John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
January 2017

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January 26 2017
With America reverting to its past, multiculturalism may be among the first things on the bonfire. Here’s the story of how one Hispanic ad agency is adapting, from the Los Angeles Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A careful reading makes it clear that Trump’s rise is not the cause of the agency’s struggle to remain relevant; that’s been going on for some time. It may, however, be an important catalyst for another discussion.

The main takeaway, I think, is this: while the agency struggled as a pure-play Spanish-language advertising shop, it’s now enjoying a resurgence thanks to its expertise in the consumer behavior of its market segment for English-language ads and commercials. It has successfully repackaged creative as analysis, and I think that’s really smart.

Behavioral insight is a key piece of what we do as copywriters and art directors. But it’s often an intuitive thing, learned over years of trial-and-error and backed by increasingly granular metrics. To unbundle it and market it as a separate product is real win, especially if you also get to integrate it into general-audience marketing through more-relevant creative.

Either way, though, advertising creative includes insight and analysis as preconditions for effectiveness.
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January 17 2017
I followed a trail starting with the hilarious British comedy Raised By Wolves, wound through several of writer/essayist Caitlin Moran’s books, and just came across this terrific video in which she gives advice to creatives and wanna-be creatives. Here’s her presentation, given to Hiive (a UK-based creative collaborative) in March 2015, via YouTube:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a master class in creativity, in less than 18 minutes. It wambles a bit near the end, but Moran is enough of a storyteller that you probably won’t mind. I’m not going to recap her talk, because that would be redundant and it’s best you get it straight from the source (and take notes, I did). Instead, I’m going off on a tangent.

The part when she talks about being aware of your fuel and the importance of language tone in creativity brought up an idea I’ve been evolving in my head over the past several years: that the language of the advertising industry needs a reboot. We talk about advertising in terms of war: strategy, tactics, campaigns, targeting, engagement. I’ve written extensively on those facets, using those terms, right here on my website.

Those sociolinguistic holdovers from the Great War and, later and more popularly in the U.S., World War II, worked adequately in a world in which advertising was mostly about pushing out mass messages. Furthermore, advertising was a male-dominated industry, and all the ex-GIs understood the lingo.

But here we are in a different world, navigating a different media landscape with different tools and channels. Even the nature of competition is different.

I think the language we use in business might be one part of what’s behind the fragmentation of society. If you use the language of war, you get war. Today, that limits the role of advertising and marketing, as perhaps it has done all along.

Moving forward, the language of the advertising industry should encompass a broader approach than war-based ideas can contain. It’s not strategy, it’s holistic planning; it’s not tactics, it’s pathways and programs and people. It’s not about competition, it’s about collaboration. We’re not seeking engagement with the target market, we’re seeking a conversation with an ideal customer.

I’m not proposing those as alternate terms for the same old concepts. I’m suggesting that the best marketers have always had their eyes, hearts, and minds on bigger ideas than those words convey, and as more people pile into the advertising, marketing, and media industries it’s increasingly evident that the old vocabulary just doesn't cut it.

Because advertising isn’t about destruction. It’s about creation.
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January 13 2017
Today the front page of the San Diego Union-Tribune screams “GAME OVER,” followed by ten pages of sobbing, finger-pointing, torch-wielding coverage of the San Diego Chargers’ move to Los Angeles. And that’s the A-section; the sports section has even more. In this, the media conglomerate that owns the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times got it right. This felt like my good ol’ provincial hometown paper. Here are a few column inches of rationalism hidden among the angst, a look at the true economic benefits of having a local major-league team:
Advertising copywriter blog link

That the role of news media has changed from informing its audience to entertaining its audience is broadly acknowledged, albeit less so by the audiences themselves, who generally think themselves well-informed. News coverage, no matter where you get it, is more part of a feedback loop than part of a dissemination network.

And this is where it gets interesting, from the perspective of advertising and media application. Because, while this social model works great for enforcing/reinforcing tribal loyalty, it works less well for acquiring new tribal members.

The key question marketers must ask, is whether the objective of any given use of media is customer sustenance or customer acquisition. If it’s the latter, than the old-media model of broadcast outreach is absolutely essential regardless of the media channel chosen. You can’t attract new market share by remaining solely in a closed loop with your existing market share.
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January 11 2017
I’m taking an online course from Hillsdale College on Hamlet and The Tempest, and just completed the section on Hamlet. Here’s the text, from Open Source Shakespeare:
Advertising copywriter blog link

And here’s an ad copywriter’s four-sentence summary, in case you’re unfamiliar with the play. Hamlet, the young prince of Denmark, is commanded by what seems to be the ghost of his late father, the former King, to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” by the current King, Hamlet’s uncle, now married to Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet, skeptical of the ghost and somewhat unsure of the allegation, pretends to be nuts so he can discover the truth. This gambit confuses everyone except Hamlet’s best friend Horatio, in whom he confides, and alienates his fiancee, who goes nuts for real and dies tragically. In the end, Hamlet outwits, exposes, and kills his uncle, but not before just about everyone dies, including Hamlet, leaving Horatio to tell the story.

I’ve seen Olivier, Jacobi, Gibson, Branagh, and Tennant play Hamlet on-screen. I’ve seen the play live two or three times. And I have a few thoughts about Hamlet, most of which are purely literary in nature. But one does concern the world of marketing and advertising: what I’m going to call pre-positioning.

Hamlet is receptive to the idea that his uncle killed his father because it aligns neatly with his low opinion of his uncle. Yet, the first time we actually see the uncle, he comes off as kingly, capable, and even compassionate. So who do we believe? Hamlet? Or our own eyes and ears?

Most interpretations depend on us believing Hamlet, in large part because Shakespeare has primed us to do so by showing us the ghost before Hamlet sees it. Without a single word of accusation, Shakespeare has pre-positioned Hamlet’s uncle as the baddie. We accept his guilt, of something, prior to any scrutiny, and the scrutiny that follows is colored by our prejudgment of his guilt. In many productions, the uncle’s confessional soliloquy (Abraham Lincoln’s favorite) in the latter half of the play is mere affirmation that we had it right all along; other productions have us breathing a sigh of relief that we were, after all, on the right side. Either way, the truth isn’t revealed until the story is well underway and we’re firm in our convictions and impatient for action.

That’s the power of pre-positioning. In marketing, it’s accomplished through consistent communication: press relations, public events and statements, emails, social media, and, yes, advertising. If you advertise only when you have something to announce, you risk allowing your competition to pre-position you, and you certainly allow inertia to pre-position you. Those are two sure-fire ways to lose effectiveness, mindshare, and market share.

What’s the point of advertising when you have nothing new to advertise? Strategic pre-positioning.
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January 5 2017
Oft-beleaguered retailer Sears is selling the Craftsman brand to Stanley Tools for $900 million plus royalties down the road. Here’s the story, from Bloomberg News via MSN:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, that means the Craftsman brand will likely survive, as will Kenmore and Die-Hard should they be similarly, um, monetized.

But I very much see Sears as a man in winter, selling his warm clothes to make money to buy warm clothes. Of the $900 million, only $525 million of it will be paid now, and for Sears that’s a drop in the liquidity bucket. After servicing the debt load it’s unlikely there’ll be enough real cash left over to pay the bills for another few quarters, let alone to invest in potentially profitable lines in order to survive three years to collect the remaining $250 million. And the royalties? They don’t kick in for another 15 years. It could eventually turn into a nice little cash cow for the receivers, but I’m not sure anyone’s betting on Sears surviving 15 years to collect.

The sad thing about Sears, is that none of this should have happened. Sears had the infrastructure and logistical chops to ship everything from boots to bedroom sets worldwide 100 years before Amazon came along. For most of the 20th century, the Sears catalog was Amazon. But its management, driven by shareholders ignorant of anything but their dividend checks and share prices, shut down the catalog unit, creating a vacuum in the retailing sector that Amazon and its ilk promptly expanded to fill.

And now Sears is selling its only assets that still have relevance. I think it’s notable that those assets consist largely of sub-brands. Even though, as a name, Sears has been flown nearly into the ground, the names Craftsman, Kenmore, and Die-Hard remain solid assets. It’s the principle of diversification, applied to corporate branding strategy. And, should anyone question whether sub-branding has value, this is further proof that a strong sub-brand really is its own money in the bank.
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Backwards in time to June-December 2016

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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
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
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