John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter

www.kuraoka.com
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January, 2006

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January 31, 2006
Mazda goes guerilla against GM’s Pontiac Division. Hereís the story, from yesterdayís USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, ads for the Pontiac Solstice encouraged viewers to “Google Pontiac.” So Mazda bid on Google keywords associated with the new model, to promote its own MX-5. The sales data at the end of the article, showing that the Solstice outsold the MX-5, is too little data to be useful, since part of Pontiac’s objective was to lower the average age of its buyers. If Mazda, which has the second-youngest average buyer of all car brands, attracted younger buyers for its MX-5 than Pontiac did for its Solstice, then the Google keyword campaign is a giant victory given that the sales figures are somewhat close (a difference of 541 units in four months, or about a 10% edge to Pontiac).

Key quote, from Don Romano, vice president of marketing for Mazda: “We werenít concerned about what GM was doing. We were concerned with what the consumers were doing.” Hey, focusing on the consumers, what a concept.

Something else strikes me about this whole thing, though. Shouldn’t Google object to its use as a verb in Pontiac’s advertising copy, simply as a matter of protecting the trademark? How did that get by?
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January 30, 2006
Hereís some new research comparing comparison ads to image-type ads, from the University of Maryland via a EurekAlert press release from the University of Chicago Press Journals:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The conclusion: image ads work best when viewers use imagery processing, and comparison ads work best when viewers use analytical processing. In other words, for best results, comparison ads should look and feel like comparison ads, and image ads should look and feel like image ads.

Just fodder for the defense of your creative in your next meeting.
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January 27, 2006
Men and women look at ads differently, and now thereís a study that shows just how much. Hereís the story, from The Hindu Business Line (Chennai, India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The findings run counter to conventional thinking about male vs. female thought processes. Men, it turns out, seem more attuned to nuances in advertising, because they tend to project themselves into the ads and integrate advertising into their lives. Women, on the other hand, identify less with advertising, notice less detail, and focus more on the big picture. This data supports the traditional view of gender-specific ad creative: that ads aimed at men should be flashier, highly produced, and more involving, while ads aimed at women should be smart, simple, and to-the-point.
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January 26, 2006
Hereís some entertaining lunch-hour reading. Itís the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, brought to you by Business 2.0 via CNNMoney.com:
Advertising copywriter blog link

At first, I was tempted to link only to the Dumbest Moments in Advertising section. But, that category missed some wonderful goodies, including #5, the University of London study showing the effect of distractions on typical office workers: a full 10-point drop in “functioning IQ.” And, the advertising list compiler missed #66, Blockbusterís heavily advertised “no late fee” policy which backfired spectacularly.

Also, the full list includes promotions that went wrong (#6, 32, 36, 76, 77), direct marketing mistakes (#51, 64, 98), media news (#92, 94), costly typos with one amusing one at the end (#50, 85, 101), new products that didnít quite go as planned (#23, 31, 78, 81),  and plain old-fashioned workplace lunacy (56). I also find the declining interest among young women in entering the Iowa Pork Queen contest (#63) to be both amusing and relevant to marketing.

Finally, Iíll return to #101 as a funny example of how mistakes can actually backfire into benefits, once customers (and human nature) get involved.

Great stuff!
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January 25, 2006
The countdown to the Super Bowl has started, and hereís a story about how the audience has changed, from MarketWatch (Chicago):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I see three interesting developments. First, the Super Bowl is now acknowledged to be a family event. About time, that; the last several I didnít watch because of the horror movie trailers, which were far worse for kids than fart jokes or wardrobe malfunctions, at least in my opinion as a parent.

Second, the group dynamic of the audience is now acknowledged, both during and after the game. However, none of the ads so far engage the audience as a group; they still work on a one-on-one basis. Itís axiomatic that you get stronger creative that way, and Iím a big advocate of advertising that works on an individual level. But, the advertisers and their agencies may be overlooking an opportunity to create an even stronger group experience.

Third, the ability to generate Super Bowl buzz without actually running an ad on the Super Bowl (or, that is, without getting an ad “approved” by the network) has grown legs of its own.
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January 24, 2006
A follow-up to my entry on September 30 2005, about an ad campaign in Germany aimed at raising German morale. Itís not quite turning out as-planned. Hereís the story, from Spiegel Online (Germany):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Once again, the vox populi turns out to be an impossible thing to manage. The buzz has almost entirely been taken over by Du Bist Deutschland detractors. The campaign has become a popular whipping-boy. Disdain for the ads is even credited for increasing the number and reach of German blogs.

All of which could be viewed as positive outcomes. After all, it was remarkable that the campaign was done at all, and the response has been, in its own way, remarkable too.
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January 23, 2006
Today I have two articles about account wins and losses. Theyíre unique in that they offer insights beyond simply reporting who lost what to whom. The first, about Frank Lowe grabbing UK retailing giant Tesco from his old ad agency, before he even had his new ad agency up and running, comes from The Guardian (UK). The second, about Seattle area ad agencies rethinking their approach after local company Washington Mutual moved its account to Chicago-based Leo Burnett, comes from the Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle, WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

The last three paragraphs of the Lowe article are essential reading:

If the new agency does have an agenda, it is to re-establish the primacy of creativity. “One of the reasons television has lost its efficacy is that advertising has become less engaging and creative. We killed our own golden goose,” he (Paul Hammersley, CEO of Frank Loweís new, as-yet un-named ad agency) says.

Sir Frank rarely speaks to the press, but he is undoubtedly the driving force behind the new agency. Last week he told an associate: “This business has always been about individuals. But since agencies went public, they have had to reassure their stockholders that it is about networks and media clout and the number of people put on a project. One thousand monkeys on typewriters in the end will never produce the works of Shakespeare. That’s why clients still need individuals, not corporations.”

It could be blather and bullshit. But the fact that Tesco is prepared to put £50m of its money where his mouth is suggests very strongly that it is not.

The importance of the individual over the corporate is echoed in this comment from Bob Moore, president/executive creative director of Publicis West, one of the finalists for the Washington Mutual account:

“My experience is that when itís a race that close, it comes down to intangibles.”

In other words, what matters is how a potential client feels about the agency and the people who work there.

In the end, getting new accounts may be a selling process, but itís a buying decision, like any other. And in that equation, emotion and rapport are essential motivators. Just as in writing ad copy.
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January 20, 2006
Sigh. Some parents, blaming others for their own bad parenting choices, are suing makers of junk foods because their kids are obese. Hereís the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Letís see here. The kids are obese, I donít doubt that. Now, how were they exposed to these terrible, mind-altering, bad-habit-inducing ads? They were sitting on their ever-expanding butts, watching television. Or, hanging about on-line. For hours on end.

Baby Einstein and other stuff of its ilk seem so “educational,” until you realize youíre teaching your baby to respond to stuff on TV. What evil genius! As parents, my wife and I recognized this immediately (maybe because I work in advertising), but some other parents, it seems, will never learn. I wonder if they really wanted to raise their kids, or if having children just became another must-have accessory.

Yeah, itís my hobby-horse, this parenting-by-surrendering-to-mass-media. Iíve only talked about it a dozen times or more (a quick search turns up October 20 2005, April 27 2005, March 24 2005, February 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 7 and 5 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, and there are probably more).

In my opinion, there should be no market for an entire television network aimed at children. That such a market exists, is 100% the parentsí fault. And no amount of psychobabble-inspired finger-pointing is going to take that fact away.

Instead of blaming others, why not do something really revolutionary? Why not model appropriate behavior? Oh, that would be too hard. Why, one might have to eat right, practice self-control, read books, and maybe even play with oneís kids outside. In the dirt and mud and air.

Whatís wrong with kids today? Their parents.
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January 19, 2006
I missed it by more than 100 miles back on January 12, when I mis-identified the Winter Olympic Games host city as Milan. The host city is Turin. And, by way of distracting you from my error, hereís a relevant story about Olympic mascots and why theyíre so forgettable, from the Hartford Courant (CT) via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Be sure to look at the photo gallery (the link is on the right side of the page). Itís a slideshow with photos of various Olympic mascots. Some are pretty good, mostly the ones that are identifiable, accessible, and individual. My picks are Waldi the dachshund (1972, Munich, still the most-integrated design assuming his colors matched the Olympic rings), Misha the bear (1980, Moscow, a bit generic), and Sam the Eagle (1984, Los Angeles, a bit over-the-top). I also liked Hodori the tiger cub (1988, Seoul), but he doesnít show up in  the gallery.

The U.S. boycotted the Moscow games in 1980, so I have no direct memory of Misha other than that there was definitely a buzz. The 1972 games in Munich, sadly, became memorable for events far outside of marketing. I remember Sam the eagle because I lived near Los Angeles at the time. But, given the marketing spectacle that is the modern-day Olympic Games, I have little recollection of any recent mascots. I remembered the tiger, for instance, but didnít recall his name or characteristics.

The key takeaway, though, is this. These mascots are forgettable because they try to do too much, for too many audiences. How many ads fail for the same reason? Being all things to all people is generic. And, to be memorable, in design and in advertising, you cannot be generic.
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January 18, 2006
Media is in flux and everyoneís a publisher. So, whoís driving popular trends? Hereís a look at the role of advertising as gatekeeper, from Fortune via CNN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Iíve discussed the convergence of advertising and pop culture many times before (November 25 2005, August 1 2005, March 25 2005, February 12 2005, June 18 2004, etc.). And, while this development is exciting, given the increasing fragmentation of the market and opportunity for individuals to make a living through creative works, itís also worrying. Because, once advertising becomes the major force in pop culture, where do the off-the-menu choices go? Are we replacing true individualism with membership in multiple market micro-niches?

Democratization of creativity is cool. Consolidation of creative output as an affiliate or subset of advertising is not.
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January 17, 2006
Absolut Book by Richard W. Lewis (1996) is a peek inside the making of a brand, and also a market category. These two articles, from Business Week and USA Today via Beverage World (NY), look at the challenges facing Absolut vodka in that category ten years later:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Iím not convinced that walking away from an iconic advertising campaign is the right solution. And, Iím reminded of the double Johnny Walker campaigns of the late 1980s: both for the same product, but one aimed at their traditional market and the other aimed at a younger market.

That two-pronged approach allows you to market to your core consumers in the most-effective way, while simultaneously reaching out to new consumers in the most-effective way, instead of having to tweak a single campaign to bridge both markets. The consumers are different. The objectives are different. The tactics have to be different, including the creative execution and the media buy.

One campaign consolidates and holds, the other campaign attacks and expands. Creatively, itís a pricier proposition, but you gain the efficiency of better fitting message and media to market, for potentially greater results.

Anyway, itíll be interesting to see how the approach being taken works.
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January 16, 2006
Cell phone advertising is coming. Hereís the story, from the New York Times News Service via the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Coming, nothing; cell phone advertising is here and has been for years.

I recently had to buy a new cellular phone, as my museum piece had finally worn out. I got one of the simplest new models, and one of the least-expensive not made in China. Like my old phone, it has no downloadable wallpapers, no built-in videocamera, no games. Itís as direct a replacement as possible.

Except for this. The new phone makes me wait through several seconds of animated promotion for the phone maker, followed by another several seconds of animated promotion for my airtime provider, before it boots up and connects to the network. Thatís advertising, folks, and it delivers to a captive, irritated audience of one. My old, primitive cell phone powered up and connected much quicker. Is this what innovation is about?

As advertising pushes itself deeper into peopleís lives, itíll increasingly be ignored as background noise. Thatís not good for advertisers, for consumers, or for advertising in general.
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January 14, 2006
A rare Saturday entry to post this article, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about holiday sales figures:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So, as predicted in my December 21 2005 entry, shoppers rallied late, sought out discounts both online and offline, and bought commodity gifts such as brand-name electronics and gift cards.
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January 13, 2006
Happy Friday the 13th! Hereís an article from BBC News Magazine, which begins as an obituary for John Webster, a top British advertising creative director, and along the way delivers some smart insights into how to overcome product challenges::
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key take-away #1: advertising is basically uninvited, something many nouveau creatives refuse to acknowledge. (Can you hear them? “Audiences today are media-savvy; they love ads.” No, what audiences love is free entertainment; if an ad fails to make a point that moves them, it fails, period.) The idea that advertising is uninvited is still true now, even as programming and advertising converge. The risk many a convergence-driven new media concept runs, is that people will either filter the whole thing out or, perhaps worse, welcome the content and ignore the ads. Each time someone sees an ad, regardless of form, they either opt-in or opt out. And the default mode is opting out.

Key take-away #2: this guy built a lot of brands on characters that personified product traits. Advertising characters are rare enough now that good ones – like the AFLAC duck and the Energizer bunny – get promoted to iconic status in a matter of years instead of decades.

The audio clip is worth a listen too. Cool stuff!
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January 12, 2006
As the Winter Olympic Games draw closer, the host city, Milan, has implemented a no-fly zone around the venues. Why? To protect the athletes, the audiences, and the advertisers. Hereís the story, from Reuters (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Olympic Games are a major media event, and official sponsors have ponied up big bucks partly because of exclusivity. Battalions of lawyers stand ready to prevent non-sponsors from taking advantage of any of the publicity surrounding the Games. Security is tight.

All of which makes the Games a prime target for guerilla marketing. The tighter the security, the bigger the news it would be if some advertiser sneaks in a message or two.

I donít like this trend. Since the spirit of the Games is, after all, open competition, exclusive advertising and marketing rights to the extreme extent we seem to be creeping toward seems contrary to the principles. At a certain point, and I rather suspect we passed it some time ago, the Olympic Games become just another commercial sporting event. And thatís sad.
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January 11, 2006
An ad in the UK links drinking a particular brand of beer with social success. And gets banned! Hereís the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Heck, if American beer ads were held to the same standard, theyíd all be banned. Well, most of íem, anyway. These British beer posters look positively tame.

I understand the concern, particularly when it comes to underage drinkers.  However, regulations such as these address only one facet of a larger problem. An advertiser can position a product as being popular, but until people buy it ... itís not.
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January 10, 2006
A follow-up to my January 4 entry about  brand icons - many of the most-popular icons arenít human. Hereís an article about popular spokes-creatures, from Forbes via MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The four most-popular brand characters (barring humans) are the M&Ms, Poppiní Fresh (also known as the Pillsbury Doughboy), the AFLAC duck, and Tony the Tiger. The newest arrivals to the Top Ten list are the AFLAC duck, the GEICO gecko, and the Energizer Bunny. The oldest placeholders are Snap! Crackle! and Pop! (the Rice Krispies elves), Tony the Tiger, and the Kool-Aid pitcher.

One surprise (or maybe two) was the absence of Mr. Peanut (Planterís Peanuts) and the Exxon tiger.

Another surprise, was that three of the top ten characters were created in the last decade or so, which seems to point to more volatility in the list than has been previously thought.
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January 9, 2006
Mid-sized independent ad agencies are picking up bigger accounts. Here are two articles about the effects of big accounts in smaller shops. The first, from the Boston Business Journal (MA) shows the upside. The second, from the Baltimore Business Journal (MD) shows the downside:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Bigger accounts are typically regarded as offering better opportunities to do creative on a grand scale, before larger audiences. However, staffing up to service them carries a price beyond payroll, the effects of which are greater when an agency lacks the resources of a parent company to draw upon.

To put things in perspective, though, you have to remember that almost all the ad agencies in these articles are considerably larger than the agencies in San Diego. Iíd say weíre a town of small- to mid-sized full-service shops, media niche pioneers, and creative boutiques. All in all, a great place for advertisers of all sizes to look for marketing partners. And, a great place to freelance.
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January 6, 2006
A follow-up to my September 22 2005 entry about a college student who launched a page selling pixels for a dollar, in 100-pixel blocks, in an effort to net a million dollars. Well, heís reached his goal, and then some. Hereís the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Was I wrong back in September? I think I was, in part. As an advertising investment, this still smacks more of irrational online euphoria than savvy marketing. Yet, traffic is good, if you can convert it (and conversion, after all, is what website copywriting is all about).

The main page still has a Google PageRank of zero, so, contrary to my expectations, traffic is being driven directly. Also, the rollover text helps, both in terms of marketing and link relevance. Another clever twist: advertisers who gave testimonials got a second link placed to accompany the testimonial itself. The fact that later imitators also have sold pixels, often to the same advertisers, seems to indicate that, as internet marketing fads go, this one has more legs than some, and I missed the mark there as well. Fascinating!
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January 5, 2006
Wham! Bam! A one-two punch today about one of Americaís leading brands, Ford. The first link goes to a BBC News article about Standard & Poorís lowering Fordís debt rating again, to BB minus, each step down indicating an increasing likelihood of default in the eyes of lenders. The second is a look at how Fordís president of North and South American operations plans to meet the problems of shrinking market share and declining sales. Itís from Business Week Online via Yahoo! News (UK & Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Rotating slogans, disposable ad strategies, inconsistent branding, disappointingly conservative product designs, the list of mis-steps goes on and on. While sloganeering ainít branding (Toyota, for instance, frequently changes slogans - see September 28 2004), it does point to a lack of advertising discipline over the years.

Granted, it took more than poor marketing to get into this mess, and itíll take more than good marketing to get out. For instance, thereís the looming pension and health care funding crisis, and increased competitive pressure in global markets by well-funded new players from China.

But, marketing is the only controllable communications vehicle available, and itís the only way to start moving the needle. Win or lose, Fordís marketing management over the next few years will be one for the textbooks.
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January 4, 2006
Itís a big news day today: three stories. The first two look at advertising from opposite ends, and the third is a look at a brand icon. Put them all together, and they offer a complete picture of brand-preference development. First, the neurological preference-development angle, from a press release for a new research study, from EurekAlert! (DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What I find interesting, is that the strongest brain activity was related to the most-preferred and least-preferred “reward.” That lends credence to those who hold that any publicity is good publicity, and supports the idea that sheer frequency (or “classical conditioning”) may be the primary way to build brand preference.

Next, this article from MediaWeek (UK) looks at advertising effectiveness from the other side – results:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hey, thereís a correlation between alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption. How about that, advertising works. Evidently, neurological researchers are just beginning to understand what copywriters and art directors have known since the 1900s.

It also supports the view of an ecosystem theory of communication (which I proposed in a 1983 paper), one part of which posited that all advertising affects all populations, not just the targeted ones. And, as for youths and advertising, itís just proof that the best way to protect kids from advertising is active parenting, beginning with (or even based upon) the word “no.”

The last article is this brief history of brand icon Betty Crocker, from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune (MN) via the Rocky Mountain News (CO):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Note how personally involved the customers became? How they not only identified Betty Crocker, they communicated with “her”? How, long before brainwave studies were the norm, marketers exploited (perhaps even created) the connection between food and love? See, thatís what I call interactive.
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January 3, 2006
I donít often discuss web copywriting from the standpoint of search engine optimization, but this article, about upcoming trends in online search, merits a look. Itís from ineedhits.com (Perth, AUS) and its search engine marketing news:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If organic results match paid placement in generating qualified traffic, then copywriting will become increasingly important. Differentiation through copy, while still attracting hits off popular relevant search terms, will be essential. However, Iíve yet to see any research showing that real-world searchers are put off by paid listings. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true; the studies Iíve seen indicate that most searchers donít know a paid listing from an organic search result, nor do they care.

Iíve always held that copywriting for organic ranking is the best form of search engine optimization: attracting traffic through relevance and usefulness. Itís a puristís view, and was considered out of vogue for a time (even as it continued to work). Itís nice to see some experts predicting that the pendulum is about to swing back.

However, I predict a somewhat different path on the blog ads. I donít see them as much being “accepted” by readers, as becoming increasingly filtered or ignored as background noise. If Iím right, then theyíll become less effective even as more advertisers pile onto the bandwagon.
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January 2, 2006
Happy New Year! This article, from The Washington Post via The Detroit News (MI), looks at the trend toward depicting white males as flaming idiots in advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some of the examples fit the argument better than others. For instance, the Ford Fusion commercial is just one of a series of ads, each of which features a different everyday-type of person in some sort of everyday-type embarrassing situation. Some of them strike me as far-fetched, but not this one. Heck, Iíve made such garbage runs myself. (There are few things as energizing as hearing the garbage truck go by and only then remembering that the diaper bucket hasnít been emptied, or you have a chicken carcass sitting in the fridge waiting for trash day.) Anyway, thereís nothing about that spot that strikes me as particularly offensive toward men.
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Backwards in time to December 2005


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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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