John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2014

Quick finder (main website):
Home | Advertising portfolio | Brochure portfolio | Services | Experience | FAQ | Advice | About me | Contact

Quick finder (advertising blog only):
Ad Blog main page | Monthly archives | Forward to February 2014

January 31 2014
I have two again today. First is an article from NBC News exploring the idea that the escalating trend toward weirdness in Super Bowl advertising is due to the influence of the internet, or, rather, internet audiences. Second is a look at radio, perhaps the first world-wide mass medium, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

In looking at the latest Super Bowl commercials, I can’t help but wonder if, along with the rise of the internet, there’s been a decline in old-fashioned creative rigor and discipline in advertising. We want things at newmediaspeed, and slowdowns like, oh, researching and refining and stretching seem downright codgeresque when you can slam embryonic ideas out of the gates and onto the web to live or die as chance decides. It feels like beta testing, only now it happens in public and on a grand scale.

Which is also why there’s a rising chorus of voices saying advertising on the Super Bowl isn’t worth the money. Well, with the kind of creative most deploy, it isn’t.

Here’s the key takeaway: engagement marketing means more than having people talk about your ad, or even play with it or pass it to their friends. That’s just engagement with the ad, not the product or service or company; it’s a step in the process, but not the goal. The goal still has to be a sale. And I think the only proof of engagement better than a sale, is a repeat sale.

As for the persistence of radio, it is, unlike many, a medium of convenience. Also unlike many, it has successfully pushed itself out to other broadcasting channels, including satellite and the internet, and with each iteration it grows stronger. I especially like the idea that what makes radio special are the spaces between the songs – that sense of community is radio’s added value.

But I did find it funny that this delightful segment examining radio was delivered as a video.
Back to the top of the page

January 30 2014
I have two today, both here as placeholders and both related to Lenovo’s purchase of Motorola’s mobile hardware unit from Google. The first, from CNN Money, looks at why Lenovo wanted Motorola in the first place. The second, from Fortune via CNN, is an interview with Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang about his plans for growth:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

If you root back in this Ad Blog, you’ll uncover my October 2 2005 prediction that Lenovo would knock out HP to challenge Dell as the #1 PC maker within 18 months. Well, it took longer than that, and before it happened Dell slipped and HP gained, but I was proven right in the end.

So when Yang says Lenovo’s mission is to surpass Apple and Samsung in the mobility sector, I believe it will. Both competitors may be vulnerable now, perhaps more vulnerable than they’ve been in the past two years. Lenovo has a history now of storming up from the #3 or #4 slot. And, Lenovo exhibits a rare quality in corporations these days: patience.

From a branding perspective, I think Lenovo has the right idea in maintaining the Motorola brand in the mobility space. It’s really not the same thing as Lenovo leveraging the ThinkPad brand in the PC space, since that was always a sub-brand; Motorola, on the other hand, is a brand unto its own. That gives Lenovo even more to leverage. And, as Lenovo extends its own PC brand beyond tablets, it could actually create room for itself as a second premier mobility brand.
Back to the top of the page

January 28 2014
Advertising can be crafted to appeal to just about every niche market. But there’s one segment of society that’s unrecognized by advertisers even as it gets struck repeatedly by marketing crossfire: the long-term unemployed. Here’s a look inside, the final piece of an epic 40-part series spanning 18 months, from Gawker:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Think this isn’t relevant to advertising? Note that today’s first story comes from a former art director, the second from a writer. Writers, designers, and marketing people are scattered in amongst many of the story compilations. Today, creative professionals are finding that even freelancing, which for me has always been the ultimate in job security, has not produced for them a living wage.

I’m not going to make suggestions to those in that boat; even as a long-term freelancer I probably have nothing new to say. No, what I want to say is this: for all of us, the life in these stories is closer than we think. Major clients could vanish in mergers, key contacts could get laid off or transferred, the phone could stop ringing. And so it goes, down the line, for just about any profession in any industry.

My second observation is that in advertising we live in a world of the magically employed. Everyone we target in advertising is assumed to have the wherewithal to buy the product or service advertised. Everyone we picture in an ad is uniformly clean, attractive, and, presumably, making a better-than-living wage. But that world isn’t real. We actively seek relevance, or a clever facsimile thereof, but deep relevance to the perilously fragile economic reality most people live in is almost non-existent.

Now, if the point of advertising is to entertain, then that lack of real relevance might be exactly the escapism people need to connect a brand with a few seconds of amusement. On the other hand, if the point of advertising is to sell something, then the starting point is empathy. We needn’t be angry (although at least anger has real passion, which all the cleverness in the world can’t generate). But we do need to care.
Back to the top of the page

January 27 2014
I thought this article deserved comment. It’s about how social media has changed the media landscape, from B&T (Australia), dated tomorrow because it already is Down Under:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, the premise is exactly right: social media has opened exciting new pathways of two-way communication between advertisers and their customers. No doubt about that.

And, there’s no doubt, too, that innovation is mandatory, if only to stay out of the crowd. (At the same time, though, I’ve found that as more advertisers gravitate toward non-traditional executions in non-traditional media, traditional media has started to offer a less noisy and, rather contrarily, a more-personal environment, given creative that takes advantage of those elements.)

I do, though, take issue with the idea that “repetition is the mother of learning” should be supplanted by “innovation is the mother of learning.” Innovation may be a tool of learning, and it’s certainly a tool of exploration and subsequent discovery. But much of that media innovation aims to essentially increase repetition by increasing customer engagement.

Ultimately, repetition trains customers. Branding is repetition. Advertising is repetition. And, indeed, repetition remains the mother of learning.
Back to the top of the page

January 23 2014
Again I have a two-fer. First is a disturbing article from NBC News about young people dying from “binge-working.” By way of contrast, the second article looks at the actual work of being an advertising creative, from Business Standard (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s worth noting that of the four deaths mentioned in the article on overworking, two were advertising copywriters at large ad agencies. Yikes!

The catch, though, is that overwork doesn’t typically lead to creative brilliance, and forcing the issue leads to stupidity due to sheer lack of judgment. (In a possibly related story from Adweek: no one at the ad agency or the client’s marketing department thought that a TV ad concept showing a stock pickup truck pushing a dune buggy up a sand dune was, oh, untruthful? Seriously? Yeah, the FTC thought so too.)

The second article argues that the four behaviors associated with creativity are insatiable curiosity, taking breaks, going through the process (preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, and elaboration), and emotional resilience. That aligns neatly with James Webb Young’s A Technique For Producing Ideas, written in the 1940s and recently re-released by McGraw-Hill. If those behaviors are integral to the act of creativity, and I think they are, then pulling all-nighters, shortchanging “incubation,” and fraying one’s emotional strength are at best counterproductive. And, at worst, deadly.

The problem is, we all wear our war wounds with pride no matter how stupidly they were obtained. It’s only advertising. Yet, somehow, the senselessness of the sacrifice makes telling the story even better.

On the other hand, most ad agencies have long tolerated impossibly long “lunches” by creative teams, knowing full well that sometimes their people were off flying remote-controlled gliders or photographing street scenes or hanging out at the beach. And many more companies that rely on creative capital for growth are nurturing their employees by encouraging side interests and fostering a cultural environment in which it’s safe to take breaks from work.

Breaks are, after all, part of the creative process. And a culture of overwork is the opposite of a creative culture.
Back to the top of the page

January 21 2014
Today I have two articles lamenting the lack of ROI and increased sales stemming from advertising on, respectively, Twitter and the Super Bowl, the first from MediaPost (NY) and the second from Inc. (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

It must be Naysayer Day. I agree that it’s too early to measure ROI on social media platforms with any kind of stability going forward. But the act of measuring ROI obscures the point that customer engagement may be, but doesn’t have to be, about inciting immediate gains. Social media has emerged as a place in which to foster relationships, which in turn make fresh gains possible. It would be a shame to turn that opportunity for dialog into yet another coupon resource.

As for the Super Bowl, well, advertising on the Super Bowl isn’t about direct sales either, although it certainly could be if the strategy called for it. No, it’s about placing a message before a vast cross-section of America to be viewed, commented on, loved, hated, analyzed, and reviewed. In short, it too is about engagement, not necessarily with the product but certainly with the ad. Super Bowl advertising is sort of meta that way.

Also, it’s worth noting that advertising is a step in the sales process, but not necessarily the whole sales process.

In almost direct opposition to the trend toward tightly targeted, highly efficient media, the Super Bowl is about engagement en masse, in which regard it’s one of the last such marketing events remaining. Granted, most ads fumble the opportunity. But then, that’s why so many people watch the big game: to root for the efforts and to witness the successes contrasted with the failures. It’s a human nature thing, and, for now, anyway, it defies measurement.
Back to the top of the page

January 20 2014
Today, on the centennial of World War I, I have two stories, both from the BBC’s newly launched iWonder. The first deconstructs a viral hit from 1915. The second looks at the similarities between WWI propaganda and today’s advertising campaigns. Here are the links:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

“Pack Up Your Troubles” became the global It song for a generation. I totally agree that the key to the song’s viral success was that it wrapped within its catchy, simple exterior a relevant emotional payload. Without that emotional connection, it wouldn’t have – couldn’t have, really – been taken up by so many hearts. Note, too, how the song’s authors, having stumbled into a hit, leveraged it worldwide. The iWonder videos add considerably to the piece, especially in sections 3 and 4.

For the propaganda story, though, you can skip the videos since they focus on relatively shallow similarities. But upon reading the content, those of us practicing advertising today may be surprised how sophisticated the strategic spin techniques were a full century ago.

Note that the National War Aims Committee (itself a brilliant strategic creation) didn’t just roll out a massive national ad campaign. No, instead it went local and grass-roots first, reaching out to – and getting buy in from – carefully selected segments of the population with equally carefully tailored messages. (I have a beautiful and deeply disturbing book about Nazi propaganda from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that demonstrates the same things.) Yes, our great-great-grandparents knew a thing or two about human motivation and persuasion, even if they weren’t making the rounds at tech/creativity conferences touting their successes.

In 1917, as ever in advertising, the name of the game was engagement.
Back to the top of the page

January 17 2014
I have two quickies for you today. First, thanks to the “internet of everything,” you may already have gotten spam from your refrigerator. No, the email kind. Here’s the story, from BBC News (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Internet-enabled household appliances lack the security measures other connected devices have, plus their owners either ignore or are unable to address the risk. The devices, including passwords, typically remain on their factory default settings through their lifespan covering many years. And, with Google’s recent purchase of household smart device maker Nest, internet-connected household devices will likely proliferate.

So, it may be spam. But it’s also a harbinger of things to come.

Next up, a study commissioned by a provider of native ads seems to show that native ads achieve 100% viewership. That is, they’re not just viewable, but they're also viewed. Here’s the story, itself perhaps a model native ad, from The Drum (Glasgow, Scotland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The sample size of 300 seems small, but it’s big enough that the results should be credible and repeatable.

But – and this is a huge but – if that 100% is achieved by deceit (scroll back to my Ad Blog entry for January 13), it may not be worth the hit to the credibility of either the media or the advertiser.

See, left unmeasured is how many readers were angered (or even noticed or cared) when they realized they’d been enticed into clicking over to ad content. Or, for that matter, how many viewers clicked at all?

Even if an ad is 100% viewed, that means nothing if it’s also 100% ignored. And you know what? That happens in mass media too.

We’re in a new media age. Reach, frequency, viewership, they’re all less relevant than they used to be because we have better-parsed data that reaches deeper into the customer side of the process. The key metric has to be about engagement (and therein lies the beauty of advertising in all its forms). And the key measurable movement, has to be in sales. Otherwise, you’re just talking to yourself.
Back to the top of the page

January 16 2014
Can native advertising be scaled? Here’s one take, from econsultancy (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

My take: yes, native advertising is scalable; in fact, it may be among the most-scalable forms of advertising. But its strength lies in the opposite direction from adding volume.

Let me back up a bit. In all advertising, the closer you get to a one-on-one interaction the better. Note that Fairfax Cone said, “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody,” and not “Advertising is what you do when you can’t shout into a crowd.”

Despite its presence in mass media, advertising fundamentally works on an individual level. It can reach and move large numbers of people, one at a time. When you broaden your message and target, you reduce your effectiveness. As for the mass media thing, that’s just a stonking great artifact from the industrial revolution and the mass production of all sorts of goods.

The opportunity intrinsic to native advertising, is that now the data and the infrastructure exist to instantly target one person with one optimized advertising message. The key is to seek native engagement, and not just advertising.

Otherwise, the whole thing can degrade into data-driven link networks, hidden in Javascript and rebranded as content publication for native advertising: a discredited model cloaked in shiny new jargon.
Back to the top of the page

January 15 2014
How quick is your mind? So quick, that it takes the world’s fourth-most-powerful supercomputer 40 minutes to map the neural connections your brain makes in a single second. Here’s the story, from The Independent (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Gliding on the afterglow of that thought follows this one: of the world’s five most-powerful supercomputers, three are based here in the U.S. Go Yankee ingenuity!

However, lest we get too arrogant about the prodigious processing power of our brains, it’s worth sparing a few neurons to the thought that “exascale” computers of roughly comparable power to a human brain are just a few years away.

Of course, mapping brain activity and actually duplicating it are two very different problems. So, for the foreseeable future, anyway, there will always be the Captain Kirk option of calculated illogic (and a flying kick) to save the day. Score one for human creativity!
Back to the top of the page

January 13 2014
I have two today about advertising and loss of credibility. The first is something of a rant in the The Guardian (UK) against the trend toward turning ordinary people into brand ambassadors. The second, from econsultancy (NY), is a thoughtful look at so-called native advertising and its apparent natural result, the rise of deception leading to a looming breakdown in user trust:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, the relationship between a publisher and a reader may be rooted in trust, but the relationship between an advertiser and a member of its target audience has always been one of seducer and seduced. Both may, but one will, benefit from the relationship.

Certain types of advertising have always tried to slip under the radar: think not just advertorials but also certain highly successful – even classic – direct mailers. Elements of editorial design were an explicit cornerstone of David Ogilvy’s “layout #1” precisely because they reflected and benefited from the media content environment.

In other words, the newest thing about native advertising, is the term “native advertising.”

And yet, there are creative opportunities here that weren’t around just a few years ago. But they revolve around native engagement, not advertising.

Companies that set up channels in which to engage their customers and potential customers are often applying the principles of native engagement without doing any advertising at all. And I’m not talking about Facebook pages, which have rapidly deteriorated into yet another ad channel. Perhaps one of the better examples of native engagement would be the ubiquitous online “chat with a rep” button on many ecommerce websites. Curious about whether a sweater runs large or small? If reviews from other customers don't help (another common form of native engagement) then an online chat might tip the scale and make the sale, particularly if one is not already a customer.

(Also, I think it’s both impatient and premature to measure “purchase intent;” just watch the sales figures over time. After all, despite customer intentions, a lot can happen between an ad and the cash register.)

The purpose of advertising, native or otherwise, is to move a real potential customer closer to a real sale in the real world. I don’t believe borrowed credibility is a sustainable way to do that. But I do believe the tools exist to build your own credibility through native engagement. It’s as I’ve always said: own the channel.
Back to the top of the page

January 10 2014
Here’s a quick look at how online transactions affected (or didn’t affect) retailers this past holiday season, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The browsing-by-buying trend puts a real dampener on perceived growth in online sales, particularly for clothes retailers but also in other categories. But physical stores face their own challenges just getting foot traffic through the doors and on the floors.

On our recent trip to Japan, it seemed most department stores were indeed destination sites, massive and segmented not only by item type, but also by brand and target market. So, popular labels would have their own shops within the store, while younger-oriented products and brands would be clustered together on a floor with a completely different look and feel from the rest of the store. Some categories had the feel of a sub-branded experience within the store; books, for example, and groceries. Most major retailers had additional services available, including banking, travel, and restaurants ranging from QSRs to stand-alone noodle shops to sit-down fine dining.

(Purely as an aside, we had the ego-boosting but mildly unsettling experience of being in a department store in Tokyo at opening time. We felt like high priests blessing the faithful as we walked up and down the aisles.)

Perhaps because Amazon just cancelled two of my “subscribe and save” grocery-type items, it’s notable that two discount supermarkets attracted record holiday sales with little or no online component. Take that!
Back to the top of the page

January 9 2014
The London Underground is one of the world’s most-recognized brands, with iconic symbols and typography. This feature, though, highlights the other side of the coin: sales. In other words, actually getting butts into seats and making the heads and hearts attached to them satisfied with their choice. And for that, the head of London Underground publicity back in 1914 used posters, which became so popular that copies were sold en masse. Here’s the story, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I love how the map’s simple appearance masks its get-lost-in-it complexity. It presents the city as a wonderland, with the marketing subtext being that the Tube makes it all accessible. There is a wonderful sense of whimsy and humor to the entire piece. Here, too, is the counter-argument to the three-second rule for outdoor, or the eight-words-or-less rule for billboards, or the myth that “nobody reads copy;” in fact, the five-minute video mentions people missing their trains because they were so engrossed in reading the poster!

(That video, by the way, is worth watching. It seems the artist, Macdonald Gill, eventually married his goddaughter! Ahh, those crazy creatives!)

That first poster was such a hit, that it spawned a series that extended to bus routes to outlying areas, getting people to use mass transit for longer exploratory journeys. When compared to the situation in the US, it’s no overstatement to say that those posters may have reinvented ordinary people as mass transit users at a moment when the scales could have easily tipped the other way, toward private car ownership and public roadways. Cool stuff!
Back to the top of the page

January 7 2014
It occurred to me what may have been the difference between the clever-but-rather-ordinary Japanese TV commercials and the outrageous examples of creative irrelevance: the former set was trying to support a brand, the latter set was trying to sell stuff. Here’s another compilation:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Watch and you can tell which are the branding messages and which are the “buy this product” messages. Both types of ads communicate despite the language difference, proving that adculture may be the ultimate Esperanto, but that’s a whole other topic. The main thing I want to point out, is the latter set definitely contains more surprises, more bizarrity, more wtf moments.

Perhaps, along with joy, the other element advertising creatives have forgotten lately is selling. Or maybe it’s all one thing: the joy of selling.

At any rate, it’s possible to get so wound up in strategic considerations that tactical objectives are buried or even set aside. You can see the result everywhere you look: conceptually clever, strategically relevant, slickly produced advertising that generates nary a blip until it shows up in an awards compilation or catches fire in a well-orchestrated social media campaign. Yet the things that actually catch fire on their own (think the phenomenon that was Gangnam Style), they seem to carry their happiness within them, recklessly, primally, un-self-consciously.

And, as I’ve said before, if you sell enough stuff, there’s your brand for you: ichi-ban!
Back to the top of the page

January 6 2014
I just got home from a three-generation, two-week, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan with my wife, kids, mother, and mother-in-law! Japan was simply amazing. We didn’t do a ton of touristy stuff or shopping; instead, our focus was to connect with relatives there in Japan, on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family. So, we spent time in Amagi (near Fukuoka) and Shiwa (near Hiroshima). And, we all enjoyed being probably the only Americans in the room at an authentic and very upscale Osechi New Year’s breakfast. Fujisan graced us with a magnificent and irresistible presence.

But the ads! What little time we spent watching TV we spent watching local programming. Both in print and on TV, Japanese advertising takes creative irrelevance to spectacular heights. Here are a couple YouTube compilations chosen pretty much at random:
Advertising copywriter blog link 1
Advertising copywriter blog link 2

Hmm. On viewing, these compilations include a lot of national ads with fairly mainstream concepts that aren’t nearly as offbeat or as fun as the TV spots I saw, which combined a uniquely Japanese point of view with the irrepressible joy of a 1970s used car dealer spot (“I will stand upon my head/’Til my ears are turning red!...”).

You know, that’s something that needs to come back to advertising: sheer exuberance.
Back to the top of the page
Backwards in time to October-November 2013

My experience as a copywriter.

Main page | Advertising portfolio | Brochure portfolio | Consumer goods | Eco-friendly products | Food services | Healthcare | Hospitality & tourism | Internet | Manufacturing | Packaged goods | Real estate & construction | Retail & restaurants | Service | Technology

Answers to frequently asked questions.

Why should you hire me as your advertising copywriter? | FAQ

Advertising & marketing advice.

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
How to take your copywriting portfolio to the next level
How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
More career advice: what’s it like being an advertising copywriter?
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
Back to the top of the page

Me, me, me.

Awards & honors | Curriculum vitae | Services

Email me.

Call or fax me.

Phone and fax: (619) 465-6100

Write me.

John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

Back to the top of the page