John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December, 2003

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December 31, 2003
China starts 2004 with a ban on television commercials for certain products during dinnertime. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The picture of television advertising in China sounds grim: blocks of up to 10 “low-quality, cheesy ads making dubious claims,” as many as five times an hour. That makes it hard for a commercial to be effective. However, given the objective of maintaining Socialist ideals, why didn’t Chinese lawmakers launch a state-sponsored ad campaign encouraging people to turn off the television during dinner and actually talk to each other? I’m sorry, but I believe that tv has no place in the dining room. Or the bedroom, for that matter.
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December 30, 2003
American celebrities. Japanese advertisers. A quirky partnership, and one that is getting more attention than the celebrities counted on, thanks to the Internet and a recent movie release. Here’s the story from the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Highly localised ad campaigns have always been a part of the worldwide advertising picture. But Japanese advertisers - and, indeed, Japanese consumers - seem to be enjoying a particularly whimsical approach to celebrity. People who are famous for being famous, are used in ads just to use them in ads. What the heck.
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December 29, 2003
This has to be a bad dream. Take a look at this list of “America’s Most Likable Ads of 2003” from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Why are so many of these “best” ads about on the level of Britain’s “worst”? Are British consumers that much more sophisticated? (No.) Are British advertising creatives that much better? (No.) Or (and I believe this is the likely answer) is the statistical methodology used to create this list flawed? Look at the spots (there’s a sidebar with links to view them). These were America’s most-liked ads? Come on, folks, if those TV commercials ranked highly, it must be in the category of the Most-Puerile Execution of Lowest-Common-Denominator marketing. We’re better than that.
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December 23, 2003
Copywriters and art directors in the U.S. tend to begrudge, in an envious sort of way, the creative freedom enjoyed by our European counterparts. However, creative freedom doesn’t always translate into better creative work, as seen in this review of the year’s worst British ads, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Most of the failings come down to simple irrelevance. Get past the polarizing concept of watching a woman giving birth on-stage, as part of a Nativity play, and you realize that the much-discussed Kiplings television commercials could be for any product. They are 100% borrowed interest, just like (on a more-pallid level) most celebrity endorsements. That’s not creative; that’s just dumb, no matter where you are.
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December 19, 2003
Despite continuous price increases and sliding market share, the CEO of Red Lobster decides to blame advertising? And a tagline? Here’s the article, from Ad Age (QwikFIND ID: AAP24X):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The numbers tell the story. According to the article, in September, Red Lobster traffic was down 7%; in October an additional 11%. Yet sales for the quarter ending in November were up by $70 million over the same period last year. Why? Price increases, at double the industry average over the past five years.

Okay, so the company was making more money from fewer customers, in part due to significantly higher prices. That’s what happens when you move a brand upscale - and it sure sounds like that’s what they did, successfully. Now they want to treat that key branding move as an aberration, and move back downscale, with $10-$15 menu items and advertising that (in their own words) tested well. The problem is, with lower price points they have to get traffic up. That means scrapping for market share against brands that didn’t abandon the mass market. That means a long, tough road ahead, for the advertising agency and everyone else.
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December 17, 2003
This column in Intelligent Enterprise takes a tongue-in-cheek look at “ephemeral demographics,” in this case the oh-so-trendy target group consisting of adults reliving childhood through purchasing power:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hello Kitty. SpongeBob SquarePants. Harry Potter. Anime. Hot Wheels. Comic books. The list of kid stuff co-opted by grown-ups goes on and on. It’s a natural extension of the retro trend, and it will come to an end, perhaps when the present again looks like a pretty good place in which to live.
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December 16, 2003
This review of Apple’s iPod advertising, from BBC News Magazine, is good because it goes deeper than the obvious cool-factor appeal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s product advertising. It’s effective communication. It’s branding. It’s niche marketing, but it’s also using those niche markets to move mainstream buyers. And, it’s deceptively simple. See, folks - this is how it’s done.
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December 15, 2003
“Why are holiday brand ads so bad?” This article from Brandweek not only asks the question, but proposes an answer: that advertisers and corporations have forgotten how to build a holiday brand. The article also has concise reviews of recent near-misses and almost-hits. Read it here:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For all the buzz about branding and brand-building, there are few people who know enough about it to have smirked at the irony in the first nine words of this sentence. Perhaps that’s intrinsic to the use of branding as the marketing solution du jour. Advertisers and advertising counselors alike lack the discipline to do it well and the commitment to let it work. Branding is tradition, whether it’s holiday or everyday.
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December 12, 2003
Coming up with an ad that pulls money is hard enough sitting in a comfortable office. The average homeless person has it quite a bit harder. This article, from the Austin (TX) American-Statesman explores the thought that goes into those hand-lettered signs on corrugated cardboard:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The disciplines are the same as copywriting: study the market, develop a unique approach, write something that will get attention and persuade people to part with some cash on the spot. It’s direct response marketing taken to an extreme. And, the question isn’t whether or not these people can write ads. It’s whether or not most hot-shot ad agency creatives, placed on a street corner with a scrap of cardboard and a thick black marker, could do as well.
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December 11, 2003
Two articles today about the increasing amount of shock in advertising creative, the first from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune and the second from across the pond at the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing is, shock has minimal market value if it’s not relevant. This goes back to the old Rosser-Reeves advertising formula: attract, intrigue, persuade. Shock may be one valid way to attract, and possibly intrigue, a selected audience. But, if the shock is not relevant to the message, then it diminishes the opportunity to persuade. Persuasion requires credibility; if you essentially lie to me to get my attention, I will view the message that follows with a great deal of skepticism.

For instance (and from the BBC link) the NSPCC television commercial is shocking, but heart-wrenchingly relevant. It might be what it takes to shake people up and save some children’s lives. The X-Box spot is shocking, and inappropriate for broadcast television, but relevant and right on target. It should have been launched as a viral campaign. The Carling ad and the Hula Hoops ad are gratuitous re-hashes of old jokes with no relevance to the product or the brand.

The U/T article concerns itself mostly with print advertising. Equating a brand with pubic hair is not a good thing (remember the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings?). And, the quoted expert (who comes from the world of fashion, not advertising) is absolutely wrong. Shock does not sell. Shock only opens the door to selling to a specific group of people. Regardless of media, if persuasion has not happened, then the shock value has been wasted - along with the marketing budget.
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December 9, 2003
This article neatly illustrates the problem of branding in an increasingly global market. Two clothing brands, Lacoste (France, 1933; China, 1980) and Crocodile (Singapore, 1951) have been squabbling over the use of similar reptilian representations as logos since the 1960s. The current battle, reported in BBC News, concerns the extension of the Lacoste brand mark into the Chinese cosmetics trade:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While the language of iconography is largely international, it carries with it potentially crippling limitations. After all, how many defensibly unique ways are there to show a specific object, whether it be a crocodile, or an apple, or a wheel, or a smile? That’s why branding goes deeper than mere logo design; it must communicate true, relevant differentiators that are uniquely owned by the brand. After looking at both the Lacoste and the Crocodile websites (the links are on the BBC page), I’m unclear as to what, if anything, either brand truly owns.
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December 8, 2003
2004 ad spending forecasts are up, according to this article in the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Two comments. First, I see danger in putting too much faith in continued consumer spending, in the face of spiraling consumer debt. Second, and related to that danger, I think advertising on a strategic level needs to be held more accountable than ever before. Okay, a third comment: accountability and creativity are far from mutually exclusive.
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December 7, 2003
My email address has been spoofed, which means millions of Spam emails went out with my email address in the return path. I had nothing to do with this; furthermore - and frustratingly - there’s nothing that I can do about it. Spoofing a return email address is as simple as filling in the “From” spot with someone else’s address. The spammer doesn’t care whose return address it is. In this case, it was mine.

This webpage from Dartmouth College explains email spoofing better than I can, because right now I am in a cold fury and would not be able to write this dispassionately:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If you do not have current business with me, then I did not, nor would I ever, send you an email.
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December 5, 2003
It’s happening over here now. Senator and presidential hopeful Joseph Lieberman wants a federal investigation into “junk food advertising.” Here’s the Associated Press story, in the Stamford (CT) Advocate:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The key flaw in the “family friendly” argument, is substituting government legislation for responsive and responsible parental communication. A constant dialog about advertising - the images our kids see, the messages they are exposed to, and the values those images and messages represent - is as important a part of parenting as a dialog about sex, drugs, or morality. That this is not the situation in many households is a function not of advertising, but of parenting. (And, as an aside, are my wife and I the only parents in the world who view Sesame Street as a 30-minute exercise in branding?) For more of my rants on this topic, see November 21, November 13, and May 6 in the archives.
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December 4, 2003
I called it back in March! Here’s an article from the Associated Press, courtesy the Greenwich Time (CT), about a new home improvement program on network television that, for all intents and purposes, stars Sears, Roebuck and Co.:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Everything old is new again. See my blog entries for March 13 and September 19 in the archives (and again, you must read James Thurber’s study of the radio serial, “Soapland,” in The Beast in Me and Other Animals). However, I don’t think regulation is the answer. With audiences becoming increasingly aware of product placement and increasingly cynical about advertising in all its forms, such programming is already behind the curve.

What would have really been something, would have been to bring the old Sears catalog to life, either online or through digital cable, with the “Sears Network:” a core of lifestyle programming, with the ability to order merchandise direct from the shows.
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December 3, 2003
This story about P&G’s product Sunny Delight is practically a case study in brand management gone terribly wrong, courtesy of BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I disagree with the brand managers on one key point - and it’s important because it neatly illustrates the difference between tactical and strategic thinking. Not getting involved in the public debate about the product was not P&G’s “biggest mistake.” That was a tactical error, but the biggest mistake was the original brand premise fallaciously positioning Sunny Delight as a juice product instead of as a soft drink. That fundamental, strategic mistake in branding led to both its success and its downfall; as consumers began to perceive the product negatively - based on expectations that should never have been made - the brand itself became unsustainable.
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December 2, 2003
Oregon has a new State Advertising Slogan: “We Love Dreamers.” The question is, do people care? Here are two articles from KATU Portland (OR), the first about the ad agency and giving some background about the slogan, and the second containing some real-life reaction to it:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

The slogan comes from Wieden+Kennedy, the same people who gave the world “Just Do It.” One big difference, though, is that private corporations have a commitment to branding that public organizations lack. Whether you like the slogan or not (and I have serious problems with it - and other advertising slogans - which I’m working into a future article), I half suspect that the political environment will strangle it before it has a chance to bear fruit.
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December 1, 2003
This article, from the New York Times, interviews some agency trend-trackers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

One point that’s not mentioned, is that being just ahead of any given wave, whether that wave is a media trend, a creative trend, or a financial trend, positions you to to ride that wave more cost-effectively than trying to climb onto a wave once it gets into the mainstream.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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