John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
July, 2004

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July 30, 2004
It’s hard to make sense of a revolution when you’re living through it. But, here’s a very good article, from Wired, about how the Internet is changing advertising, and how the next generation is driving those changes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The more I see, the more it seems to me that the new media vs. traditional media issue is more of a symptom than a driver. The key changes lie in how young people perceive marketing messages, and their increased ability to selectively filter ambient noise. It’s something parents have long known about kids, how they don’t seem to hear us tell them things they don’t want to hear. Well, the advertising environment is like that, multiplied many times over.

All this means, is that there’s no place any more for mediocre advertising that coasts along on the strategy of high reach and frequency. After all, the same elements that made a print ad work in 1904 also make an Internet experience work in 2004. Attract. Intrigue. Persuade. Surprise me. Pique my curiosity. Engage me. Speak my language. Address my problems. Let me decide if I will let you in.

What’s happening, is that advertisers are finally applying to new channels the surefire old ways: empathy, persuasion, real one-on-one salesmanship and not that fake book-system stuff. And, advertising creatives are re-learning how to make effective ads. It’s an exciting time to be in advertising!
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July 29, 2004
Mitsubishi has had problems lately. And, since branding seems to be the marketing solution du jour, many observers are casting the crisis in the form of a branding issue. Here’s one such article, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Let’s dispense with the branding discussion right up front: Mitsubishi has no brand, at least in the U.S. With no brand perception, Mitsubishi is free to maneuver in a way that BMW, to point to a strong automotive brand as an example, could not maneuver. The branding issue may be a challenge, but it’s not Mitsubishi’s main problem.

Mitsubishi’s most-pressing corporate issues include management problems, ethical problems, legal problems, and financial problems, all of which are exacerbating a sales problem.

The solutions being implemented, from the comparison advertising to the warranty and extended test drive program, aren’t branding. They are, in fact, retail-oriented product promotion. That may be exactly what Mitsubishi needs to drive immediate sales up, to fund the other battles in its fight for survival.
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July 28, 2004
Greetings from Germany! I had hoped to have something to say about German advertising, but we just got here yesterday. So, instead, I have this article, about the rise of 90-second and longer U.S. television commercials, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The rise of longer TV commercials is not just about the creative. It’s also about cost-efficiency. The increasing fragmentation of media audiences combined with rising media costs and escalating media noise mean that once you have your commercial message in front of a target consumer, the last thing you can afford to do is not make the sale (and I use “make the sale” to refer to branding goals as well as retail sales). It’s no coincidence that the golden age of television advertising centered around the 60-second spot; nor that true television retailers (think Ronco) have long used 90-second and longer commercials.
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July 23, 2004
AT&T decides to abandon the market on which it built its brand: residential telephone users. What this shift means for the brand is an open question explored in this article from The Star-Ledger (NJ) via
Advertising copywriter blog link

AT&T, like many technology-based companies (Kodak and Xerox come to mind), found itself on the horns of a dilemma that none of the branding experts interviewed for the article acknowledged. As a result, AT&T is criticized both for failing to keep up with the times and for over-expansion. What’s interesting, and a bit ironic considering the current trend toward towards brand fragmentation as a strategy, is that long-time brand guru Al Ries and Gen-X brand guru Rob Frankel agree: the core issue facing AT&T is a loss of focus. I’d go further, and say that what AT&T needs to focus on, is transitioning its brand. It doesn’t need to crystallize its vision right away – the brand has enough equity to live on for a while while management sorts things out. Then, when the new focus is achieved, they need to come out swinging.

I wracked my brain to think of a major brand that successfully transitioned from one line of business to another, and couldn’t quite come up with one. Studebaker successfully transitioned from being a major horse-drawn wagon brand to being a major automobile brand. But, that was more than a century ago. To those who say Studebaker simply followed the evolution of the vehicle industry, it’s worth noting that none of the other big wagon-makers succeeded in making the transition, although the records show they tried. All the major car brands we have today (and even 50 years ago) started as car brands. A couple decades ago, Xerox made what looked like a good effort to secure a foothold in the emerging small business computer market by branding itself “The Document Company,” but that failed.

All of which is what makes AT&T’s branding efforts worth watching. Seeing a major brand in transition is a rare occurrence, and seeing a successful brand transition is even rarer.

Speaking of transitions, the next time I update this blog, it will be from Germany. You can follow my family’s saga on my family website’s weekly journal.
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July 22, 2004
Meanwhile, in the world of retail, Kmart tries to increase sales by revamping its logo and slogan. Here’s the article from the Detroit News (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing that really gives a slogan power isn’t what it says, but how long it says it. You can’t drive sales or branding through a slogan, but, over time, you can embed a slogan into customer’s perceptions of the brand if it affirms a positive brand experience.

When slogans change every year or so, all it does is increase customer confusion. The article shows three different slogans used since 2001. I don’t think any of them are great. The slogan about “blue light” at least evoked something that made the Kmart shopping experience unique. But, the thing is, had Kmart stuck with any of them, it would have built something where it currently has nothing.

The second key to Kmart’s branding problem may lie in store management. In retail, the shopping experience is the brand. The most-important part of the company’s branding is in the hands of its store employees and managers.

Now, I’m just a copywriter, so maybe the wonderfulness of the new logo goes right over my head. But to me, it’s confusing. Is it K-kmart now? Or kmart? Given that the letter K is key to the brand identity, I’d rather see it bigger than twice in different forms.
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July 21, 2004
You just knew this was going to happen: the world’s first TV channel dedicated to commercials. Here’s the article from The Scotsman (Scotland), about the launch, this Fall, of the Advert Channel:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Too bad it’s only available in the U.K. Hey, I’d watch it.
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July 20, 2004
I talked about click fraud a few months ago (May 5, 2004), and web-savvy marketers have been dealing with this issue for years now. But, as paid search network marketing gets bigger, the stakes get higher and the cries of alarm get louder. Here’s the article, from CNET News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Click fraud has become essentially a built-in waste variable in an otherwise highly targeted medium. But, a click fraud (or, click waste) rate of 5-20% shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker. After all, how many readers of a general-interest magazine are really in the market for the cars, collectibles, and gadgets advertised within its pages?

Yes, the alarmists cry, but paid search network marketing is supposed to be targeted! As if the mere act of targeting negates the concept of competition and opposing agenda. Regardless of the medium, advertising doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

This inability to account for a 1:1 relationship between clicks and potential customers, as outrageous as that may seem, may be the single issue that limits the growth of paid search as an advertising medium. Well, that plus the increasing cynicism of ever more people towards all forms of advertising.
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July 19, 2004
Cool Freebie Dept. Here’s an article on U.S. megabrands (defined by ad spending, not perception testing), with a downloadable report, from Ad Age (QwikFIND ID AAP80Q):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ad spending in general was up more than 12%, which tends to hide some media losses in advertising market share. For instance, while the percentage of ad dollars allocated to television went down, the amount of dollars spent on TV went up. Also, dollar amounts were based on spending in selected media, and didn’t include such important channels as direct mail, non-traditional media, and sponsorships.

Definitely download the full report, as there are some interesting things that come out of it when you start putting metrics together. For instance, Ford was the #1 megabrand in the #1 ad category, but their ad spending was down 3.4%. In fact, of the top five megabrands, two reduced spending and one (Verizon, the top megabrand) increased its spending a little less than the general market. The big gainer in categorical spending was pharmaceuticals, up more than 18%.

A look at the top 10 and top 20 megabrands is more interesting than the top five. The top 10 contains four telecoms, four automotive marques, one retailer, and one restaurant chain. The top 20 includes seven automotive marques, four telecoms, four retailers, three computer companies, one software company, and one restaurant. Only half of the top 20 megabrands increased ad spending over the 12% mark, and five reduced ad spending, at least in the media counted in the report. So, the much-vaunted “advertising recovery” is still very much in flux.
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July 16, 2004
A former advertising copywriter turned novelist aims his third novel at a specific target market: movie producers. And scores, almost. Here’s the article, from the Sydney (AUS) Morning Herald:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a writer, I thought this was interesting reading for the end of the week. I respect the discipline and persistence it takes to create long works like novels and screenplays even though I have no desire to write anything longer than a corporate brochure. Advertising copywriting suits me perfectly. However, I was struck by certain similarities. Both a great ad and a great novel start with a great idea. Both are written without pandering to a hidden market. Both must be fundamentally believable and faithful to the concept. And neither has a place for cynicism.
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July 15, 2004
A significant new IAB/Nielsen study shows that being highly ranked on search engine results, including having the top sponsored listings, enhances branding. Here’s the article, from Jupitermedia’s ClickZ News (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote, from study author Marc Ryan:

“... if you want to measure the value of your campaign in effective ways, you should measure all the metrics, not just the ones you think the medium was designed for.”
I’m reminded of a similar revelation nearly two decades ago, when Suzuki almost accidentally discovered that outdoor could be a highly effective direct-response medium. The story goes that they started putting an 800-number on billboards advertising the then-new Suzuki Samurai and, to their surprise, received calls. The bigger they made the phone number, the more calls they got. Finally, they created an ad around the idea, showing the diminutive SUV with the headline “For a good time, call [phone number].” The phones rang off the hook.

An advertising medium is just that: a medium. It should not be confused with the audience or the audience’s reaction to the creative.
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July 14, 2004
A brief history of international, cross-cultural, cross-generational branding juggernaut Hello Kitty, from the San Francisco Chronicle’s
Advertising copywriter blog link

My favorite Sanrio creation has always been Pochacco, an über-cute Snoopy rip-off. (Come on, fess up. You have a favorite Hello Kitty character too.) But here’s the weird part. I thought he was part of my childhood, and I remember seeing Pochacco pencil cases and erasers in Nihon-Gakko (Japanese language school) in the 1970s. But my recall of Pochacco is as good as my recall of Japanese – a big zero. According to the Sanrio website, Pochacco was introduced in 1989. Which means that the character and my sense of time (or nostalgia) has fused, creating a new memory of a past time and place. That’s powerful branding.
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July 13, 2004
Today’s feature on the Ad Blog, blog ads. More and more bloggers are making money by accepting advertising. Here’s the story, from the Chicago (IL) Tribune via the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, MN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m been writing ads since 1983. I’ve had a personal online journal since 1998. I’ve had my Ad Blog running since February 2003. It’s high time for me to weigh in on blog advertising. I think advertising on blogs is going to be a short-term thing, a fad. Sure, it’ll get bigger. Then it’ll blow up or fizzle out.

Wait! Wait! Here’s why I think this way.

Either blog advertising will be noticed, or ignored. If it’s ignored, then it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, it’s a poor media value and will eventually die of its own lack of ROI. If it’s noticed, then either it will be perceived by readers as compromising the integrity of the blog, or it will add value to the blog. If it compromises the integrity of the blog, then either the ads will start being ignored (go back two sentences) or the blog’s readership will move on, taking eyeballs and ad revenue with it.

All of which leaves the possibility that the advertising is noticed, and it adds value to the blog. Once this point is reached, optimistic forecasters naïvely believe things will simply remain this way.

In that case, however, many advertisers will realize they have more pull than they thought. They may find it better to produce their own blogs, consolidate their audiences, increase their control over messages, and reduce their ad spending on third-party blogs (possibly even generating revenue through their own cooperative advertising partnerships). At the very least, blog advertising will go mainstream, only to be replaced by the next “alternative” medium.

On the creative side, many bloggers will realize that they can optimize their blogs to attract high-dollar ads. Blog optimizing, or (to coin a term) bloptimizing, could enjoy a nice run (look for this spam email coming soon: “Here’s how I made a million dollars with my blog”). But, this cynical approach will drive readers away from the medium. Subsequent generations of bloptimizers and blopportunists could make blog-reading passé.

Finally, there will remain purists – people who write or read blogs out of deep personal interest. Those people will be much harder to find, though, amid an increasingly crowded, commercial environment. Some may seek out new ways to communicate, others simply won’t bother any more.

In changing times, it’s unwise to bet on things changing only up to a point.

Ironically, there will likely never be advertising on my Ad Blog. My own self-interest precludes me from taking the chance that an ad might promote one of my clients’ competitors.
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July 12, 2004
People still don’t understand many of the words used in ad copy for electronic products, according to a recent survey of 2,000 consumers. Here’s the article, from Ad Age (QwikFIND ID AAP79T):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I talked about this a year ago (on July 8, 2003 to be exact), but I’m not surprised the industry hasn’t improved the way it talks to consumers. It’s not just about ad copy. It’s about the whole advertising message, making the benefits of the technology relevant to real consumers. That’s a marketing process that begins even before R&D.

Focusing on technology is an entrenched corporate behavior. Companies persist in believing that they are product makers instead of service providers. So, their ads, like their other corporate strategies, are about giving the customer what they have instead of what their customer wants.
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July 9, 2004
Continuing the discussion from yesterday, more about t-shirts as statements. Here’s the article, from the Allentown (PA) Morning Call via (Fort Wayne, IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Done right, a t-shirt doesn’t need a TV screen on it to be interactive, engaging, and personal. And, brand-savvy marketers already know this.
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July 8, 2004
A new wrinkle in digital/personal marketing convergence: a t-shirt with a built-in flat video screen running a continuous-loop commercial. Here’s the article, from the Christian Science Monitor:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Sometimes, guerilla marketing tactics and technology integrate well. Certain viral campaigns, for instance. In other cases, the combination is just a solution in search of a problem. The key issue here, as I see it, is that the marketing is not integrated. What we have here is an outdated approach (a Flash animated commercial or slide show) cobbled to a traditional marketing solution (a t-shirt worn by a corporate ambassador) with a high-tech twist (cool, there’s a TV on her chest!). It’s interesting at first, but those sign spinners on street corners are more interactive. And engaging.
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July 7, 2004
I thought I was the only person in the world who appreciated finding other peoples’ dashed-off notes, crumpled on the sidewalk or caught in the ground cover. But, there’s a whole book about them, with, apparently, a movement to match. Here’s an article about the book Found, from the Detroit (MI) Free Press:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Perhaps my appreciation of found notes is a sign (or a symptom) of always-on creativity, finding inspiration in discarded things. I must also admit to a desire to capture in my own writing the spontaneity and fire and mystery that permeates found-note copy.

I also have a weakness for used books that are inscribed, the more notations the better (as I am, myself, an unabashed writer of margin notes). One of my favorite finds is a book about photography, which was once a birthday gift from a woman to her lover. The photo-illustrations are notated with allusions to European trips, romantic interludes on the beach, and other moments that make up a relationship. I pointed out the inscriptions to my wife, who said “she sounds immature, or very young.” Yes, but also very much in love. How could this gift have wound up at a used-book shop? There must’ve been a falling out ...

Not all stories are found written down. My other favorite find is an adventure novel that I bought at a local thrift store. It carries no inscriptions, but it had originally accompanied a man on a trip to Paris; I know this because he used his boarding pass stubs as bookmarks. Scattered like clues through the book I discovered, in leisurely succession, one ticket stub from the Eiffel Tower (dated July 21, 1999), an unmarked receipt, a black-and-white postcard (“Le vieux Paris”), and four black-and-white photos of a young woman sitting on a sea wall. Not particularly good photos, but all the more intriguing for that. The last object that fell out of the book, was the man’s ticket stub for his return flight from Paris to San Diego. The plot described by the memorabilia were the best part of the book.

Creative muses are everywhere, if your mind is open to them. As long as I’m discussing it, I’ll also confess to printing out eBay auctions with especially good sales copy. In fact, eBay may be the best place to find great retail copywriting, and to hone your own skills as a copywriter. You can judge effectiveness by how high the bids go compared to auctions for similar items.
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July 6, 2004
Coke will change the way it advertises, under the leadership of a new chief marketing officer well-versed in the power of alternative media. Here’s the article, from last week’s Atlanta (GA) Business Chronicle, just now posted online:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Note that Coke will not reduce its spending on 30-second TV commercials, despite the article’s headline and increased evidence of television’s inability to deliver results. Instead, it will increase its spending on alternative ways to address consumers. This is smart because it enables Coke to hold ground while simultaneously exploring new opportunities with enough funding to confirm whether or not they work; a reconnaissance in force, as it were. This approach is something not many other advertisers can afford. Will Coke squander its brand and its budget through fragmented, uncoordinated efforts? Or will it use its clout to grab and hold consumers in whole new ways? Either way, it’s going to be big. And most advertisers, lacking budget or vision or both, will be forced to follow.
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July 5, 2004
A different approach to ad agency pricing, from Ad Age (QwikFIND ID AAP77U):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, this article is yet another plug for a book by the article’s author, which was innovative once but is rapidly becoming a tiresome trend (not the book, but the plugging of books through content articles in trade publications). That aside, the article itself raises a good question: how to be compensated fairly for a marketing concept that could reap a company untold millions of dollars? I’m not convinced that this is well-answered.

The article begins with the well-worn apocryphal story of a hairdresser who saves the day for a client by creating a masterful hairdo using just a ribbon and a hairbrush. When asked his fee, the hairdresser replies “$2,000.” “I’m not paying $2,000 for a ribbon,” the woman in the story says. “Fine,” says the hairdresser, untying the ribbon and thereby laying waste to the hairdo. “The ribbon is free.”

The point of the story, is to be paid for the talent, not the ribbon. I’m in total agreement, as far as that goes. I also agree that pitching accounts with speculative creative, essentially providing strategic and tactical thinking for free, is dumb. Spec presentations developed historically because ad agency income, in the old days, came primarily from media commissions. That business model no longer works, and agencies and consultants should (and do) get compensated for the value of their thinking, not the cost of the media placements. I’ve always said that as a copywriter I don’t get paid for writing words. I get paid for drawing customers.

However, I think the concept is over-extended here. On the one hand, I’m in respectful awe of someone who sells his ideas for a million dollars a pop. On the other hand, I think ideas without implementation have little value to anyone. To bring it back to the hypothetical hairdresser, his idea for a hairdo, while obviously the brainchild of a master, was worth little until it was masterfully implemented.
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July 2, 2004
A branding consultant tells the unvarnished truth about taglines and slogans, in an article in the Portland (ME) Press-Herald:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a copywriter, I’m in full agreement with everything the article says. Too many companies use taglines as bolt-on branding, in the absence of any real differentiators.

I’ll go further than that, and say that slogans and taglines are yesterday’s solutions. Today’s consumer lives immersed in a relentless cacophony of media noise, and a slogan is just another thing to ignore.

Taglines and slogans may not have been good solutions yesterday, either. David Ogilvy, in Ogilvy on Advertising (1983), said “agencies waste countless hours concocting slogans of incredible fatuity,” and lists 19 taglines used by major corporations, all interchangeable then and all long forgotten now.
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July 1, 2004
Target Corporation buys Times Square, at least from an advertising and media perspective: a single massive outdoor sign (actually made up of nine connected signs) occupying 23,200 square feet and wrapping around three sides of Times Square Tower. Here’s the article, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m a dedicated Target watcher. I admire the way the company has stayed focused on a double-barrel approach, with creative executions of both branding and in-the-trenches retail advertising. And, I’m a little in awe of their ad budget, which allows them to pack full loads in both barrels. So, even their non-traditional, innovative marketing tactics are implemented in spectacular fashion.
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Backwards in time to June 2004

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

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