John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2008

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January 31 2008
Controversy-courting budget airline Ryanair is in the news for the second time in two days, this time for an ad featuring the president of France and his girlfriend. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

By the way, here’s the offense from yesterday, an ad featuring a lovely model in schoolgirl togs, also from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, both of these ads are kind of juvenile. However, in today’s case, it seems to me that French president Sarkozy and his current girlfriend are public figures. The fact that his girlfriend is a formerly well-compensated professional model is beside the point; the ad places her in the context of her relationship with the French president, a public relationship with a public figure. I see nothing wrong with the relationship or the ad. Other than, oh, a forced headline, mediocre art direction, and typography that makes pub-set ads look good.

Hey, Ryanair is a budget airline. It doesn’t want to come off as too slick. And it’s certainly stretching its media dollars, essentially placing two 200x150 pixel ads plus full columns of brand-related commentary on the BBC News website. That’s actually very slick.
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January 30 2008
One more article about Super Bowl advertising, this time from The Record (NJ) via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Continuing from the 28th, I think the Super Bowl offers a model for the evolution of mass media channels. More ads are integrated with web-based interactive components. More companies are taking a multi-layered approach, using the Super Bowl for top-level branding and flushing out prospective customers, and the web or an offline offer to connect with those prospective customers on a one-on-one level.

I just have to comment, though, on ad critic Barbara Lippert’s final line: ... people are basically watching for cleavage and they always will.

Yeah, well, there’s a difference between what people may be watching for, and what they will connect with. Cleavage will get you five seconds of attention. But emotional resonance will get you through the year.
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January 29 2008
There could be a chill coming down on user-generated advertising, and it could all hinge on the outcome of a case now in court that pits Subway against Quiznos. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via Yahoo! Finance:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think that instigating irresponsibility is itself irresponsible. And it points out a huge flaw in the whole user-generated advertising concept: that very often, amateurs have no idea when they’ve crossed the line. They’re seeking one-shot fame, not working on behalf of a client in a long-term relationship.

Actually, that’s the criticism often leveled against the kinds of ads that win advertising awards, but that’s, um, beside the point. Yeah.

For what it’s worth, and as a professional creative, here’s what I think is the key. This contest differed from others seeking home-made ads in that one company wanted to generate ads – and buzz – that specifically targeted a single competitor. I think the setting of those parameters demanded compliance with Lanham, and probably someone, a professional someone, should have put the brakes on it before it got out. After all, you can’t expect non-professionals to follow established norms of professional conduct; that’s part of why you tap into that resource.

Here’s an actual quote:

Mr. Rothstein, the lawyer for Quiznos, said the consumer videos should not cause concern under the Lanham Act anyway because that law requires there to be an element of deception in the ad, and, he said, “there can’t be an element of deception if everyone knows the videos were created by consumers for the sake of entering a contest.”

That’s like saying there can’t be an element of deception if everyone knows a commercial was created by an ad agency for the sake of gaining market share for the advertiser.

Consumer-generated ads = good idea. Setting up a contest = good idea. Siccing amateurs on a competitor and expecting to dodge responsibility because the actual creative wasn’t done in-house = bad idea..
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January 28 2008
Just as trendspotting and trendsetting theories have reached (ahem) a tipping point, along comes someone to upset the apple cart with the old-school observation that mass media exposure may be essential to triggering trends. Here’s the story, from Fast Company:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is great reading. In a way, I agree with both Gladwell and Watts. Any advertising or marketing theory can only reflect a slice of an historical event. Going forward, reality is too complex and nonlinear to be contained or predictable

Trends are largely random, although the realm of probabilities is a small subset of all possibilities. And, the tipping point is less a single point as it is an accumulation across multiple points. That’s what makes consistent branding and advertising essential in increasing the probability of a lucky strike. It’s not about any single ad or medium or channel; it’s about the cumulative effect of an ad campaign.

It’s an old, old adage, but luck favors the prepared.
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January 26 2008
I just had to point out this one, about Britain’s search for a national motto, from the New York Times News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a well-intentioned plan. Unfortunately, I think the time for putting a national identity into words is long past. It’s like defining, say, MySpace. The window of opportunity was at the beginning, when it was small and focused. As it grew more diverse, the ability to hang the entire unwieldy community on a single catchphrase was lost; any attempt to do so would have meant compromising or ignoring huge segments of the population.

Still, there’s something to be said for uniting the people, even if it is in poking fun at themselves and their government and the very idea of a national slogan (a word of Gaelic origin, by the way).
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January 25 2008
A lightweight story to ease into the weekend, about the demise of the stick antenna on cars, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

I guess this is the end of the promotional antenna ball, which is a bit sad. When I was growing up, our truck always had a bright orange Union 76 antenna ball on it. And, even now, my wife relies on her antenna decoration to distinguish her silver-gray compact sedan from the sea of other silver-gray compact sedans.

Without an antenna on the front fender, how will I teach my kids how to parallel park ten years from now? The presence of an antenna mast, real or imaginary, is how I can parallel park my car in a space not much larger than the car itself. (You come up even with the car in front, then back fairly deep into the parking space. When the spot where a front fender-mounted antenna mast would be lined up with the other car’s back bumper, you put your steering wheel hard over and pivot right in. Works every time.) It’s not a skill that comes into play very often in the suburbs of San Diego, but when it does, it’s impressive.

Ten years from now, the fender-mounted stick antenna will have past out of our collective memory. Promotional antenna balls will become vintage collectibles, complete with price guides. My wife will be losing her car in parking lots all over San Diego. And me? I’ll be stuck teaching parallel parking without a crutch, or even a paddle.
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January 24 2008
This sounds like a great Super Bowl commercial, offering no sound and a new twist on an old joke. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article headline, unfortunately, misses the point: more than deaf people will get this ad. But there are a few more things I’d like to call attention to.

First, it grabs attention. 60 seconds of dead air on the Super Bowl is going to wake people up. And, human senses being what they are, the lack of audio will probably drive people to focus on the video, and that brings us to the second point: that the ad tells a story. That’s innately involving. It might not be selling something throughout, but the story is why people will be intrigued.

It’s worth pointing out that the ad runs 60 seconds, or twice as long as the typical TV commercial. Like I’ve long said, 30 seconds may not be long enough to actually sell anything. In this case, the objective is less to sell PepsiCo’s products and more to sell the idea that the company is both cool and diverse. Or diverse and cool. As a corporate set-piece, it’s terrific.

Finally, the ad concept came, not from the ad agency, but from a company employee. Here, the cool thing was that management recognized a good idea, as did the ad agency, which went on to produce the spot.

Cool stuff!
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January 23 2008
Here’s a great look at the Super Bowl as a marketing vehicle, from the folks at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, via Knowledge@Wharton (PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are a few new factors in the big game ad environment this year. The writer’s strike, for instance, has led to the dominance of unscripted entertainment, like sporting events. The recession (if we’re in one, which seems a point of debate among academics who aren’t buying groceries and health insurance) drove down consumer holiday spending, leading to tightened budgets and expanded opportunities for those who grab market share while market share is potentially cheap. And, we’re in an election year, so a chunk of commercial bandwidth has been taken up by political candidates – who, as the article points out, are unlikely to crash the Super Bowl regardless of budget.

The pre- and post-game environment is larger now, and is likely to continue growing. So, score a hit with an ad on game day, and you’ll likely have an advertising asset that could carry you through the year.
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January 22 2008
Coming soon to online ads and games: you. Here’s the story about a start-up company that allows people to create virtual 3-dimensional clones with just three still photos, from The Orange County Register (CA) via the (SC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Pretty far-out stuff – and the blurring of content, creator, and audience just gets more blurred. In this case, an advertiser would be able to sell to you, using you. And who else would be more believable? This gets even more potentially lucrative when you consider that people would have to opt into the whole thing.
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January 21 2008
The memory of Martin Luther King Jr. is being honored today by schools and government offices closing down, politicians dipping their hands into his blood for social anointment, and retailers having sales. Is that the extent of his legacy? Here’s the story from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Call me naïve, but I don’t think the guy wrote “I have a dream ...” to be used as a headline for a mattress sale. Yeah, it was a good line. But it was also a challenge to the status quo and a call for action. Here’s the text of the entire speech, from Stanford University:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Historians and other academics will always complain that pop culture simplifies its icons past any real meaning. Like brands, they have positioning statements. George Washington = Father of Our Country. Abraham Lincoln = Saved the Union, Freed the Slaves. Never mind that often the reality is complex enough to render the positioning statement false; those popular oversimplifications give everyone a common point of reference.

I would argue that as any icon, historic or commercial, broadens its reach, those reaches will become increasingly shallow. That’s what makes branding a large company with several product lines an exercise in futility and vacuous generic slogans.
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January 18 2008
I’ll wrap up this week’s auto thread and recession thread at one go. Here’s a story from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) about GM and Toyota making plans to fight the Tata Nano, an import from India that happens to be the world’s cheapest production car:
Advertising copywriter blog link

$2,500 for a new car is darn cheap. But only if it’s a good car. See, the challenge in developing nations is to build a car people can afford. That’s a different challenge than the one faced in developed countries, where there’s a well-established inventory of used cars. Whether an American consumer would buy a brand-new Tata Nano or a ten-year-old Mazda comes down to factors beyond price. So, “the cheapest new car you can buy” isn’t really a tenable positioning statement with which to expand into developed automotive markets, any more than “the only new car you can buy” would have worked for the Trabant. Sometimes, a marketing position is relative, as is the relevance of that position to the market.
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January 17 2008
Hey, there’s something new to blame for poor retail sales and ineffective advertising: inflation. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Gosh, do I really get to say that I called it over three years ago, on November 11 2004? Yes, it looks that way. Here’s what I said:

As incomes rise, service costs rise, prices rise, and incomes have to rise again to keep up. Simple. But, in our lifetime, taxation and rate increases were successfully branded as “bad.” Which leaves more organizations looking for ways to make up the difference by becoming an advertising medium.

Look for more and more previously taxpayer-supported public facilities to be turned into advertising opportunities. And, look for more clutter in the ad environment. Sponsorships may become the advertising medium du jour for 2008.

On the other hand, here’s an upbeat note. It’s about HP beating out Dell in worldwide PC sales, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So, for now, the two biggest brands in PCs are American: HP and Dell, with Apple also occupying a sizeable niche. However, there’s little security there. Korea-based Acer, China-based Lenovo, and Japan-based Toshiba all have solid footholds. And, in the PC market, that slice of the pie owned by “others” is almost entirely occupied by China-based suppliers, some with brands and some without.
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January 16 2008
Continuing the automotive thread from yesterday, here’s another BBC News story about Korean automaker Hyundai and its upcoming entry in the American luxury car market:
Advertising copywriter blog link

People seem to have forgotten that Hyundai has always used design as a differentiating element. Some of its first econoboxes in the U.S. market were styled by Italian design house Pininfarina, the same folks who do Maseratis and Ferraris.

Despite Hyundai’s huge growth recently, it seems like the potential for more growth is just getting started. And the timing for a reasonably priced upmarket sedan is right on, with the economy on the downswing and Chinese automakers poised to cannonball into the entry-level end of the market. There are a lot of people who, at the end of their BMW or Lexus lease, would leap into a car with the same level of posh and presence at a more-affordable price. I think the next step isn’t a marketing battle; it’s a lending/leasing fight. If Hyundai can make the numbers, the numbers will make them.
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January 15 2008
American automaker Ford is struggling, Chrysler is on the ropes (again), and now the Chinese are seriously coming. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What I find interesting, is the caution with which the Chinese automakers are entering the U.S. market. The consumer environment has changed to the point that sub-par products can’t even be used as cannon fodder to gain a foothold in a market segment. An early form of that environment killed the Yugo, since it was perceived, and quickly, that a better choice was to buy a used car. Today, that perception would happen almost instantly.

I’m reminded of the old aphorism: What’s the quickest way to kill a bad product? Good advertising. Today, it doesn’t take any advertising to kill a bad product; the customers are empowered enough to do the job themselves.
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January 14 2008
A bit more about intellectual property and usage rights, continuing and expanding the story about Virgin using in an ad a personal photo plucked from a photo-sharing website (see my Ad Blog entry for October 10 2007), from The Washington Post (DC) via South Coast Today (New Bedford, MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is so widespread, there’s a term for it: photonapping.

I think it’s creatively lame to contrive authenticity simply by slapping a smart-alecky line on an allegedly candid photo. “Authentic” isn’t a look; it’s a relationship with the customer. That’s the power behind viral marketing (which is, itself, a recent term for a tactic as old as advertising itself). The relationship grows not because of external forces (like, oh, ads), but through the relationship itself, and the marketing simply extends, engagingly, what’s already there.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to be snarky, which is why this stuff is likely to continue for a while.
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January 11 2008
Well, the retailers’ holiday sales figures are in and they’re not good. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via Yahoo! Finance:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The drop stretched from upper-end (Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom) to middle-America (Target and Kohl’s). The only stores that posted sales increases were deep discounters like Wal-Mart and Costco. Even people who would otherwise be considered niche markets passed by their usual specialty shops on their way to Wal-Mart.
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January 10 2008
This is a good article about trend-spotting and cool-watching, from the Los Angeles Times via The Morning News (Bentonville, AR):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Putting all this in perspective is this notable quote:

“Market research and marketing in general does a lot to actually ‘create’ the trends that it pretends to discover and absorb,” says William Mazzarella, an anthropology professor at University of Chicago who studies consumerism. “Marketing helps to organize more or less embryonic and fluid trends, giving them a kind of fixity and firmness of outline – in the shape of branded meanings – that they would otherwise not have.”

So the observer effect is in full force in marketing as in any other field. One can create a trend by the mere act of identifying it.

Still, however indefinable the source, trends in motion are real and have far-reaching effects on the economy – and those who would capitalize on it, including advertisers and advertising creatives.
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January 9 2008
Hey, Xerox is rebranding. The most visible part of its new strategy? A new logo. Yup. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (Athens, Greece):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yeah, well, anyone can rationalize almost any logo, which is what a lot of this sounds like. (When I hear someone rabbiting on about how an established logo failed to lend itself to a so-called new media landscape, I immediately think the fix was in for the designers.)

Also, I’m skeptical about the whole brand valuation comparison shtick, especially since the chosen benchmark, Canon, plays in  the industrial/commercial and the consumer markets while the Xerox brand is, at this point, pretty irrelevant to consumers. See, you can’t just tot up the product launches, call it innovation, and claim a corporate re-birth. The brand isn’t about innovation, it’s about market relevance, which comes down to personal relevance. Innovation can feed relevance, and, in a perfect corporation, relevance can feed innovation. But you can’t confuse the two.

Anyway, the main thing is what the company does to make its brand more relevant to real-world people with real-life problems. Because actions not only speak louder than words, they speak louder than logos.
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January 8 2008
I have two related stories today. The first, from Adweek, looks at the record-setting turnover in agency-client relationships in 2007. The next, from CRM Today (Athens, Greece), examines rising customer expectations of the service they receive:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

So this whole churn issue isn’t confined to advertising agencies. It’s everywhere.

Some of this is caused by a corporate tendency to focus on the razzle-dazzle work of attracting new business, rather than the prosaic work of maintaining existing business. There are no awards handed out for customer retention.

Some of this could be (dare one say it) a recession, with companies frantically seeking out ways to maintain the growth they promised shareholders, growth that is simply no longer possible in a slowing economy.

But some of this also could be part and parcel with larger – and more subtle – changes in the social fabric. It was just a year ago that Time magazine picked, as their Person of the Year, you. Such self-centeredness has got to have its effects, one of which is likely a concurrent raising of what one expects from others and lowering of what one expects to do for others.
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January 7 2008
It looks like Sony and its Blu-Ray format has all but won the high-definition DVD format war. Here’s the article, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

When I last looked at this issue, on June 12 2007, I wondered if Sony had learned from its failure to make Betamax the standard videotape format. It looks like they did, and successfully applied the lessons in this format battle.
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January 5 2008
Yes, I’m working at least part of this rainy Saturday. And I found this article, about niche social networking sites, in my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

So what’s happening here supports what I’ve always said about the value of social networking sites to advertisers: that once social networks like MySpace got huge they became throwbacks to old-form mass media, and the keys to creating a real relationship were relevance and focus. (See my Ad Blog entries for November 7 2007, July 13 2007, October 26 and 29 2006, July 18 2006, and June 23 2006 – that’s 18 months ago – for more.)

But there’s also evidence that seems to contradict what I’ve long said about owning the channel. The Freestyle video competition, which attracted only 50 entries a month on its own website, attracted about ten times that number when it was moved to an existing targeted social networking site. Quantitatively, that’s a big difference; what we don’t know, though, is how relevant the submissions were and how brand-involved the submitters were. See, if you ran this promotion on MySpace, you’d get 100 times the entries, but the quality of the relationship would go down. That would be okay in a campaign in which the goals were broad exposure and hook-ups, but not in a campaign aimed at sustaining or increasing brand loyalty.

And, long-term, I still see tremendous value to the brand in creating and owning its own channel, and viewing niche media opportunities as exactly that: media opps.
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January 4 2008
This article, from The Independent (UK), looks at the history of some iconic logos, including the aforementioned Lacoste:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, let’s look at who created these iconic logos. McDonald’s golden arches? The company founder, along with an engineer and sign-maker. Ferrari’s prancing horse? A commemoration of a WWI fighter pilot and minor Italian noble. Apple’s apple? A graphic designer. Nike’s swoosh? A graphic design student. Lacoste’s crocodile? A friend of co-founder Rene Lacoste. Chanel’s interlocked Cs? The inimitable Coco Chanel.

So, out of the six iconic logos featured, designers created half of them. The other half happened almost by accident.

Or not. Because one key to the success of a logo, like an ad, is repetition.
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January 3 2008
I have two stories today. The first is a quickie, from Reuters (UK) about a small British dental practice winning a trademark infringement lawsuit filed against them by iconic fashion brand Lacoste:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Lacoste can hardly trademark the crocodile. Looking at the dentists’ logo, although it’s similar, I doubt there would be confusion. Just off the top of my head, and disregarding typography, the dentists’ logo seems more cartoon-like and monochromatic, seems to have a more-dimensional perspective on the animal, and emphasizes large white teeth in a closed mouth rather than open jaws. The effect is completely different.

I’ve talked about Lacoste before, on December 9 2003 and March 26 2004, both times referring to trademark battles over the crocodile logo. It occurs to me that my kids’ elementary school mascot is an alligator (they are “Gage Gators”), which looks sort of kind of close to the Lacoste logo. Except it’s an gator, not a croc.

Next up I have this story, from Bloomberg News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) about the #1-selling car brand in the U.S.:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, if you count Scion sales as part of Toyota, then Toyota outsold Chevrolet. If you don’t count Scion sales, then Chevrolet is the top-selling automotive brand in the U.S. Now, to me, this seems like fiddling the numbers: Scion is its own brand and should be counted separately, as Geo should have been from Chevrolet.

But the big thing here that’s gone uncommented, is that Toyota is laying claim to the #1 spot at all. It wasn’t long ago that Toyota tried to keep a low corporate profile, focusing on delivering superior products instead of crowing about sales figures. I wonder if it’s coincidence that, just about the time Toyota starts to charge ahead with a higher corporate profile, the products themselves start slipping in quality reports and customer satisfaction.
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January 2 2008
Well, here it is, my first post of 2008, and it’s a continuation from my last post of 2007, about clichés. Only, in the interests of equal time, it’s not about words. It’s about design. Fender vents have emerged as the design element du jour on today’s cars, according to this story from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the explanation for the rise of silly fender vents and doodads is interesting: that it’s a result of current design leaving a large blank spot between the front wheel well and leading door edge. I guess it’s too much work to always design cars as pieces of moving sculpture, instead of bare walls to be decorated.

Be sure to go to the second page, where there’s a nice run-down of automotive design clichés by decade. As a long-time fan of car design, I’d add a few. For instance, the 1950s were also a time of aeronautical elements, like propellers and jets, which turned up in grilles, taillight fittings, and dashboards. The article missed the 1960s, which seemed to be the era of the big flat greenhouse, possibly epitomized by the “dog-leg” A-pillar and Mercury’s “Breezeway” roofline. One thing I especially like about cars from the 1960s, are the architectural influences. Also missed (perhaps as its own comment through omission) were the 1980s, an era of rectilinear design, metallic paint, and color-coordinated hardware.
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Backwards in time to December 2007

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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