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

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February 26 2010
Here’s a time capsule look back at the Hummer and other iconic products of the 2000s, from my hometown daily newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
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The Hummer brand may be dead or dying, but one can’t say its overblown vehicles weren’t socially relevant for its short life. The H1 is a superb example of contemporary conspicuous consumption. Meanwhile, the H2 and H3 are perfect symbols of aspirationally conspicuous consumption (or conspicuous consumption by association) or just plain kitsch.

In fact, the ’06 Hummer H1 may join the ’59 Cadillac Coupe de Ville as the epitome of automotive – and cultural – excess, along with the other items the article mentions: the $4 coffee, the McMansion, and the subprime loan. All of which will return in updated forms, just as the icons of excess from the 50s and 60s (fur, for instance, or TVs as home furnishings) survive in fresh reinterpretations.
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February 25 2010
Well, it looks like RIP Hummer, now that the Chinese government has put the kibosh on a purchase due to environmental concerns and actual strategic thinking. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I guess just about everything I had to say about the Hummer, I already said on June 26 2009 and October 9 2009. I think the brand had promise, but was mishandled for short-term gains. Remember, branding is a long-term proposition, which is why most concerted efforts at brand-building get stymied by impatient shareholders who demand their gains from quarter to quarter.

The first huge misfire was straying from the core and trying to take a niche product to the mass market.

The second huge misfire, was not pursuing a green product strategy.

The third huge misfire, was deliberately positioning the vehicle as a sort of anti-green statement.

So what’s left in Hummer for Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines? Some outdated designs, decent drivetrains, and an ill-positioned brand. No wonder the Chinese said no. I can’t speak to the industrial assets, but the brand asset would take an investment of billions to reposition, largely because it would need to start with an entirely new product development cycle. It’s an open question as to whether it’d be cheaper to start from scratch.
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February 24 2010
Hey, remember the $25,000 Gandhi commemorative pen from October 2 2009? Well, upscale “writing instrument” brand Mont Blanc has stopped selling the pen until it sorts out problems in (as in objections from) India. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
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This was an ethical disconnect from the very beginning; imagine Rolex, for instance, issuing a Gandhi-commemorative wristwatch or Gucci Gandhi commemorative loafers (there’s a mixed metaphor for ya). Which, in a way, demonstrates that Gandhi’s brand remains alive and strong and relevant.

By the way, in four-and-a-half months, no one took me up on my offer to combine a writing instrument with conspicuous charitable giving, recycling, and performance art. I may just have to take a page from Mont Blanc and suspend the offer. Not because of Gandhi issues. Because I haven’t found any pens on the ground lately.
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February 22 2010
We know that people are visual, so we put a lot of effort into the look of advertising. But how about the sound? Here’s an interesting story about how what you hear affects your perception and reaction to advertising, from Time Magazine via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the list of most-appealing sounds is interesting. Top of the list: a baby’s giggle. In second place: the hum of a vibrating mobile phone. Rounding out the top five: an ATM dispensing cash, a sizzling steak, and a soda being opened and poured.

What’s interesting is that two of the top five are technological sounds that emerged in the last two decades and may not last another two decades. Two are food-oriented, but only one can claim any history past a few generations; the sound of a carbonated beverage being popped and poured is the result of the mass-produced, mass-marketed food industry.

And that leaves the baby’s giggle, a sound that transcends time to evoke an eons-old positive reaction.

I suspect there are other sounds, either not researched or not revealed, that might be right in the mix in evocative power to the right audience. A whisper of invitation from a lover. The loping rumble of a V-8 engine. A woman’s laugh. The secure click of a seat belt. The whirring song of a fishing line being cast.

And this ... is why I love radio.
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February 19 2010
Denny’s made a gallant effort to migrate a campaign across traditional and social media, but bobbled the details. Like, oh, getting the Twitter ID correct. But larger issues are raised about the effectiveness of social media. Here’s the story, from Cnet News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the wrong Twitter ID was promoted on the menus for four solid months, and no one noticed. That speaks volumes, but I’m not sure what about. Is it a fundamental disconnect between social media efforts and real-world results? Or is it the Denny’s in-store audience, which may have simply ignored the invitation?

I think it’s the latter rather than the former. I know that well-designed social media campaigns work, having helped create a few.
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February 18 2010
It looks like the Microsoft/Yahoo mash-up is going forward. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It sounds like a marriage of titans. But, in the world of internet search, it’s more analogous to, oh, Kaiser-Frazer buying Willys-Overland to the auto industry. The result may be bigger, and on paper it may make some sense in terms of product line integration, but out in the trenches it’s not going to do much to dent the Google monolith.

One wonders what the purchase of Yahoo means for the much-ballyhooed Bing brand. Which, come to think of it, raises an interesting possible Kaiser+Willys parallel. See, Kaiser, a passenger car brand on the decline, acquired Willys in 1953 for some $63 million. And, within a few years, Willys became the dominant brand, turning out spartan utility vehicles that became the Jeep brand of today. What Kaiser had acquired, back in ’53, was a future; one that involved shutting down its own core operations and taking on the mantle of its acquisition.

One wonders, with more software migrating to a web-based platform, whether a similar future lies ahead for Microsoft. While all the analysts are focusing on the search side, maybe they’re missing a big trick on the software side.
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February 17 2010
Just a quickie today to place a marker for automaker Toyota’s issues with credibility, and its knock-on effect on sales, resale values, consumer confidence, and the brand. Here’s one of many stories lately, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a branding disaster, probably the biggest one I can remember. It’s disastrous precisely because its big, it’s vague, and – now that the spotlight is on – there seems to be no end to the revelations.

So far, crisis control and spin control seem to be two of Toyota’s weak points, and those may ultimately have the furthest-reaching implications for the brand.
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February 9 2010
My family didn’t watch the Super Bowl, but we were apparently the only ones. Super Bowl XLIV made history by being the most-watched television broadcast ever according to Nielsen estimates. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The previous gold standard was the series finale of M*A*S*H in 1983, with 106 million viewers. Super Bowl XLIV topped that by half a million eyeballs, in an age of channel proliferation and online programming that includes full video streaming.

So much for those who say broadcast TV is dead!
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February 5 2010
The big news all week has been the Super Bowl. Recent surveys have shown that nearly half the viewers watch the big game for the commercials.

I won’t be watching. Because of the commercials, actually.

My family has tried to make the Super Bowl a family event. Unfortunately, so many of the commercials have been not child-friendly that we’ve had to give up every time: trailers for horror movies, erectile dysfuntion spots, and way too many beer ads. It opens up some worthwhile discussions, such as whether one must blindly accept the advertising propositions that alcohol consumption = fun. But it’s just been too relentless.

So our TV will remain switched off for the big game, unless we choose to watch a movie from the library. Hey, if we want to see jokes about bodily functions, Shrek at least has good ones.
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February 3 2010
A recent study links Internet addiction with depression. Here’s the story from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, there’s a no-duh story. Addiction is depressing. Ayup.

Of course, heavy Internet use and addiction hardly go hand-in-hand. Some of us, for instance, are here professionally. That’s not a rationalization or an excuse; it just is. In the old days, one would find oneself poring over stacks of reports, surveys, statistics, reviews and newspaper clippings to ferret out relevant information about a client’s product or service. Now that could be depressing, at least until one found a hook anyway. Today, the typical copywriter does a lot of research online. (And that, in turn, brings up the importance of a well-crafted search string in researching effectively, but that’s a whole other issue.)

No, the issue I’d like to see cleared up is this. The researchers recruited all the survey participants on social networking sites. Did that create an automatic bias toward getting answers from people who may already have replaced offline social connections with online ones? Or would the results have been the same (or worse) for people who tend to use the Internet as more of a one-way tool?
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February 2 2010
There have been a number of ad campaigns lately based on openly attacking a competitor. We’ve seen recent iterations in beer, wireless networks, personal computers, sodas, fast food, and coffee. And now, satellite TV providers. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t know that this development can be classed as positive or negative. It seems that it’s a sign that a category is maturing – or consolidating – when key players find it more profitable to take shots at each other than at alternative categories. So my question is this: is the satellite TV category growing or shrinking? If it’s shrinking, then that could provide a very good reason for competitors within the category to turn on each other with teeth bared.
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February 1 2010
Here’s a brief case study about banner advertising, behavioral targeting, and online retailing, from Internet Retailer:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think it’s very cool that the metrics themselves support a very strong ROI story:

Sales on Dec. 23 were up 300% over Dec. 1. At $500, the average order value was significantly higher than the norm. And, the retailer says, it was the online display ad campaign, as shown by tracking codes and web analytics, that was responsible for generating approximately one-third of the increased sales.

Something not mentioned, is that these numbers also indicate a solidification of the shift toward shopping much later in the holiday season. For the past couple years, the weekend before Christmas has beat out “Black Friday” as the biggest sales day of the year. For retailers, both online and off, that means a severe compression of the opportunity window, from the month before Christmas to the very final week. I expect this consumer behavior to show up in other areas, including back-to-school shopping. And, I wouldn’t expect it to go away even if the economy recovers.

As to the ethics of behavioral targeting, I view it as an extension and acceleration of the old mailing list process, where niche magazines would sell their subscriber lists to sellers of relevant goods and services. By cross-referencing subscriber lists with other subscriber lists, membership lists, inquiries, and public records, one could develop a highly targeted list of prospects. Today, same thing happens almost instantly, because the delivery of the content happens almost instantly. While I strongly believe that consumers should have the choice to opt out, the information benefits accrue to those who opt in.
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Backwards in time to January 2010

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

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