John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
February 2014

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February 28 2014
Emotional advertising works because people make more decisions based more on intuition than logic. But there’s always a new way to execute the same tactic. Here’s the story of a singing cat and a moonwalking horse, and how the “creative irrelevance” of the 1980s is back, from Marketing Magazine (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As this recent article from the BBC shows, scientists now acknowledge as fact something advertising people have known for centuries: people make irrational decisions. (By the way, the “invisible gorilla” link on that page is really eye-opening.)

The sheer exuberance of some of the new commercials echoes the wacky ads I saw in Japan (see the Ad Blog January 6 and 7 2014). They’re fun. And people like to watch what’s fun. What they retain, are good feelings. That’s no small accomplishment if those positive feelings can be tied to a brand.

Way back in those very 1980s, I was a copywriter at an ad agency. One of the clients manufactured and marketed a line of business telephone systems. It was definitely B2B marketing, but we gave the brand a sly, flip attitude that worked well combating AT&T. For one ad, there was a discussion about the inclusion of some feature or other, the pushback from the creative team being that it made the copy block too dense. My creative director, Mark Doyle, ended the discussion by saying, “people prefer to buy from people they like.”

That’s why humor works. White space works. Unexpectedness, engagement, interaction, they work. And they always will, even if how we get there changes.
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February 26 2014
Junk food marketers are evading restrictions and advertising directly to kids, in school, via classroom technologies like internet-enabled netbooks. Here’s the story, from NBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In marketing to kids, the rise of digital learning is converging with the rise of native advertising, and children are in the bullseye. It’s ironic that the key enabler here is something as innocuous (and old-school) as search.

As content and marketing merge, even internet-savvy adults don’t always realize when they’re looking at an ad. That makes it all but impossible to teach about or guard against. The danger to the ad industry, is that if self-regulation doesn’t work to reduce the reach to kids, legislative regulation will try.
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February 25 2014
I saw this guest post by Cinda Orr on the PharmExec blog, and just had to laud it:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes! I’ve often run into this arbitrary separation of marketing and sales. As a freelance copywriter working on a project, I’ve even been actively walled off from the sales people. But that isolates me from the very people with the most and most-current experience engaging customers.

I like to get customer insights from as close to the trenches as I can get. Since it’s not always possible to interview a large enough group of customers directly, that usually means talking to sales staff. Based on that information, I can take steps in the pre-sale phase of the marketing-sales continuum to reduce or even prevent issues cropping up in the closing phase. For example, advertising concepts and copy can generate excitement over key differentiators, brochure copy can preemptively overcome objections, and a website can offer flexibly targeted content that directly addresses competitive issues or individual needs.

When the walls come down, both creativity and sales can go up.
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February 24 2014
Advertising aimed at children has been my hobby horse since, well, before I had kids. So it’s time to saddle up over this article from The Guardian (UK) about Subway's new ad campaign marketing healthful fast food choices to kids:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, there’s no getting around the fact that Subway wants to sell more sandwiches to kids and their parents, build a halo of healthfulness around its brand, and make more money than it spent. That’s how capitalism works, and if the advertising is effective then that’s what happens.

There’s also no getting around the fact that Subway is putting $41 million of its own money into a three-year ad campaign based on the slogan “Playtime: Powered by Veggies.” Opponents of all advertising targeting kids should sink some of their cash into a campaign promoting healthy eating to kids using no direct marketing at all, and see how that works out. Ayup.

Yes, educational programs have their place, and outreach can be very effective – should such a group choose to swap the evil ways of the advertising copywriter for the evil ways of the social marketer.

Anyways, absent in all this discussion is the role of the parents. It’s as if the “It Takes a Village” concept has absolved parents of parenting, an abdication of responsibility which really doesn’t work in the face of declining funding for that village of kid-focused educational and social resources.

Parents themselves must address issues associated with making choices in a society economically driven by consumption, and they must do it from the get-go. Children today need to be as media-aware as children of a bygone era were nature-aware. Test results “proving” that kids under 12 can't grasp the commercial intent of advertising only confirm the absence of such interaction between parents and kids.

My own kids at the age of 2-1/2 knew that product packaging not only didn’t accurately reflect content, but that it was designed to sell (look here and scroll down to November 13 2003 – written when my kids were one and three years old). But to teach them that required actually talking about it consistently and demonstrating critical thinking when making purchases.

It also required a much deeper parental activism than most people will take on. For instance, we didn’t let our kids watch children’s programming because I felt that even so-called educational shows like “Sesame Street” were fundamentally merchandising vehicles for toys, games, and licensed products. Child-focused programming has always been a bigger concern to me as a media-aware parent than child-focused advertising, simply because it’s so much more pervasive and hard to isolate. Now, with the rise of smartphones among kids, many children, tweens, and teens have internet-enabled TVs right in their pockets. At any rate, our kids grew up largely free of Big Bird (and smartphones), while still enjoying the economic prosperity and stability supported, in significant ways, by advertising. And that’s where advertising is beneficial.

So when old-school media advertising presents positive choices that support well-being, that’s a double win for all concerned. Even kids.

Here are most of my other posts about advertising targeting children: August 29 2012, August 22 2012, August 1 2012, June 4 2012, July 14 2011, June 28 2011, March 1 2011, December 8 2010, June 3 2010, December 7 2009, 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. For entries before October 2007, you have to scroll down to the appropriate entry date.
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February 21 2014
Here’s a terrific interview with Jeanine Bassett, VP of Global Consumer Insights for General Mills, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s exciting – and a sea change in the field of market research – is the turn away from controlling variability and toward understanding it in context. To gain that broader understanding, researchers are participating in the living-as-a-consumer experience familiar to most advertising copywriters and art directors. In other words, a key element of the creative process has seeped backwards into the early research process. I think that’s wonderful, because it makes customers whole people instead of mere subjects in a study or numbers in a spreadsheet, which opens the door to authentic human insights that go beyond the statistical analysis.

Creativity doesn’t ignite in a vacuum. That’s why advances in consumer research are well worth following. Deep, rich consumer insights enable us to create deep, rich brand experiences – and ads that go beyond creative relevance, to creative intimacy.
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February 20 2014
Our local newspaper is ending its foray into cable television to focus on its digital channels. But that may better position it for the real future of integrated rich media news and entertainment (and advertising). Here’s the story, straight from the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) itself:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In an example of digital media ascendancy, it’s worth noting that the story was available online before it made this morning’s newspaper.

UT-TV didn't achieve the market penetration it needed because agreements couldn't be reached with enough local cable companies to cover the entire region. That diminished the channel’s reach, which in turn diminished its advertising value and revenues. So, pulling the plug is the right thing to do from a cost-effectiveness perspective.

It’ also the right call from a media perspective. Online channels are rapidly pushing out traditional cable providers to the point that, more and more, for cable and phone companies alike it’s triple play or no play at all. In my house, we’ve watched a lot more Olympic coverage via digital channels than broadcast channels, even when we’re using the TV. We may, however, be somewhat unusual in that regard, because we’ve been streaming web-based broadcast programming since about 2004, when we tuned into German TV shows online.

The big deal, for me, is that the U-T is following my decades-old advice: own the channel. By controlling both the content and the content stream, the UT-TV can deliver a much more-personalized media experience than is possible with broadcast. And, it can integrate marketing and content more-thoroughly, broadening its money-making opportunities far beyond merely selling :15s and :30s. As its revenue increases, the company can fund more diverse content, delivering advertising/programming with more-granular focus and integration. What with user tracking and a broad array of content and advertisers, this media company could deliver a truly individualized media experience.

It’s actually scary. Like anything really cool.
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February 19 2014
I have two again today. The first is an Australian report revealing that our advertising and marketing co-workers outside the creative department out-earn us. Here’s the story, from B&T (Australia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

David Ogilvy reasoned, “In most agencies, account executives outnumber the copywriters two to one. If you were a dairy farmer, would you employ twice as many milkers as you had cows?” As a long-time cow, I think it’s also a mistake to pay more for milkers. The difference, more than $450 a month, is significant, and it would bode ill if the best and the brightest were discouraged from becoming advertising creatives because of a perceived income inequality based on job function.

Of course, being an advertising copywriter has rewards that go beyond monetary compensation. We tend to be a happy lot. The truth is, we’re paid pretty well. And, it’s no small trick to be able to go to work, play with words and ideas for most of the day, and get paid for it. Life is good!

The next article is from FeedFront (MO), and looks at old-school billboards as a model for creating effective online banner ads:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The great thing about all these marketing experts with short memories, is that the wheel keeps being reinvented and rediscovered. (Introducing the Circulo! Roll, don’t heft or drag! Big changes ahead!)

But then, the nature of creativity is basing new ideas on combinations of old ones. Despite explosive innovation in media, there’s little new under the sun when it comes to human nature and the art of persuasion.

Now me, I love billboards. They’re ad concepts, distilled. In fact, I think most ad campaigns would be stronger if billboards were part of the buy, not because of their reach or frequency but because of the limitations they impose on meaningless fluff. So, using billboards as models for any kind of communication is something I agree with completely.

I would, however, change the priorities in those five key things. Start with the audience and what it wants before determining your goal for the campaign. Then move on to your value proposition and how you deliver what the audience wants in a way that achieves your goal. Finally, define and refine your message and your call to action – which also gives you your key metrics toward your goal and audience engagement. See how that completes the Circulo so your campaign rolls forward?

Everything should be aligned with your audience: your goal, value proposition, message, and call to action. That works much better than trying to bring the audience into alignment with your goal and message.

Especially in eight words or less.
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February 18 2014
I have two quickies for today. The first, from The Guardian (UK), is an inside look at how its web development team successfully managed a massive and mission-critical URL change:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I especially liked how rolling out changes early and internally helped put pressure on the decision-makers to approve the release, instead of all the pressure coming from the top down.

But the biggest issue is so big that it’s unseen and unspoken: The Guardian, one of the UK’s largest and best-known media brands, changed its top-level domain from its native to .com. This even as dozens of new TLDs become available.

The web continues to consolidate.

The second story is about the persistence of the good old-fashioned TV set, from The Drum (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Despite the rise of media consumption via tablet and smartphone, and the mainstreaming of second- and even third-screening, the big ol’ AC-powered TV set will remain the most-popular way to consume media.

This should come as no surprise to anyone looking at the issue as a whole, in real life. Today’s living rooms are designed for the social consumption of media in the same way dining rooms were designed for the social consumption of food, with purpose-built furnishings and infrastructures to support that end.

Whether it’s content, advertising, or food, people will consume where it is comfortable and convenient to consume. And, the social aspect can’t be set aside in a box; sharing the experience is intrinsic to the experience.
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February 11 2014
Here are two articles about branding. The first, from The Drum (UK), addresses the outward-facing side. The second, from Forbes, examines the far more-important inward-facing side:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

As to the first article, I think packaging is the brand to a lot of consumers. Brand owners have this fantasy that prospective customers are actively seeking out their products. The reality is, usually the product is (or must be) discovered on the shelf, at the moment of purchase. So product packaging must be explicit, in its design language but also in the copy (hint, hint), in communicating exactly what makes the brand different from and better than the other choices arrayed before the shopper.

The second article addresses what I think is the key to successful brand roll-out: internal branding. The problem is, internal branding isn’t something most ad agencies or design firms can bill for – or, for that matter, are good at. So, it gets overlooked as all hands and eyes are on the sexy external branding stuff. The logos. The ads. The social media platform. The packaging. Then the cool consumer-facing brand trickles inwards, in the superficial form of employee manual covers and a design template for internal communication, to be managed by the company’s own human resources department.

I’ve always thought that’s going about brand development the wrong way. Many more customer experiences begin with employees than with ads and logos. And when your internal audience is behind your brand, it makes your brand much more authentic and powerful and credible to your external audience. The outward-facing marketing communication simply amplifies and broadcasts the internal brand culture.

But to do that, you don’t just need C-level buy-in. You need front-line, in-the-trenches buy-in.
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February 10 2014
Just a nearly-irrelevant quickie because I love explorations of urban and industrial wilderness. This one looks at Russia’s decaying Soviet-era infrastructure, and it’s from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In advertising we think we’re part of something monumental. But we’re not; even the power stations, mines, and factories that feed consumerism (and communism) are abandoned as newer technologies come along. And advertising messages and even globally iconic brands like the USSR’s red star are both more-evocative and more-evanescent than we’d care to admit.

These photos are more vertically oriented than most, which is different. As a former climber, I wouldn’t trust being anchored to an derelict man-made monument, but what a photo! And, as a former caver, the gypsum mines look absolutely irresistible. I would love to see a series over time showing the massive drill bit imprints, geometrically beautiful like the stone fretwork of a cathedral, being reclaimed by nature.
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February 7 2014
Here’s a worthwhile article from Forbes about intellectual property rights in an age of increasing brand-consumer collaboration:
Advertising copywriter blog link

One could argue that, specifically, creative collaboration for the purposes of branding and advertising has a long history. Heck, our own San Diego Chargers owes its moniker to a “name the new football team” contest run in the late 1950s in Los Angeles, where it played for one year as the L.A. Chargers before moving here in 1961.

Today the branding issues are more-complicated, with trademarks themselves subject to change as part of brand consistency (think Google’s topical doodles); ad trends like social media marketing, native advertising, and campaign gamification; and increased consumer access to creative/copying tools like 3-D printers.

Definitely download the white paper. It’s a sponsored sales piece for a law firm specializing in intellectual property, but it requires no registration and it’s an easy-to-read legal-y overview of the broader issues – both in fostering a brand and in adapting to an economy that’s shifting from consumer to shared.
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February 5 2014
I’ve little to add to this terrific look at great advertising slogans, from Campaign Asia-Pacific (Hong Kong and Singapore):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Call it a slogan, a tagline, a catch phrase, whatever. Creatively, I think the best advertising slogan emerges organically from the relationship between the product and the audience. It is bold and clear and evangelical. And the more levels of input/direction/approvals there are, the more washed-out the line will become until it’s diluted enough to seep through enough managerial layers to see daylight.

The problem with slogans today, is the increased use of Big Data as a substitute for actually talking to customers. Real people can’t be condensed into neat columns and rows of numbers. And real emotion can’t emerge from such a model.

Advertising is built on emotion. And you can’t think your way to a great ad slogan. You can only feel your way to it.
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February 4 2014
The FDA is launching, with all due fanfare, its very first national ad campaign aimed at reducing youth smoking. Here’s the press release about this multi-media anti-smoking effort, straight from the FDA:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Teen smoking is already down, but the decline has apparently plateaued.

One big problem with this campaign, though, is kids who are either smoking or inclined to smoke won’t be swayed by these ads simply because they won’t see themselves in them. Another major problem: facts are not compelling, especially to a crowd much more-accustomed to being tested on their knowledge of facts than adults are.

(As a side note, some of the dialog is laughable. “Pack of cigarettes?” Really? Who says that? Oh yeah, copywriters trying to avoid trouble from actual trademark holders, that's who. Come on, don’t make the man behind the curtain quite so obvious.)

But there’s a bigger strategic problem. See, the whole campaign, top to bottom, fails the empathy test. The ads are preachy and tune-outable.

What was needed, was more input from kids. If ever there was a marketing campaign that should’ve crowdsourced its ads, this was it. The FDA could’ve gotten involvement from every middle school and high school digital literacy and film class across the country, in a contest with national exposure, scholarship money, and classroom prizes for winning spots at every grade level.

With $115 million to throw behind an anti-smoking campaign, the FDA might’ve gotten a lot more bang for its buck. But fumbling a shot at connecting with kids in their own environment from the get-go: that’s the real cost.
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February 3 2014
Super Bowl commercials were so-ooo disappointing this year. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s been like that for years, and yet, also for years, people have been surprised by that. Or is that really the case? Here’s an article from BBC News Magazine about the media response to tattoos over the ages that explores essentially the same phenomenon:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What needs to be differentiated are people from media. Or, perhaps more-accurately, people’s behavior from media expectations.

So, while large numbers of people have long gotten tattoos/dissed Super Bowl ads, the media has long found ways to report the stories as news because its own expectations are based on an incorrect or incomplete world view. Tattoos and disappointing Super Bowl ads are treated as much larger anomalies than they really are, and much more representative of a trend than is actually the case.

To overload this with another metaphor, I suspect that both tattoos and bad Super Bowl ads are rarer than gray cars, but more common than red cars. But it’s the red cars that catch the eye.
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February 2 2014
Just a late quickie to point out this article from the The New York Times, something of a continuation from Saturday’s worried rant about income inequality and its effect on the future of advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Something is seriously askew when products for middle America, from our appliances to our meals out to the very clothes on our back, are squeezed out by upscale goods. It feels more and more like the market economy is a dog being wagged by two tails: the low end (which, being driven by sales, typically deploys well-tracked but ultimately banal advertising) and the high end (which, being driven by image, typically deploys innovative but ultimately banal advertising).

I remain optimistic, though, that a real creative revolution is near, a revolution in brands and experience providers that will see some of the stalwarts of today swept aside by the innovators of tomorrow. And the really good news is, in advertising, that’s where the fun is.
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February 1 2014
Millennials are finding that real life is hard. And that’s not all. Here’s a look at the prospects many young adults are facing, from NBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Once again, one of the people interviewed is a graphic designer and another works in advertising.

This has to be viewed in light of the Davos-timed Oxfam report finding that nearly half the world’s wealth, some $110 trillion, is concentrated in 1% of the world’s population, and that income inequality is growing largely because the wealthiest capture more opportunities to increase their wealth.

So, two things. First, thirty-somethings have long been a prime target for adverting, but that may be changing because of the economy. Second, the sheer volume of out-of-work/marginally employed advertising and creative professionals (see the Ad Blog for January 28 2014) points to a fundamental disconnect in the global wealth engine.

You can’t sell something until people know about it and have the money to buy it. But with the richest segment of the population composed, not of producers, but investors (and any of us holding stocks are probably part of the problem), it’s easy to see how wealth might be stripped from companies instead of being reinvested in continued growth – and jobs – for all. After all, funding R&D is expensive and risky, and hiring employees, why, that just adds corporate overhead. The same things go for advertising.

I suspect we’re living with the long-term results of a couple decades of short-term views, in markets and marketing.
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Backwards in time to January 2014

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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