John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2010

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January 27 2010
Hey, it’s lame city tourism slogan time again! Only this time, the city is my own San Diego, which makes it worse. Here’s one local journalist’s point of view, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I was not involved in any way with either campaign, although a long time ago I did work on some projects for the San Diego Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

That said, it’s a whole lot easier to criticize than to create, obviously, and focus group testing was probably mandated as part of ConVis’ due diligence. Although tripling the ad budget to $10 million to drop from $7.9 billion in tourism receipts to $7 billion sounds like a bad deal, the reality is that most destinations suffered far bigger drops in the same time period. It’s hard to argue that the tourism campaign didn’t successfully defend market share. In fact, given the state of discounting, those revenues probably represent an increase in share.

Finally, it’s unfair to lump a $10 million consumer campaign aimed at audiences outside San Diego with a $25,000 trade campaign aimed at local businesses and organizations.

The slogans, however, have been focus-grouped to death. Whether you pick “Happy Happens,” “Have It All Meetings,” or “Keep It In San Diego,” you probably won’t remember it, let alone associate it with what’s special about San Diego to the target audience. They’re the kinds of word-shit that committees choose: defensible in PowerPoint, inoffensive, and forgettable.

San Diego has a lot to offer: beautiful beaches, lovely weather, vibrant and diverse communities, respectable dining, world-class family attractions, great meeting and event facilities, and rooms at just about every price point. It should be an easy sale. And it would be, but for the politics of committees and public opinion.
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January 26 2010
Today’s entry is somewhat related to the entries late last week, about the Supreme Court ruling on political advertising and whether it sounds a death knell to independent thinking among voters. A conservative, anti-choice organization has created a TV spot for the Super Bowl, and now people are up in arms as to whether it’s acceptable for a Super Bowl ad to promote a sociopolitical point of view. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, all this pre-game hype and press buzz is being orchestrated by the advertiser. And it’s working.

In fact, it’s working far, far better than I expect the ad itself would have. The ad appears cagily written to dodge the issues and soothe the hackles. The result is ad creative that’s bland and forgettable, just another biographical puff piece. It will sway no one, it will move no one, it will make no one change his or her mind about the issue. It won’t even prompt a serious post-game discussion and exchange of views. Without the pre-game buzz, it would have vanished without a trace.

Which, in turn, raises another major issue: whether this was a good use of several million dollars.
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January 22 2010
Today I have a follow-up to yesterday’s entry about the recent Supreme Court ruling that gives corporations the same political campaign spending protection under the First Amendment that individuals enjoy. Here’s some day-after analysis, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

All these hypothetical evils could, of course, happen. But they won’t.

Now, I am not a lawyer, nor am I a judicial or legislative analyst. But I am a long-time advertising professional, and the issue is about corporate advertising. And, in the real world, corporate political advertising carries more risk than reward. One of the last things a corporation wants to do, is to be perceived as unduly influencing what should be a public debate. See, the whole American “Don’t Tread On Me” attitude applies equally to kings and corporations. Independence is the very keystone of our birthright.

In the real world it pays for corporations to be as politically neutral as possible. This issue has been in the forefront in San Diego for some time. A hotel owner here quietly supported Proposition 8 with a hefty donation – as an individual, mind you, not as a corporation – and found himself publicly outed as a Prop 8 supporter. His hotel is still facing backlash in the form of reduced bookings, protests, and erratic spikes of negative buzz, and this in a politically conservative city. Key lesson here: in expressing his personal belief, this guy sided with the majority, and still lost business as a result of mere political involvement.

As a corporate advertiser or sponsor, you can find yourself on the right side of an issue, as a democratic majority would seem to indicate, and still alienate sizeable chunks of the market. That presents a real value-for-money problem when it comes to creating and spending a marketing budget. Also, while corporate positions on larger issues may shift over time due to more and better data and emerging trends, even tacit support for a political idea may be locked in. The marketplace may forget, but people won’t. Example: within the past few years, we’ve seen major multinational corporations have to face their dealings with the government in power six decades ago in Germany.

In light of all that, one wonders whether shareholders would realize any value from the investment. And, for that matter, whether support there would split as well.

So here’s the Supreme Court ruling in a real-world nutshell: corporations now have the same right as individuals to spend their own money opening up a massive can of worms and slipping on their backsides as a result of the folly.
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January 21 2010
Within the ad world, political advertising is something of an entitled child, waving its First Amendment protection in the face of less-sheltered, more-accountable ad campaigns. And now, the Supreme Court has ruled limits on corporate political campaign spending unconstitutional, a violation of those free-speech rights. Here’s the story, from The Washington Post (DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s important to note that the ruling does not affect existing limits on direct contributions to political parties or candidates, nor does it remove the disclosure rules currently in effect.

I think this ruling may be a step in the wrong direction, but I’m not particularly worried about a massive influx of corporate contributions tainting the American political process.

First, because of human nature. Regardless of messaging and spending, people will believe that which aligns with what they already believe, and denigrate that which doesn’t. You can’t buy a change of heart, especially within the short lifecycle of the typical political campaign. Just look at the long historical record of wealthy individuals failing to buy their way into public office by outspending their opponents. Sure, the message got out there. But its interpretation in the marketplace was not what its initiators intended.

Second, because of increased transparency. It’s much harder nowadays for a corporation or industry group to back anything without being outed. Does anyone really believe that a major brand will risk alienating up to half its customer base by openly supporting a political cause or candidate? That may have been possible in the bad old days of shell corporations, vaguely named holding companies, and anonymously backed political action groups. But today, in a communication environment filled with citizen journalists armed with the tools to instantly publish to audiences of millions, such a tactic is a non-starter.
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January 20 2010
The New York Times is going to phase in a fee for for online access to its articles, even if that traffic is driven by links such as those in, oh, blogs. Here’s the story, from the (still free-of-charge) BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, the New York Times joins The Wall Street Journal in trying to make its online readers support its online content. I think it’s a reasonable strategy, given the quality of the content.

One major stumbling block will be the scalability of the fee structure, and – just as important if not more so – making that fee quick and easy for casual browsers and atypical-audience readers to understand and pay. In other words, a significant part of the success of this venture will depend on copywriting.
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January 19 2010
Every year, Sweethearts, those little candy hearts imprinted with short love notes, comes out with new messages reflecting the times. For 2010, one of the latest messages is “Tweet Me.” Here’s the story about this apparently unsolicited buzzcoup for Twitter, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Obviously, Twitter and Sweethearts are a perfect match. However, I disagree vehemently with the idea that these little messages reflect changes in the way society says “I love you.” Instead, they reflect changes in the way society connects.

Love may be all about connection, but connection isn’t all about love. Misunderstanding that critical piece of human knowledge may be why so many brands are confused about why their social networking efforts don’t pay off in the form of deep emotional connections from their customers. Hey, some relationships, you’re in them for the coupons.

And, for the record, I think the best way to say “I love you” is to say “I love you.”
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January 14 2010
Retail sales, which were mostly better-than-expected over the holidays, seem to be suffering a post-holiday depression. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press, via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The holidays saw the release of pent-up consumer demand, driven by in part by recession-weariness, aggressive sale pricing, and the common knowledge that inventories were leaner than usual. I suspect that many people took advantage of the sales to stock up on goods or move up purchases. It may take some time for consumer inventories – the pantries and closets – to use up what was bought over the holidays.
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January 12 2010
With all the buzz about buzz and hoopla about hoopla, I was thrilled to see proof that some old-school advertising methods retain their effectiveness. Here’s the story about small companies returning to direct mail, from The Wall Street Journal this morning:
Advertising copywriter blog link

One firm saw a 25% drop in orders after halting its direct mail program, a loss that was entirely made up after a late mailing was dropped. That’s direct response for you. In fact, with the convergence of affordable data mining and digital printing, the chance to put a tangible, individualized message into the hands of  a targeted prospect is just too good to pass up.

On the other hand, I wonder: when those companies stopped using direct mail, what did they start using in its place? I suspect most companies simply stopped marketing themselves to their lists of prospects, in which case it’s no surprise that the orders stopped too. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle: a company reduces its advertising because of the weak economy, then blames the weak economy when business slows down. It ain’t always so.
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January 11 2010
A new ad campaign that slams Domino’s pizza is attracting some attention because it’s being run by ... Domino’s Pizza. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

If there’s a problem, the best thing to do is fix it, acknowledge it, and move on. While that was almost always true for individuals, it’s only been fairly recently that this approach has even become an option for corporations. It’s not a totally new tactic; a century ago copywriters regularly laid bare the faults of their clients’ products, and the great Bernice Fitz-Gibbon said “A little bad makes the good believable.”

Furthermore, when the “bad” is history, it’s a win all the way around. You get credit for being honest, plus you get to promote your spiffy new-and-improved formula.

However, I wonder if this reformulation, and the attendant ad campaign, has been driven as much by closing franchises, rising gas and energy prices, and increasing employment costs as by a perception among consumers of lousy tasting pizza. By staking a claim in the “better taste” category, Domino’s can ease away from the old “quick delivery” position, which may not be tenable moving forward. And, if the economy recovers quicker than anticipated, it still owns the speed position and can fight for more market share with a better product. It’s not a competitive edge; it’s a competitive hedge. And a good one at that.
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January 6 2010
2009 holiday retail sales figures are in, and they are (as I predicted, by the way) positive-with-a-few-caveats. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Overall adjusted figures show a gain of about 1%, concentrated in menswear, electronics (no surprise there), and shoes. Another widely expected result was the migration of shoppers to web retailers, with online sales up 17.7% for the holiday month, and 12.2% for the year. The jewelry category showed something interesting: the high end and low end did pretty well, but the mid-level shops fared poorly.

It’d be great if advertising could take credit for the gains, but the reality is that a lot of bean-counting went into factors like inventory control, floor and shelf planning, and pricing, and those are what tipped the scales. At any rate, it looks as though 2009 gave a lot of categories a bit of a bounce on its way out the door.

One huge caveat that didn’t get mentioned is the unemployment rate, which remains fairly high. Sales figures provide only one end of the story; marketing strategy has to live in a larger universe that includes the other end – namely, where the money is coming from to fuel those sales, and whether that source is sustainable.
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January 5 2010
One of my many advertising heroes, Cabell Harris, has re-launched his ad agency based on the idea of crowdsourcing creative. Here’s the story about Work Labs and its new approach to the business of advertising – and ad creation – from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This new approach both frightens and excites me, and that’s a point in its favor. (And no, I have not been invited to join the web-based Idea Lab, nor do I expect to be.) I’ve always relished the occasional creative shootout, the bigger the better. But, when it becomes a way of life, then quality of life plummets, usually taking quality of work with it due to a rising obsession with short-term goals.

Also, the idea of basing a strategy on project-based solutions bothers me a bit. Advertising and branding is a process, not a project.

But that’s also what makes this approach so intriguing. Yes, it can be highly responsive, which is a business benefit, but, even better, it can get out in front of the curve because the usual limits aren’t in place. And, with someone like Harris in command, I anticipate something truly transformational. This could be the biggest change in advertising creative since Bill Bernbach put copywriters and art directors into teams. Very cool!
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January 4 2010
Hey, a music download business model based on advertising! Here’s the story about, a site projected to blend the ad revenue model of Hulu and Fancast with the inventory (presumably) of iTunes and Amazon. Here’s the story, from The New York Times via the Omaha World-Herald (NE):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What will be critically important to the success of the site, will be the advertising options offered to users. It’s a question of balance. Will offering users a choice of a dozen potential ads be too much? Or, will targeting and relevance be improved by offering users even more ad options? And, from the advertiser’s perspective, how closely should any given ad relate to the song being downloaded? I really look forward to the site getting out of beta and into the real world.
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January 1 2010
Happy New Decade! The fussily precise, however, will have to wait until 2011 to begin the next decade just as they had to wait until 2001 to celebrate the millennium.
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Backwards in time to December 2009

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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