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

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February 27 2009
An obituary for Computer Shopper caught my eye, in BtoB magazine’s online edition:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Man, Computer Shopper used to be as thick as most mid-sized city phone books. It was where you went when you wanted a souped-up motherboard for your Commodore 64 or a new color monitor to replace the old green or amber monochrome. When hobbyists built their own PCs, Computer Shopper was the parts and pricing bible. And now that giant print pub is dead, perhaps appropriately so, replaced by an online version.
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February 26 2009
When times get tough, a creative industry has to get more creative. Global advertising powerhouse JWT did a 50-nation survey and identified what it says are ten critically important consumer trends. Here’s the story, from BusinessWorld (Manila, Philippines):
Advertising copywriter blog link

We’re living at the intersection of revolutionary technologies, shifting consumer behavior, and plunging national economies. Although most of the ten “trends” seem to spin out of the first (“recessionary living”), they are each expressions of the ways people are dealing with this three-way crossfire.

This is important because different people in different markets will react in different ways. Where a wealthier person may look to conservation in a global, environmental sense, a person living closer to the financial edge will look to conserve cash. Although the underlying message for both remains “saving,” the approach has to be different from the ground up. The product may be different; the positioning and the brand experience and the advertising must be different.

David Ogilvy, in the introduction to Ogilvy on Advertising, said that he encountered only one change in his long career that he could call major, and that was television. I think television’s considerable effect on society – and consumers, and advertising – pales when compared to the changes fomented by the Internet and, possibly, the global economic meltdown. These are exciting times to be on the creative side of advertising!
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February 25 2009
Additional support for the TV-is-alive-and-kicking camp (see see February 23) comes from a massive study integrating 388 case studies from seven research agencies spanning 18 years. Here’s the story, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Caveat: Brandweek is, itself, a Nielsen company. Still, this is a significantly large pool of data to mine. What emerged, is that TV advertising has become more effective in recent years at increasing awareness, an attribute that dovetails neatly with the previous study indicating that TV advertising increases sales. There you go, branding and sales, combined in one wonderful medium that’s growing ever stronger. So the studies say.

I’d like to see a similar study filtered for a shorter period of time, say the past three or four years, because there has been a dramatic behavioral shift to the Internet in that time along with a significant amount of online media consolidation. The media landscape ten or fifteen years ago is interesting, but I’m not sure how relevant it is going forward (other than that it is relevant), given the media landscape now.

I don’t know who proclaimed the 30-second TV commercial dead, but it wasn’t me or anyone I know. I’ve long maintained that the :30 suffers only because it’s frequently too short to tell a relevant, engaging, persuasive story. It can start the process, but a lot of TV commercials stop there. Heck, I’ve been expecting a return of the :60 and :90 (see July 28 2004, July 2 2003, and May 5 2003, among others), a prediction that’s already come true online.
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February 24 2009
In-store video advertising is on the rise, and with apparent good reason. Here’s the story, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hey, this is exactly what I’ve been saying: get close to your customers, and get close to the purchase cycle. You can’t get much closer to both than point-of-purchase. The missing ingredients in this report, though, are (a) sales training for the counter staff and sales clerks, and (b) some sort of customer follow-up, whether it’s a take-one or coupon dispenser attached to the unit or a person stationed nearby promoting the product.

But, what is it said about every plan carrying within it the seeds of its destruction? Come on, charging less for well-known brands and more for lesser-known brands is just foolish. The lesser-known brand, because its overall marketing profile is lower, will likely see lesser results; based on those results, an argument could be made that they should pay less. Also, such a pricing program consolidates control of the channel in the hands of a few key players, while raising a barrier before innovative, new brands and products. In the current economic turmoil, in which we’re seeing an awful lot of well-known consumer brands circling the drain, that strikes me as self-defeating.
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February 23 2009
A new study indicates that in recent years TV commercials have become more effective at increasing sales. Here’s the story, from Ad Age via TV Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So there’s life in the old medium yet. Yes, it was a Nielsen study, so there’s a vested interest in proving the efficacy of TV, but the findings aren’t at all counter-intuitive. In fact, with the economy where it is (and where it’s going), I would imagine that the audience for old-school network broadcast television will grow as more people stop paying for premium channels.

However, there’s this key snip:

... creative quality makes a big and increasing difference, in many cases explaining more about success and failure than media choices

In other words, once you’ve reached the tipping point in media spending, it all comes down to the creative work. If the creative is relevant, on-target, and engaging, then your ad campaign will enjoy relative success. If not, then you’re wasting your creative dollars as well as your media dollars.
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February 21 2009
Yesterday the topic was banning huge outdoor. Today, lifting a ban on small outdoor. Here’s the story, from (Westport, CT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Not surprisingly, it’s the small outdoor that demonstrates ROI. For a restaurant to increase walk-in traffic by 20-30%, in this economy, is great. For a car wash to get a new paying customer within minutes of setting out a little sign is terrific.

All of which supports what I’ve been saying about advertising and marketing through the economic downturn: the goal should be to get your marketing messages as close to your potential customers as possible. Signage is one of the most cost-effective ways to do that, along with point-of-purchase materials. Of course, this is advice you won’t get from your ad agency – or at least you haven’t been getting – for the simple reason that signage and POP and guerrilla marketing tools ... aren’t commissionable.
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February 20 2009
The Ad Blog is six years old today! I thought about finding a story about advertising jingles, to tie in with my very first post, but this came to me in the morning paper and when it comes to blogging I’m all about taking the easy way out. Billboards are back and bigger than ever, triggering demands from Los Angeles residents for increased regulation. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The advantage – and disadvantage – to outdoor as a medium, is that the audience has no way to opt in or opt out. That makes it ideal for mass-market messages of a bland, obsequious type. Unfortunately, bland, obsequious ads get ignored, and that’s the rub. The advertiser seeks to create disruption; the audience, or what seems to be a large and vocal part of it, seeks to mitigate disruption. Because outdoor has such broad reach, if you create anything that breaks through the clutter, you’re bound to offend somebody. It’s like public art.

Still, that building wrap for the movie “Watchman” is, well, bad. It’s bad not because it’s huge but because it’s boring. It’s nothing more than a product announcement, which is intrinsically dull. No wonder it’s annoying people. Given the size and location, there are tons of ways to use that space to actually delight and entertain people. At worst, when you’ve entertained someone you’ve at least engaged them positively.

And yes, that would be (should be) even more disruptive. But entertained, engaged people are less likely to complain, at least about your ad.

That’s the crux, from an tactical standpoint: the broader the reach, the larger the need to entertain broadly as part of the bargain.
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February 19 2009
Beer marketing giant Anheuser-Busch has pulled the plug on Bud TV, its foray into programming. Here’s the obituary, from Media Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t quite see where the $30 million was spent that first year, unless that includes infrastructure. Certainly that wasn’t the marketing budget, or, if it was, some media planner deserves the sack. I was curious, so I was an early adopter. (See my Ad Blog entries for November 10 2006 and September 8 2006.) After signing up, I received no more than two or three communications, if that. That ain’t marketing.

The irony is that the company that markets Budweiser beer needs to be told that.

Now, I’m a big believer in owning the channel as well as the content. But, Bud TV wasn’t as much about owning the channel as owning the user. No sensible porn webmaster would have attempted a similar gambit, regardless of budget for content and promotion. And that gives us a proven model, really, for managing content and channel.

By the way, that also puts the kibosh on the idea that Bud TV failed in part because of its need to verify the age of its users. Other adults-only online communities manage.

No, two huge shortcomings brought down the house of Bud TV: lack of relevant marketing support, and lack of desirable content. Remember the advertising basics: attract, intrigue, persuade. Bud TV, and whatever marketing was connected to it, did none of those things.
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February 18 2009
Here’s yet another cry from the head of an advertising agency for advertisers to keep advertising, this time from the Kyiv Post (Ukraine):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article’s author raises several good points: that competition is rapidly retreating, that media is heavily discounted, and that multidisciplinary efforts increase cost-effectiveness. All of which I wouldn’t argue with.

The problem, though, for many companies and would-be advertisers is that the operating budget simply isn’t there any more. It’s hard for companies to borrow money. The expected cycle of sales to profit to reinvestment becomes a death spiral when projected sales don’t materialize. And yet, a lack of marketing will all but assure a negative outcome.

That’s why I believe, more and more, in the power of collateral materials like brochures. They are highly targeted, addressing your prospective customers one-to-one with an intimacy and immediacy that even the most relevant of ads can’t reproduce. And, once opened, they allow your full story to be told, whether it’s a brand story, a product story, a service story, or all those stories. The difference isn’t one of short form vs. long form; it’s one of remote contact vs. close contact.

I think the key to success in marketing through this economy, is getting your messages as close to your customers as possible to simultaneously minimize waste and maximize contact. That includes brochures, along with tools like POP, trade show materials, telemarketing, and staff scripts. (The ad guy in me insists that I mention my vast experience in all those areas, but that’s beside the point.)

Advertising is just one part of the sales process. Yes, you can’t slash it and expect the process to continue, but at the same time I’ve found that the tactical shortcomings usually lie deeper into the process than the ads.
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February 17 2009
Ad spending is in a free-fall, according to the latest reports. But does that mean advertising itself is in a decline? Here’s a look ahead, from Media Life Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The decline in ad spending seems fueled in three equal parts by the economy, a shift away from traditional media, and rising proof of the cost-efficiency of alternative media and marketing channels. As the article points out, advertisers can reach the same number of people for a lot les money today than even a couple years ago. On the other hand, that drives up the value of breakthrough creative – both in developing strategies and implementing executions – as a way to maintain or increase the cost-effectiveness of those efforts.

It may be an advertising recession. But it’s a creative renaissance.
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February 16 2009
Need more proof that, as an advertiser, it’s absolutely essential to own the channel? Check out the recent furor over Facebook’s new Terms of Service claiming all rights to user-generated content in perpetuity, even if the content is removed by the user. Here’s the latest, from the Chicago Tribune (IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve said it for years: from a marketing perspective, you have to own the channel as well as the content. If you simply hop onto someone else’s bandwagon, you can hardly be surprised when the wagon owners change the rules for their own benefit. What, you thought Facebook and Linked In and Twitter and so on existed for your benefit? They’re money-making ventures, or at least, they’re wanna-be greedheads. And, unlike even the sleaziest affiliate scheme, their business models don’t depend on your success to make money; all they need is your participation. So, who are the real users now?

Also notable: that after posting the new ToS, it took more than ten days before someone finally called foul, and it wasn’t a user. So much for social networks being self-regulating from the inside.
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February 13 2009
I like seeing smart marketing in the wild. In this case, it was a package my wife received – she’d ordered some eco-friendly feminine products. And, in the shipping box, was a hand-written, personalized note from the company owners, and a bite-size bar of really good dark chocolate.

The chocolate was the brilliant bit. Talk about building positive associations with your product! Exceptionally good advertising could accomplish something sorta kinda close, maybe, but it would be almost impossible to match the immediacy and relevance of that little foil-wrapped chocolate.
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February 12 2009
A tip o’ the keyboard to my friend and associate Blaise, who discovered this article/diatribe about Pepsi’s spiffy new logo in Advertising Age:
Advertising copywriter blog link

My initial thought, upon reading the PDF (definitely worth a download – there’s a link in the article) was the same as many others: that this had to be a joke, a parody, a satirical swipe at marketing rationales. But then it occurred to me that the target may not have been, well, us.

This is a post-design rationale, probably prepared in order to stun non-designers on the board or executive committee (in other words, practically everyone) into approval. In which case, the real question is: as a piece of highly targeted marketing aimed at a select, internal audience, did it work? Is the board now fully behind the new iconic representation of the brand? Or, did leaking the rationale damage the logo’s chances?

Read the comments too. I see someone finally mentioned the Studebaker logo from the 1960s. That streamlined “lazy S” logo, which perfectly evoked both the old western frontier and a futuristic open road, was designed by Raymond Loewy, so at least Pepsi stole from a design legend. After all, as Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
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February 11 2009
A grand experiment comes to an end after less than three months. I am abandoning, the open-source office productivity suite I started using on December 1, 2008. Here’s a quick link to my mini-review shortly afterwards:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m (temporarily?) chucking because a recent update to OOo 3.0.1 not only disabled the add-on Language Tool grammar checker, but also made it impossible to remove or update. I use the grammar checker on just about everything that goes out of my office, as a backstop against typos and human error. Every once in a while, I find myself very happy for having done so.

At any rate, the flaw appears to be known, and there are hacks. (Also, this whole flap is a non-issue if you’ve never installed the previous version of or Language Tool – or, if you uninstall Language Tool prior to updating OOo.) But, after spending an hour uninstalling programs, deleting files, tracking down alternate pathways and deleting those, and reinstalling to no avail, it occurred to me that, for all Microsoft’s faults (and they are legion), it has never completely bombed a function critical to me without quickly developing an automated fix.

Meanwhile, I continued to work on projects with an antiquated version of MS Word. And you know what? Word’s grammar checker is vastly superior to OOo’s, and it’s nice to have a thesaurus at <shift>F7. I missed that. Also, Word works better with my AlphaSmart.

So, I’m back in the Microsoft fold, although I’ll probably keep checking for updates.
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February 10 2009
Just a quick one, related to yesterday’s entry, another look at Mad Men. This one features some original Madison Avenue superstars who happened to be women. Here’s the story, from Times Online (London, UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a must-read if only for the war stories from Charlotte Beers and Mary Wells Lawrence. Great stuff!
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February 9 2009
Here’s a look at the style (cultural and otherwise) of the series Mad Men, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The attention to detail in the show is wonderful, a masterpiece of art direction. Today art direction has all but been replaced by “design,” and that’s often the trouble with advertising. Too much design, not enough concept or art direction (or, for that matter, craftsmanship in copy).

On another note, I wonder, given the economy, whether early-60s style will make a stronger comeback. If it does, it’ll be in highly modified form, because most of the references are long gone from the cultural consciousness of the trendsetters.
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February 5 2009
Do TV commercials make the programs more enjoyable? That’s what a recent study in New York says. Here’s the story, from ABC News (that’s the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, based out of Ultimo, near Sydney, AUS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One theory is that by breaking up the program, the ads create heightened anticipation. Another possibility relates to what my uncle said long, long time ago: that the ads were the best thing on TV. In that case, the the increased enjoyment could be due directly to the ads themselves, instead of the dramatic pause they provide. Then there’s the head-banger theory: that the commercials feel so good when they stop.

Whether it’s the ads or the mere presence of a commercial break that increase perceived enjoyment, the study results are interesting. And, if they prove anything, it’s that ads are in competition not just with each other but also with the program. All the more reason to invest in good creative.
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February 4 2009
In the Mac vs. PC battle, Mac is gaining market share. How? With two big weapons: branding and advertising. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hey, how about that, brand advertising works to sell product.

Now, comparing Apple’s ad spend to HP’s or Microsoft’s is a little too basic to tell the story. Remember, Microsoft gains almost no matter which PC brand sells, so really what Apple is up against is the combined spending of Microsoft, HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, Sony, Toshiba, and every other PC brand. Given that, Apple didn’t come anywhere close to outspending its competition.

So what made the difference? Branding. Having a single brand identity worked powerfully in Apple’s favor compared to its fragmented competition. It made every dollar it spent on advertising do two dollars worth of work.

What remains to be seen, is how well that brand and all its attributes – hipness, sleek design, premium pricing – will transcend economic realities. And that, in turn, may depend a great deal on how the advertising changes to meet changed times.
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February 3 2009
Personalized mass marketing is coming to the world of POP, thanks to digital cameras that can isolate at a viewer’s face and determine, with good accuracy, whether the person is male or female and even identify his or her broad age group. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Privacy issues aside, I think this is cool. As a professional, I’d rather serve ads to a specific audience than a general one. And, as a consumer, I’d rather ignore targeted ads than untargeted ads.

I think the examples in the article are weak, if they reflect what’s truly intended. We’re talking POP. The opportunity is less to present, to paraphrase the article, a motorcycle ad to men, a minivan ad to women with children, and a videogame ad to teens. That’s just advertising, and will be doomed to be ignored as such no matter how much technology lines up behind it. The opportunity is, rather, to spin each category message different ways so it’s relevant to different groups. For instance, at a jewelry counter, you could serve ad messages themed around gift-giving to men and personal indulgence to women.

So while the article is talking about mall and checkout lane kiosks, I’m talking about countertop POP. The closer the marketing can get to the customer the better.
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February 2 2009
The best thing in the Super Bowl was the record-setting 100-yard interception and touchdown. It sure as heck wasn’t any of the ads. Here’s a report on how the Super Bowl ads fared with viewers, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Doritos "crystal ball" spot was by far the best of the bunch, partly because of its simplicity but also because of meager competition. Come on, the much-anticipated Budweiser ads were pathetic. Does anyone besides Budweiser and its ad agency really care, deeply care, about the horses? Yeah, the ads told stories. You want to tell stories, make films, make books, make events. You want to sell beer, make freakin’ ads. The campaign was an overproduced defensive play and, worse, it looked like it.

As to the rest of the commercials, what were the selling messages? Let’s see. Castrol is for monkeys. Coca Cola is for bugs. Pepsi is for dumb guys in denial. E*Trade is for babies. Cheetos is for pigeons. Could any of these concepts have turned the corner? Maybe, but the creative teams would’ve had to work harder. Or, maybe, not so hard.

The Doritos spots worked because the amateurs kept their eye on the ball while the pros got distracted. Could there have been more of a selling message in there? Nah, we’re talking Doritos; the ad is the product differentiation.
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Backwards in time to January 2009

My experience as a copywriter.

Main page | Advertising portfolio | Brochure portfolio | Consumer goods | Food services | Free red pen | Healthcare | Hospitality & tourism | Internet | Manufacturing | Packaged goods | Real estate & construction | Retail & restaurants | Service | Technology

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Advertising & marketing advice.

Advertising strategy and other lies
An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books
Brands and branding: a white paper
Do you make these mistakes in advertising?
Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
Four ad copy traps that ensnare even experienced copywriters
How to become an advertising copywriter
How to take your copywriting portfolio to the next level
How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
More career advice: what’s it like being an advertising copywriter?
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
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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