John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December 2007

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December 31 2007
Happy Old Year’s Night, as Mr. Golspie would say (see Angel Pavement, December 24 – and you really must read it; it’s a wonderful novel). Today I have a quick wrap-up of the year’s worst clichés, from Reuters via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Among the words and phrases (rather wishfully) banned: “a perfect storm,” “webinar,” “surge,” “post-9-11,” “x is the new y,” and “it is what it is,” which I suspect may be a carryover from last year’s list.

Notable: “wordsmith” made the list. Now, I’ve never referred to myself as anything so precious as a “wordsmith,” and I’ve made a living as a writer for a quarter of a century. (In fact, I know no professional writer who does.) What do I call myself? A copywriter.
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December 28 2007
Mobile advertising, after failing to live up to predictions in 2007, is ramping up for a big 2008. They hope. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Online discounts for camera phone snapshots of offline ad placements? Free minutes for viewing ads? Mobile search? Heck, this doesn’t sound like 2007; it sounds like 2005.

See, technology changes rapidly. Human behavior, not so much. So the challenge for would-be mobile advertisers, is to develop technologies and infrastructures that adapt to existing behavior sets.
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December 27 2007
Holiday shoppers went green this year, according to a recent KMPG survey. Here’s the story, from Environmental News Network (Fairfield, IA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Among the study’s findings:

... 40 percent of consumers said they checked the country of origin on potential gifts, with 31 percent using such information to decide against a purchase. While 79 percent of those decisions not to buy an item involved products from China, toys were involved more than half (52 percent) of the time.

However, a shopper’s choice of where to purchase was based largely on previous experience with the retailer. So effective management of the customer experience is the key marketing tool for retail brands, more so now than ever.

I also found interesting the persistent influence of newspaper advertising in driving retail traffic, although I’d bet a big chunk of that is due to discount coupons (a view supported by the statistics).
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December 26 2007
Just a post-Christmas quickie to point to this article, about this holiday season’s effect on retailers, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

My favorite retail analyst quote: “Never in the history of retail forecasting have so many been so wrong about so much.”

It does appear that internet sales continued to grow, while traditional retailers struggled to create any excitement. In both cases, though, shopper excitement was driven primarily by discounting. And that brings me back to my seasonal rant against commodity gifting, in which the gift-giver’s time and effort go toward paying as little as possible for each major-brand item. (See December 21 2005.)

Oh well. it’s after Christmas. Let the bargain hunting begin!
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December 24 2007
It’s Christmas Eve, and here’s my gift to you: a short excerpt from Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley. This novel, about a small business office in London, is out of print but well worth seeking out. It was written in 1930, but, like others, this scene about holiday consumption throws spot-on punches nearly a century later:

A day or two before Mr. Golspie returned, Miss Matfield, sitting with cold feet and a novel she disliked in the 13 bus, realized with a shock that it was nearly Christmas. The shops she passed every day in the bus along Regent Street and Oxford Street had been celebrating Christmas for some time; and it was weeks since they had first broken out into their annual crimson rash of holly berries, robins, and Father Christmases. The shops, followed by the illustrated papers, began it so early, with their full chorus of advertising managers and window dressers shouting "Christmas Is Here," at a time when it obviously wasn’t, that when it did actually come creeping up, you had forgotten about it. . . .

. . . At last the army of advertising managers, copy writers, commercial artists, colour printers, window dressers, bill posters, which had been screaming “Buy, buy. Christmas is coming. Buy, buy, buy” for weeks and weeks, was charging to victory. London was looting itself. . . . Never before had Miss Matfield seen so many boxes of figs and dates, obscenely naked fowls, cheeses, puddings in basins, beribboned cakes, and crackers, so much morocco and limp leather and suede and pig-skin, so many calendars, diaries, engagement books, bridge scorers, fountain-pens, pencils, patent lighters, cigarette-holders, dressing-cases, slippers, handbags, manicure sets, powder-bowls, and “latest novelties.” There were several brigades of Santa Clauses, tons and tons of imitation holly, and enough cotton-wool piled in the windows and dabbed on the glass to keep the hospitals supplied for the next ten years. . . . From a million bags, bags of every conceivable shape and colour, money, wads of clean pound notes straight from the bank, dirty notes from the vase on the mantelpiece, half-crowns and florins from the tin box in the bedroom, money that had come showering down out of the blue, money that had been stolen, money that had been earned, begged, hoarded up, was being pushed over counters and under little glass windows and then conjured into parcels, parcels, parcels, with whole acres of brown paper and miles of string called into service every few minutes. Hundreds of these parcels, especially the huge three-cornered ones, seemed to find their way into every bus that Miss Matfield, after waiting and running forward and returning and waiting again, contrived to board. She felt like a shivering and bruised ant. Never had she hated London so much. She wanted to scream at it. When she got back to the Club, the only thing she wished to do was to have a long hot soak in the bath, and of course it was precisely the thing that everybody else wanted to do too, so she would find herself hanging about, still waiting, after waiting to leave the office, waiting to get a bus, waiting to be served in the shop, waiting at the cash desk, waiting for her parcel, waiting for another bus; and then Kersey would come up and say “Going out again to-night, Matfield? No? Well, you can’t expect to go out every night, can you, dee-ar?” Hell!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and fond hopes that you receive those great gifts of the season that do not come in boxes or bags.
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December 21 2007
A recent survey of more than 50,000 online holiday shoppers at more than 40 major retail websites shows that they’re quite satisfied with their e-tail experiences. Here’s the story, from CRM Today (Athens, Greece):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a key snip:

In terms of purchase behavior, likelihood to buy from the retailer’s offline channels (84.8) is up 4.1 percent over last year, while likelihood to buy online (75.2) is up 3.3 percent over last year at this time.

In other words, by having a website a retailer not only captures online sales, but also drives offline sales.

I rather suspect the same is true for a lot of non-retail businesses; the lack of a strong, living online presence translates into incalculable missed opportunities for offline growth.
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December 20 2007
First I have another good review of the year in advertising, this time from BusinessWeek via Yahoo! News (UK and Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like that this article talks less about specific ad campaigns and more about trends. And I agree that, while the digital community has yet to be fully and willingly exploited, that day is fast approaching. There are so many exciting things on the horizon - new media channels, emerging technologies, new adaptive behaviors – all pointing toward ways to deliver differentiating value to the customer at every touchpoint.

It’s like I’ve always said – it’s a great time to be in advertising!

It’s not, however, a great time to be in retail. This holiday season is proving to be a real nutcracker. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Suddenly, a 4% increase in overall sales (see December 18) sounds wildly optimistic, when you see foot traffic down by 8-12% over the period. The web has played a big part, by offering up-to-the-second flexibility in marking down merchandise, an adaptability traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers can’t match. Consumers, meanwhile, are watching the various shopping aggregators with eager, beady eyes, lying in wait to pick off the best values.

What remains to be seen, is whether stores with both on-line and physical channels outperform those that are limited to a single channel.
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December 19 2007
Fortune Magazine recently released its annual list of the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, many of which involved marketing and advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Topping the list was China, although its recent problems can hardly be traced to a single moment. Lowlights, from a marketing and advertising perspective, include #12 (a failure to secure image rights), #17 (a problematic product name), and #21 (a guerilla campaign gone awry). #36 involves a lying POS: a point-of-sale kiosk at Best Buy that showed a copy of the Best Buy website with higher prices than actual online prices.

There are a host of tasteless or offensive ads on the list (#43, 56,76, 78, 91, and 98). In the case of #98, the Intel print ad, I find it incredible that this image got through. I would have expected the diversity issue to be picked up and prevented at the shoving-headshots-around-the-floor stage. But I also have a conceptual problem, in that the visual shows a bunch of people about to run into each other, rather than going in one direction as a team should.

#38 is worth a special mention. We often wonder how spam works. Well, this one shows how. With one PPC ad on Google, a prank message offering to infect your PC with a virus gets more than a quarter-million views. Click-through rate was a bit over 0.157%, which still means 409 people actually clicked on the ad before it got shut down.

Speaking of Google, the Google vs. eBay showdown got a mention at #74. I don’t believe for a moment that this was dumb on anyone’s part. Merely aggressive testing, on the part of both companies. Aggressive testing.

And, speaking of aggressiveness, Johnson & Johnson sued the Red Cross over the use of ... a red cross (#46).

A grand, if naïve, experiment in consumer-generated pricing (#59) falls flat as most people downloading a new Radiohead album opt to pay nothing.

As lines blur between advertising and content, content and carrier, I can sympathize with the spot Verizon was put in (#65) when it first turned down, then accepted opt-in text-message broadcasts from a controversial organization.

I have a soft spot for #29, a fake fragrance ad which was, to all appearances, created and placed by the model. Sorry, but I think this is a cool portfolio piece for the guy. And #33 is just plain funny.
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December 18 2007
A continuation from yesterday and a look at the tricks of the retailing trade, from The Indianapolis Star (IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I still don’t understand how a 4% increase n sales can be such a horrible result, unless you acknowledge that inflation is running at higher than 4% (which common sense says it is, despite relentlessly upbeat economic forecasts from experts).

There’s nothing new about loss-leaders or loyalty programs. But customization, to the extent that it can be done now, is a new twist, as is the active targeting and upselling of male shoppers.

I saw the Victoria’s Secret promotion in the wild, as a TV commercial, and my first thought was what demo are they going after with the Spice Girls? Men, 40-55? And my second thought was that’s a good demo to go after.
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December 17 2007
First up, is this quick review of the year in advertising, from The New York Times via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wouldn’t call the consumer-generated Doritos spots anything but proof that advertising professionals are worth paying for. To the extent that they generated short-term buzz, it was the novelty of the concept that made the event, not the ads themselves. But you can neither repeat a novelty, nor build a brand on it.

Next up, I have a look at retailing this holiday season, and it paints a grim picture. Here’s the story, from The New Yorker via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s an excellent summary of the new transparency of the retailing environment, a transparency forged by the internet. It’s also a good reminder of the basics of merchandising, and how pricing and tiered products can work to boost sales.

Notable, though, is this little statistic: “more than three-quarters of electronics purchases are researched online but actually occur in conventional stores.” In other words, what traditional retailers feared – that they’d be used for hands-on comparison by shoppers who would ultimately buy online – isn’t happening. So it’s not all bad news on the retail front.

Also, I believe that there’s still a social aspect to shopping that the internet can’t satisfy, despite attempts to create shopper communities.
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December 14 2007
Parental resistance to Chinese-made toys lands in China, where the trend is toward foreign-branded toys, even if the toys themselves are both more-expensive and produced right there in China. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It would be easy to say this trend testifies to the power of global branding, but in reality it has more to do with traditional localized marketing and advertising. It’s the Wild West over there, with companies of all kinds, sensing a vast and untapped market, present in force and getting their messages out.

Meanwhile, Chinese industries are learning the ropes of U.S.-style marketing fast, led by example. Chinese brand owners are living in a cornucopia of future case studies, and they know it.

FAW, a Chinese state-owned automaker, is building a manufacturing plant in central Mexico, and Zhongxing, another Chinese automaker, will assemble low-priced SUVs in Tijuana. Both plan to use the Mexico connection to export cars into the U.S. duty-free, under NAFTA rules. So the manufacturing and distribution angles are sorted. Marketing is the last piece they need to achieve critical mass. And, with Chrysler and GM staggering, speed to market is going to be essential.

So the question is, can Chinese companies move quickly enough and sure-footedly enough to capitalize on this foreign growth opportunity?

Lenovo, which I had marked out as an early breakaway star for Brand China, moved much slower than I expected. I don’t expect that to happen again. 
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December 13 2007
Two fluffy stories today, on the topic of, um, creative office space. The first, about a floating office/barge on the Water of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland, is from BBC News. The second, about a young creative at ad agency McKinney in North Carolina who is spending a few days spreading cheer and good will from inside a giant inflatable snow globe, is from the Quad City Times (Davenport, IA):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

The barge office is sort of cool. It would be even cooler if they let the tenant drive the barge around, but I’m almost sure they couldn’t get liability coverage for that. It’s no surprise that the first tenant is a creative consultancy. My only concern is an HR issue: what are they going to do about employees who get seasick? Maternity leave could stretch upward well into the first trimester.

Second, the snow globe stunt has a nice whimsy to it. My question is, when concepting, does his partner join him in the globe? Or do they just shout ideas back and forth, and tape things to the walls of the globe?
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December 12 2007
Pity GM’s poor Hummer Division, which is coming to the late realization that its entire branding strategy was innately limiting. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

That Hummer has a strong brand image is undeniable. By most branding metrics, Hummer has a stronger brand image than, say, Toyota. But the very strength of its brand is its weakness.

I must admit to being surprised. From the very beginning, I thought GM knew this opportunistic brand couldn’t last. I thought that pairing the dealerships with GMC and Buick was a bright move on the distribution end, Buick in particular having already gone through a disentanglement with the Opel marque. Also, I thought for sure that that was why Hummer quickly launched into branded clothing and accessories: to capitalize on the brand while it was hot, and support a future market for GM collectibles.

To learn now that GM actually thought it had a long-term asset in the Hummer brand is downright astonishing. And, from a marketing perspective, discouraging.

If that was the case, why didn’t the brand evolve from its authentic, macho, in-your-face, anti-PC image that served so well as a launch platform? It’s not like there hasn’t been time to draw on its real-world heritage of authenticity to create an American Range Rover, if that was what was wanted. The market was there; this repositioning of the brand could have been accomplished.

Instead, the ads kept mining the same old vein, even as the vehicles devolved into brand-engineered Chevy Tahoes.

Some branding advice for GM, from a little ol’ freelance copywriter: the Hummer brand should never be about parity, and to a certain extent an avoidance rate can be embraced if it ties in with exclusivity. Unfortunately, the weakest links in taking the brand forward may be the products themselves.
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December 11 2007
What’s the hottest trend in advertising? It could be the ordinary-looking model. Here’s the story, from the New York Times News Service via my good old hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s the culmination of reality TV, social networking, and personal empowerment (or self-centeredness). You, yes you can be a star! Why? Because no one else is so authentically you!

And, to those on the receiving end of the ads created, the message is compelling: this could be you if only you had the right pants/shampoo/car/snack food.

On the one hand, I think it’s worth applauding the rise of the ordinary face. That’s a pleasant dose of self-esteem to those of us not blessed with supermodel looks. On the other hand, this means we’re all flacks or potential flacks. And that’s sad.
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December 10 2007
William J. Amelio, CEO of Lenovo, the Chinese-based computer company, talks about “worldsourcing” vs. outsourcing as a means of maintaining quality and protecting its brand. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snips, from Amelio:

Worldsourcing is based on the fact that for a company, its brand is the most valuable asset, more important than nationality or location. ...

It is crucial to understand the difference between worldsourcing and outsourcing.

Outsourcing is about lowering costs by shifting non-essential operations to a contractor in order to cut costs.

Worldsourcing is about increasing value and quality, not just lowering costs.

All parts of a global enterprise are worldsourced to where the best resources, talent, ideas and efficiencies exist.

In Mattel, and a host of other toy companies this holiday season, we’ve seen the damage that can be done to well-established brands overnight, due to a focus on shareholder value rather than customer value.

With today’s increased global transparency, everything is part of the branding message, from processes to suppliers to suppliers’ processes and beyond.
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December 8 2007
Just a weekend quickie to point out this great featurette about the trend toward ever quirkier brand names, from The Washington Post (DC) via the Nashua Telegraph (NH):
Advertising copywriter blog link

To anyone who has done naming projects, the drive toward the quirk is very real. After analyzing the market, brand, and audience; after concepting pages of potential brand names; after the sensible stuff is due-diligenced right off the short list; much of the last stuff standing is the off-the-cuff, emotional, gut-reaction chunks of sound.

Which works, I think, only to the extent that the emotion that emerges is both genuine and consistent. Deprived of a literal meaning, the brand name’s emotional connotation has to be spot-on.
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December 7 2007
Today I have a case study of proposed brand resurrection. Airfix, once a top brand of model airplane kits, is storming back under new ownership with a plan for growth and increased relevance in this new media age. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Be sure to view the related video interviews, too, from Open University:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Licensing is a great way to take an old brand in a languishing category, and infuse it with new relevance. That’s the way the “halo effect” is supposed to work.

U.S.-based model kit brands have long used this approach – remember the AMT models of the Monkees Mobile and other custom cars designed by George Barris, and the USS Enterprise from Star Trek? Remember the original Aurora Wolfman and Mummy monster models? Right now, I have within reach a recent AMT/Ertl model of a Naboo Starfighter from Star Wars Episode 1.

So the strategic approach is proven. The question is, whether or not there’s room on the hobby store shelf for another major brand of model kit, even if it is a revival of an icon.
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December 6 2007
No, you’re not imagining things: it is harder to be an advertising creative today than it used to be. Here are the results of a recent survey, from Advertising & Marketing Review (Denver, CO):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of 250 advertising executives interviewed, fully 85% of them said that a career in advertising and marketing is more demanding today than it was 10 years ago; more than half said it was much more demanding.

That’s no surprise. After all, with media fragmentation and micro-niche targeting opportunities, it would be a full-time job just to stay on top of what’s happening in media, let alone how best to deploy selected media as part of a creative campaign.

As someone who has been creating ads and marketing materials for nearly 25 years now, I’ll weigh in with my vote. And I think that advertising and marketing work is more demanding today than it was 10 years ago. But it’s demanding in different ways.

For instance, in the old days copywriters used to sweat over every nuance in the copy because once it was typeset, it may as well have been set in stone. Copy changes had to be made by hand-cutting together type from the galleys. (And this was done, a lot, by creative teams who wanted the design of the typography to be as perfect as the art direction and the copy.)

Today, it’s easy to adjust copy on the fly. Uncover some data that indicates that this appeal trumps that appeal as copy points? Just change it. You can even change ad copy mid-campaign, fine-tuning it to maximize results practically as those results come in.

However, as a direct result of this increased flexibility, I think a lot of ads and marketing materials go out in something of a beta form, rather than as the exquisitely finished pieces we used to create out of necessity.

Some would argue that those are production details, rather than creative concerns. But that’s like saying that any painting of a woman is the Mona Lisa; emotion emerges from both concept and production. And, in the end, emotion is what the job is all about, which is why execution still matters regardless of medium.
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December 5 2007
Can a magazine advertiser get in trouble over editorial content? Yes, apparently. Several states are now suing R.J. Reynolds over the use of cartoons in a Rolling Stones promotional gatefold. The thing is, R.J. Reynolds claims it had nothing to do with the gatefold or the piece other than sponsoring the promotion; the layout itself was apparently created, written, and produced entirely by Rolling Stone, without the knowledge of R.J. Reynolds. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

I am far from being an apologist for tobacco companies. Quite the opposite in fact. But if true this strikes me as unfair; if anyone should bear responsibility it should be whoever designed the piece, which would be, apparently, the magazine. And yet, there’s that pesky First Amendment issue. Which makes going after the advertiser, particularly one with such enticingly deep pockets, an easy decision for state attorneys general.

Of course, had R.J. Reynolds known about the design before publication, it should bear the brunt of the culpability; it knows the rules. But that kind of editorial influence is unlikely to be extended to any advertiser.

The result is a magazine advertiser catching heat over bad editorial judgment. Somewhat the reverse of what usually happens.
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December 4 2007
Corporate logos are at once pervasive and ignored. Here’s a solid commentary questioning whether plastering a logo on every available surface is an effective marketing tactic, from (Cape Town, SA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snip:

From a marketing point of view there is no question that big brands such as Coca-Cola benefit enormously from having their logo in as many places as possible. But for companies, like Piet’s Printers in Palaborwa, this sort of thing is a complete waste of money.

To a certain extent, one could argue that it’s all about bandwidth, whether online or offline. After all, you can’t build buzz over something no one knows about. I guess my primary problem with this trend, from a marketing perspective, is the sheer fatuousness of most logos. They’re meaningless, Design 2.0 baloney, that communicate nothing unique or intriguing or even interesting.

Which means there remain excellent opportunities for brands that bring meaningful, relevant design to the pervasiveness table.
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December 3 2007
Here’s a great review of behavioral targeting of online ads, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a hot topic right now because of Facebook’s mad backpedaling on “Beacon,” its much-heralded, now much-maligned grand experiment in “social advertising” (see the Ad Blog entries for November 7, 8, 14, and 30).

Key snip:

“At the end of the day, if behavioral targeting is being used and consumers get annoyed, they are going to take it out on the advertiser or the publisher that placed the ad,” said Michael Cassidy, chief executive of Undertone Networks, which contracts with a network of third-party sites to run ads.

So, if you’re going to do behaviorally targeted ads right, the objective is to create real intrigue based on the relevance based on the behavioral data mining.

In other words, great data is no substitute for great creative.
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December 1 2007
I just bought The Busy, Busy World of Richard Scarry for $1 at a local library book sale. Richard Scarry is a best-selling children’s book artist and author. I love biographies of creative people. Anyway, this one is superb, a lavishly illustrated insight into the life and processes of a working creative professional.

Here’s a neat tidbit: in 1948, when he met the woman who was to become his wife, Patsy, she was an ad agency copywriter at Young & Rubicam in New York City. After they married, she continued working for Y&R before going on to write several children’s books, which Richard Scarry illustrated.

They had a real creative partnership, as well as a long-lasting marriage. And, careers that allowed them to summer on the beach on Cap Ferrat. Cool stuff!
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Backwards in time to November 2007

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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