John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
December 2010

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December 28 2010
I just got back from a wonderful seven-day cruise to Mexico with the kids and in-laws, and life is just settling into some sort of order before the chaos of preparing the New Year’s feast. Yesterday I picked up the dog from his grandmother’s (my Mom) so the family is all together again.

That’s why there haven’t been any Ad Blog entries lately – I was either getting ready to leave, gone, or recovering from being gone.

That said, I did pick up a little something for you in Mexico: a cool sales phrase. You’ve heard of the presumptive close? Well, the street vendors in Mexico have it down pat. We’d be passing a stall and would glance at a table of brightly colored bobble-headed creatures, or a tray of silver jewelry, or a rack of mustachioed Zapata puppets.

“Which one do you like?” the vendor would ask. Without even wanting to, my eye would flash over the selection and my brain would switch from tourist mode to evaluative mode. Which one do I like?

“Business is slow today – I make you a good deal.” Temptation and validation for the temptation all in one. In total, a 15-word sales process! And it worked. All up and down the streets and alleys, American dollars were changing hands for Mexican arts and crafts.

I managed to resist buying a ton of stuff, barely. So the main thing I brought home, beyond great memories, was a valuable reminder of the sales process.

Oh, and by the way, I write ads, brochures, and websites. Which one would you like? Business is slow today – I make you a good deal!
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December 16 2010
In this season of relentless consumerism, it’s time for a look at that icon of consumerism, the infomercial. Here’s the story, from ConsumerMan on
Advertising copywriter blog link

Despite the rise of 140-character microblogging, ten-second pre-rolls, and five-second TV spots as marketing tools, the long-form infomercial has never been stronger. And, although the infomercial renaissance could be pinned on the weak economy, more people seeking entertainment at home, or the need for hope, I think a major overlooked driver is the form factor itself. In a world where marketing messages are designed for short attention spans, the infomercial throws up a barrage of features and benefits, each linked to a story, and allows the viewer to assemble his or her own perfect mix. No wonder it works.

One wonders if this sales technique has value in branding? It would certainly foster highly individualized brand experiences.

We often think of branding as a story. But maybe that’s a linear way to look at something that’s really much more complex: multiple stories of varying and variable weight, mostly related, contained within a single entity we call a brand. It’s less like a story and more like a magazine; the reader is also the editor and therefore a co-creator, just as customers co-create brands.

Something to think about.
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December 15 2010
A feature article in today’s Wall Street Journal examines childhood creativity, and how to nurture it in a school system that increasingly values standardized answers to closed-ended questions:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Creativity isn’t the same thing as anarchy, something many people don’t understand. The man credited with fostering the creative revolution in advertising, Bill Bernbach, famously said: “The heart of creativity is discipline.”

There is a process to creativity, and although intellectual anarchy plays a role it’s only a fraction of the process. One of my favorite books on creativity, A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger Von Oech (who also wrote the wonderful A Whack on the Side of the Head) breaks down the creative process into playing four different roles: Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior. Most people, in attempting to be creative, lock into either the role of Artist (and produce chaos) or Judge (and produce mediocrity or nothing at all). Likewise, the testing appears to focus entirely on the Artist role, neglecting the parts information-gathering, evaluation, and follow-through play in developing a creative idea. In that way, the test is as frozen as the child who couldn’t think up a game.

The other element that’s too-often overlooked, is that although life isn’t binary (yes or no, all or nothing, black or white), it also has right and wrong answers. The problem for linear thinkers, is that there are often as many right answers as wrong ones. The problem for non-linear thinkers, is that some of their answers are wrong at all.

Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior. Being creative means taking on all four roles, sometimes in sequence, sometimes not in sequence, and sometimes all at once.
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December 14 2010
Holiday songs demonstrate the power of words. This story about the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” written by San Diego local Hugh Martin in 1943, was on the front page of today’s San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This classic song went through one major rewrite before publication, and another significant rewrite at Frank Sinatra’s behest years later. I especially love the sidebar, which shows the contrast between Martin’s original, gloomy lyric, the hopeful version he wrote for Judy Garland, and the unabashedly upbeat version he wrote for Frank Sinatra. The tune remained the same; what changed, was the copy. And that changed everything.

I think my favorite is the original, downbeat version. If ever a song made me want to cherish time together in the moment, that one is it; it makes the others look shallow and even commercial by comparison. Then again, my favorite Christmas carol is the mournful “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,“ a WWII-era soldier’s lament also penned in 1943.

Getting back to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” it was written for a Judy Garland movie so the first finished lyrics were probably not as appropriate as the rewritten version that was ultimately filmed. Still, just because the writer didn’t get it right for Judy the first time doesn’t mean he got it wrong.
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December 13 2010
It’s that time of the year. Journalists covering advertising and marketing, eager to get home, or to the mall, or to that really good party, are compiling lists of the year’s “best” advertising campaigns. A decent memory, a few bullet points, and you’re done for the day. This list comes from Forbes, and purports to compile the ten most-creative campaigns of 2010:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If you watch the slide show, you’ll notice that the list is heavily biased toward New York events. I think the best concept in the bunch, though, was the Mini Clubman out-of-home that placed the open back of a Clubman at the mouth of an German airport baggage claim conveyor belt to demonstrate added capacity. Simple and effective. I think the headline needed to be run through the typewriter a few more times to achieve perfection; as it is, I don’t understand why it says I’m going on a trip, but the luggage is emerging indicating that I’ve arrived.
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December 10 2010
Check out these 20 great outdoor marketing concepts from around the world. Here’s the slideshow, from the Business Insider:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I love outdoor. I think outdoor, when done well, carries all the campaign DNA in a single visual or visual event and, sometimes, a few words. My favorites are the National Geographic bus wrap, the Ford trucks display, and the Economist billboard. But they are all wonderful.

The jump story, about marketing ideas that took over the world, is also worth a look. Some of those marketing concepts are so ingrained, they’re part of our culture. Like, oh, the coffee break and women shaving their armpits. (And, dare one add, Santa Claus?)

On an entirely different note, I have to tell a story about my kid, who’s ten years old now (and this will loop back to marketing). He and his friend came up with an idea, Toddler Wars. It’s a whimsical, childish spoof. Like most small boys, they drew comic books, which they shared with their friends to great snickers and giggles. Then they made up a card game with highly complex characters and powers and power-ups and rules that I’d say were derived from something like Dungeons & Dragons, except that neither of them had ever seen anything like Dungeons & Dragons. Then, with a very small assist from me (or, actually, my credit card), they launched a website. Don’t bother looking at it; it’s as ugly as this one because my ten-year-old knows roughly as much HTML as I do (or vice-versa); it’s a hunt-and-peck hand-coded little thing built in the occasional half-hours he gets between finishing homework and washing up for dinner.

But it has readers, according to kids who are eagerly awaiting the next chapter and the website traffic logs. And this is almost the kicker: this morning we went to a student achievement award ceremony, and when his teacher mentioned his hand in creating Toddler Wars, all the kids cheered. He and his friend (who also received an award) basked in something fairly close to adulation. They’re the rock stars of their fifth-grade class. Moreover, they’ve created buzz.

Now here’s the twist that I didn’t see coming. Unbeknownst to me, they developed “Toddler Bucks” to give out in exchange for ideas they can use in the stories or games. Toddler Bucks can be redeemed for personalized gaming cards, and the ideas get integrated into the whole Toddler Wars universe. In one fell swoop, two ten-year-olds took a brand concept to a level that can’t be accommodated on a free website host. They’re doing social media marketing, without the social media. And they came up with all of this on their own, effortlessly, like breathing.

As a parent, I always expected that my kids will exceed me. I didn’t think it would happen this freakin’ fast. Okay, maybe he hasn’t passed the old man yet, but this whole Toddler Bucks thing was a real eye-opener.

Folks, that’s the generation that’s coming up hard on the heels of the 20-something wunderkinds who gave us Facebook, Twitter, and the Snuggie. They’re already there, already executing brand integration across multiple channels at a conceptually strategic level that marketing people pay good money to go to workshops to learn to do.

Man, it’s gonna be exciting when they really get cranking!
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December 9 2010
What comes around goes around: an anonymous benefactor promises financial aid to deserving people who write to him care of a post office box. And it starts with an ad. Here’s the story, from the Erie Times-News (PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I thought this sounded familiar, and it is. It’s the exact same set-up used during the Great Depression by another anonymous benefactor, whose descendant recently released the letters as a book, A Secret Gift by Ted Gup:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a noble act, whether inspired by the examples of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates or by a potential book deal.

I find it interesting that many of the letters in the book refer to the newspaper ad as an “article.” Even 80 years ago, people didn’t believe that good news came via advertising. Ha!
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December 8 2010
Automaker Nissan is promoting its 2011 Leaf electric vehicle through a website aimed at kids, with the objective of harnessing “pester power.” Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Engaging children on the subject of alternative energy sources for family transportation is a good idea. They are, after all, the ones who will be living in the future created by the choices made today. And, while kid-based pester power may not be a significant factor in the purchase of a new car (at least in my household), it’s a good way to open up a third-party dialog with the parents. So, to the extent that the Leaf is a primary-use family vehicle (a stretch in the U.S., where family car = SUV), it was a sound strategic move.

The problem is that the strategy wasn’t supported tactically. The site is largely unpromoted. There are no games or tools to engage a generation accustomed to being engaged on the web. What there is, instead, is a web-based comic-book style sales presentation, complete with an overplayed set-up, stilted dialog, and heavy-handed teaching moments. Boring.

This coulda shoulda been so much better.
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December 2 2010
SEO by online complaints? Well, it worked for a while, but Google just fixed a loophole in its search algorithm that gave online retailers credit (and positional weight) for backlinks coming from negative reviews. Here’s the story, from Sci-Tech Today (part of the NewsFactor Network, Calabasas, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this was more a case of unintended consequences than intentional black-hat SEO. Also, I think it’s funny, in a twisted sort of way, that assigning a negative value to negative reviews would render most political and governmental websites unfindable.

Of course, Google never claimed to have reviewed the sites it indexes for quality customer service. Also, that customer could easily have searched for user reviews on, oh, a search engine like Google, to have learned more about the merchant’s reputation before forking over money. The assumption (high rank in search engine = good business) is fundamentally flawed, and yet the fact that it’s made demonstrates how embedded Google has become in our lives.
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December 1 2010
Cyber Monday “crushed” Black Friday, online anyway, for the first time racking up over a billion dollars in sales in just 24 hours. Here’s the story, from VentureBeat:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Online sales were up 16% for the day. By comparison, in-store Black Friday sales were up a mere 0.3%. But in-store Black Friday sales totaled $10.69 billion, more than ten times more than Cyber Monday. And yet, with all the overhead associated with brick-and-mortar stores, and the relative efficiency of online retail channels and outsourced distribution networks, one wonders whether the difference in profitability was somewhat slimmer?

The other thing I wonder, is whether there’s going to be a backlash toward mid-January as those credit card charges come due.

I see positive trends in consumer spending. But without similar positive developments in employment, real incomes, housing, healthcare, and taxation, I doubt the strength of this holiday recovery, and I suspect that what’s really behind it is emotional: people are just fed up with feeling deprived.
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Backwards in time to November 2010

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

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