John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2007

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January 31, 2007
Shortly after PacMan and Mario Brothers (and I am old enough to have played Tomb Raider on a Commodore 64), videogames became the province of serious carnage and testosterone. It remained locked there until the recent introduction of the Nintendo Wii, a seemingly silly, movement-based game system that put the player at the center of its cartoon worlds. Consumers have responded, and sales are way, way up. Here’s the story, from The New York Times News Service via The San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Shows what a bit of creative thinking can do at the pre-production level, and that’s cool. It takes guts to roll out something completely different, and the rollicking success of the Wii obscures the fact that this venture could have fallen apart at any point. Heck, look at what nearly happened because of too-lightly spec’d wristbands.

On the other hand, the photos accompanying the article really bother me. I’m sorry, but a seven-year-old child should not be playing a videogame, much less six- and five-year-olds. Childhood is for exploring real reality, not virtual reality. It seems like too many people who have children would rather be peers than parents. And who loses when that happens? The kids.
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January 30, 2007
A billboard uses RFID technology to identify individual Mini drivers and send them a little nod from on high. Here’s the story, from The Mercury News (San Jose, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Invasion of privacy? Potentially, if used on a large scale. Cool to see your name (or the name of your Mini) up in lights? Very.

So what’s the point of the billboards, other than some ego-boo for selected current owners? Well, Minis are now part of the landscape. By calling attention to individual ones on the road, in real time, the billboards call attention to them once again. It’s like a game of slug-bug, played out in mass media with the help of some advanced tracking technology and an active community of customers.

For a vehicle nearing the end of its production cycle, this is a terrific awareness booster to prepare the ground for the new model. Smart? Very.
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January 29, 2007
Super Bowl XLI is days away, and the ad hype has been bigger and broader this year than ever before. But will the results live up to expectations?  Here, in case one has been living under a rock for the past month or so, is a brief overview, from the Adweek (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Great ads have always had a life beyond airing. But now, advertisers are trying to give them a life before airing, plus introduce elements of interactivity beyond a sales response.

Will they work? Here are my zero-thought predictions: if the commercials and the interactive elements surrounding them are relevant and engaging they will work, and if they aren’t they won’t. Brand loyalists will remain brand loyalists. And, in the end, very little market share will change hands. Is that worth $2.6 million? It depends on how defensive you need to be in the face of emerging competition.
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January 26, 2007
Cause-related advertising is always fun to do. Here’s a story about a neat little ad campaign for the Kentucky Humane Society’s new spay and neuter clinic, from the The Courier Journal (Louisville, KY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wouldn’t call these billboards “edgy,” but that’s applying a Left-Coast mentality to a Middle-America campaign. Besides which, it’s the fact that the ads are considered controversial in their home environment that’s important, and the fact that they are making people talk about spaying or neutering their pets is a huge step in the right direction.
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January 25, 2007
John Mellencamp’s song and video features heavily in a Chevrolet commercial hawking pickup trucks, for which he has been roundly criticized (see my Ad Blog for December 28 2006). Here’s his side of the story, from the International Herald Tribune (FR):
Advertising copywriter blog link

You have to admire the guy – and Chevy’s ad agency – for making the right moves right now. Last month I ventured to suggest that Chevrolet and John Mellencamp were a good match, two beaten-down brands fighting to recover, and that it might be smart for both sides to embrace a shared relationship rather than spin into marketing populism on one side and artistic defensiveness on the other. It’s a fine line, but it looks like all parties are treading it well.

So this could be a turning point for John Mellencamp. The open question is, will it be a turning point for Chevrolet? For that, there needs to be a sustained campaign beyond this single ad, if (and that’s a big if) it turns out that the ad is effective at moving the needle on the brand perception.

As for the commercial itself, it’s OK. The song has a hook to be sure. The visuals are solid. The feelings it evokes are authentic, and those disposed to be cynical about advertising would find any true emotion in an ad to be exploitative. And it also makes me miss the ’66 Chevy Camper Special I drove through high school and college. Green with a white small-window roof, similar to one in the commercial. That was a great truck.
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January 24, 2007
Is a Super Bowl ad worth the $2.6 million it costs in placement alone? A panel of advertising experts debated the topic, and came up with a firm “maybe.” Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think a Super Bowl spot could be right for an advertiser with broad appeal, a strong brand, deep pockets, and a way of profiting immediately from response. In other words, an advertiser like, eBay, or even a pizza delivery franchise.

Beer ads are expected, leading to a situation in which category leaders would be notable by their absence. But as for other packaged goods, I think they lack the fourth point. You can crunch the numbers pre-game all you want, but there’s still no way to tell that a Doritos ad on the Super Bowl will drive up Doritos sales in the following months to the tune of $2.6 million over projections with a different media mix.

Of course, it’s not your $2.6 million on the line, and that’s what makes the speculation so much fun.
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January 23, 2007
A follow-up to my Ad Blog entry on May 14 2006 about oil conglomerate ConocoPhillips scrapping the iconic Union 76 ball, from The Wall Street Journal via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ll reiterate what I said back then, that this is the wrong marketing decision for the wrong reasons. Consumers don’t care about corporate branding, they care about branding at the touchpoint nearest them - which in this case is the gas stations.

Also, was red and white the best the company’s color experts could come up with? Red and white is overdone. Red and white is Target, Staples, Office Depot, CVS. Hey, it’s the San Diego MTS, to pick up a thread from yesterday. Orange and blue was – and still is – unique.

But, it would have been too much work to update it correctly; it would have taken a real understanding of color and design. Why do all that work when you can just re-package what’s already been done at Target, Staples, et. al.? Besides which, there’s more money to be made in forklift upgrades than in intelligent adaptation. Oh, I understand the business case for the consultants. For them, this was a highly profitable recommendation.

But, from a branding perspective, throwing away that much equity is just plain dumb.
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January 22, 2007
More about the inundation of ads in public spaces, this time from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think these are effective if relevant, and then only the first time. After that, people filter them out and the noise level has to increase yet another notch. Also, like I said on the 15th, some of these efforts cross the line. For instance, the trays for airport security checkpoints should be blank inside as a matter of speed and, well, security. I think trays with ads in them will cause a lot of overlooked phones, wallets, and other small odds and ends. Of course, the ads may be on the outside of the trays, which would be fine with me but dramatically less visible for the advertiser.

A few years ago, the City of San Diego turned down a renewal of an ad program for its buses, in which our buses were wrapped in ads. Some revenue was lost, no small thing for a strained city budget. But, as a result, the brand that shines through on our red trolleys and red-and-white buses is that of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System itself. And that’s a highly valuable asset for a tourist town.
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January 20, 2007
It’s the digital equivalent of a lone protester standing in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Chinese bloggers are flexing newfound muscle in facing up to multinational corporations. Here’s the story, from the Wall Street Journal via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Global brands can no longer run pell-mell over individuals, which is a good thing. At the same time, the ability to force a dialog is a heavy responsibility. And, I notice this is all about branding, particularly targeting U.S. brands. There’s no voice calling out for, say, a stand-down on China’s recent (and successful) space missile test or better working conditions for skilled laborers.

Starbucks and other corporations can take satisfaction in knowing that their willingness to engage in a dialog with bloggers is paving the way toward a broader acceptance of public voices in China. And that is no small accomplishment.
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January 19, 2007
Aspiring advertising copywriters and art directors, take note of today’s entry, “7 Habits of Upwardly Mobile Creative Guys and Gals,” from Agencyfaqs! (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The same habits work all around the world.
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January 18, 2007
Those irritating banner ads featuring dancing silhouettes and tattooed messages are coining money for the advertiser, a lead generation company for financial service providers. Here’s the story from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune (FR):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The ads attract attention through borrowed interest, to be sure, but the rest of the message has to make a promise that the viewer finds click-worthy or the whole ad fails. That these ads are working validates basic advertising principles, like the value of disruption.

As for relevance, a recent study showed that in the business and financial services segment, out-of-context banner ads attracted more clicks and converted more customers than banner ads that related directly to the content around them (see my Ad Blog entry for October 16 2006 for more on this study of 400 million online ad impressions).

The value of disruption may be somewhat higher online than in other media because the consumer response can be so immediate.
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January 17, 2007
Broadband access meets broadcast TV, in this new file sharing service that will allow high-quality internet streaming of television programs. Here’s the story about Joost, from EE Times Europe (Brussels):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is an interesting medium for advertisers. Like the web it’s worldwide, so for the time being the best fit are brands with global reach. Geographically, it’s an upward consolidation, with traditional broadcast television now carrying the localized markets. Yet, it’s also better positioned to satisfy niche markets through sheer flexibility.

For now, though, I go directly to the station webcast sites for European programming: the BBC for Working Lunch (a daily financial show), for German programming, and for live-streaming and podcast news in German. It’d be great, though, to get that programming full-screen with better picture quality.

No, I don’t read or speak German, but if I listen to it long enough I can just barely understand what’s going on, and I really enjoy some of the shows.
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January 16, 2007
Big budgets and A-list Hollywood celebrities are returning to Japanese advertising. Here’s the story, from The Washington Post via the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The increasingly futile effort to keep Only-In-Japan deals under the radar in the U.S. is just part of the game. What I find interesting, is that celebrities seem to be unusually effective at increasing sales for their employers. 

Like most U.S.-based advertising creatives, I find that something of a mystery. After all, shouldn’t the use of a celebrity have a conceptual tie-in beyond mere fame? The Shiseido deal with Angelina Jolie, for instance, is perfectly understandable: “the most beautiful mouth in the word” flogging lipstick, yes, go, no question about it. But Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt for cell phones?

Thing is, Japan has been described as a “high-context culture” in which “a lot of the communication is silent because there is no need to resort to language or outward expression to be understood.” (see my Ad Blog for November 9 2005). Not only are these ads borrowing the brand power of a particular celebrity, but they’re also using the sheer essence of celebrity itself. That’s a remarkably pure approach.
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January 15, 2007
There on the front page of my local newspaper, right under the story about the San Diego Chargers getting knocked out of Super Bowl contention, was a news service story about the proliferation of advertising. Here it is, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This reads like an expanded version of the first few pages of The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore.

Still, there is a line, and some advertisers have clearly crossed it. Of the examples given, here’s what I think.

The TV-in-a-taxicab crosses the line if it can’t be turned off by the passengers. Like music-on-hold or those check-out line televisions, they distract me from what I’m doing.

The ads on eggs I don’t care about, especially if the cost of the eggs are subsidized by the ads. We get our eggs from the chickens next door, but I wouldn’t turn down free (or cheap) supermarket eggs just because they carry ads.

The ads on pediatrician exam table liners cross the line. A doctor’s office, like school, is a totally inappropriate setting for pitching products, especially non-healthcare-related products like children’s programming on DVDs.

The mass transit turnstile ads don’t bother me. All I care about at that moment, is that I don’t get a pike across my belly because the scanner diddn’t read my ticket.

The school bus radio programming geared for children crosses the line.

Chinese food containers and pizza boxes promoting an airline seems like a romantic connection. Could be cool.

Ads on airplane motion sickness bags, though, is just sick.

Ads on airport security checkpoint trays are the wrong place at the wrong time. I want a blank tray, preferably with no stray shadows, so I can confirm at a glance that I’ve scooped up everything in it.

The key quote comes at the end, from Pablo de Echevarria, senior vice president of marketing for clothing designer Perry Ellis:

“We’re always looking for new mediums (sic) and places that have not been used before – it’s an effort to get over the clutter,” Mr. de Echevarria said.

“But,” he added, “I guess we end up creating more clutter.”

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January 12, 2007
Apple’s iPhone is making waves for its name, a Cisco trademark since 2000. (For some perspective on how long ago that was, do you remember when everyone called it “Y2K?” Yeah, that was forever ago.) Here are two articles, the first from BBC News and the second from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

With digital technologies and functionalities converging, the difference between a cellular phone and a VoIP phone is fast disappearing. Indeed, it may be more a matter of location-based utility than function anyway. Anyway, I’d have thought a company with as much savvy as Apple might have avoided this fight, which they had to know was coming the instant someone approved the name.

And now for another branding story. Next Monday AT&T will start replacing the Cingular name with its own. Here’s the story, from the New York Times News Service via the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

They call it “de-branding,” which already sounds like a candidate for Tired Buzzword of 2007.

However, the new name will not be “AT&T Wireless” as one might expect, but “wireless service from AT&T.” That seems silly, but is perhaps the right defensive tactic. The last thing AT&T wants, is to appear like it’s a lot of glommed-together companies that could be broken up again.
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January 11, 2007
Penguins are hot this year. Here’s a story about how penguins have become the pitch-animal du jour, from The New York Times via the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One of my favorite nonsensical TV commercials was for a Japanese beer in the mid- to late-1970s. It featured real-life penguins and some early but masterful computer animation. The action was a ridiculously subtle flap-and-step dance that started with one penguin at one end of a line, to be taken up by the other penguins in the line. There were no words, just an irresistibly syncopated beat that built as the dance spread down the line. At the end, a voiceover delivered the tagline (in Japanese, so I never knew what brand of beer was being advertised). I saw it in the wild, on a UHF Asian-language TV station (remember UHF?)  in or near Los Angeles, and I have never seen it since. I can still hear the music in my head, though, and see those penguins, flapping and stepping. It was ahead of its time by about 25 years.
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January 10, 2007
More advertisers are turning to amateurs for fresh thinking. Here’s a look at consumer-created commercials and the Super Bowl, from MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I see a couple issues that were unexplored in the article.

First, the feedback loop is tightening to the vanishing point, which may not be a good thing for advertisers. Once you start down that path, it becomes hard to set and maintain a course for the brand. Marketing becomes focused on the immediate past instead of the foreseeable future. 

Second, I think this trend is, in part, a reaction to the distance that has grown between ad agencies and consumers. David Ogilvy said he used every product his agency represented; his work was, by definition, consumer-created. But it had the added strategic value of being created by an advertising professional. That’s a potent combination. I wonder how many of the copywriters and art directors working on, say, the Doritos account actually buy and eat lots and lots of Doritos products? I wonder how many store checks they make? Do they even know what a store check is?

When I’m in the grocery store, which is about twice a week, I still automatically straighten the shelf displays of some former packaged goods clients. I haven’t been paid by them in ten years or so, but I can’t help pulling boxes, bags, and jars forward on the shelves so they present nicely. Does that represent stupidity? Or commitment?

I think that if creative teams aren’t committed to the brand, the advertiser will find people who are. In years past, that meant finding a new ad agency. Now, it means turning to the consumers themselves, while – and this is the clever bit – the ad agency retains the business.
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January 9, 2007
One of the world’s oldest trademark disputes, between U.S. brewer Anheuser-Busch and Czech brewer Budvar over the name "Budweiser," has a new twist. Anheuser-Busch has agreed to distribute the Budvar Budweiser as part of its imported line. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Not that this distribution agreement has any bearing at all on the century-old trademark fight.

As far as branding is concerned, it’s a defensive strategy for both parties. The last thing Anheuser-Busch wants, is a competitive brewer distributing the super-premium Czech Bud. At the same time, the Czech brewer is wise to avoid too big a fight on its competitor’s home soil. So, not exactly win-win, but a collaborative effort to do no harm to either brand.
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January 8, 2007
The sales results are in for the Rozerem ads – those bizarre sleep-aid ads starring a beaver and Abraham Lincoln – and they’re not very good. Here’s the story, from Brandweek (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wonder whether it was the ad agency or the client (or a committee made up of both) that decided to bury the unique selling proposition of no addiction risk? That’s a reasonably powerful USP for a sleep drug. Instead, the creative was directed toward the ethereal USP of dreams, which is (a) meager and (b) not unique when one is talking about insomnia cures. If I suffered from chronic lack of sleep (something any parent experiences now and then) there are only two things I’d want to know about a potential solution: first, will it work, and second, will it hurt. “Will I have dreams” wouldn’t even be on the list.

The second big mistake occurred when the company shared its launch strategy with the press – and their competitors. Telling the world that they would not advertise until a certain date was a sheer gift to their competition. If an industrial spy had sneaked out that kind of competitive intelligence, criminal charges would have been filed. Instead, this damage was self-inflicted.

The third strike may lie in the product performance, although plenty of underperforming products gain market share.

There’s an old advertising axiom that says “if you can’t fix it, promote it.” In other words, if the product’s underperformance can’t be improved, then perhaps it should be embraced. And that could lead to a whole different strategy in which Rozerem is positioned as the just-right amount of treatment against heavy-duty, potentially addictive drugs. Equally creative advertising based on that strategy (Goldilocks, anyone?) could be, um, just what the doctor ordered.
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January 5, 2007
Banned buzzwords for the new year include “ROI,” “the big idea,” and even “buzz,” according to a survey of advertising and marketing executives. Here’s more, from Digit (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Most buzzwords begin their life as something useful, shorthand for a complex concept. For instance, “paradigm shift” could mean “fundamental changes to our business model in response to what we believe to be long-term or even permanent changes in our market.” Moving an existing retail business onto the web is a paradigm shift no matter what you call it; it affects all operational aspects. But, like peanut butter, the more a buzzword spreads the thinner it gets until it becomes virtually meaningless.

Speaking of paradigm shifts – er, fundamental changes – here’s a BBC News article about U.S. automakers and their struggle to remain relevant to consumers.
Advertising copywriter blog link

Old thinking: more automotive brands aimed at different income segments, a la GM. New thinking: fewer automotive brands aimed at different lifestyle/values segments, a la Scion/Toyota. Crossover thinking in one direction: Saturn, Hummer. Crossover thinking the other direction: Lexus.
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January 4, 2007
Brand characters and mascots are back, updated for the digital age. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In some cases, I think better brand ambassadors could be found in real life. Still, it’s interesting how brands brought their characters to (ad) life in different ways. Mr. Clean, for instance, went with a real person, where Burger King went with a campy live-action mascot. The last attempts to revive Colonel Sanders (as a cartoon) and the Quaker Oats guy (as a real-life statue) were pretty weak, though.

I wonder if Commander Whitehead can return for Schweppes? Probably not: that was a case of real-life working backwards into advertising, the charming and photogenic Edward Whitehead being president of Schweppes USA at the time. As David Ogilvy said at the time, “people are more interested in individual personalities than in corporations.”

And branding sits at the intersection of  corporation and individual personality.
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January 3, 2007
The Super Bowl is just a month or so away. Let the advertising hype begin! Here’s where things stand right now, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a San Diego-based creative, the one thing I’d like to see in the Super Bowl is a Chargers win. This town could use a boost.

That aside, and acknowledging the buzz factor, I don’t think a $2 million media buy for a 30-second TV spot is a good advertising investment unless it’s backed by a relevant and equally high-profile campaign. Yes, sustainability, one of my hobby horses.

Hey, advertisers: great creative is not just for the Super Bowl.
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January 2, 2007
My first post of the new year, and it’s a follow-up from an Ad Blog entry almost two years ago, about how retailers account for gift card sales. Here’s the story, from Dow Jones via my local San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This was confusing to me on January 7 2005, when I said that in my opinion (as a copywriter, not a retail analyst), gift card sales represented income in the quarter they were paid for but liabilities against future sales because you’ve essentially advanced income into a previous quarter. It’s some consolation to learn that retailers and their accountants are also confused about it.

Okay then, here’s a better story for my first entry of 2007. Ads for insurance companies are getting interesting, and it all may be because GEICO and AFLAC have proven that good creative sells insurance. Here’s the story, from The Wall Street Journal via the Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote (emphasis mine):

The once-staid unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. was pushing low-cost insurance and using the ad slogan: “15 minutes can save you 15 percent,” as far back as the early 1990s, urging people to telephone for price quotes. The Internet made that model more efficient, with quick quotes online, helping establish insurance sold by price, not by agents, as a commodity. In such an environment, brand image is the key differentiator among rival companies, and advertising is paramount.

This is why GEICO out-spent Coke in advertising in 2005. And grew and grew. Not bad for an brand in a commoditized market that wasn’t even a player just a few years ago.

Interesting industry note: I wouldn’t call the Martin Agency a “small firm.” That it should be characterized as such in The Wall Street Journal leads me to wonder – just a bit – if a little ad agency repositioning is going on. Perhaps, with more emerging niches and media options, the smart play for 2007 will be that smaller is better.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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