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

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February 28, 2007
Advertising makes its way into an elementary school ... art curriculum. Here’s the story, from The News Courier (Athens, AL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The newspaper itself is the driving force behind the project, in which fifth-grade students designed print ads for local businesses. The story does not say whether those ads were used.

On the one hand, yes, it exposed the kids to the idea of making a living in the creative field. That’s good. On the other hand, it also embedded advertising for actual businesses into the curriculum. I think branding is pervasive enough in society without roping kids into the effort.

Well, at least they weren’t creating ads for Pepsi or Coke.
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February 27, 2007
Real-time research is on the rise as online advertising evolves. Here’s the story, from the Business 2.0 via
Advertising copywriter blog link

When you look at research about search phrases, you’re looking only at what users say. It’s like looking at survey results: the numbers are skewed based on the participant’s idea of the desirability of various answers. That’s why any survey will “prove” that the vast majority of us are better-than-average drivers, for instance. For accurate, meaningful results, you have to look at behaviors rather than statements. Privacy issues aside (and they are not to be brushed aside easily, but that’s a topic for another day), user tracking gives better data about user behavior.

Key quote:

Yahoo is finding that ads often do best on sites that seem to have nothing to do with them – when, Fayyad says, “the content seems totally irrelevant.” Marketing in this environment, he argues, crushes the potential of search alone.

Better information about the individual potential customer means huge creative opportunities. And that part of the process has just beginning to develop.
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February 26, 2007
Here’s a great success story about Thomas Kemeny, a young copywriter who is flat-out making it to the big time, from the Chicago Tribune (IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the idea of “student immunity” is essential to the craft of copywriting. Creativity begins with asking questions. About the product. About the use of the product. About the person who uses the product. About the process a person goes through to choose the product, or to buy the product. About everything.

And, when I say “product” I could just as easily say “service” because the same questions apply.

The more questions you ask the more answers you get, and the more answers you get the more information you have, and the more information you have the better and more-focused your creative can be. Curiosity is part of creativity.

Anyway, this is a great story about a rising star. I hope Kemeny stays in advertising. The business needs him.
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February 25, 2007
A Sunday quickie to point out yet another marketing stunt gone awry in Boston, this one a “treasure hunt” promotion for Dr. Pepper. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think where this promotion went wrong wasn’t so much in concept as in execution. I think hiding more and smaller treasures would have accomplished similar buzz, while reducing the risk of having participants overrun and possibly damage the hiding places.

I’ve mentioned before the long-running Canadian Club campaign in the 1960s and 1970s, in which cases of whiskey were buried or hidden and the ads gave clues to their whereabouts. But, not only were the puzzles and locations very challenging, but the prize was a case of product rather than actual gold coins. That’s both more-authentic and less risky.
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February 23, 2007
Toyota is poised to surpass GM to become the world’s largest automaker. Here’s a look at how it got there, from next week’s Business Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is kind of a big story. But notice this: advertising is barely mentioned. Instead, you see real developments, like establishing U.S. factories and  plowing money back into the surrounding communities. You see a P.R. and lobbying push that was sustained over decades.

You also see a brand that almost isn’t a brand. Perhaps through a sense of corporate humility, Toyota has ended up with a highly individualized spectrum of brand experiences in which the product owners in turn own the brand as they see it. In other words, Prius, Camry, Scion xB, and Lexus LS460 owners would each point to their particular cars as encapsulating the key positive characteristics of the Toyota brand. That’s microbranding on a mega scale, and the beauty part is that almost no one realizes it.

What you don’t see, is a “branding” tagline or slogan. And you don’t see a company trying to build its brand through advertising or ad claims.

Too often, companies set goals for their advertising that can’t be achieved without significant investments in time, energy, and money elsewhere in the company.

Story minute: I recently got chewed out by the new president of a publicly held company for trying to get specific information supporting the broad, generic claims he wanted to make in his advertising. He seemed to feel that his specific plans for the future were none of my business. For my part, I got the feeling that his plan was to sell or merge the company, rather than build it from where it was.

Even so, if claims are made in advertising that a corporate suitor would be obliged to fulfill, they are bound to affect either the offer or the post-purchase brand reputation.

The open question to me now, is whether I’ll have the opportunity to help keep the momentum going on a brand I helped build, or whether its survival is even relevant given other corporate assets.

See, the other fellow could well be right; either option could be the correct solution. Because, as Toyota’s success shows, you don’t need a #1 brand to be a #1 company.
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February 22, 2007
Writing software is moving beyond Microsoft Word’s built-in spelling and grammar checker. Here’s an article about WhiteSmoke, a new software tool that improves the fluency of written copy, from Business Week Online via Yahoo! News (UK and Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although the original concept was to market this product to non-native speakers, its #1 market so far is the U.S.

I see a few things worth noting. First, the fact that many businesspeople have embraced this tool shows a rising awareness of the importance of well-written communication. Second, the global reach of the product demonstrates the expanding market for English-speaking writers. Third, while the tool may help improve the clarity of communication, clearly communicated garbage is still garbage. For sales copy to be effective, the concept must be solid and the persuasive structure must be embedded.

All of which points to increased opportunities for freelance advertising copywriters. I like that.
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February 21, 2007
Today I have two articles illustrating two sides of consumer-generated commercial content. Here’s the first, a post-mortem analysis on some high-profile crowdsourcing efforts that failed dismally, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

What these companies failed to realize, was the importance of establishing the niche first. You don’t just open the gates to an empty field, a canvas for all and sundry to develop or defile as they choose. You cultivate a community, then ask for – or, better yet, respond to a positive demand for – participation.

Because, when people are united, they deliver. Here’s a perfect example of the Way It Should Be, bringing together a Nevada elementary school class, a children’s novel, and a relatively small Philadelphia-based maker of cupcakes, from The Record-Courier (Gardnerville, NV):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’d like to see more made of that poster the fifth-graders created, but everything about this is great. You have a third-party trigger: the novel. An independently involved group: the kids, whose teacher probably paid for (or her mother did) that first shipment of cupcakes. A product that inspired action: the Tastykakes Krimpets. And, a responsive company: the Tasty Baking Co.

It’s worth noting that nothing about this appears on the Tasty Baking Co. website, so the news story doesn’t come off as PR for anything but the fifth-grade class. Whether deliberate or accidental, that’s perfect.

This isn’t big enough to create a wave of demand that should lead to expansion into Nevada. But it’s one blueprint for creating authentic buzz at a time when authenticity is hard to come by.
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February 20, 2007
It has been nearly a year since I talked about cell phone advertising, and it has yet to gain significant traction, thanks to user resistance, privacy concerns, and the apparent lack of a sustainable business model. Here’s an article about current efforts to place ads on this very personal space, from The Boston Globe (MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

My previous entries about mobile phone advertising were January 16 2006, May 30 2006, and September 14, 27, and 28 2006. There may be others, but it doesn’t matter; not much has changed.

The challenge is that it’s not enough to be targeted, relevant, and hip. There has to be a tangible benefit for the user if advertising on that tiny screen is going to make the leap from novelty to real advertising medium. So far, the most-effective tactical applications are connected to real-time, real-need situations, such as search. Promotions work too, if participation is made out to be worthwhile. In other words, what’s working now are retail-like approaches, where you can count the calls and clicks.

And branding? I think the ground for that battle may lie both upon and beyond the phone itself, as mobile networks evolve into social networks. Calling the cell phone screen “today’s hip billboard” is applying yesterday’s media model to tomorrow’s media opportunity.

The reality is going to be more engaging, and at the same time more invisibly integrated. And, as for where we are now? Baby steps, baby steps.

What a great time to be in advertising!
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February 19, 2007
Last week I talked about digital technology and television. Today I have a story about digital technology and radio, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a long-time Pandora listener, I rarely listen to broadcast radio any more, except for some KPBS programming and a couple fringe rock stations. I can generally find both fresher acts and more reliable sets through Pandora or BBC streaming audio. However, after recently telling my wife about Pandora, she’s the one who has become a true Pandora evangelist, setting up more than a dozen stations and telling all her friends about it.

So, what does this mean for advertising? Well, not much. In fact, without DJs, it might be easier to break through the clutter with a spoken message. Yet the ads themselves will have to be more interesting, to hold up against listener-chosen music tracks.

And, with online delivery of streaming music, “radio” advertising means developing what are essentially interactive print messages that attract clicks and buys.

So, while DJs might be on their way out, good copywriters should remain very much in demand.
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February 18, 2007
Health insurance provider Blue Shield has launched a new marketing campaign based on seeking and videotaping comments about health insurance from ordinary people. Here’s the story about part of this this effort, a one-day event at Balboa Park, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

You know, I’ve just finished shopping for health insurance. My family’s health insurance premiums used to run about $1,000 per month: me on a Blue Cross plan, my wife on a Kaiser plan, and the two kids on a different Kaiser plan. I received notice that my insurance premium was going up about $50 per month, so my wife and I started researching alternatives that might combine everyone on a single family plan.

The key thing to note, though, is that I was perfectly satisfied with my health plan before this. I was happy with Blue Cross, my doctors, the service I received from the company, my coverage, everything. The rate increase was the only reason I went shopping, and I was surprised to find a very comparable Blue Cross plan at less than half the cost I’d been paying.

Now, if I’d been on that plan, I’d probably never have gone shopping for health insurance. And, my wife would never have applied for a family plan with Kaiser that included me. Which means that Blue Cross would have retained my business.

We are now paying less than $800 per month for family coverage very comparable – and in some small ways better – than the separate plans we had before.

While the trigger for my jumping ship might seem to be a price increase, the reality is that I’m not that price-sensitive. I understand that I’m moving into more-expensive risk groups as I get older. No problem. Also, I realize that I am the one to blame for essentially overpaying for the past year or so, because I neglected to audit the family health insurance costs.

However, the fact remains that one company lost a perfectly satisfied customer and another company picked up business, and that could have been prevented through marketing.  Had Blue Cross sent a direct mail piece with a plan re-evaluation chart, it would have overcome inertia on my part and I’d probably have switched to the more-appropriate plan long ago and stayed with them now. (Hey, maybe they did send such a mailer and it was so creatively inert that I tossed it out without looking at it.)

Communication is an essential part of customer retention. Very often, the competitor that poses the biggest threat isn’t the other fellow. It’s customer inertia. Competing with yourself overcomes that.
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February 16, 2007
How have digital video recorders like TiVo affected the world of advertising? Not much, apparently. Here’s a look at the latest Nielsen research, from the New York Times via the International Herald-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The research addresses commercial-skipping behavior, not ad recall. Still, it should not be news to anyone that the most-often viewed commercials are those running first or last in a series. The middle has always been the worst place to be, sandwiched between other commercials competing for attention. Indeed, conventional wisdom has long held that people recall the first and last things they see or read. So, all in all, the new research validates some very old rules. (And, didn’t we got through this when VCRs first became popular?)

As for figuring out “how advertising can remain sustainable and effective in the new landscape,” I think this research should point advertisers toward the obvious old-school solution: more-relevant, more-attractive, more-powerful creative. It’s not about the technology. It’s about creating ads that people love to watch.
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February 15, 2007
Fujitsu has developed a way to place images or written information inside images that are invisible to the naked eye but highly visible when viewed through a digital imaging device like an ordinary mobile phone camera. Here’s the story, from BBC News (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This technique lends itself to use in print ads and outdoor, creating both a way to interact with the advertiser and a way to launch downloads or direct web connections. Retailers, for instance, could launch a web-based buy window right off their traditional advertising or catalogs.

You could build a whole promotional campaign around this technology, like a real-world treasure hunt.

I wonder if you could imprint T-shirts and caps using this technology? That would be cool, to have a branded T-shirt that says one thing to the eye and another to a digital camera.

This is a very cool media opportunity. I wonder when it’ll make it to the U.S.?
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February 14, 2007
Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a timely story about the marketing of online dating websites, from The Boston Globe (MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As online match-ups become mainstream, the real brand differentiators become functional ones: the ease of use, the depth and perceived quality of the database, and the fit of the proposed matches.

The business model itself can also be a differentiator, with the free-membership sites positioning themselves against the paid-membership sites and vice versa. I think that battle could be interesting. I see the value of a membership fee as a seriousness-of-intent filter, but a dating site is fundamentally a search tool, and the dominant search tools are free to use and ad-supported. So, even there, it’ll come down to the same functional differences. It’s a case where the customer experience is the marketing.
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February 13, 2007
Hublot, a luxury watch brand, is in the midst of a so-far successful turnaround. Here’s an interview with the CEO focusing on marketing a niche product, from Europa Star (Geneva, Switzerland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key interesting bits include how the company has used control of its supply chain - both on the trade and consumer ends - as an element of brand building and cash flow management, a strategy most publicly held companies could never sell to shareholders. Note, too, the way the sponsorships hang together with a common theme, instead of being squandered willy-nilly.

As a marketer who is also a watch enthusiast, I see vulnerability exactly where the interviewer saw it: hanging much of the future on today’s fashion trend. To survive, the other product lines should provide the breadth the brand needs to capitalize on the next trend. That will spell the difference between being a savvy niche player, and being just an ordinary one-trick pony.
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February 12, 2007
Here’s one way to launch a brand: start a price war in a commoditized-but-high-growth category. Here’s the story about Olevia flat-panel televisions from Syntax-Brillian, from the New York Times via the International Herald-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

With the exception of the loss-leader holiday approach, there’s more than a mere retail pricing strategy at work here if even Consumer Reports is impressed with the product itself. Clearly, there’s some care being taken in optimizing the quality of the product for the price. Plus, there’s an aggressive push into retail channels at all levels, a deployment of ground forces that many top-tier brands tend to resist doing, to their eventual downfall.

This could be a good branding and sales story to watch as it unfolds.
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February 9, 2007
A look at the theory and application of customer-generated advertising and marketing as it stands, from next week’s Business Week (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m in agreement with the creative director who commented that most consumer-generated ads serve as examples of the ill-conceived strategy, trite concepts, and basically bad advertising that professionals work to avoid creating. That the customer-created commercials held up as well as they did reflects a combination of pre-show buzz and falling professional standards.

And, at the same time, I think that customer-generated marketing is critical to success, almost regardless of category. It doesn’t matter if you’re an industrial pipe fitter, a tourist hotel, or a brand of crackers, developing and leveraging relationships with brand ambassadors should be key objectives.
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February 8, 2007
There are new capabilities in self-serve stock advertising. Here’s the story, from the New York Times (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is less of a threat than some of my fellow advertising creatives might think. After all, the advertiser must subscribe to the service, plus either be or hire someone to be the marketing director and producer. The economies aren’t as big as one might think at first glance. At the same time, the value of outside counsel is lost. Granted, some ad agencies aren’t giving very good outside counsel – just look at most of the Super Bowl ads for evidence of that – but, even so, having a third party looking out for your interests is one of the key justifications for working with an outside advertising team.

What I find tremendously exciting, is the increased ability to target and respond to the real world in a way that invites more audience participation. It ain’t about the creative, per se, it’s about the media control. Which, in turn, should feed creative thinking.
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February 7, 2007
Continuing the creativity-boosting theme from yesterday, here’s a look at the creative value of mid-day naps, from the South Bend Tribune (IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’d try this myself, but for the fact that the kids get home from school shortly after 2:00 and the house starts rocking. Me explaining to my wife why I’m heading in for a nap just as the kids get home (“but it’ll help me be more creative”) is just not going to happen.

A mindless activity might be nearly as good as a nap, though, which is why I like doing the laundry every day. Moving loads and folding have both been fruitful activities for fresh ideas. Still, a nap ... followed by a shower ... doesn’t that sound wonderful?
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February 6, 2007
Here’s a scientific explanation for why so many ideas come to you in the shower, from the New York Times News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, the warm-water-on-skin stimulation releases beta-endorphins, which soothe, while simultaneously raising energy and brain awareness.

I also use showers as transitional tools when I know I have to work late. After dinner and putting the kids to bed, I’ll have a second morning, complete with a cup of tea and a shower, before hitting the office again. It works!
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February 5, 2007
The Super Bowl ... was yesterday. It’s time to move on to (one hopes) better things out of the world of advertising. Here’s a look at near-iconic retail brand Gap, from Business Week Online via Yahoo! Finance (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m posting this as sort of a marker, because I believe – without even a scrap of research to prop up said belief – that the Gap brand is strong enough to stage a comeback. It won’t remain so for long, as it is slumping into irrelevance; but, I think that by year-end things might be turning around.

The last CEO was a restructuring guy, and he accomplished that task. The next one up will probably be a merchandising guy (or gal). You watch: if that CEO does a good job, the next one will be a marketing person, and then things will take off.

Is it possible to get a restructuring/merchandising/marketing CEO? Those types do exist – Meg Whitman of eBay is one example, off the top of my head, of a CEO who has constantly reinvented and re-sourced while building the brand relevance. But would they want to take the top job at the Gap?

Speaking of lines in the sand, I am rapidly running out of time on my prediction, made on October 2 2005, that Lenovo would knock out HP to challenge Dell in the U.S. market within 18 months. There are now just two months to go, and HP is going gangbusters while Dell has stumbled.

I must say, Lenovo hasn’t been as effective a marketer as I’d hoped, underutilizing its distribution channels and failing to build the Lenovo brand beyond its initial leveraging of the ThinkPad asset. Meanwhile, Acer is executing on the old eMachines model, chewing away market share at the low-price/high-value end.
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February 4, 2007
Okay, the Super Bowl just ended. I actually watched most of it, from a bit into the first half (the kids lasted longer than expected in their second-ever family Monopoly game) to the final few seconds. I saw nothing in the advertising worth a second look. What a disappointment. For lack of anything better, here’s a page with archives of previous Super Bowl commercials, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m writing this an hour or so after the game’s end, so my ad-think was interrupted by dinner and putting the kids to bed. I can recall, let’s see, a few spots. Probably the only spot with a concept was the Kevin Federline spot for, what was it, some insurance company. Nationwide. I recall that mostly because of the pre-game buzz. The Coke spots were generic. There were a lot of just-plain-mean concepts that were not only mean but irrelevant. The truck spots were all interchangeable. The amateur-generated concepts were just bad ads – surely an emotional essence got bleached out in the translation from storyboard to film. Or not. There was a Bud spot with a cute down-and-out dog that had some heart. Am I forgetting anyone? Definitely, yes. Mercifully, in many cases.

Folks, we can do so much better than this.
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February 2, 2007
Gotta do it. Gotta deal with the big game this Sunday. Here are two perspectives on Super Bowl advertising. The first, from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune, looks at the evolving multimedia environment of Super Bowl ads. The second, from the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), finds that the least-favorite TV ommercial in last year’s Super Bowl broadcast is the most-recalled today:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

The use of buzz has decisively dissolved the “fourth wall” in broadcast media. Add to that technologies like the Internet, webcasting, and TiVo, and you get a medium that enables viewer interaction with the message like nothing else before. That’s what makes advertising such a great profession to be in.

But, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re still dealing with human nature, which makes things like the much-derided, highly recalled Jessica Simpson/Pizza Hut TV spot less an anomaly and more par for the course.
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February 1, 2007
A silly marketing stunt backfires, and two advertising campaign workers find themselves under arrest in Boston. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, this is just dumb. Even the publicity the campaign has attracted is negative; notice that no one is saying “oh that was so cool.” To be known for stupidity is no great achievement.

Worse, is the comment from one of the alleged hoaxers at the end of article:

“I find it kind of ridiculous that they’re making these statements on TV that we must not be safe from terrorism, because they were up there for three weeks and no one noticed.”

Huh? A marketing campaign runs for three weeks in ten major cities and no one noticed? And that’s what they’re using for validation? Oh my.
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Backwards in time to January 2007

My experience as a copywriter.

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The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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