John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2011

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January 31 2011
Create a killer slogan by following seven simple rules. It would be nice if it were so easy. Nevertheless, here are seven tips from seven creative directors, via  Inc. Magazine:
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I think the first one (“Count on accidents”) should be listed last, because that’s what usually happens in the end. After you strive for balance, after you seek out the emotion, after you go long and short, sweet and snarky, inbound and outbound, negative and positive, that’s when it hits you.

It might not even be a new line that strikes the spark. It might be buried in the debris of discarded notions, rescued from the wastebasket by a flash of fresh insight.

One good rule is to avoid slogan assignments separate from brand development. To dive into a brand at the slogan level is a recipe for clever but ultimately meaningless word crap, and even if by chance brilliance happens, it won’t be identified because the steps haven’t been taken to ensure strategic focus. Yeah, it’s a good rule, but I’ve broken it, and reverse engineered the brand strategy to fit the line. Funny thing is, sometimes that works pretty well too.

If only by accident.
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January 28 2011
Fast food brand Taco Bell is coming out swinging over a lawsuit that alleges false advertising over the beef in its tacos. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wonder if the 35% beef allegation is based on measuring something like the total contents of the taco, including the lettuce, cheese, and even perhaps the tortilla (or what passes for a tortilla at Taco Bell). At any rate, this whole thing smells like a manufactured claim.

I must say I’m disappointed in the ad itself though. While it answers the allegation squarely enough, it falls flat enough creatively that it doesn’t help the brand. The headline tries for a snark that it doesn’t deliver – it would have been more effective to have had a straighter line. Or, more bent creative. But, given that the ad had to be pulled together and run in a matter of days, it’s a solid C, mostly for getting it done and out sooner rather than later.

An edgier brand might’ve gone social with its counterattack, calling on its loyalists to help it smack down the allegation. That would work, though, only if the lawsuit was entirely without merit, always a risky approach once the lawyers get involved.
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January 27 2011
Leo Apotheker, HP’s new CEO, wants to make HP as cool as Apple. Or, rather, he wants to shift the perception so that Apple is regarded as being as cool as HP. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Changing an entrenched perception is going to be hard. So hard, in fact, that I wonder if the big unveiling is going to take the form of a major rebranding.

Another problem is that superior solutions get blown aside by inferior ones all the time. Having a more-effective technology has never been the answer, which sort of undermines HP’s depth in R&D. Innovative technology loses to effective marketing every time.

And that’s why Apotheker, with a sales and marketing background, may be just what HP needs.
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January 26 2011
A survey of some 2,000 people turned up a few interesting (read: useful) facts about Super Bowl XLV viewers. Here’s the story, from Mediaweek:
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The jump link to the actual report from Lightspeed Research is worth following. (In case the link goes away, here it is.) Among other things, you’ll learn that the article headline (“Half of Super Bowl Viewers Will Tune In for Ads”) is, sadly, incorrect. The actual percentage tuning in specifically to watch the commercials is either 15% or 18%, not half, although the percentage tuning in to actually watch football is a rather low 55% (and among 18- to 34-year-olds, it’s less than half). Whether the percentage turning in for the ads is 15% or 18%, it’s roughly on par with the percentage of respondents who said they’ll be betting on the game’s outcome (15%). A significant 27% tune in just because it’s the social thing to do.

Speaking of social, the survey revealed that female smartphone users will be using social media to comment on the game and update the score, while men will be using their smartphones to gather information. Oh, and more than half of all respondents say they’ll be using their smartphone for reasons unrelated to the game. Another apparent gender difference: one in five women say they tune into the Super Bowl for the commercials, which means at 20% the women represent something of a statistical outlier within that 15-18%.

An age difference shows up in that most viewers plan to watch at home, except the 18-34-year-old set, which will likely be out of the home if at all possible. That age group is also significantly more-likely than any other to actually be going to the game.

As to the most-anticipated advertisers, I think any conclusion has to take into account the whopping 38% who said they pretty much don’t care who the advertisers are. In other words, Anheuser-Busch’s major investment in Super Bowl advertising bought them dominance over everyone else except anyone else. The field remains wide open; the Super Bowl advertising championship will be won ad by ad, based solely on the creative.
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January 24 2011
An over-the-transom inquiry about the whereabouts of a former art director/mentor led me to do some digging on the VanFossen part of Doyle-VanFossen, the ad agency in Laguna Hills where I cut my teeth as a copywriter.

This much I knew: that E. Burnett VanFossen started the agency with Mark Doyle in 1981. Mark had been copywriter/creative director at a rising young shop in L.A. called Chiat/Day. I didn’t know where or when Mark and Van hooked up as a creative team, but I got the impression (probably unwarranted) it was many years before, at an ad agency in or around North Carolina. Anyway, in addition to being the art director, Van alternated with Mark serving as the agency president. He had a son, Kirk, and a daughter, Leigh.

Van didn’t talk about himself much, at least not to me, and as an intern and later a junior I was intimidated anyway. So, I never found out much about him. But I did get to work with him quite often, concepting ads for Kiron, a Japanese manufacturer of optical equipment, Hain Pure Foods, and First American Title Insurance. For a recent grad to get teamed up with a senior creative was a remarkable opportunity.

One afternoon we were in his office working on an ad. Someone came in to meet with him on some other business; let’s say it was a print rep because it probably was. Anyway, Van went out into the hall to meet with the guy. After a minute or two, the business was done and they parted ways. As Van walked back into his office, where I sat on a couch with a pad of paper filled with failed headlines, he gave a little smirk and said, “That’s how to keep a meeting short, meet ’em outside your office door.”

Another time we came up with an ad that we knew was great. Everything worked. Van was chuckling as he drew the thumbnail. We presented it to the A.E., who shot it down. Too scary, apparently, too unlike anything else in the category. Van looked momentarily dejected, then prepared to get back to work coming up with more ad concepts. Then he brightened. “I think this is good,” he said. “Let’s get Mark.”

Mark thought it was good too, and picked up the phone to call the A.E. into his office. As Van and I sat on a couch, Mark turned to me and said, “Now you’re gonna see what it’s like working at an ad agency run by the creatives.”

The ad was presented, approved, and ran.

In January 1985, E.B. VanFossen had a stroke. In the months that followed, he tried to keep working as part of his therapy. But the stroke had disabled his speech, which stymied the verbal give-and-take that’s so much a part of concepting an ad. I can only imagine the frustration he must have felt at having ideas and being unable to communicate them.

Shortly afterwards, I was headhunted for a job in San Diego, and then went off on my own as a full-time freelance copywriter. In the hustle and bustle of getting business and writing ads, E.B. VanFossen, sadly, dropped off my radar. In one of life’s amazing coincidences, I learned today that he died exactly nine years ago, January 24, 2002. He was 75 years old.

I also learned that he was a WWII Army vet, and that he graduated from the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore in 1950. That would place him in the world of advertising during one of the most transformational eras the industry has known. In 1977, as a freelance designer, he created the original logo for the Seattle Mariners baseball team, a nice example of conceptual typography. The stylized trident M he created was incorporated into the team’s next logo, and was finally retired in 1986. I think the visual concept he came up with had more relevance on more levels than the current Mariners logo, which uses a generic compass rose.

Well, that’s everything I know and found out about E.B. VanFossen, a talented art director who fought a war, raised a family, and enjoyed some professional success. Not a bad epitaph for an ad guy. And, if he was obscure before, perhaps now he’ll be just a tiny bit less so.
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January 19 2011
A Harvard Business Review survey of 2,100 senior business executives indicates that brands aren’t using social media effectively. Here’s a quick look at some of the findings, from Marketing Profs:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the results must be filtered through the fact that the “effective users” were separated from the “ineffective users” not by any results-based metric, but by the survey respondents’ own self-perceptions. In other words, the “effective users” were a self-appointed group. That they were also the heaviest users of various social media tools, then, is more of a self-sustaining loop than an outcome.

This approach reveals its weakness in the perceived benefits gained by the use of social media. Most, rather than being the highly targeted, one-on-one interactions that social media lends itself to, are the broad-brush, carpet-bombing benefits of old-school mass media. Brand awareness. Perception shifts. Web traffic. As the article itself points out, more-accountable benefits rank lower.

What the study shows, if you look at the whole picture, is that many of the brands most active in using social media still lack a strategic plan. Social media remains merely a tactical tool and an ill-used one to boot, a sniper’s rifle doing the job of a shotgun because that’s what the user knows how to operate. The lack of a strategic plan limits not only the tactical effectiveness of social media in an integrated marketing campaign, but also the ability to generate meaningful metrics – the start of another self-sustaining loop.

I rather suspect that social media’s true effective users are more evolved than this. I’m thinking of a small shop in La Jolla that mushes together an array of traditional and non-traditional social media channels to bind a diverse community of loyalists through meetups, mashups, get-togethers, pub crawls, gallery walks, bike rides, and, almost incidentally, store events triggered directly by customer engagements. Such an overtly social approach to marketing hardly fits into the pigeonholes provided.

But then, it’s axiomatic that one can study only the past.
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January 18 2011
Even as “Mad Men” continues to rack up ratings, the advertising industry itself may be turning away from the copywriter-art director teams that gave rise to the creative revolution. So says this story, from The Economic Times (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I see any new partnership as being a continuation of the collaborative model of creating ads. An art director brings to the table visual acuity in the same way that a writer brings verbal acuity, but in a true creative partnership that doesn’t limit either one’s contribution. The same goes for media strategists, account executives, planners, marketing directors, and anyone else. Every day, art directors write headlines that copywriters get credit for and copywriters crack visual concepts that art directors roll out. What’s more, concepts in media, timing, ongoing strategic development, and client service may come from either.

Even in the old days, the great copywriters weren’t just writers and the great art directors weren’t just art directors. It took more than single-trade craftsmanship to rise to the top of the field, and it still does today. But today, there are more tools across more crafts to master, and the tools are more publicly visible than ever before.

And, some of the old tools seem to be fading in relevance. Art directors I know bemoan the lack of typographical care in ads today. I think a lot of today’s advertising copy lacks finesse. The open question is whether or not it matters. Advertising was always a commercial endeavor, and survival goes to that which works.

Creative partnerships work, not because the partners are one thing or another thing, but because the partners are different things.
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January 11 2011
Toyota is rolling out Prius as a brand. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The newspaper ads make it clear that, while Toyota is skirting the issue of whether Prius will be its own marque, it is actively promoting the concept of having multiple Prius models.

This goes back to what I talked about last week. When U.S. automakers pared brands, it left opportunities for new brands to emerge. While individual brands may have lost their way, branding itself flexed its power in the marketplace.

Some brands evolve naturally into their niches, as customer-driven creations. Others are actively developed to fit into niches, as corporate-driven creations. Still others take a bit from both approaches. But no matter how they come about, brands are an organic part of the economic ecosystem.
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January 7 2011
RIP Phyllis Robinson, DDB’s first copy chief and the creator of such iconic ad campaigns as “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s” and, well, basically all the classic Polaroid stuff. Here’s the story, from New York Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If you look at the slide show, you might think some of the work is dated. I’d say most of it is beyond dated; it’s classic, and the best creative stuff of today owes a great deal to the pioneering work done 50-60 years ago by Robinson and others. Take, for instance, the Central Park TV commercial for Polaroid. The key concept could have been executed in a :15, yes, or even a :10. But as a :60 it was visual poetry, a short film with the branding baked right in. I daresay very few of today’s branded shorts have the same open space, the same tight timing, the same emotional impact, and the same brand memorability. Even today, it’s an example of how to do it right.

In 2007, Phyllis Robinson was profiled in the One Club magazine. Here's a link to the profile/interview, in which Robinson discusses her influences, managing the likes of Bob Lois, nurturing the likes of Mary Wells, and the world of advertising in the 50s and 60s. Worth a read!
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January 6 2011
While U.S. carmakers shed brands and consolidate, VW is expanding, acquiring brands and extending its product line. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As VW’s stable of brands multiplies, it’s encountering the same problems GM, Ford, and Chrysler recently solved by scrapping brands. It has the entry-level Skoda, sporty Seat, mid-range VW, upscale Audi, and luxury marque Bentley, all of which sounds suspiciously like GM’s “ladder” of Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac. But, VW also has Scania trucks (think GMC only more so), Porsche, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Suzuki. It aims to overtake Toyota as the world’s largest automaker, but that goal has to be tempered by the fact that Toyota has but two brands on which it can concentrate all its resources.

If VW’s play works, if brand differentiation within a corporate family succeeds, then it may be said that GM, Ford, and Chrysler were premature in thinning their runts. However, if VW succeeds, it will be because it does a better job of brand differentiation than did GM, Ford, or Chrysler, and that’s where the important difference lies.
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January 4 2011
This is one of those bookmarky posts: MSNBC’s automotive correspondent looked at ten new auto brands poised to make it (or break it) in 2011. Here’s the story:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s interesting that the first Chinese auto brand to make a serious attempt at penetrating the U.S. market, BYD, was tailor-made and government-subsidized for the effort. That part was insightful. Unfortunately, it seems like the insight may have ended there. Electric and alternative fuel vehicles have a small window of opportunity, and one that may be closing rapidly as the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt hit the road. I think even hybrids face a tougher challenge, although it’s too soon to tell whether the success of the Toyota Prius has made it easier or harder for a hybrid vehicle of unknown brand to gain traction.

Inexplicably left off the list is San Diego’s own Aptera Motors, based in Carlsbad. Aptera has been lying low, it seems, after a spate of possibly premature publicity.

These coming years could be as exciting for the auto industry as the past few years have been for media. The old-line American organizations have all trimmed marques: GM dumped Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer; Chrysler dropped Plymouth; Ford left Mercury behind. The field could be open for emerging brands, or even the revival of old ones. Being a marketing guy, if I were thinking of launching a new car I might consider a licensing agreement instead of brand name development. A car named Hudson Hornet or Rambler American would have some built-in brand equity to give it, perhaps, a little push start. In turbulent times, every little edge counts.
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January 3 2011
Happy New Year! To kick things off, I have this look back at six historically important ad campaigns, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The DeBeers campaign, which single-handedly forged a connection between diamonds and romance, creating demand out of almost nothing, certainly belongs on the list. The same goes for the Marlboro Man. Absolut, while a powerfully iconic campaign, is harder to justify simply because it’s so very recent. Its legacy may lie more in the creation of other premium vodka brands than in the campaign itself. The Volkswagen campaign, while marking a creative watershed in the advertising industry, also owes its position in the Pantheon of great ad campaigns to the relative longevity of the product itself in a recognizably iconic form. In other words, had the VW Beetle looked like any other small car of the time, and if VW had changed its form from year to year as other car manufacturers did, the campaign itself wouldn’t have achieved its legendary status today. Remember too: the approach didn’t work for any other model beyond the Type 1 and Type 2; the Type 3s (which included a small three-box sedan and a “squareback” wagon), 411, Super Beetle, and Thing all languished unwanted and unsold supported by the same type of advertising. What had worked so perfectly for a product didn’t work nearly as well for the brand.

I think one ad campaign that was so successful that it was overlooked, was Gillette’s marketing razors to women for shaving legs and armpits. In a stroke, the potential market more than doubled; the typical leg goes through razors at a faster rate than the typical face, and there are two of them. The armpits were a sheer bonus for Gillette, for fashion designers, for everyone except the women who were eventually compelled through sheer publicity to follow the herd. That was viral done right.
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Backwards in time to December 2010

My experience as a copywriter.

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Advertising strategy and other lies
An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books
Brands and branding: a white paper
Do you make these mistakes in advertising?
Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
Four ad copy traps that ensnare even experienced copywriters
How to become an advertising copywriter
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How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
The ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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