John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December, 2004

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December 30, 2004
A look back at the year in advertising, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, it’s all British ads that we haven’t seen here in the U.S. But, you get the gist. And the creative trends are, sadly, the same on both sides of the Atlantic: cool celebrities, hip obscurity, and ham-handed attempts to reach new target markets.
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December 29, 2004
I’ve had this website bookmarked for years, and yesterday’s entry with its archive of advertising reminded me to share it. It’s a small, personal collection of British print ads and brochures related to household appliances and select cars from the 1960s and 1970s, from Simon’s Skip (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This collection is clearly a labor of love. Elsewhere in Simon’s Skip, you’ll find a brief photo-study of 1930s Moderne architecture, photos and descriptions of his growing collection of vintage electrical appliances, Scottish railway timetables from 1964, and a vigorous defense of the Austin Allegro. And, a personal blog following the life of a gay, vegetarian, recent graduate in design history who works in a bingo hall in Brighton. The blog contains some of the most-absorbing (and occasionally oddball) long-lunchbreak links I’ve come across; recent treasures include Pathetic Motorways, abandoned railway stations, urban exploration, and probably others that I’m forgetting at the moment. Well worth a look around for the cultural artifacts!
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December 28, 2004
Oh, this is so cool. The John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History at Duke University has a searchable digital archive of vintage advertisements. I spent hours here, reading the studies, viewing the ads, and savoring the rhythm of ad copy from various eras. It was time well-spent, a whole education in advertising and copywriting.

Three collections are especially worth bookmarking. The first is called Ad*Access, and contains some 7,000 print ads from the U.S. and Canada, dating from 1911 through about 1957. Product categories covered are radios, televisions, mass transportation, beauty and hygiene, and World War II. Ads are also broken out chronologically, and the historical analysis in each category is well worth reading too:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The next study-slash-collection is The Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920. It contains more than 9,000 ads in 11 categories: advertising ephemera (such as calendars, postcards, and almanacs), broadsides (those handbill-like posters pasted up on fences and buildings), advertising cookbooks, early advertising technique booklets (50 of them, many as up-to-date as anything else you’ll read – I spent hours reading here, and want to spend more), J. Walter Thompson Company house ads, Kodak print ads, Lux Flakes (soap) print ads, R.C. Maxwell Company Collection (outdoor), Pond’s (beauty products), advertising scrapbooks, and tobacco advertising. Category descriptions include historical information:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The third and final collection is a specialized one: Medicine and Madison Avenue, a study of medicine advertising from 1910 through the 1950s. Some 600 ads are searchable and viewable in categories including household products, over-the-counter drugs, personal and oral hygiene, vitamins and nutritional supplements, and pharmaceutical corporations. These categories are further broken down into sub-categories (e.g.: over-the-counter drugs > cough & cold) for easy browsing:
Advertising copywriter blog link

All perfect reading for the holiday break, if you have one. If not, bookmark them and browse them with every spare minute. They’re not just museum pieces, they’re great educational pieces demonstrating deep insight into human nature and the sales process, neither of which has changed significantly in 150 years.
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December 27, 2004
As 2004 comes to a close, it’s time for a look back at some of the year’s advertising trends. This article, from the New York Times via the San Francisco Chronicle, looks at the rise of virally promoted, non-branded websites for major corporate advertisers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote, from a creative director involved in making these under-the-radar marketing efforts: “I do consider them kind of like pirate radio stations. You’re kind of borrowing some bandwidth from the brand, but it allows you to do things the brand may not be comfortable with on its own corporate site.”

I disagree a bit with that quote, although it has the sound of something pulled slightly out of context in terms of marketing. I don’t think much mental or emotional bandwidth is really “borrowed” from the brand. To me, these things work, not by borrowing interest, but by generating fresh, new interest among new audiences. My prediction for 2005: As bandwidth becomes cheaper and more people gain high-speed internet connections, look for these off-the-wall websites to become increasingly sophisticated, increasingly subversive, and increasingly targeted.
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December 23, 2004
Has Christmas been taken over by advertising, replacing the spirit of goodwill with a spirit of commercialism? Well, nothing new there. The question itself is a lift from a piece in the New York Times from December 23 ... 1899. Here’s more, from today’s USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key circular quote: “Americans have made a tradition out of insisting that the Christmas spirit is lost.” So, as you protest the excesses of the season, or take your holiday spirit with a twist of post-modern irony, know that you’re engaging in a custom nearly as old as Christmas itself. Merry Christmas!
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December 22, 2004
I have two entries today. The first sort of validates yesterday’s entry, about the value of regional differentiation in building a global brand. The story concerns the rising international backlash against brands perceived as “American,” and it comes from the Toledo Blade (OH):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are three distinct strategies here. One can buy local favor by acquiring local brands: the Coke strategy. One can work one’s way into local favor slowly but inexorably, submerging the brand nationality beneath a culturally relevant brand identity: the Heinz strategy. Finally, one can trumpet the brand nationality and take the cyclical lows – and highs – that will come from it: the DaimerChrysler strategy.

Each of these strategies can work, albeit in different ways at different times. For instance, according to the article, Coke makes 90% of its profit outside the U.S. And the first awareness in the UK that Heinz was actually an American brand came during the recent presidential election.

Next is an article about marketing to kids. It makes a compelling case that the current generation of children and youths are not nearly as marketing-savvy as we in the ad industry like to think. Here’s the article, from the Sydney Morning Herald (AUS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote:

Today’s youth consumer is less - not more - marketing savvy than ever, Ferrier [a marketing agency partner] says. “They are suckers for marketing, and they love it.”

Branding is branding, advertising is advertising, and kids are kids. I’ve said it over and over (December 16 2004, November 13 and 21, 2003, May 6, 2003, April 16, 2003): the way to manage the problem (and it is a problem) is through active parenting. And, for crying out loud, turn off the TV.

I have two children, ages 2-1/2 and 4-1/2. My wife and I expected more of a brand-awareness explosion with pre-school, but awareness didn’t equate with desire, at least not yet. We’ll see what happens when the older one starts Kindergarten and the peer pressure really ramps up.

As a parent, you can’t eliminate branding entirely, or you could end up raising a social outcast. But you can manage the issue by managing expectations and maintaining a constant dialog about all marketing messages, not just the ones aimed at kids.

On a related note, I recently showed my 4-1/2-year-old a few rough storyboard concepts for some television commercials I was working on. The product itself had no relevance to a child, but one concept clearly communicated the product benefit in a way that engaged him and tickled his fancy. I found it interesting that his pick of the litter was also mine. Hmmm.
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December 21, 2004
When it comes to strong international brands, it’s hard to beat Santa Claus. A key part of that universal success, however, is the use of unique regional branding. Here’s the story, from Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki, Finland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s a lot to like about that original Finnish pagan goat-horned Santa frightening the children and taking liberties with the ladies of the house. Anyway, what this shows is that you can build a universal brand without necessarily using the same brand image or brand mythology. Leveraging the brand isn’t the same thing as cloning it. Regional variations allow closer cultural relationships with the brand, increasing brand ownership among consumers outside of the brand’s original market area. That’s something to remember as more brands go global. And, a great lesson in marketing from the jolly old elf himself.
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December 20, 2004
A re-branding that isn’t: replacing the word “diet” with something hipper in low- or no-calorie soft drink names. Here’s the story, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In the strictest sense, this ain’t re-branding: the brand (Coke, Sprite, Pepsi) remains the same. What’s being changed here is something of a brand modifier. But it is a neat example of re-positioning through product naming. Is it smart? I think so, for all the reasons the article states. First, it eliminates a word that, in addition to feeling very 1971, always looked like a bolted-on description. Second, it expands the category appeal to include people who aren’t on a diet, or don’t think of themselves as being on a diet. (You know them: “I’m not on Atkins/WeightWatchers/South Beach. I’m just eating right.”)

No matter what you call it, though, the stuff in the can is still a man-made concoction offering better taste through chemical engineering. Eventually, it’s going to make refined sugar look like health food.
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December 17, 2004
This yearís holiday ad-fest includes perhaps the first advertising campaign from the Hells Angels. The Hells Angels? Hereís the story, from the Toronto Star (Ontario, Canada):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, thereís an ulterior motive to their public relations effort, just as with any other advertiser. The thing is, this is the kind of edgy, wild account with which creative ad agencies aspire to build their reputations and their portfolios. Whatís notable isnít that the Hellís Angels are advertising. Itís that they donít seem to have an agency.
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December 16, 2004
I have two entries today, the first being a quickie from via Tech Republic, about the Google v. Geico trademark suit:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A federal judge ruled that trademarks can be used or bought as search keywords by anyone, not just the owners of the trademarks. This is both a huge win for Google and a significant reduction in trademark protection. Hey, remember when the musical artist Prince changed his name to that weird symbol? Maybe he had the right idea, at least as far as protecting his brand from trademark dilution on-line. Way ahead of his times, he was.

Next up, is an article about automobile branding programs aimed at toddlers. Hereís the story about co-branded toys, a surprisingly balanced one considering itís coming from the American International Automobile Dealers Association (Alexandria, VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As an advertising copywriter who is also a parent (two boys, 4 and 2), I vehemently oppose brand marketing and brand advertising aimed at children. What does it mean when a childís self-esteem is linked, at such an early age, to brand names? Instead of being good at hitting a ball, or spelling, or digging holes in the mud. What lesson does that teach our kids about defining who they are?

You can be successful and drive a cool car. In fact, in California, thatís almost mandatory. But the cool car doesnít make you successful.

I think my issue is somewhat related to size and price. As a kid, I had a vast, car-geek collection of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. In fact, in true car-geek fashion, I preferred the ones that were based on real cars. (And, in true collector-geek fashion, I still have every one, neatly stored in cases and cataloged on lined notebook paper.) Anyway, at a certain price point (and children know when something is extravagant), these toys teach that you can buy success. That is not a good message, and is even bad for consumerism, when you think about all the adults who canít afford to buy things because theyíre making payments on a Lexus they canít afford. At some point, this stuff has to stop. But, I donít think the answer is stronger legislation; I think the answer is stronger parenting.
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December 15, 2004
Some perennial holiday television favorites just happen to be ads. Hereís an overview of some popular holiday TV commercials, along with a brief history of the modern image of Santa Claus, from Newsday (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are also links to view three holiday ads online, in RealVideo format. Next to the politically incorrect but over-the-top funny Virgin Mobile commercial and the classic, restrained Budweiser commercial, the Heineken ad just looks like the ad agency indulging a clever idea. Note, too, that the only commercial here that delivers a sales message beyond pure holiday feel-good, is also the only 60-second spot here.
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December 14, 2004
After nearly 20 years, the Texas State Department of Transportation has finally launched its own, authorized, line of “Don’t Mess With Texas” merchandise. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Dallas-Ft. Worth (TX) Star-Telegram:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The slogan has been around for so long, that many people have probably forgotten that it was created in 1986 as part of an anti-littering ad campaign, which was itself highly effective. Almost immediately, the ad slogan was adopted as an expression of all-around Texas pride, and bootleg merchandise sprung up. No one at the transportation department took action because, as a state agency, it was a positive outcome to see people taking the message to heart in so many ways. However, over the years the slogan became too valuable an asset to leave untapped.

You just know a government bureaucracy is involved, though, when a sure-fire hit product line gets rolled out just a few weeks too late to capture holiday shoppers. Well, with a slogan as embedded as this one, there’s always next year.
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December 13, 2004
This is a great example of viral marketing – when a user of a product, on his own time, creates an ad extolling the joys of ownership. That’s what one high school teacher did, then he posted his creation on his website. So far, just the usual fan stuff, right? But this particular home-made 60-second TV commercial for the Apple iPod Mini has become the hot ad of the month and the darling of the ad industry. Here’s the story, from Wired:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve seen it. And it’s excellent, very professionally done, creatively better than 95% of the television commercials out there. The actions shown are both graphically stylish and relevant to product benefits. The creative execution is fresh and fun to watch, and the choice of song is spot on. If an ad agency team had presented it, it might have been criticized internally for being off brand strategy, but even on that point it’s (a) good enough and close enough to be defended or adapted and (b) the brainchild of someone who didn’t have access to the corporate communications guidelines. I have just two comments about the work.

First, it’s a :60. See how the 60-second format allows a fuller (and more-fulfilling) experience? I’ve said all along that 30 seconds isn’t enough time to sell, and this shows how powerful even an attitude-driven ad can be, given enough content and time.

Second, and this is the only criticism I have, I’d have liked to see a graphical representation showing size. After all, it’s the iPod Mini; tiny size is a key product attribute. Yeah, that point is intrinsic to the song choice, which is punched a couple times through the spot, but requiring someone to read copy or pay attention to lyrics on a TV commercial is a reach. That point could have been delivered just one more way, through one of the wonderfully watchable visual vignettes.

Finally, two comments about Apple. First, it’s huge testimony to the strength and consistency of their branding that this fan-made creation is recognized immediately as both a wonderful TV spot for Apple and also as not a TV spot from Apple. Second, the silence so far from Apple’s legal department shows, for the time being, considerable savvy there as well.
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December 11, 2004
Celebrities aren’t the only ones on the payroll of corporations with a position to promote or an axe to grind. Increasingly, professors are used as paid media mouthpieces (or, “consultants”), usually with no disclosure of their business relationship with those outside employers. Here’s the story, from the Wall Street Journal via my hometown San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now, this is a low-down dirty PR trick, far lower than celebrity endorsement deals associated with advertising. That’s partly because the truth expectations of a typical reader, viewer, or listener are higher for supposedly non-promotional communications from acknowledged topical experts. And it’s partly because the business relationship is deliberately concealed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a sorry state of affairs when advertising is the last reasonably truthful example of mass communication.
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December 10, 2004
Celebrity-laden holiday advertising may be more of an issue across the pond than it is here. Here’s an article from BBC News Magazine, about the risks and rewards of celebrity endorsements:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Consumers are cynical enough to know that it’s all about the money. However, an appealing celebrity is, well, appealing. The trick, creatively, is to use the celebrity in a story that leverages his or her unique and brand-relevant strengths. The straight endorsement ad is out; the story ad (featuring, almost incidentally, recognized stars) is in. And, whether to use a celebrity becomes almost just another casting decision.
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December 9, 2004
A case involving mandatory contributions to advertising campaigns promoting agricultural categories, discussed here on July 14, 2003, finally reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. The specific case concerns the Beef Council’s “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner” ad campaign, but also applies to other category-building ad campaigns like “Got Milk,” and could be extended into categories such as local and regional tourism campaigns. Here are two articles, the first from the Legal Times via, and the second from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Funny thing is, no one’s arguing that the ads don’t work; that is, that they don’t increase market share and profitable sales. No one’s questioning the ROI. The key issues are (a) the identification of the government as the ad sponsor and (b) the distribution of profits resulting from increased sales. Now, I’m no attorney, just a plain ol’ freelance advertising copywriter. But, it seems to be that (a) the sponsor of an ad ought to be identified simply as a matter of clear communication and (b) market distribution ought to be factored into the marketing contribution.
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December 8, 2004
In its drive to produce more goods, more-cheaply and more-profitably – and, let’s not kid ourselves, most of this stuff is headed to the U.S. – China is fueling its factories with a catastrophically brutal energy policy. One that has killed 15 coal miners a day this year, one that kills (by official estimate, mind you) 400,000 people a year through diseases caused by severe air pollution, one that continues unabated as you read this. Here’s the story, from BBC News (and be sure to read some of the jump stories too):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Many low-priced goods carry a real cost in human blood. Something to think about as you shop for $69 DVD players, $19 doll/action figure sets, $12 sweaters, and $5 knickknacks at your neighborhood conglomerated discount store. Happy holidays!
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December 7, 2004
Blogging goes big-time commercial as more webizens and advertisers discover their mutual desire to make a buck. Here’s the story, from The Globe and Mail (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

That seems to be the trend now. The first question people have about starting a blog isn’t “do I have something to say?” It’s “can I get someone to pay?” And the irony is that in less than two years, my own Ad Blog, written by an advertising copywriter about advertising, has become one of the few remaining ad-free blogs left.
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December 6, 2004
Continuing from Sunday’s entry, Reuters heads in the opposite direction from Forbes, choosing to increase its links to sponsors and advertisers. Not only that, but Reuters is attempting to maximize profits by getting into the creative end of the ad business too. Here’s a short blurb, from Media Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

One is inclined to wonder if this marks the beginning for the end for the Reuters brand. After all, it can hardly be viewed as an impartial information resource if it not only carries ads, but also creates them. Or can it?

Most news media have long had advertising departments and even creative departments, ostensibly separate from their editorial departments. Because of that separation, ads for any given advertiser have always run the risk of appearing near a news feature that negates it. And, editors have long proven themselves averse to advertiser influence.

All of which makes the Forbes argument seem a bit precious in retrospect. After all, Forbes magazine carries advertising in print.

What’s interesting here, is that, in two days and with two opposite approaches, advertising policies are being touted as differentiators.
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December 5, 2004
A quick Sunday entry to point out an article from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego (CA) Union Tribune reporting that the Forbes magazine website will not longer carry sponsored links on its article pages:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Forbes editors and staff “felt that the links might blur the lines between paid advertisements and staff-written copy.” See, that’s why I don’t have ad links on my blog, and why I don’t risk having ads served up via a news feed. I just don’t feel comfortable creating ads for one client, while potentially running ads for a competitor. As a copywriter, that’s a conflict of interest. Also, like I say in my Ad Blog FAQ, I get paid to write ads, not write about ads.
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December 3, 2004
The Aflac duck has been around for four years and already has been labeled “iconic.” The duck has made it into a recent movie (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events), is being worked into the corporate logo, and will (gasp) have a reduced role in the new ad campaign. Here’s the story, from the Wall Street Journal, via The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Michelin Man is iconic. The Aflac duck is successful, but hardly iconic, yet. And, this next step – defining the benefits of the service more clearly – is both essential and utterly unsurprising. This is how this ad campaign was supposed to work: get consumer attention (and, with it, brand recognition and category awareness), then move on to delivering a specific marketing message. The only people who would be surprised, or call this a “muzzling” of a popular mascot, are those who don’t understand sustained advertising. It’s not muzzling; it’s leveraging.

What is interesting, for students of advertising strategy, is that it took four years to build up enough momentum in the marketplace that people might pay attention to an ad about supplemental workplace insurance. Four years. That puts the damper of realism on arguments that nowadays you can build a brand overnight.
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December 2, 2004
Here’s a story about a television commercial for a beer named Bud, featuring exotic foreigners and a fantasy sequence involving beer and beautiful women, with sports and patriotism thrown in for good measure. The ad is raising the hackles of competitors and various conservative interest groups. No, wait, it’s not that Bud. Here’s the article about Czech beer brand Budvar and its new ad creative, from the Prague Post (CZ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the whole story is sort of interesting, but take issue with one quote: “Traditional advertising school of thought requires producers to show the target audience in an ad.” That is not true. Traditional advertising school of thought requires advertisers to show something that appeals to the target group. Research and ongoing experience tells us that that something is often the target group itself. And why not? Customers get to see an idealized version of themselves in an idealized situation. But, the rule isn’t showing the target group; it’s attracting the target group. Which is exactly what the Budvar beer ad appears to be doing. It’s not breaking rules; it’s following them.
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December 1, 2004
A look at the business headlines today shows confusion over the prospects of a strong holiday for retailers. Consumer confidence is up. No, it’s down. The market is up. No, it’s down. Consumer spending projections are up. No, they’re down. Pick your sector, pick your source, and pick your poison. Early numbers, though, are not encouraging. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The big post-Thanksgiving drive fizzled, as consumers apparently await deeper discounts. And the one trend that everyone seems to agree on, is that ecommerce is going to take a bigger and bigger chunk of holiday spending from brick-and-mortar retailers.

But what’s to become of the social part of the holiday shopping experience? You know: city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style, while the shoppers rush home with their treasures? Will that go the way of yule logs, carolers a-wassailing, and the one-horse open sleigh? See, not every evolution of consumer power is good for people. (Then again, regardless of your personal beliefs, the holidays were never meant to be about consumerism.)
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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San Diego, California

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