just copyrightable; they’re copyrighted.
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August 29 2012
Licensed cartoon characters can help support healthy food choices by kids, which is good (August 22). But they also can support unhealthy food choices, which is banned in the UK. Here’s the story about how using Scooby Doo in a candy maker’s online game earned a spank from the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, from Campaign (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Scooby Doo game was removed, along with another game involving candy cola bottles. The company’s other online children’s games involving sweets were apparently OK.

The part I find astonishing, is that the candy maker “argued that the games and puzzles were not designed with the intent of encouraging purchase or excessive consumption.” If that was truly the case, then the ASA is miles ahead of the company in understanding marketing and the social web.

Just in case you want to read more of my Ad Blog entries related to advertising and marketing aimed at children, here they are (older entries you have to scroll down to reach): August 1 2012, June 4 2012, July 14 2011, June 28 2011, March 1 2011, December 8 2010, 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 28 2012
Bic, the giant pen brand, apparently thought gender-specific ballpoint pens would be a profitable product line extension. No one noticed. Until, that is, the snarky online reviews started ramping up. Here’s the story, from the folks at the Today show:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I can imagine how it went. Some research showed that the majority of office pens were bought by women. Yet (the research went on), there were very few office pens specifically targeting the female market! Sure, there were luxury pens for women, and novelty pens like those cranked out by Sanrio (Hello Kitty anyone?), but the feminine office pen market segment was underserved!

From there one can imagine more polls and surveys about preferred dimensions, colors, finishes, and shapes. I call it deceit by research. The result: Bic Cristal for Her. If it’s any consolation, and it shouldn’t be, Chrysler made the same marketing mistake nearly 60 years ago, with the two-tone pink Dodge LaFemme.

But there’s a difference between 1955 and 2012. Today there are online reviews, a veritable platform for writers seeking an outlet for sarcasm. And the outpouring of criticism has resulted in ...

Well, when I started writing this blog entry, Amazon had only 19 left in stock. Yet the reviews kept streaming in, some funny, some wanna-be funny, and most trying very hard to ride the buzz. Suddenly, companies doing dumb things ain’t so dumb any more.
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August 24 2012
In the 1960s, advertising had its gentlemen, like David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, and Leo Burnett. And it had its bad boys, like Jerry Della Femina and George Lois. Well, George Lois has a new book, called Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!). Here, Fast Company excerpts 10 chunks of advice:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ignore the annoying slide show – just scroll down and read the thing.

I disagree with Lois’ “first commandment,” that big ideas start with the words. But apparently, so does Lois: by the end of the section, he’s emphasizing that visual execution is the key to success.

A big campaign idea can only be expressed in words that absolutely bristle with visual possibilities, leading to words and visual imagery working in perfect synergy.

I guess some copywriters and art directors start with the words, then develop arresting visuals. I’ve done it that way too, but I prefer to start with a completely blank sheet of paper, imagining visuals or entire scenarios, then start crafting the words.

The blank sheet of paper thing is important, for reasons Lois explains in the third tip, a warning against following trends. I’ve found relying on awards books for inspiration is often a time-waster; if it’s in there, it’s been done. That said, awards books are useful if, as you thumb through them, the question you ask yourself isn’t “how do I steal this?” but, rather, “what could the sequel look like?”

Anyway, I’ve already ordered the book, and look forward to getting more damn good advice from a legendary ad guy.
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August 22 2012
Hey, branding works! A recent Cornell study shows that using branded cartoon characters increases uptake of healthy snacks over less-healthy snacks. Here’s the story, from Food Magazine (AUS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In the study, kids were given a choice of an apple or a cookie. When apples were marked with a “Sesame Street” Elmo character sticker, twice as many kids chose apples compared to when unbranded apples were offered. Most of the kids still chose the cookie; however, the Elmo sticker wasn’t found to affect cookie consumption.

Although it should come as no surprise that branding works, it’s interesting that it didn’t help the junk food that much. Also, I can’t tell if the study also measured consumption, or if it just measured choice. I think it’s important to separate a grab-and-go preference from actual consumer behavior.

For instance, I’d have probably taken the cookie simply because I’ve got apples at home. I already eat apples. But there are no cookies in the house, because I don’t buy them. I haven’t had a cookie since, oh, I'm not sure ... when was Girl Scout cookie season? So the cookie has that scarcity thing going.
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August 21 2012
So Microsoft beat Apple to the punch – again – and yet fails to deliver the same brand cachet. Here’s the story about how Microsoft is already delivering the Apple TV experience, from CNN:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Despite having a reputation for technological innovation, Apple is almost always one of the later players to enter a market. It came late to the business PC market, being beaten by Commodore, Kaypro, and a legion of others. It was a late entry in the MP3 player market, the online music store market, cloud storage, and even the smartphone market.

Apple’s biggest strength lies in raising the bar through design and the user experience. That’s how Apple comes to not only dominate, but define many of the markets it enters, turning seemingly entrenched pioneers into bit players.

It’s about more than product branding – it’s about delivering a branded customer experience all the way through. And that’s why Microsoft’s existing product and user base may not make a difference once Apple gets into the game: Microsoft may have delivered the product, but Apple delivers the customer experience.

All of which is why, on a related note, I think the current legal battle between Apple and Samsung won’t make a huge difference to consumers unless one or the other is pushed entirely out of the marketplace.
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August 20 2012
RIP Phyllis Diller, a whip-smart former advertising copywriter who changed the world. Here’s her obit, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’d love to see her ad work. I don’t suppose I will, though; it’s probably all lost to the ages. I wonder if her radio commercials had the same fast-moving, raucous zaniness as her act? At any rate, I think her background in writing ad copy served her well.
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August 17 2012
Progressive Insurance has become the latest casualty in the ongoing corporations vs. social media battle. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t think any of the proposed “solutions” will work in the financial, legal, and healthcare industries – and insurance combines all three. There’s just too much at risk (and those are your rates that’ll go up if someone else scores an excessive payout), and many major customer service issues confound the instant response everyone expects on social media. Real customer concerns require real human thought – usually the thinking of several humans – and that takes time.

And that doesn’t even begin to get into the privacy aspect.

The “lesson” to take from this? That there may actually be some types of companies that should not engage in social media.

Instead, they should put that budget and energy into real customer service – humans on the phones and systems that streamline workflow so employees can resolve customer issues faster.

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August 15 2012
So it’s welcome back to William Shatner, reprising his role as the Priceline Negotiator just as he reprised Captain Kirk in the animated series and six movies. Here’s the story, from the Associated Pres via the San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like many in advertising, I thought it was a mistake to get rid of Shatner’s character. Never mind that I was a Trekkie from way back; I thought his brand equity could ease the transition to a different business model.

That said, I think Priceline did a good job managing both the character’s “death” and “resurrection.” It’s always an extra challenge to reverse course tactically while moving forward strategically, and in this case Priceline got buzz both ways.

Some of us are old enough to remember the TV commercials in which Jack In The Box blew up its iconic clown, in order to present a more up-to-date image. The irony, of course, that that those updated commercials now look hopelessly dated, while the Jack character remains evergreen.

That’s the thing about commercial characters, from the Michelin Man to Mr. Whipple: they’re ageless. And, since their situations – or even their very existence – are usually ridiculous, the commercials retain their good humor no matter which way the joke cuts.
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August 14 2012
It’s the end of branding! For cigarettes, anyway, and only in Australia, which just passed the most restrictive rules yet on tobacco product packaging. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The new cigarette packages deliver a highly effective anti-smoking campaign right at the point of purchase, paid for by the brands themselves. The unspoken intent seems to be to drive a product category out of business through increasingly restrictive legislation rather than an outright ban.

While I think smoking is a great social evil, with costs that extend far beyond the user, a government dictating 99% of a legal product’s packaging may also be viewed as a great evil.

From a social engineering standpoint, though, Australia may be on the right track: first reduce demand, then let the free market all but kill off the undesired product. And it’s notable that in its effort to reduce demand, one of the few things the government has prohibited, is the use of a logo.
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August 13 2012
David Ogilvy’s tried-and-true advertising techniques don’t work online, argues this blog post on
Advertising copywriter blog link

I agree that there have been fundamental changes in consumer behavior, media expectations, and advertising techniques since Ogilvy was alive. But, I don'’t believe that he’s irrelevant today. After all, his key tenets held that concept and content sell, not cleverness. He believed in establishing and maintaining a distinctive brand. Coming from a research background, he was big on testing – something that can be done quicker and easier now than ever before. And, I believe he’d have been among the loudest of voices decrying obfuscation in any form, regardless of media.

Ogilvy wrote that the only major change he’d seen in advertising was the advent of television. Since then, there’s been another, even larger, advertising revolution: the Internet - and we’re still living through the changes.

That said, I would argue that just about everything is promotional content online. Thanks to search engine ranking algorithms, the purest informational content is still search engine bait, which translates into traffic bait. It’s just that today one needn’t plant hooks everywhere – promotional hooks can be more widely dispersed in the knowledge that the disparate elements will link together at the customer’s behest.
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August 10 2012
It’s no news that Nike does a great job of advertising and marketing. What is news, though, is how effectively a non-sponsor has dominated Olympic events – and social media conversations. Here’s a look at Nike’s campaign, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

From the “Find Your Greatness” ads, to the can’t-miss-’em shoes, to the savvy PR coups, Nike hasn’t missed a beat. I’ve watched a fair amount of the Olympics, and I’ve tuned into the ads because that’s what I do. And I have no idea what the official Olympic athletic shoe brand is, or even if there is one. (Oh there it is – I just re-read the article and learned that the official-sponsor shoe brand is Adidas.)

I know credit card brand Visa is a sponsor, as much for its missteps as its ubiquitous – and irrelevantly omnipresent ” logo. It takes more to maximize an official sponsorship than cranking out a few themed ads (none of which I can recall, by the way) and sticking your logo everywhere.

Visa tried to be relevant by talking up tourism and travel benefits. But, the data indicates tourism in host cities dropped for the last several Olympiads; the exception was Beijing, which spent $40 billion on the most-expensive Olympics games ever, and which also benefited from a relatively low tourism baseline and a changing political climate that encouraged more foreign travelers. But I digress.

Nike’s marketing campaign contains little that official sponsor Adidas couldn’t have done. If 400 athletes were wearing Nikes, how many were in Adidas? If 43% of track and field medallists won in Nike Volts, what percentage won in Adidas?

Despite the focus on media factors, the keys to this bootleg branding campaign were cut in the product development cycle: (1) there was a hot new product, (2) the product was relevant to the event, and (3) the product was highly visible in use. Fold in smart marketing, and you have a winner!
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August 8 2012
Ahh, the creative brief. Every creative team uses one. Here’s a look at how clients should use a creative brief to get better results, from Forbes magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

My own creative brief is a single page, and it deliberately offers very limited space to fill out the answers to each question. Brevity is the key, but it takes a lot of investigation and discussion to achieve it.

And by brevity I don’t mean a long (or even a short) list of keywords, each freighted with significance. I mean one complete sentence, communicating one point. My own personal rule is to ban the word “and” when filling out a creative brief, which forces me to prioritize and discard secondary audiences, benefits, features, products, and sacred cows.

The other unique thing about my creative brief, is that it focuses as much on the customer and the marketplace as it does on the product or service itself. That’s how you keep a brief from turning into a navel-gazer’s guide to more navel-gazing. It’s not about the corporate culture or even the product itself. In the end, it’s about developing a means of motivating a real, live person.

As an aside, I’m frequently surprised by freelance copywriters and designers who apparently don’t begin every project with a creative brief. They're out there, though: production-level people who acquired technical skills without also learning the methodology that makes those skills relevant to the larger task of selling something to somebody.

By the way, here’s my latest creative brief format. It’s been through several iterations; like any such tool, it may forever be a work in progress.
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August 7 2012
School may not have started, but back-to-school sales are giving retailer J.C. Penney the first big test of its new brand, rolled out with great fanfare earlier this year. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

And here’s what I said about the JC Penney rebrand back on June 19.

I pointed out flaws in the decision to walk away from coupons, which struck me as making sense if you’re Apple but not so much if you’re Penney’s. Even Macy’s, positioned a bit more upmarket, uses coupons – although it must be noted that downmarket competitor Wal-Mart rarely does. But then, Wal-Mart’s brand is already tightly connected with the concept of everyday discounting. And one thing is certain: JC Penney definitely went where competitors weren’t.

Here’s what I think will happen. In-store traffic will rise simply because shoppers are shopping the malls. Customers – and sales – may respond to the actual changes on the floor: making the retail space more inviting and offering a more-positive customer experience. Those are the kinds of things that can translate into a huge improvement in incremental sales should shoppers decide that the convenience of buying where they are trumps the possibility of a better price elsewhere.

Web traffic will rise simply because shoppers are browsing the online stores, although it’ll be interesting to see if JC Penney’s relative lack of presence on the couponing and deal websites will have an effect.

Either way, if the values are truly there, the customers will find them. And, if JC Penney shareholders have the patience to stick it out with the new pricing strategy, it will work and Penney will have successfully differentiated itself among department store retailers. That’s no small accomplishment in boom times, let alone in a recession.

Here’s the big caveat, though, about this year’s back-to-school season: I have two school-age kids, and I haven’t yet seen any must-have new clothing or accessory items. That could put a damper on everyone’s results.
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August 6 2012
Early this morning, NASA and JPL successfully landed the massive Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, scoring a high-speed, balletic bulls-eye in Gale Crater. And now, having nailed the landing on Mars, Curiosity is coming to store shelves as a Hot Wheels toy. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s not going to be a huge seller, and even if it is, the narrow margins won’t really translate into massive profits for Mattel. It won’t be a huge boost to brand JPL either, although it’ll probably help nudge the cool factor up for NASA – although I’d say the team’s success in achieving this first leg of the mission has already done that. On a cynical note, the Hot Wheels Curiosity rover will probably be the most successful space vehicle manufactured in China.

At any rate, being something of a NASA brand loyalist, I’m buying one for myself, as well as one for each of the kids. It’ll go well with the previous sets.

And, collectors take note: I intend to play with it.
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August 3 2012
Is “native advertising” the next big advertising trend? Or is it merely the next buzzword for a tried-and-true advertising technique? Here’s Ad Age arguing the former:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing is, unless the advertising and the content are one and the same, all advertising is interruptive. Even co-opting is interruptive at the point of first contact, otherwise the act is invisible and ignored. If there’s a branded product in the mix, consumers know perfectly well – or believe to be true – that its presence is most likely a paid placement.

As for integrating content with advertising, radio soaps nailed the formula nearly 100 years ago, as did print periodicals like Arizona Highways and, several generations later, Martha Stewart Living. Heck, even I called the return of advertiser-generated content back in 2003, nearly a decade ago (March 13, September 19 and December 4, to point out a few times).

Consumers are not “ready to shift;” they are shifting. Moreover, they’re not just shifting; they’re in constant flux. And even that’s nothing new. If there’s a significant, revolutionary change, it’s in the volume of data and the speed with which it can be analyzed.

You know what the future of advertising belongs to? Relevant advertising. It doesn’t matter what form the message takes, what matters is whether or not it connects.
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August 1 2012
Here’s a quick look at how shocking images in public service ads affect children, from The Independent (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

If you look at the gallery, you’ll see stills from four public service campaigns that garnered complaints to Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority. But the article makes it sound as though the research queried adults and children from age 11 to 16 about the images used in all advertising – not just public service spots.

Roughly three in ten of the 11-16 group said they'd been “unsettled” by sexual, violent, or scary content in an advertisement.

I always wonder, though, where the parents are in this equation, if not there watching TV with their kids and discussing what’s seen or heard? I rather suspect these kids have TVs or TV-enabled devices in their rooms, subject to only occasional parental involvement, and that’s where the larger social problem lies.
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Backwards in time to July 2012

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 ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
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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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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