John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December, 2006

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December 31, 2006
I saw this article in my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about condo naming, and couldn’t resist pointing it out:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Naming stuff is one of the more fun projects for copywriters. And now, things are more open than ever before. For instance, a name like M2i for a condo development would never have flown just a few years ago. Whether this makes the task harder or easier depends on everything else present in the brand. And, as cultural references occupy ever smaller niches and ever larger audiences, research becomes an increasingly important component, as the “Escondido Highlands” story shows.
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December 28, 2006
A song by John Mellencamp is used in a Chevrolet television commercial six months before the album is released, and the label is concerned about overexposure. Here’s the story, from The Wall Street Journal via the Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this shows more than a bit of naiveté on the part of the record label. Come on, six months of exclusive commercial use prior to the album release? At that point, they’d might as well co-brand the album. 

So now the Mellencamp camp are on the defense, rushing out the single and mounting a PR blitz. It all strikes me as not entirely straight, to benefit from commercial exposure (to the tune of $1 million in airtime in one month) while simultaneously claiming artistic independence. The thing is, I think GM and John Mellencamp may in more-perfect synchronicity than either side might like to admit: two brands on the downside, struggling to get back in the game. Embracing that could even be a better way to move forward.
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December 27, 2006
Web 2.0, get ready for Spam 2.0. Here’s a story about spammers, virus authors, and advertisers taking advantage of online social networking and the data derived from it, from News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I hate to see advertising lumped in with spam and cons, but there are similarities. They all are uninvited. They all start from nothing. They all rely on building a quick emotional connection with an individual. Whether you’re a pigeon or a customer depends largely on context. 

It will be interesting to see if all this eventually drives both advertisers and audiences back to traditional media, as more trustworthy channels of communication.
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December 26, 2006
Last week, I mentioned making memories with your kids. Well, we just got back from a week of family time, including two days at Disneyland. Oh, we had a great time. The kids are still feasting on the whole Disney experience.

As a marketer, I found it fascinating how some of the rides and attractions, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, had been co-branded. And, when it was time for the boys to pick their souvenirs, our youngest chose a Nightmare Before Christmas character set, opting for the co-brand over the Disney brand. See, either way, Disney makes money. But notice that it’s not Disney’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Nope. It’s Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. That’s a smart way to extend the product line and diversify the revenue stream while preserving the core brand.

Not a lot of brand managers have the confidence to do that. But then, not a lot of brand managers have brands with the iconic strength of Disney.
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December 19, 2006
This will likely be my last Ad Blog entry until after Christmas, because I’m taking some time away from advertising to spend it with my family. However, I have two interesting stories for you today. The first is about a new service that claims to have “fingerprinted” every piece of data on the web. Here’s the story, from InformationWeek (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This could be a boon to content providers and creative professionals (ahem), who may now have a tool that can tell them if their work is being mis-used. However, duplicate content may be a separate issue from ownership, especially if first publication happened offline. But, it’s a neat concept for a rising content economy, and seems to be passing some initial tests.

My next story is more relevant to holiday consumerism. Branded dolls like Barbie and Bratz may be teaching little girls age-inappropriate sexual behaviors. Here’s the story, from the San Francisco Chronicle via The Courier News (Chicago IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Who are these parents who buy this stuff, and what are they compensating for? I have two boys, ages six and four, and I still have to deal with the fallout from products like these because first-grade girls are sexually aggressive in ways that have my wife and I very concerned. And the scary thing is, this isn’t new to us: we’ve had to deal with this since pre-school.

Boys will be boys, though, which is a saving grace at this age because it means boys will be pretty much oblivious to signals sent by girls.

As a parent, I can’t imagine buying into the whole Bratz thing anyway. Dora the Explorer, okay. Barbie, a qualified maybe, with a focus on the more open-ended accessories. Bratz, no. I don’t care if it’s cool, I don’t care if it’s popular, my child would not get a Bratz toy from me. For me to buy something for my child that I don’t approve of isn’t just sending a mixed message, it’s sending the wrong message. That purchase represents more than tacit approval; it’s explicit co-ownership of the values the brand represents.

Granted, it’s hard to escape branded toys, and I don’t want this to turn into another rant about advertising aimed at kids (for more of that, see my Ad Blog entries for November 14, 17, and 20, October 2 and 3, July 20, June 11 and 12, and April 4, among more than two dozen entries going back three years). But parents have the power of the purse. They should exercise it.

By the way, and because of scheduling issues, we held our Christmas early this year, on the Third Advent. What were the toys our boys have played with the most? The art project sets my wife made up (beads, string, pipe cleaners, paints, yarn, markers, paper, glue, clay, and other stuff that I immediately dubbed “mess in a box”), home-made coloring folders from the grandparents, and an electronic dart board. Oh, they got a pile of loot, including branded toys. But of the things they’ve played with the most, only one came from a store.

The most-important things we can give our children for the holidays are fond memories of our time together. So get out and make some memories! That’s what I’ll be doing.
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December 18, 2006
Viruses are dangerous things to mess around with, and viral marketing is no exception. This time it’s computer/entertainment giant Sony misfiring, as reported in Business Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Actually, it’s the marketing agency that miscalculated how quickly readers would identify the corporate sponsor. However, that piercing of the viral veil was triggered in part by how transparent the marketing effort was. The campaign strategy could have worked, but the tactical approach and execution failed to ring true, fatal flaws in viral marketing.
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December 17, 2006
A Sunday quickie to show how branding public spaces is working for the people of Vietnam. Communists? Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hanoi’s Lenin Park is now sponsored by Unilever, Ford, and Microsoft. Even advertising cynics have to love the irony of it. And, this is a good example of corporations stepping up to the plate where governments and citizen’s groups cannot.

Key quote:

“I think a foreign company doing this is better,” says Pham Viet Dung.

“If the Hanoi People’s Committee could have done it, they would have done it already. They can’t come up with innovative ideas quickly enough.”

That bears repeating: They can’t come up with innovative ideas quickly enough. To quote Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery, “Go capitalism! Yeah!”
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December 15, 2006
A real picture of the average American emerges from Census Bureau data. And it isn’t pretty. Here’s the story, from the New York Times News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Never mind our aspirations, here are the truths: we are better-educated than ever before, but more solitary and sedentary. For entertainment, we prefer to be spectators instead of participants. We pay good money for water in bottles and packaged food (or, “food”) loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, a side effect of which (beyond obesity, rising diabetes, and a lack of savings) is an ever-increasing volume of solid waste (4.4 pounds per person per day).

Key comment on the social side of all this:

“The large master trend here is that over the last hundred years, technology has privatized our leisure time,” said Robert Putnam, a public policy professor at Harvard and author of “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

“The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone,” Putnam said. “That is from many points of view very efficient. I also think it’s fundamentally bad because the lack of social contact, the social isolation means that we don’t share information and values and outlook that we should.”

I don’t know. While technology has indeed “privatized our leisure time” to the extent that we experience it largely in our own homes, it also has brought together global communities in ways that were simply impossible in the days when one’s social circle was limited to neighbors and co-workers.
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December 14, 2006
I have two links today. The first is to an article from The Wall Street Journal via the Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA) about Google’s latest incursion into the advertising industry, this time providing planning, media, and even creative services. And the second link is the expected return fire, from MediaPost (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Talk about bringing it all in-house. Can outside creative compete with people on the inside, with inside knowledge about the way Google ranks its results?

Yes, absolutely. As the folks at Google would be the first to tell you, Google isn’t everything. Despite increased use of web-based media, traditional media are managing to survive. Some are even prospering, like AM talk radio and community access TV. And, past results are no guarantee of future returns; true creative breakthroughs don’t fit into algorithms.

The one problem with a faster feedback cycle, is that it drives a tendency toward retail-like advertising, in which everything is measured against a set of performance standards. That’s fine as far as it goes. In fact, I like having more and better consumer data. But so far, there’s no evidence that an analysis of search queries and results can measure offline brand perceptions. And, in branding, that’s all that matters.

In other words, no matter how sophisticated the marketing mathematics, real-world results are still going to depend a great deal on emotion. That might not be how people search, but that’s how people buy.
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December 13, 2006
Digital technology is still making its way out-of-doors. Here’s a look at where things stand now, from the Associated Press via (TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Selling dayparts and changing offers represent merely the thin edge of the wedge; true consumer interactivity with billboards has yet to be exploited. As for the argument that digital billboards aren’t widespread enough to carry a national message, I say hogwash. A national message is carried consumer by consumer, street by street. You don’t need a national medium. You just need to deploy the right tools in the right markets, and digital billboards are just another tool.

I think the key opportunity here lies in connecting the local with the global to drill down to the individual: an interactive billboard with, say, a component that makes smart use of web-enabled texting or mobile web access to deliver a message and capture a lead.
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December 12, 2006
Just in time for those first-quarter product (or service) launches, comes this article outlining “Seven Marketing Musts” from (Los Angeles, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I had just put the polish on an article very similar to this one, and was about to upload it. But, this piece does the job well enough, plus has the benefit of not being me saying this. Third-party validation. Proof of concept.

Where I usually see companies stumble, is in planning the follow-up. An effective launch is rarely, if ever, a single event. It’s a series of events, like the stages of a rocket, each one carefully calculated to keep the sale moving along a trajectory of inevitable closure.
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December 11, 2006
Here we have a new book which looks at results from 30 Fortune 200 advertisers representing $1 billion in advertising, and attempts to tell what worked, what didn’t, and why. The results are a ringing validation of the value of the copywriter’s craft. Here’s the story, from Inside Business (Norfolk, VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, the three root causes of ineffective advertising are a lack of archival data, a marketing culture that resists scientific improvement, and a corporate culture that resists change. I’ll add that having archival data is one thing, and having the ability to analyze it is another (see my entry for November 28).

Second, of the “four Ms” the authors say are essential for improving ROI, two fall solidly into the province of the copywriter, or at least the creative team: motivation and message. Since the days of Claude Hopkins, and even before him, creating effective advertising has hinged on understanding the consumer and crafting a relevant message that is supported from initial contact media through the customer experience. To me, the third M, media mix, is a fundamental part of the creative strategy; whether the media department guides the creative or the creative department guides the media buy, it’s all part of the same overarching task.
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December 8, 2006
Just weeks after winning the Wal-Mart account, the newly hired ad agency gets summarily fired in the midst of a spate of resignations at the client. Here’s the story, from Business Week Europe via Yahoo! Finance (UK and Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It looks like there may have been “improper” connections during the agency review process. The days of wining and dining a prospective client are over, at least among the major advertisers.

If I were in charge of Wal-Mart marketing, the first thing I’d probably do is move the account back to the former agency (which had held the account for some 30 years, since the days of Sam Walton). There’s too much shared skin there to ignore, and right now I’d want to ramp up stuff fast, plus ensure a reliable team and send a message of loyalty and consistency both internally and externally. A review would waste precious time, plus introduce its own instability.

Shameless Self-Promotional Minute: Yesterday, I was interviewed for Solo Gig News (Chicago, IL) about becoming a freelance advertising copywriter. And today, here I am:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ayup. Even at a distance, that’s one silly looking mug.
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December 7, 2006
Point-of-purchase finally, finally, gets the respect it deserved all along. Here’s the story, from Beverage World (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The retailer is the penultimate point of customer contact. (The ultimate point, in my opinion, is the product package itself.) Say what you will about advertising, viral and otherwise, the fact is that at the store level, a customer can still be co-opted by a savvy competitor with a smarter display, a more-persuasive label, a more-attractive brand or product presence.

Which brand is more-important, the retailer’s or the product’s? It depends on the retailer and the product. The more commoditized the product category, the more important the retailer brand becomes. Conversely, the stronger the product brand, the more beneficial it is to the retailer to support it.
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December 6, 2006
Ads that spoof ads are in the news again (see my Ad Blog entries for September 25 2006, June 26 2006, and March 31 2005). Here’s the story, from the venerable New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ll add one comment. What’s been overlooked here, is that one of the key benefits of spoofing an infomercial is the ability to adopt the infomercial format. Lots of content. Gobs of emotion. Tons of energy. And credibility? You want proof? We got testimonials! We got statistics! We got a guy in a lab coat who’ll demonstrate the product right here, right now, live!

So, while the bait may be a sort of self-referential irony, the hook is the format itself. Hey, selling sells.
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December 5, 2006
New research from the University of Bath (UK) School of Management confirms what advertising copywriters and art directors have known for centuries: that consumers are persuaded not by facts, but by emotion. Here’s the story, from gizmag (Victoria, Australia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t believe there’s an “assumption in most advertising models that it is the communication of the factual message that gives advertising its persuasive power.” In fact, I think the assumption is quite the opposite: that facts may support an emotional appeal, but that persuasion relies on the emotional over the factual. We choose with our hearts, then if necessary, validate our choice with our heads.

That’s why it’s critically important that the emotional appeal be embodied throughout the ad copy, and not end with the headline concept.
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December 4, 2006
A new book, called Citizen Marketers: When People are the Message by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, looks to be a comprehensive look at the current trend toward consumer-generated content and viral campaigns. Here’s an excerpt, from Brandweek (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There is some good stuff here, like “the four stages of successful meme replication:” assimilation, retention, expression, and replication. And, the five stages of spreading a meme: an element of surprise, concrete details, tangible proof points, an intermediary level of recognition, then a worldwide level of recognition.

Cool quote, from Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo!: “The act of consumption is itself becoming an act of production.”

We’ve gone from the medium being the massage (McLuhan) to the audience being the massage. It’s a Gutenberg Renaissance, putting both creative and distributive power into the hands of everyman.
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December 3, 2006
I have a quick fun one for a Sunday. In the early days of radio, stations used mailed-in “applause cards” as a way to measure audiences. Those cards are now collectible. Here’s a look at the short life of applause cards, from (Natick, MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This direct-response form of gauging listenership lasted for just a few years, in the early 1920s, after which radio stations started using more scientific approaches to rate their programs. Still, it’s interesting to see the abbreviated life cycle of these cards, from fan-based to brand-based to advertiser-based to gone. That’s a common cycle, and it’s one worth bearing in mind as viral advertising and social networking shift from being truly user-driven to being advertiser-driven.
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December 2, 2006
So this Saturday I found this story, about retailers racing to discount prices on hot-selling consumer electronics, from the Washington Post (DC) via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

A non-profitable sale doesn’t just lose money. It also costs money: to advertise, to promote in-store, to warehouse and distribute, and to process the transaction. Paying money to lose money is a retail death spiral.

The gamble, is whether or not people will buy add-ons, such as high-margin accessories or extended warranty packages with the items. And those add-on purchases are influenced not just by convenience, but also by perceived value, which means, in part, the strength and character of the retailer brand.
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December 1, 2006
Lonelygirl15 seeks Advertisersmany. Here’s the story, from ClickZ News (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, if YouTube is the primary distribution channel, then product placement is one of the few options the creators of Lonelygirl15 have to monetize their efforts. Despite their efforts to free themselves, they’re still held hostage by the sheer audience clout YouTube delivers. And if they can’t wrest their audience free of YouTube, then I’d say marketers have to worry. Why? Because a corporate advertiser using YouTube video as the channel could wind up providing the bandwagon for their largest competitors, thanks to the ads surrounding the videos. The more relevant the ads, the more competitive they’re likely to be.

Another question is, can the Lonelygirl15 team manage the product placement well enough to maintain the brand? Or will reaching a larger audience mean more compromises, more selling out? If that pro bono spot is any indication, things will spiral downward very quickly. It’s over-produced, stilted, and inauthentic.
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Backwards in time to November 2006

My experience as a copywriter.

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Advertising strategy and other lies
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
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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Phone and fax: (619) 465-6100

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

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