John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December 2009

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December 30 2009
As the year draws to a close, the pendulum may be swinging away from once-invincible Google. Here’s a story about Google and its recent setback in its effort to protect its brand from sound-alike Canadian search engine Groovle, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think it’s interesting that, in turning down Google’s claim, the arbitration board still focused on the first syllable, “goo” vs. “groo” instead of the second. Also, that the board was willing to accept the assignment of relatively arbitrary meanings to sound sequences as part of the argument against infringement. The Groovle-“groove” connection might make sense if the site were about, oh, music or fashion or trend-spotting. Instead, it was just a dressed-up version of Google’s own search service.

Anyway, 63 out of 65 is hardly a bad batting average for Google’s trademark protection team.
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December 15 2009
Oh, thank goodness someone in Washington is keeping us safe from too-loud TV commercials in our homes. For real! Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The real news story here, is that some junior politician from Palo Alto (CA) is spinning PR gold out of straw through this puff piece. But I digress.

Perceived volume is partly related to compression: the compaction of the complete sound wave into a limited, more-audible, frequency range. Most of what you hear on TV or the radio, including ads and programming, is compressed; that’s why the audio cuts through background noise so well.

But, when I’m recording radio or TV commercials, I prefer to leave voices uncompressed, or at least less compressed than the producer’s typical default settings. I don’t like the shouting effect compression creates, even when the volume is turned down. I have a hunch that uncompressed sound gives the spot a more ambient feeling, almost as if it’s a live conversation within the room rather than a set piece that’s piped in. And, I think it stands out when set into a largely compressed aural environment.

Sometimes, when everyone else is yelling, you can get more attention by whispering.
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December 14 2009
Accenture has become the first major sponsor to drop golfer Tiger Woods. Here’s the story, from this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, the whole Tiger Woods meltdown has already been overplayed. Yes, it demonstrates the risks of tying one’s brand to a celebrity, no matter how seemingly solid. Yes, it demonstrates (yet again) unconscionable morality on the the part of a high achiever.

But the most intriguing part of this whole story, unfortunately, didn’t come over with the online version: the advertising creative itself. The print version of the Journal reproduced one of Accenture’s ads. In one fell swoop, it – and the rest of the six-year campaign – comes off as parody. “It’s what you do next that counts” indeed. They just became their own worst enemy.

Should Accenture want to take the advice of a little ol’ freelance advertising copywriter from San Diego, I might just recommend doing one more big Tiger Woods ad to acknowledge what happened and put a human face on the company itself. That could shift the focus away from Tiger Woods and put it on Accenture, where it belongs.
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December 11 2009
AOL has de-acquired Time Warner, and is its own brand again. But what does that brand stand for? Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ayup. If AOL is going to “become to content what Amazon is to commerce and Google is to online search,” I’d think it would’ve have been stronger with the media resources of Time Warner than without. After all, how is fresh content going to be continually created and updated? Oh, they have a plan:

One way to do that, without spending a lot of money, is hiring freelance writers and paying them by the article – a New York Times newspaperman, Saul Hansell, has been hired to manage content creation.

Evidently one can base a multi-million-dollar business plan on rounding up herds of wooly wanna-be freelance writers and paying them peanuts to generate fresh content. Nice. Granting the premise, which I don’t, the problem is that that plan is not unique. If AOL becomes yet another article mill site, that’ll be an ignominious end to what was once an internet boomtown.

I can’t help but recall what a massive amount of original content was lost when CompuServe shut down. You’d have thought that someone, somewhere, would have seen the value in retaining it. Sadly, apparently it’s cheaper to hire a bunch of freelance writers to bang out some new stuff. Hey, business moves in one direction: forward. No time to look back. Never look back.

You might learn something.
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December 9 2009
How easy is it to get a fake/scam branded website to the top of search engine result pages? Easy. Really, really easy. Here’s the story, featuring a local web security expert from La Mesa (if Jim Stickley is from the local La Mesa, CA), circling its way home from its source at the Associated Press in San Francisco via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One major issue that comes into play, is the relative lack of basic on-page optimization on branded websites. You’ve seen them: sites that load up with so much multimedia interactivity and clever navigational devices that there’s little actual content on the page for search engines to index. They owe their search engine placement more to a lack of competition for the brand name as a search term than anything else.

Well-written content, and the structure and longevity of that content, makes a big difference in pre-empting potential online brand-squatters.

The article also points up the importance of securing alternate domain names, especially for long business names and brands that can be misread or mistyped. Domain names are cheap – that figure of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for a domain name is about ten times too high for a new registration. Remember, as the brand owner, you don’t have to build out each site; you only have to secure the name as a defensive measure. If you control the DNS you can even have those alternate URLs sent to your actual website, but that’s neither here nor there. As for buying names from one of those cyber-squatting domain name mills, where fees could run into four figures or more, any scammer would have to pay the same price up front. So, unless the alternate name is perilously close to the actual brand or domain name, the price creates its own barrier to entry.

Over the course of a year and a half, search engines Yahoo and Bing were fooled by the fake credit union website, ranking it on their first page of results and delivering just over 10,000 visitors. Search giant Google, however, was not fooled, ranking the fake site no higher than the sixth page of results. That cut traffic far short of what might have been, and reveals an almost startling level of smart results-serving coming out of Mountain View.

One more, minor, note. What does a security expert use for telephone calls? Looking at the photo, Stickley apparently uses an old-school corded telephone.
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December 8 2009
Consumer holiday spending is coming around to a slight but significant uptick, at least online. Here’s the story, from Reuters, via Yahoo News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A few things to note about this tantalizingly brief article. First, a 3% increase in online holiday spending over last year is a case of crawling part-way out of the abyss. Second, the discount shopping trend remains very strong, with sales dropping off almost immediately after the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals ended. Third, what with consumers saying in recent surveys that they will be buying gifts for fewer people this year, it is quite possible that a significant part of the shopping online has already been done, especially when you consider shipping times.
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December 7 2009
With the holidays rolling around and toy shopping at high tide, it’s time for me to mount my usual hobby horse and talk about advertising and especially branding campaigns aimed at children. The world has rolled around to my point of view, as evidenced by this story from the Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

So it took a movie to raise these parents’ awareness to the point of doing something? Well, some people need a 2x4 to get their attention, I guess. And, of course, it’s a lot easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk, which is why there’s so much hand-wringing and finger-pointing. It’s not that hard to buy plain diapers; it’s not hard to raise kids relatively free of brand influences. But, you have to engage them personally, something you can’t do if both parents are away at work for the bulk of a child’s learning day. Oh that’s the divisive, non-PC part of the issue, right there, the rise of the two-income household leading to the rise of parenting by media proxy.

Absolutely everything these people are discovering as news, I’ve covered years and years ago here in the Ad Blog, ad infinitum. Here’s a link to my October 18 2007 entry, which directly addressed the study referenced and re-quoted an Ad Blog entry from November 13 2003, or more than six years ago.

At any rate, the solution remains the same. Parents must model the behavior by not buying into the whole brand thing themselves. Consume consciously. Discuss marketing messages as part of ordinary shopping trips. Reveal the intent of advertising messages when spotted. (It’s as simple as asking the question, “What do you think they want you to do?” after seeing an ad, the kid-simple answer being “They want you to believe what they say and buy their stuff.” The same goes for movie trailers, licensed character products, billboards, and catalogs.)

As a parent who has done this with a degree of success with my own kids, now nine and seven, I can assure you that they do not become social outcasts because they don’t know the names of all the latest Transformers. They pick that stuff up as if by osmosis. The key difference is that my kids (along with some others) understand that the Transformers movie is a 100-minute ad, and, should they see it (not likely), would filter the experience as such.

Hey, it’s been a while since I compiled a list of Ad Blog entries related to advertising, branding, and raising children in a media-saturated age. Here are a handful of them (some you have to scroll down to reach), there are probably more: October 24 2009, July 8 2009, December 17 2008, August 4 2008, July 30 2008, November 13 2007, October 30 2007, October 23 2007, October 18 2007, March 19 2007, February 28 2007, January 15 and 31 2007, December 19 2006, November 14, 17 and 20 2006, October 2, 3 and 27 2006, June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003.

A little child-friendly non-consumerism, just in time for the holidays.
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December 2 2009
Just a quickie today to point out the result of AT&T’s legal spat with rival mobile network Verizon over an advertising image of a map. AT&T has climbed down, and both sides have returned to their respective corners. Here’s the story, from Enterprise Security Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although the legal battle was a modest win for Verizon, the battle for mindshare delivered an even bigger victory. By making a point of contention about the map, AT&T effectively used its own resources to draw consumer attention to what could only be perceived as its own shortcoming. Instead, AT&T should have played its own strong card, using the iPhone to point out the relative dearth of alternative high-quality, intelligently designed smart phones. This is one more case in which the best defense would have been a strong offense.
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December 1 2009
A golfer driving into a tree is hardly news, unless the golfer is endorsement darling Tiger Woods, the tree is by the side of a private road, and the implement used is a Cadillac Escalade. So far, he’s gotten off with a fine, but will there be other costs? Here’s the story, from the Telegraph (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, this is why you don’t want to tie your brand to a celebrity. Celebrities can be useful in ad campaigns, to add a smack of instant recognition, but not in long-term branding campaigns. Come on, who of us could keep squeaky clean for five or ten consecutive years, especially given the temptations offered up to the wealthy and famous and the constant surveillance by paparazzi?

The Kate Moss simile, while amusing, isn’t entirely valid. Moss’ identity was – and still is – all about appearance and attitude; those things not only didn’t change, but the bad-girl attitude turned out to hold more market appeal. Tiger Woods’ identity, on the other hand, is about excellent sportsmanship, consistently superior performance, and triumphant persistence. Those values appear to be undermined, less by the accident as by his choice to remain silent on the matter.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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