John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
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January, 2005

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January 31, 2005
Aljazeera, the Arabic newsmedia channel, now ranks as the fifth-most-influential brand of 2004, according to a recent survey of 2,000 advertising and branding professionals. It joins Apple, Google, Ikea, and Starbucks (numbers one through four). Here’s a quick story, from, appropriately, (Qatar):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this shows a sort of top-of-mind skew to the survey results. Aljazeera is an important news source, and has been since its launch in 1996. But to say that it’s a brand in the same league as Apple or Google or Coke is more than a reach; it’s simply untrue and smacks of more than a little self-congratulatory back-patting on the part of those surveyed ( “I’ll say Aljazeera because it’ll make me seem worldly”). That’s not to diminish its importance in a global sense. But, in a branding sense ... um, no.
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January 28, 2005
Here’s a look at product placement in television programming, from Knight Ridder News via the Billings Gazette (MT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Product placement is one channel within the medium, but it doesn’t replace traditional television advertising. The thing is, the television commercials have to be worth watching. I believe all advertising is direct-response advertising; the first thing any ad must sell, is itself. The vast majority of television commercials (and ads in general) fail to reach that objective, which is why they’re not effective, and why more advertisers are seeking alternatives. I think it’s smarter to invest in relevant, compelling creative than the latest media fad.
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January 27, 2005
Kmart brings back the “blue light special” concept, but misses the point. Here’s the story, from CNN/Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, the blue light special wasn’t about pricing, it was about creating an in-store event. The offers were dramatic, even spectacular; offers that, if you didn’t need the item, made you immediately think about upcoming birthdays and even distant holidays. Yet, the core concept was that of creating a unique customer experience. Blue light specials were not regular occurrences – not every shopping trip to Kmart included getting a blue light special. That’s what made it unique, and that’s what made it work. And, contrary to the opinions of many retailing experts, that’s what could make it a highly effective tool for sales and floor traffic and branding, even in (or especially in) today’s retailing environment.
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January 26, 2005
A “viral” Internet film appearing much like a spot for the Volkswagen Polo (a European model smaller than the Golf) crosses the line between subversive and stupid. Here’s the story, from CNN/Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I resisted this story when I saw it this morning on the Guardian (UK) website, because it just didn’t seem deserving of attention. It’s a crude concept, a blatant, juvenile hoax with no advertising finesse or thoughtful parody. And, thanks to the Internet, it’s spreading; an evil-twin offshoot of viral marketing inadvertently driven by the media all a-twitter. Sigh.
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January 25, 2005
The pre-Super Bowl advertising hype is cranking up, this time with a self-congratulatory buzz (“hey, our ads this year won’t be gross”). Here’s the story from the Associated Press, via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I appreciated how Goodby got an ad exposure into the article, working the frequency game by offering a verbal preview of their Super Bowl ad. I also found it interesting how everyone seems to have forgotten that the 1984 Macintosh commercial worked because it was startlingly unexpected, which is the opposite of “anticipation and mystery.”

Finally, the newspaper article was accompanied by a Nielsen chart which is not part of the online article; a pity because it’s relevant. It charts the cost of a Super Bowl commercial, from 1967 ($42,500) to 2005 ($2.4 million, up from $2.3 million in 2004), and the number of viewers (increasing in fits and starts from 51.2 million in 1967 to 89.8 million in 2004). The cost-per-viewer from 1967 to 2004 increased nearly 3,085%. Which begs the question: is it really worth it?
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January 24, 2005
Yet another obituary for the advertising jingle, this one from the Boston Globe (MA) via the Miami Herald (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing that so many commentators are overlooking is this. Unlike a co-opted pop song, a good ad jingle builds the brand. The anecdote about Sting simply proves the point. The use of his music in the 2000 Jaguar S-type commercial probably sold more of Sting’s albums than Jaguar’s autos.

Advertising is an investment. And, in many cases, a jingle remains a smart investment for those who understand the power of auditory branding, and know how to capitalize on the long-term cumulative effect of embedding their jingle in their customer’s heads.

You just watch. Pretty soon, more psychological research will show up about auditory triggers, and jingles will come back under a new name. Something as lame as the word “jingles.” Like, say, “auditory branding.”
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January 21, 2005
Google may have won one round of trademark infringement battles related to its popular and highly profitable AdWords program (see Ad Blog entry for December 16, 2004), but it lost another yesterday. This time, it was in France and the trademark owner was Le Meridien Hotels and Resorts. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

The French court order applies only to Le Meridien, which seems to means that each trademark owner may need to bring suit individually in order to stop Google from using its trademarks as pay-per-click search terms.

These court battles are merely the most-visible part of a global branding iceberg drifting toward heavily trafficked areas. From a marketing standpoint, the situation calls into question the ownership of brands. Legal rights clearly belong to the company behind the brand. However, it is equally clear that a large, perhaps defining, part of a brand belongs to consumers, who use consumer tools like search engines. I think this whole thing will get messier before it gets clarified.
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January 20, 2005
I have two articles today, both from the Associated Press via the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA). The first is an expected piece, about the ongoing beer advertising catfight between Miller Brewing Company and Anheuser-Busch:
Advertising copywriter blog link

We’ve been here before (Ad Blog entries on May 20, 2004 and June 15, 2004). This whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, or a storm in a stein. However, the investment analyst’s opinion bears a comment. She criticized the expenditure, saying “using an enormous amount of money to fight over an incremental share is amazing. Is that the most effective use of advertising dollars? My answer is no.”

Um, your answer is wrong. The incremental share being fought over is the heavy-user market, a market laden with influencers. It’s an example of the old 80/20 rule in action, the 20% of the consumer market that produces 80% of the retail sales.

The question isn’t whether that incremental share is worth fighting over; it is. The question isn’t whether the #1 brand can ignore the #2 brand’s competitive advertising; it can’t.

The question is whether this is the best way to do it. The question isn’t strategic; it’s tactical. And that’s where I don’t think the creative is up to the task. Parody works great when you’re the underdog, such as when NetZero took on AOL (see my entry on November 29, 2004). In this case, it just looks petty, making both sides look undesirable.

Next up is the article that I had intended to spend more time discussing. It’s about Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, a new book by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown & Co.), which studies snap decisions based on first impressions:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m going to look for this book. It sounds like an in-depth study of micro-communication, intensely relevant to those of us who create ads for a living. Can a sale be made in fractions of a second? Maybe, maybe not, but the decision to ignore an advertising message certainly is. And, the concept of "thin slicing," relating to the ability to process a great amount of information almost instantly, definitely applies to consumers in a message-heavy environment.

Two other key ideas may be the roles of experience and structure in developing competent spontaneity. This relates directly to the creative process. Like I said, I’m going to look for this book.
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January 19, 2005
Here’s a short article about forwarded emails, which does a pretty good job of breaking down why certain viral email marketing efforts are successful. It comes from the BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

That top-ten list is a bit fluffed out. I think that successful viral marketing comes down to three factors, the first (it has to be funny), the sixth (the sender has to want to be associated with it), and the last (the X-factor).
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January 18, 2005
Technology advertising is filled with buzzwords and jargon. Many buzzwords have entered everyday speech, often with mutated or reduced meaning – “bandwidth,” for instance, being applied to mental as well as data transfer capacity. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Delaware News Journal (New Castle, DE):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, most technology ads and marketing materials are aimed neither at users nor technology experts; they’re business-to-business efforts aimed at management-level decision-makers. These people may not know technology, but they do know a handful of cool-sounding words that seem vaguely relevant to their corporate missions. Er, jobs.

So, for these people you might write copy like “scalable architecture optimizes bandwidth utilization,” which tells them that this thingamajig can grow, and makes them feel like tech-savvy people who would never confuse a dedicated enterprise solution for a company thingamajig.

As for the technology experts, they’ve moved on to scrutinizing the specifications. And the users probably don’t care about any of it, as long as the thingamajig helps them get through their day.
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January 17, 2005
A worldwide survey of people in advertising, PR, and journalism shows that most of us are satisfied with our jobs, but only 2% of us would want our children to follow in our footsteps. Here’s the story, from Brand Republic’s Media Bulletin (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

That people in the industry would be so open to being surveyed shows what some of us have suspected all along: there’s something vaguely flattering about being singled out for social research.

In that light, I’ll answer a few of the survey questions. I’d say the top three job benefits of being an advertising copywriter are the freedom to be creative, the uniqueness of each project, and the opportunity to keep learning new things.

I am hard-working, but not hard drinking. You’d have to ask my wife about the hard-loving bit. I have never had a romantic relationship with a professional colleague, nor did I meet my wife in the ad industry (although advertising copywriting was definitely involved in our getting together).

I strongly believe in the truth and value of advertising. Furthermore, I feel that if you stop believing in advertising, it’s time to get out of the business of creating it. Despite the very small sample size, I was happy to see that some 94% of my American colleagues feel much the same way.
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January 16, 2005
I was relaxing with the Sunday paper when I found this great branding study. Here’s the story about the rise of bottled water, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s hard to recall those days when bottled water wasn’t viewed as an easy sell (remember the jokes about yuppie Perrier brand water?). Today, bottled water is the #2-selling beverage in the U.S., a $9 billion industry driven entirely by positioning and marketing. And one of the fastest-growing segments is single-serve containers. Yes, herds of people are passing up drinking fountains to buy water from vending machines and convenience stores.

When we were in Germany, it seemed even more people drank bottled water. Indeed, when we admitted that we hadn’t settled on a favorite brand or style (mit gass – sparkling, vs. a little sparkle vs. “still” – no sparkle), our newfound friends were mildly surprised. “But what do you do against the thirst?” one woman asked my wife. We admitted drinking tap water, which was almost universally just not done. The water, by the way, came from the local river, and the water treatment plant on the river was, like the river itself, part tourist attraction, part local icon. Yet its product was, in a way, mostly shunned.

We periodically buy a case of whatever half-liter bottles are on sale because they make it easy to carry around some drinking water in our cars. No brand loyalty there, although my wife doesn’t care for Dasani bottles because they tip in her cup holders. But around the house, the drink of choice for us and our kids: good old San Diego tap. Ha! Could it be that the more you know about branding, the more immune you are to its effects?
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January 14, 2005
A slogan dispute over the words “Oregon” and “wild” when used together has one side painting out the word “wild” on some 30 billboards. Here’s the story, from the Portland Tribune (OR):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What we have here is the Oregon Natural Resources Council (a state wilderness advocacy effort) telling Brand Oregon (a state marketing effort) that it is welcome to use the words “Oregon” and “wild” to the full extent those terms accurately describe products. Just, apparently, not together.

Note that this did not go to court; one side backed down before it got that far, and it was probably not worth the battle. Note, too, that “Oregon Wild” has been used by the resources council since 1998; the Brand Oregon campaign started last year.

It’s hard to believe that the phrase “Oregon Wild” could be trademarked, but it was. And, it’s hard to believe that the people behind Brand Oregon didn’t know about the resource council’s slogan, but they apparently didn’t. So, there you have it, an odd copywriting hiccup considering there were only two words involved and the fairness of the use of each word was undisputed.
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January 13, 2005
When it comes to proper grammar, advertising copywriting has always carried a certain creative license. Perhaps the latitude is not as wide as that in, say, free-verse poetry, but it’s certainly enough to speak in the everyday language of the target market. However well slang communicates, though, it doesn’t parse well, which is why Google doesn’t like it. Here’s the article about slang and the AdWords program, from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune Online:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The question is, does anyone actually search for slang phrases such as “kickin’ gifts for peeps?” I think not, and a quick look at searches in Google and Overture confirm this. As far as search-based marketing goes, slangy copy brings little to the ROI table.

Which raises another point. If language is evolving and expanding, it is also splintering.

Remember Ebonics? One of the points raised by the study of Ebonics as a language, instead of viewing it as some sort of “inferior” dialect spoken by African-Americans, was that in order to succeed in an essentially White society, many speakers became functionally but almost invisibly bilingual.

I think a similar thing will happen. Although people may IM one way, they will likely continue to use a more-traditional set of linguistic rules in order to carry out an online search. The key, for copywriters, is to use the appropriate set of rules for the channel.
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January 12, 2005
What do former advertising copywriters do? Become mayors and novelists, for two options. Here are two looks at how two former copywriters are keeping their juices flowing. The first, is from Palo Alto Online (CA), the second is from the Detroit News (MI), and both are from yesterday’s editions:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Did you know that popular mystery novelist Lilian Jackson Braun was a former copywriter? She joins Salman Rushdie and many others who have taken that path. But the more intriguing idea, is politics. After all, cutting through clutter, developing clear messages, staying on task, working well in groups, liking people, needing to evangelize, a knack for selling ideas ... these are all characteristics of a good copywriter and a good mayor.

As for me, I figure I’ll teach, feeding something back into one end of my beloved craft as I glide out the other. But that’s still a long way away.
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January 11, 2005
A former head of a P.R. firm starts a website aimed at de-bunking branding among kids. Yes! Here’s the (brief) story, from Netimperative (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The not-for-profit organization’s website, is a placeholder now, with a hard launch expected next month. The enterprise is positioned as neither anti-branding nor anti-advertising, but as a resource to equip children aged 8-12 with the information they need to make shopping decisions. Very interesting.

This topic may be my hobby-horse; the last time I ranted about it was December 22, with pointers to Ad Blog entries going back to April 2003. And, although this effort is worthy of considerably more support than it’s likely to get from the ad industry, I still maintain that help isn’t going to come from outside the home. Teaching kids how to be sensitive consumers starts with the parents. And values, real values, are picked up at home, not at Wal-Mart.
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January 10, 2005
Five creative professionals, including an advertising designer, talk about creativity in Fast Company:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So, what is creativity? A lot of things. Heightened awareness of the world around them. Total immersion in a problem. Working hard toward a fresh solution. Having both experience and the wisdom to trust it. All that, plus, sometimes, just a little bit of luck. As for me, I always come back to Bill Bernbach’s famous quote: “The heart of creativity ... is discipline.”
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January 7, 2005
Holiday retail sales results are coming in, and they’re, well, varied. Deep discounting ate into profit margins as stores worked to increase foot traffic, and some brands performed better than others in the same sector. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now, I’m a copywriter, not an accountant or retail analyst, but something strikes me as odd about not counting gift card sales until the gift cards are redeemed. After all, gift cards are paid for in advance; the revenues were taken as part of fourth-quarter 2004 sales. If a gift card is never redeemed (as probably happens with a certain, predictable percentage of cards), then the amount the giver paid to the store represents almost 100% profit. Right? If anything, gift card sales could be viewed as liabilities against future sales because you’ve advanced the revenue into a previous quarter. To heck with it. I don’t understand that one. But strong gift card sales, combined with increased online shopping, seem to point to a stronger holiday than is currently being admitted.
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January 6, 2005
Another vapid state tourism slogan, ostensibly in the name of branding. Kansas is – are you ready for this? – “As Big As You Think.” Here’s the story, from the Kansas City Star (KS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

On the plus side, it’s a line I can see a committee agreeing on. It’s a consensus-driven dependent clause meaning at once everything and nothing. Success will depend 100% on implementation.

On the minus side, the line brings nothing to the table. Furthermore, Texas is big, and owns that position in popular culture. Alaska is even bigger. Kansas, on the other hand, is the 15th largest state by land mass, just above Nebraska and just below Idaho and Utah. By population, Kansas ranks #32 according to the 2000 census, just above Arkansas and just below Mississippi. Put it all together, and what you have is puffery, not branding.

The thing is, Kansas does have a brand, and it’s a potentially powerful one. But, in the effort to do something new (for no reason other than newness), those in charge have chosen to walk away from the concept of positioning Kansas as someplace better than Oz, the one place there’s no place like.

“There’s No Place Like Kansas” should be a slam dunk, then, now, and forever.
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January 5, 2005
Today I have two articles examining two different aspects of worldwide corporate response to the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. The first is a look at advertising, the second is a look at P.R., and both are from the Guardian Unlimited (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Taken together, you can see corporate communication in turmoil, and it’s not just about the disaster. Consumers today are so cynical, that they’re likely to view Performing Good Deeds as self-serving when those good deeds are performed by corporations. This balancing act is part of the equation when publicity is sought. The answer: don’t seek publicity. Don’t talk. Just do.
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January 4, 2005
Here’s an article from BBC News about the possible resurrection of the Commodore brand name, once one of the biggest brands in personal computers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have a personal connection to Commodore computers, which dates me I know.

It was in the 1980s. The first ad agency I worked for used then-state-of-the-art Commodore CBM-8032s (which were later networked, even). In a mild irony, the ad agency used those Commodores in creating marketing pieces for Apple Computer. Anyway, I learned first-hand how technology could be used to increase productivity. I later bought a Commodore “Executive” SX-64 (a luggable C-64) for my own professional use. It accompanied me through another ad agency job and a couple years of freelance work. The ability to turn around copy revisions without retyping, combined with a fax machine to send text instantly, gave me a significant advantage over other freelance copywriters, who were still writing on typewriters and delivering copy by rush courier.

See, the benefits of advanced technology lie not in the technology itself, but in what the technology delivers to the user and the user’s customers. A lesson that many companies still haven’t learned.
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January 3, 2005
Happy New Year! I have two entries today. The first is a good look at the makings of a successful modern brand character, the Aflac duck, from the corporation’s hometown newspaper, the Columbus (GA) Ledger-Enquirer:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First key point: there was only objective – to increase name recognition. Second key point: the ad was tested against that objective – in other words, the creative was backed by research. Third key point: the CEO of Aflac did with Kaplan Thaler essentially what the head of Avis did with DDB – trust the agency and demand trust from the board. Fourth key point: it took five years to build awareness to the point where it is now. Like I said on December 3, the building of the brand was no overnight success.

The second is yet another awesome link from Simon’s Skip. It’s an online archive of television commercials and promotional films, from the Prelinger Archives:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Bookmark this along with the print advertising archive sites mentioned December 28 and 29. A great audiovisual resource, and (again) a way to spend countless hours engaged in cultural research. (No, no, I’m not wasting time here, this is my job...)
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Backwards in time to December 2004

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

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