John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2009

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January 30 2009
Oh my. I read in the Wall Street Journal this morning that Dell plans to develop and sell smartphones, in competition with Apple and apparently several other computer brands. Here’s the story:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Did no one learn anything from the Gateway flat-screen TV debacle? At least in that case, there was a retail channel already established, plus existing and advantageous relationships with component makers. Dell’s foray into smartphones requires it to design a functional piece of technology that delivers a relevant advantage over existing products and services, integrate it with existing carrier networks, establish a retail channel, and successfully market it to a group of consumers that has already seen the first serious iPhone competitor (the Blackberry Storm) stumble right out of the gate.

I think this whole thing sounds like an internal design and capabilities exercise. After all, netbooks and smartphones look to be close to convergence, so examining how a smartphone would fit into a PC company’s product line is a worthwhile activity. The end result, though, might be a next-generation netbook rather than a me-too smartphone.
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January 29 2009
More pre-game buzz about Super Bowl advertising, this time from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While the audience might be looking for entertainment, the advertisers should be looking for results. The Super Bowl’s reach ought to make for cost-effective advertising, but that becomes less so when the broadcast version of the game devolves into an advertising showcase. Instead of a convergence between the event and the ads supporting it, there’s an increasing divergence. For many advertisers, the media opportunity will be squandered, and that would be the biggest fumble of the game.
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January 28 2009
The Super Bowl is right around the corner. What should the audience expect from advertisers? Here are some predictions, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The sheer size of the Super Bowl audience may well make even the full-priced media buys a relative bargain (even more so for those last couple slots being sold at a discount). Unfortunately, it’s such a big advertising event that the curtains have been ripped aside, injecting a new communication element into the communication process. A TV commercial placed during the Super Bowl isn’t just an ad, it’s a Super Bowl ad, and everyone knows what it cost and who developed it and all those things that are comfortably behind the curtain the rest of the time. That’s why such a buy doesn’t make sense for the Detroit automakers, even if it might make perfect sense on a cost-per-thousand basis.

So the media message not only contributes to (or detracts from) the advertising message, in this case what the medium says can actually trump what the ad says. I’m reminded of something William Bernbach said: “Execution isn’t a vehicle for delivering a selling message. It is a selling message.”
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January 27 2009
I have two quickies today. First is this brief article from PC Advisor via PC World that puts the world’s Internet population at a cool one billion. Here are all the numbers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Not surprisingly, Internet use follows population and access to technology, so China is sits at #1. The U.S. is a close second at nearly three times the third-most-connected nation, Japan.

Somewhat related is this story from today’s WebProNews, about a regional news media company that’s suing a national news media company for linking a locally focused website to its content:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Rather than get into a lengthy (and pricey) court battle, the New York Times backed down and agreed not to serve up any snippets from or links to the regional company’s content. And that struck the author of the article as self-defeating given the billion people now online. Which it may be.

However, I can see the smaller media company’s position. Granted, the links raise its profile and traffic, but it hasn’t been shown that they enhance its brand or drive traffic to its advertisers. The smaller media property just becomes assimilated into the larger company’s content offerings, where that re-publisher can make money off the content by selling localized ads in direct competition with the smaller original publisher. Remember the go-go 1990s, when so-called smart business was all about using “Somebody Else’s Money?” This is about using Somebody Else’s Content.

The main point I’d like to make, though, is that this lunacy and chaos is what happens when organizations launch websites without having a coherent web strategy. If gaining backlinks wasn’t part of the strategy, why implement a feed? If the goal was to build up the site as a gated destination, then why not market it as such? It seems to me that no one at the regional company understood either the medium or the plan (if there was one). And that is where the thing went wrong, right at the start.
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January 26 2009
At a time when all the retail news seems bad and economic predictions call for worse to come, McDonald’s plans to expand by 1,000 stores. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, granted the economic downturn has worked in McDonald’s favor. But there’s more to it than that, given that their wholesale food and supply costs keep going up. And also, the downturn hasn’t lifted all the cheap eats, just a select few. Why? Branding.

The biggest difference between a McDonald’s 99-cent menu item and another fast food chain’s 99-cent menu item is the brand behind it. That means the entire customer experience, from clean restrooms and brightly lit tables to fast drive-through service. All those tangible expressions of the brand are things McDonald’s almost always gets right. And now, when times are hard and people are thinking a lot harder about where they want to spend a dollar, those things are paying off big time.

I think brand development people spend too much time on logos in proportion to the amount of time they spend on their clients’ floors. Because all too often, what’s needed isn’t a new graphic identity. It’s a renewed commitment to customer service.
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January 21 2009
Continuing from yesterday’s entry about Google ... not everything Google does turns out right. Like its ill-fated foray into newspaper print advertising. Here’s the story, from Yahoo! Tech News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is – or was – a great example of a solution in search of a market. Oh, the problem existed, all right: newspaper publishers had excess space inventory and declining ad revenues, and businesses had advertising media needs. Google thought it had developed the missing piece to bring those parties together. Unfortunately, it never panned out that way, partly because media-savvy enterprises already had media relationships that they could lean on to get the pricing they wanted without an auction, and media-ignorant enterprises had to be convinced that the solution had value in the first place.

I think this venture could have been a success, had it been properly, um, advertised.
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January 20 2009
I’d call this micro-branding, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s being done by one of the world’s top brand behemoths. Google has rolled out yet another new favicon. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Obviously, Google’s frequent changes to its brand iconography hasn’t hurt it, and many would argue that a universal and unchanging icon locks a company into a visual language that can’t change with the times. Besides which, Google’s overarching brand message is one of intelligent whimsy, something that shines through with its many variations on its own logotype. The blue G favicon always struck me as being too corporate anyway, and out of alignment with the Google brand.  This new one works a lot better at translating the brand look and feel to the 16x16 pixel space.
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January 16 2009
On the surface, the recession seems to be striking everyone about equally. But if you scratch that surface, you find some significant outliers, and one of them relates to age. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

The numbers, in a nutshell: in a universe with an overall unemployment rate of 7.2%, nearly 20% of teenage workers are unemployed and 11% of workers under the age of 29 are unemployed. What that means, is that a lot of economically sensitive industries – advertising is one of them, long with related fields like publishing and media – are about to lose an entire generation of talent. We can’t afford this loss, not at a time when the world of communication is changing so rapidly.
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January 15 2009
What to do in a recession? Advertise! No, wait, there’s ample support for this approach, and here to tell you more about it is Sharan Jagpal, Ph.D, who wrote a book about it. Here’s the story, from the The Fort Morgan Times (Fort Morgan, CO):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote: “Marketing can be the lifeblood of the corporation.  Yeah!

The article brings out some outstanding points. First, that small changes can make large differences in the bottom line. I think this is especially true in ad copy, where slight changes in nuance can dramatically increase the emotional resonance and connection with the prospective customer.

Second, that what needs to be viewed as competition has widened. I have this conversation with clients all the time: you’re not just in competition with direct competitors; you’r in competition with a host of other ways to spend money, including many options outside your industry. And, more and more, inertia is becoming a powerful competitor as people choose to do nothing, to wait and see, to wait for prices to come down or their investments to go up.

I think that a key ingredient in a successful ad is communicating a sense of urgency. Otherwise, people will simply choose to not act.
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January 14 2009
The presidential inauguration next week will come off without corporate sponsors, making it a refreshingly honest major media event these days. Still, marketers are trying to get a little bounce out of it, as reported in USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Obama is a hot property right now, hotter than Clinton or Reagan were and quite probably exceeding the Kennedy mystique.  So it’s no surprise that marketers want to make a connection between their brands, products, and services, and what is being heralded as the dawn of a new hope. With official sponsorship taken away, the field is open for guerrilla marketing techniques, like Ikea’s hypothetically modified replica of the Oval Office. Never mind the Super Bowl; that’s just advertising. Old-hat stuff. The inauguration and the festivities surrounding it, because of the overt rejection of commercialization, promise a stage for work far more innovative and interesting and fun.
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January 13 2009
Meanwhile, like the automakers, retailers are struggling to survive. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key takeaway: “Established brands might be able to survive a downturn, but it is ‘no surprise’ that some specialist, independent stores are in difficulty. Uh-oh. Those that lived by the niche are, in many cases, dying by the niche. Meanwhile, broad-based iconic brands stand ready to not only weather the storm, but to gain market share from failed competitors through sheer dint of survival.

Even as store brands rise in popularity, we’re still talking about branding, as in building a store brand as a counterpoint to established brands. It’s not enough to slap a store label on a product and price it cheaper; the store’s brand has to stand for something, and the product has to stand for something (in most cases, “high value”). Branding, as both a reflection and execution of meaningful differentiation, has never been more important.
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January 12 2009
Whatever happens in the auto industry, it’s clear that we’re living through what could be a massive sea change. Here’s a look at how GM is facing the crisis, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a case of strong brands, weak sales, and a lack of relevance in a changing market. Everyone keeps harping on the the changing trend being somehow missed by Detroit. Yeah, that’s why in the last couple years Toyota and Nissan both rolled out larger full-sized trucks, why Mercedes Benz and Audi both rolled out behemoth SUVs, and, on the flip side, why GM sold the electric EV1 and Flex-Fuel vehicles. No, the rapidity of change might have been predicted, but to lose out on highly profitable sales to go green would have had the shareholders screaming for blood.

At any rate, this is a topic that’s going to turn up in future marketing and management case studies, and it’s interesting to watch the tactics unfold.
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January 9 2009
Research in Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry couldn’t have a better pitchman: president-elect Barack Obama. Even better, his connection to the brand is authentic, and BlackBerry pays nothing for his endorsement. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The endorsement, while genuine and relevant, is not an advertising tactic, at least from the BlackBerry side. But this points up one of the overlooked strengths of endorsement deals: in an ideal relationship, both brands benefit. The Obama campaign definitely made hay out of his BlackBerry use; indeed, it was an essential part of his personal and political branding. It didn’t just differentiate him; it said “connected” and “relevant” and “current,” all of which are powerful tags when applied to a political campaign, or a politician. It’s even arguable who got more out of the relationship, another sign that it’s a good one. Too good to last, though, due to unnamed “legal and security concerns.”
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January 7 2009
Holiday retail results are coming in, and, despite heavily managed expectations, they are in many cases worse than expected. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Discounters fared better than luxury stores, some of which had store-to-store sales declines of 25% or more from the previous year. But even Walmart reported lower sales than projected in a selling environment that was the worst in 40 years. Teen-oriented retailers, previously thought to be a bright spot in holiday sales, fell double digits, as parents tightened the purse strings.

The news about the luxury retailers is interesting. I think the true luxury market is small and remains quite stable. What deluded the upscale retailers and their analysts, was the rise of aspirational shopping by customer groups that otherwise had little in common with the true luxury crowd. When the wanna-bes were forced to cut back, those retailers were faced with the consequences of over-expansion to serve an aspirational market that didn’t really have the financial clout to support the stores.
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January 6 2009
Just a quickie to point out one line from this story from BBC News, about the death of Waterford and Wedgwood, two upscale brands in a downmarket economy:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The key line, from a brand consultant: “Wedgwood and Waterford have become big names rather than big brands, in that it is not clear what they stand for.

I completely agree. They never defined what made them relevant, and without relevance a famous name does not a brand make. Or even maintain.
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January 5 2009
French public television is going ad-free for 2009, in a mostly political effort, ostensibly to increase program quality. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Sure, that’s one way to ensure top-notch programming: remove a major source of funding for creative productions. Yeah, right.

Besides which, there are plenty of non-state-run, commercial alternatives, which will happily take the ads and produce the programming that the masses want. Which is why the French government wants to offset its assured losses by raising taxes on ads on all those other networks, as well as on ISPs and mobile phone companies. It’s an elitist sort of taxation that hits the masses harder than the snobs.

Best case scenario: government funding kicks in as the dreary economy causes advertising revenue to fall, giving rise to a well-financed broadcasting renaissance. Hey, it’s happened before in the arts.

The taxation issue aside, I’ll be interested to see if quality does go up, or if those four state-run channels will simply vanish into (a) the intellectual fringe or (b) the community access fringe. Or, the worst option for freedom of expression: (c) a Big Brother-ish form of governmental “communication.”
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January 3 2009
Retailers are turning to desperate discounts to get foot traffic and clear out excess inventory. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I still come back to what I’ve long harped on, that the goal of marketing isn’t merely sales but profitable sales.

Loss leaders are a fine, time-tested strategy. But they aren’t effective if the incremental sales don’t happen, and evidence is mounting that they don’t any more. (Besides which, a loss leader for an auto dealership is a tactic for the service department – say, a low-priced oil change or a free brake inspection – not the sales floor; after all, how many cars can a person buy? )

On the flip side, clearing out excess inventory is an important part of managing the organization’s cash flow, and there are more costs to holding inventory than that of the goods. However, without a solid mechanism in place to capture repeat business, any loss will remain a hard loss as opposed to transforming into a marketing investment. That’s why I question the knee-jerk blowouts that are happening with no follow-up or follow-through.

Granted, follow-up is easier and cheaper for online retailers, and price shoppers aren’t exactly the best people to have on a mailing list. But at least you should salvage the opportunity to start bringing those first-time or price-sensitive shoppers into your brand fold.

Another interesting development, is the redemption of the word “free,” a word that has been on the outs with mainstream marketers. Suddenly, it’s not just for snake-oil purveyors; “free” has gone legitimate and even upscale.
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January 2 2009
How does 2009 look for brands and branding? I have two articles for you today. First, Brandweek looks at five major categories of branded goods (automotive, beverages, entertainment, packaged goods, and telecommunications) and the effects of the new economy on each. Second, I have an Associated Press pick-up on that looks at brands that are either disappearing or on the brink of extinction:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Brands are likely to remain relevant no matter how abysmally the economy craters. After all, one of the major retail winners from the otherwise lackluster holiday shopping season was Apple, despite heavy competition from high-value alternatives. And, branding is one of the more-effective ways of differentiating a product or service from competitive products and services, including the increasingly popular no-sale option.

There can be no doubt that the position du jour is “value,” no matter how far one has to stretch to make the claim. The problem is, once consumers get used to doing the math, I think they’ll become less likely to be swayed by an argument that over-reaches. And that point has probably already been reached, during the holiday shopping season. So, even as it’s being reported, the news may be lagging actual events in the marketplace.
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