John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December 2008

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December 29 2008
Early holiday sales figures are rolling in, and they’re not good. I have two stories today, both pretty dismal. The first is from this morning’s Wall Street Journal and the next is from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Foot traffic was down. Sales were down across all categories, some more than others (a 27% sales decline in electronics and appliances is jaw-dropping). Even online traffic to retailer websites was down, which seems counter-intuitive since you’d think consumers would be using the web to price shop like crazy. Instead, the online traffic – and the sales – went straight to the price-cutting generalists like Amazon and Walmart. Apple was the only niche player to gain any traction, which demonstrates the power of the brand even in a shopping season dominated by discounting.

And yet ... our kids had a pretty indulged Christmas, even though we (my wife and I), like most people, definitely reined in our spending. But, thanks to shopping aggregators and email alerts, we were able to pounce on a targeted handful of outstanding deals on fairly spectacular toys. So, although the amount we spent dropped, I’d have to say that aggressive discounts more than made up the difference. And these were on evergreen, rarely discounted toys, like Lego sets and massive motorized K’Nex sets.

And what about the grups? Well, I gave my wife a few books by Jane Austen, and my wife gave me a set of books by Anthony Trollope. So, classics all the way around!
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December 26 2008
I read this quote in the Los Angeles Times while staying at my mom’s house and had to pass it along, even though I wasn’t able to post it right away and now I can’t turn up a link to the story. Anyway, the subject was the enduring popularity of Charles Dickens, and G.K Chesterton, no slouch of a writer himself and the author of, among other works, a 1906 critical study of Dickens’ work, said: “Dickens didn't write what people wanted; he wanted what people wanted.

I immediately thought of developing and writing ads, and how what worked for Dickens works for copywriters. It’s not enough to write what the customers want, you have to want what the customers want. That’s what drives relevance, that one-on-one personal connection that’s sorely lacking in an awful lot of advertising.

Oh, and in looking for that link I turned up another relevant quote from Chesterton: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
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December 23 2008
As the economy shrinks, advertisers and marketers are reaching out to new audience segments, including minorities. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (part of the NewsFactor Network, Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising to minorities isn’t as simple as translating existing advertising or website copy. The entire campaign has to be matched to the audience’s sensibilities and concerns. So the solution isn’t a single multicultural campaign, but rather individually targeted campaigns under a multicultural branding umbrella.

Also, targeting minorities is much like targeting any other interest group. You have to respect the innate culture. And, as with any niche market, you have to go where the audience is, as Toyota did in seeking out ethnically focused online communities. Cool stuff!

This will be my last post until after Christmas, so, until then ... best wishes for a joyous celebration of family, friends, and fulfillment!
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December 22 2008
Here’s the story of how one newspaper is thriving – as in growing 10% per year – by rejecting the web, from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
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However, this particular newspaper is very small time, with three full-time employees plus one part-timer and a print run that barely squeaks into the five-figure category. So, there’s not much to glean from the operational details. No, the treasure is in the fundamental philosophy. Key quote, from the owner and publisher: “Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements ...?”

In other words, by moving their content to the web, newspapers shot themselves, and their advertisers, in the foot. Given the proliferation of news media content online, and the decline in web advertising, this is looking increasingly reasonable. Unfortunately, there’s no way to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

The fact is, I share this guy’s philosophy. That’s why this Ad Blog has remained an HTML page, and has never been posted to a feed. I don’t care about attracting readers; I want to attract business. That’s a distinction that evades a lot of marketing people out there.
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December 18 2008
A research company has released a list of the top ten most-effective online ad campaigns. Here’s the story, which smacks of a press release, from the Centre Daily Times (State College, PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote, from one of the executives at the research company, about what works best online: “... the creative concept is more important than tactical elements and the best answer depends on the product, audience and other factors.”

I think that’s true in any medium, not just online. Having great, breakout creative is a smart investment – and that starts, not on the tactical side, with technicians and programmers, but on the strategic side, with copywriters and art directors. Great advertising in any medium starts with a great idea.
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December 17 2008
The UK ban on junk food TV advertising during certain hours has been in effect for nearly a year now in an effort to curb childhood obesity. And now children in the UK are seeing dramatically fewer TV commercials for foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar. So ... has the ban been effective? Here’s a report from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So kids see one-third fewer ads for junk food on TV, with about the same reduction in ads featuring brand characters and free gifts. Ads featuring licensed characters dropped nearly 70%. And, ads featuring celebrities went up a bit.

The deluge of data almost, but not quite, blinds one to the only metric that really matters: has the ban actually reduced childhood obesity? That particular statistic is unrevealed, leaving one to wonder how effective the advertising ban has really been. I rather suspect it hasn’t; if it had been a success, the triumph would have been trumpeted. The fact that the one thing this ban was supposed to accomplish has been swept under the rug indicates, rather strongly, that it hasn’t had any effect.

Which is what has happened before with similar bans on food advertising aimed at children. Why? Because the key behavior modification isn’t happening: changing the food purchase behavior – and the eating habits – of the parents.
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December 16 2008
It’s that time of the year for looking back on the accomplishments, dubious and otherwise, of the ad industry in 2008. Here’s a list compiled by Adweek writers, from Brandweek:
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You know what’s funny? This look back might be more ahead of the curve than the MIT/Sloan report on the future of online marketing from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Especially notable was the guerrilla marketing effort by Anomaly on behalf of Keep A Child Alive, which demonstrates the power of staging an event and leveraging other people’s online assets (YouTube, eBay, etc.). That was absolutely brilliant.
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December 15 2008
You know the web is changing the face of marketing when the Wall Street Journal publishes a how-to guide. Here are their “Marketing Secrets,” from today’s special section, a special report in collaboration with MIT/Sloan Management Review:
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Hmm. First off, let me say that when it comes to brainpower, the folks at Sloan outgun me like a battleship outguns a guy in an old wooden rowboat.

But you know, that guy in the rowboat, maybe he knows a bit more about where the fish are biting. That seems to be the case here; these marketing secrets may be new to the more isolated C-level executives out there, but they’re old hat to anyone who’s been in the trenches these past five or six years. However, to those who have been living in a richly wood-paneled corner office in the ivory tower, well, here’s where the world was.

The fundamentals are right, though. The problem is, much of the online social environment has already been polluted by marketers who got the fundamentals oh so horribly wrong. Which is why real consumers are leaving sites like Second Life, FaceBook, and MySpace.

I keep saying it: the future lies in owning the channel. You don’t have to own all of the content – in fact, your marketing works best if your customers own most of it – but you have to own the channel. Otherwise, you’re just another marketer following the herd.
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December 12 2008
Here’s a quick and basic guide to using YouTube for business, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Note that this is not a guide for using YouTube as a viral channel. Rather, it’s a more direct, business-to-consumer approach to marketing on YouTube. It boils down to three action items: keep the video under three minutes (well under, I would say), have good audio, and have only one thing onscreen at a time (e.g. either a presentation slide or a presenter, but not both).

Thing is, if you do a good enough job at the basics and have relevant content to present, what you release may well go viral. It’s happened before, with everything from calculus tutoring to corporate presentations on the economics of oil refining.
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December 11 2008
My new computer is now up and running, and, in a small way, I opted out of the Microsoft empire by downloading the office productivity suite instead of buying Microsoft Office. Here’s a link to
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As I mentioned back on December 3 and December 1, I was discouraged by the high price of the latest MS Office, at least for the version I needed. So I followed in the footsteps of many others in going with an open-source equivalent. So far, OOo has opened and handled – with no problems at all – presentations, spreadsheets, and highly commented documents, with Windows XP (on my old machine) and Windows Vista (on the new machine).

I still have my old MS Office installed on my new computer, just in case something comes up that OOo can’t handle. But that hasn’t happened yet.
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December 10 2008
Online radio is growing, and so is online radio advertising. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the future of internet radio looks pretty much like the history of broadcast radio, at least as far as implementing ways to make money from it. However, I don’t think this application of a traditional format fits the new medium. Yes, it can target by geographical area (based on the listener’s IP address) and likely demographics, but that’s no more than can be accomplished through old school means. I think the opportunities in internet radio lie in (a) owning the channel and essentially becoming a customer pre-set, and (b) using more listener data to deliver a personally relevant advertising message that’s integrated with personally relevant content. Ads can’t stand apart from content, or they’ll be filtered out.

Also, I don’t think space ads on internet radio channels are independently relevant any more, or if they are they soon won’t be unless they provide real value to the user. Most users have several windows open at once; just because a person is listening to internet radio doesn’t mean the actual webspace is getting any screen time.
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December 9 2008
A bunch of way-up-there ad executives try their hand at predicting what lies ahead in 2009, and what strategic and tactical moves to make, from MediaWeek (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In amongst the usual malarky about working smarter, streamlining business operations, and constantly innovating, there’s some really good stuff. Several people point out that traditional mass media still has clout, and may emerge with even more clout in the near future. On the face of it, that’s counter-intuitive; you’d think that “Marketing 3.0” digital channels would be far outstripping the old warhorses, but that may not be the case. As in most things, the key lies in the creative execution. Also interesting: what’s going to happen with television? That the medium is evolving is clear, but evolving to where, and with what platform? Stuff to think about as 2008 begins to fade.
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December 8 2008
Today we have this report, from Bloomberg, predicting a decline in global advertising spending in 2009:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some of this is foregone conclusion material. After all, some major advertisers aren’t just cutting back, they’re going out of business, merging, vanishing. Look at the financial industry, or retail.

However, some of this is also self-fulfilling. If an advertiser cuts its ad spending based on expectations of weak sales, it also cuts support for sales. In doing so, it doubles the potential injury, compounding sales lost to the weak economy with sales lost through sheer lack of market presence.

The good news, is that companies that keep their heads will emerge stronger than ever when the cycle reverses course – as it will, inevitably, being a cycle, after all.

Another good bit of news, is that media may become relatively cheap again, particularly old-school mass media channels like television. That opens the door to increased media opportunities for smaller advertisers.
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December 5 2008
I was listening to the radio this morning, and heard this RadioLab program about how we make choices, from WNYC (NY) via NPR:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It is well worth the one hour out of your day to listen to this, and really listen (you can download it as an MP3 file). A lot of the psychobabble stuff simply validates what advertising copywriters have known for well over a century. Among the key tenets of persuasion supported: people are more averse to pain than attracted to pleasure, decisions are fundamentally emotional, and the rational part of the brain is easily overcome.

I learned this, right at :05:00, by way of creative ammo: that the average human can remember about seven numbers, plus or minus two. And, if you overwhelm the rational part of the brain with, say, seven numbers instead of two, you dramatically increase the probability that the unconscious emotional side will take over.

To me, that sounds like a phenomenal opportunity to turn data-heavy informative pieces into wildly effective persuasive pieces by tapping into the numbers thing.

The comments offer some interesting counterpoints.
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December 4 2008
In this New Economy (as opposed to the former New Economy, which is how we got here), coupon-clipping and penny-pinching are chic! Here’s the story, from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So, if it all comes down to discounting, where does that leave branding?

If anything, it increases the importance of building and protecting your brand because, in that final second of the purchase behavior when the consumer makes a decision, you don’t want to lose that sale over a nickel because the competition has a bigger discount. That means all your marketing must work together to add value beyond the purchase price, and that is branding.

Let’s go back to that last sentence to reiterate the part that says all your marketing must work together. That includes all the touchpoints of the consumer experience, from the advertising to the packaging to the offers through actual use of the product or service. If every touchpoint doesn’t pull in the same direction, then you’re at best wasting leverage and forgoing opportunities, and at worst sabotaging your brand.
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December 3 2008
Back on December 1, I mentioned trying out, the free, open-source productivity suite. Well, I’m in good company in  turning to open source programs as a way to avoid the high cost of software. Here’s a story about how some major corporations are pulling back on licensed software and using open source stuff to move forward, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

While the initial benefit is saving money, many companies are also getting more functionality with open source software. In my case, the potential for saving some $500 triggered the trial, but I’m finding that OOo Writer is in some ways a better word processor than my fairly creaky version of Microsoft Word. OOo Writer handles search-and-replaces and headers and footers better than MS Word, and it can save files directly as PDFs. On the down side, its spelling and grammar checkers are both weak, making Writer a less reliable backstop than Word. As far as clients are concerned, whether I use Word or Writer has been completely transparent.

One odd note: when I transfer text from my AlphaSmart Neo (see my review, November 16 2008), the _ (underscore) symbol turns on and off italics in Word, but underscoring in Writer. I use italics more than underscoring, so I may have to find a work-around for that.

My new (refurbished) computer arrived today, and it is looking more and more like the latest version of Microsoft Office won’t be a part of it.

Oh, and if you clicked on those internal links, you’ll find that I now have a way for you to link directly to individual Ad Blog entries within archived pages. It uses the #name attribute, and it only works on archived month pages starting from November 2008. You can learn more about it here. Ooo, an upgrade to the Ad Blog, only the second structural change in more than five years. My Ad Blog may be clunky, but it’s also consistent!
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December 2 2008
This is neat! Stove Top brand stuffing is bringing actual heat to ten Chicago bus shelters, along with its advertising message about warmth. Here’s the story, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like when ads break through that invisible wall between the ad message and the viewer. You can call it experiential marketing or anything you like; breaking through and connecting with the consumer on a one-to-one level is the whole point of any ad. When something can be done to make the message tangible, I think that’s really cool.
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December 1 2008
Another Black Friday come and gone, and retail observers are starting to comment and prognosticate. Here’s a pretty good snapshot of where things are now, from CNNMoney:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although today’s The Wall Street Journal used the phrase “strong start” in its article headline, it added – via the subhead – two pertinent facts: that the high level of “door-buster” deals helped sales (but not necessarily profits), and that retail foot traffic dropped Saturday. Here’s a key snip from the CNN piece:

“Frankly, Black Friday serves as much more of a media spectacle than a true barometer of the relative health of the consumer and retailers. The next two weeks, when pricing reaches somewhat more normal levels, should tell the true tale,” wrote Eric Beder, a retail analyst with Brean Murray Carret & Co., on Monday.

In other words, the bargains may have worked to pull sales forward in time rather than spur additional sales, so the real numbers, the effect the door-busters will have on future sales, remains to be seen. After all, the trend was so bad in the days leading up to Black Friday that anything better than a bloodbath starts looking pretty solid.

I did my bit, by the way, without leaving the house. I ended up buying a machine to replace my aging primary business computer, but it wasn’t from any of the major retailers. It was a refurbished unit purchased from a local computer and technology liquidator that I’ve bought from in the past, and the tipping point was the $1.99 shipping, which, on a desktop computer, represents a significant savings on top of the liquidator pricing and the Black Friday deal.

Oh, and on another note entirely (but somewhat related via sheer, um, frugality, yeah), I downloaded, the free, open-source office productivity suite. I am weighing how well it works and seriously considering not installing Microsoft Office on my new machine when it arrives, in large part because of the nearly $500 it would cost to get all the applications I need but very seldom use. I spent part of the weekend working on several projects, flipping back and forth between OOo Writer and MS Word on the same documents, and everything went astonishingly smoothly. Today I opened up an MS PowerPoint presentation in OOo Impress and it, too, went well. Stay tuned!
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Backwards in time to November 2008

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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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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