John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
July, 2005

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July 29, 2005
Here’s a story about Google ads and an international dispute over territory, from BBC News (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Canada and Denmark both lay claim to tiny, uninhabited Hans Island, between Canada and Greenland. And, in a dubious internet first, both sides have taken to using Google ads to stake their claim.

Here in San Diego, I don’t see either ad in the Sponsored Links section, but I do see an ad for an ergonomic chair poking fun at the whole dispute.
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July 28, 2005
GM is putting the brakes on its employee discount pricing promotion. Here’s the story, from my morning San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now comes the post-campaign analysis. It was successful at increasing dealership foot traffic. It was successful at increasing the average ticket. It was successful at selling off old inventory. It was successful at generating increased revenue from financing, a significant factor that I had overlooked in my previous comments. It was successful at pushing Ford and Chrysler to compete on price. It was successful at increasing market share from 26% to 33%. It failed to generate profits through the quarter, however, and GM continues to lose money.

In short, a successful opening gambit. So, what’s next? Without profits to fund new and attractive products, market share could erode as quickly as it was gained. Increased foot traffic provided a real opportunity to build dealer-customer relationships regardless of purchase behavior, if the dealer’s service warranted a return visit. Clearing out inventory in preparation to receive 2006 models was smart, if the 2006 models justify the blow-out and if future sales weren’t sacrificed for current sales.

The promotion may be over, but the strategy has just begun to roll out. I hope.
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July 27, 2005
More automotive advertising in the news: Chrysler’s latest campaign featuring Lee Iacocca trumpeting Chrysler products’ resale value over GM products, has, predictably, sparked protests from GM. Here’s the story, from The Detroit News Autos Insider (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Two comments. First, I don’t see where any of this should have been a surprise. If you discount new product pricing, used product pricing will reflect an adjusted value based on current pricing, not original pricing.

Second, surely everyone can see that this is nothing more than an opening volley; the same economic rules will apply to Chrysler now that it, too, is discounting its products. This competitive edge, if it is one, will be short-lived.

Okay a third comment: this was a waste of Lee Iacocca.
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July 26, 2005
GM’s employee discount pricing campaign seems to have had the desired effect on sales (despite continuing to lose money). Chrysler and Ford launched similar pricing promotions (again, despite continued losses). Meanwhile, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda are taking the longer view. Here’s the story, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Remember Marketing 101? Pricing is one of the four Ps (with product, place, and promotion). This is a case where some major corporations are screwing up half their marketing mix. Pricing to gain unprofitable market share is, well, unprofitable, and promoting unprofitable sales is plain stupid. And, if the products don’t live up to expectations, regardless of discounts, buyers won’t return. And, without continued investment in technology, there won’t be any reason for buyers to return. I’m not the first person to say it, but we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of the American auto industry.

A march is being stolen on GM, Ford, and Chrysler, and I wonder if they can even see it coming.
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July 25, 2005
Here’s an article about the rise of what I like to call “judgmental consumerism,” from the Financial Times (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is not a new development; after all, part of positioning likes in making buyers feel superior. What is newly recognized, is the multitude of sometimes conflicting elements that go into the making of a status symbol: it’s not just money any more, it’s sociopolitical values too. The Volkswagen Beetle perhaps pioneered this position in the automotive sector, currently held by the Toyota Prius. In both cases, true environmentalists would take public transportation or carpool or ride a bike or re-use a car that’s already manufactured rather than cause one to be built. But pure environmentalism isn’t the point. As the article points out, pure anything isn’t the point, which is at least as much about the appearance of values as the values themselves.
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July 22, 2005
Dated August 1 but already available online are these two articles about global branding, from BusinessWeek and InterBrand. The first is the analysis of the top 100 global brands, and the second is an interview with the chief global marketing officer for Samsung:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t have much to say, except that brand equity is getting easier to lose and harder to build. Samsung is one of the few companies in a traditional product sector to be really gaining momentum on its branding, which is why it’s worth reading what its top marketing guy has to say (it’s nothing you don’t already know, but this interview shows how it all goes together in the real world).

I didn’t link to some of the other bits of this online report, since you can explore on your own, but the Winners & Losers Slide Show offers brief summaries of the largest brand equity gains and losses for 2005, a valuable wrap-up of the year in branding. And, the Interactive Scoreboard is revealing. For instance, in the past five years, the top four global brands have remained static: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, and GE. The biggest fall for a former top-ten has been Ford’s plunge from #8 to #22. 

I also think its worth noting that the CEO of the company with the biggest jump in brand equity value, an internet company no less, came from a packaged goods background: Meg Whitman for eBay.
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July 21, 2005
A Purdue University marketing professor says that Chinese corporations may have difficulty capitalizing on the brands they acquire. Here’s the brief, from Purdue University via Newswise (Charlottesville, VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

With all due respect, I think the professor has missed the real threat, and Lenovo’s purchase of the ThinkPad name is a terrific example. It would be a tactical mistake for Lenovo (or Haier, or SAIC – that’s Shanghai Automotive, the leading bidder for Rover) to sell to the West under their parent corporate identities. It’s far more effective – and a far more believable marketplace scenario – that these corporations will adopt the stealth approach that has already worked.

See, the ThinkPad laptop was already largely built by Lenovo. It was marketed by IBM (and my elderly T-22 has a sticker that says it was made in Mexico), but the ThinkPad name has enough brand equity that most people don’t care where it came from. They probably didn’t know they were buying a Chinese-made laptop when they bought it as an IBM. Just as most people don’t know they’re buying a Chinese-made coffee maker when they buy a Mr. Coffee, or a Chinese-made cordless telephone when they buy an AT&T, or a Chinese-made television set when they buy a GE. See, while a brand can transcend nationality, it also can make nationality a non-issue.

I don’t think the Chinese are after building their own brands. I think they’re after building market share; that’s been their strategy so far and it’s been working. The brands they are acquiring are powerful marketing tools, and I believe that Chinese corporate executives recognize the power, even if they have not, traditionally, been able to create it for themselves. And, whether you create it or buy it, the end result is the same: you have it.

We’ve already seen how one occasionally mentioned scenario panned out in one past case: that of marketing in the U.S. under a different name. In 1958, when Nissan looked to expand its automotive sales to the U.S., it was saddled with a name that was strongly perceived as negative. So, it marketed its cars in the U.S. as Datsuns, and continued to do so successfully until 1982-1984, when it consolidated global marketing under the Nissan brand name at a cost estimated by some at $500 million. At the time, this was not considered money well-spent; five years later, the Datsun name was still better-recognized than Nissan. Today, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Nissan driver who thinks about Datsun.

That said, there’s at least one important difference between the two situations. Lenovo and Haier and Shanghai Automotive may not be recognized, but they also carry no negative baggage, like the name Nissan did in 1958.

And, I think it’s a moot point anyway.
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July 19, 2005
Have you noticed that there are fewer star athletes being used as pitchmen lately? This article, from The Kansas City Star via The Mercury News (San Jose, CA), examines the situation:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Unlike other celebrities, an athlete’s fame is measurably performance-based, and that performance can be truly moving and inspirational. Therein lies the enduring appeal of athlete endorsements. Whether the athlete-to-brand relationship is one of leverage or one of exploitation depends on the emotional relevance of the brand and the authenticity of the connection. That’s why Tiger Woods and Nike works, while Tiger Woods and Buick mis-fires.
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July 18, 2005
The hot new creative approach may be to do no creative at all.  Here’s an article about the rise of consumer-created advertising, from Business Week via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, it builds buzz. It is, perhaps, the ultimate in consumer involvement in the advertising, not only eliminating the fourth wall but inviting viewers behind the curtains to pull the levers themselves. And, Audi’s recent posting of record worldwide sales seems to indicate effectiveness, as does Converse’s 12% rise in sales this last quarter.

However, the bulk of consumer-created advertising is obvious, off-strategy garbage. It creates a high for the creator and his or her circle of friends, but can that emotional connection be sustained? Who wants to see someone else’s custom sneaker design in Times Square besides the person pushing the buttons?

You see this social behavior all the time with user-controlled webcams. Have you noticed that when someone else has the cam controls, it’s really, really boring? And how the view is only interesting when you have the controls? And how you tend to click off if there are more than a couple people in line? Watch the stats for a while, and you’ll see that the line of users typically averages about one.

I think that this is a short-lived fad. Remember: all effective advertising is fundamentally interactive. This high-tech veneer will wear thin, and, once the novelty wears off, consumers themselves will move onto the next thing. The fact that this article appeared in a mainstream magazine seems to indicate that the wave is breaking.

I have other issues about this, including brand stewardship and rights management. I’m less concerned about brand stewardship, because ultimately branding is in the hands of the consumers anyway. But the rights side of this has me very concerned that people are surrendering potentially valuable intellectual assets to major corporations in exchange for their five minutes of fame.
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July 15, 2005
Two stories from my good old San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) today, the first about sign-spinners and the second, from the AP, about Dell’s industrial design:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

I last talked about sign spinners on August 11 2003, when I said “Sign spinning symbolizes what has become my personal definition of advertising: Performance Art, with ROI.”

Both my definition of advertising and my admiration for the medium are undiminished by time. With sign spinning enjoying increased popularity, though, one sees fewer truly inspired performers and more spinners merely going through the motions with a morose, hangdog expression (which one of the photos accompanying the article chances to capture).

Yet, lack of animation doesn’t seem to affect results. A local laundry with a decidedly unanimated sign-holder still reaps about 60% of its customer traffic through its sign non-spinner. And, a large grocery store located on a major thoroughfare gets about 30% of its traffic from representatives dressed up as fresh produce to match the specials – they do little else but wave at cars and point to the signs with the specials.

So, like other media options, as sign-spinning has grown its practitioners have become more efficient and less interesting.

The second article, about Dell, focuses on using style to differentiate your brand in a commodity market. Like computers and, increasingly, automobiles, but also like most service businesses including banking, insurance, and discount retailing.

Design is an important part of the brand message. However, will Dell extend the same design philosophy to its packaging? That’s where Apple nails it every time, as does Target in the retail sector.
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July 14, 2005
More about the convergence (or intrusion) of advertising and everyday life, from The Wave Magazine (San Jose, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The desperate run toward product placement is short-sighted and stupid. But, it’s great for creative teams and ad agencies that develop relevant, enjoyable television commercials. That way, instead of a meager 2-second flash of product, which everyone knows was paid for and most viewers ignore, you get 30 or 60 seconds to weave a compelling, persuasive story. And, with other advertisers skittering like lemmings to product placement as the new-old-media Nirvana, there’ll be less competition too.
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July 13, 2005
The nation’s first television-over-the-Internet pilot project is launching, right here in San Diego. Here’s the story, from my hometown  San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve been watching television programming through my Internet connection for years. Several times a week, I watch the half-hour (one hour on Fridays) BBC business program Working Lunch, available every weekday as a streaming video, and German media company WDR offers a wide menu of individual shows online, including travel and political broadcasts, some more than an hour long. Just the other week, my wife and I sat in front of the computer, hoisting a rare glass of beer and watching a show about camping in Germany (Camper-Glück).

So, what’s really new here, is the exclusivity of the project, which allows Time Warner Cable to charge money for the service instead of offering it free. And, you have to be a subscriber to the landline service (more money). And, you need to download a special viewer (probably enabling greater trackability). And, you can only watch programs in real time; there’s no archive, so on-demand video becomes another profit center for the media company.

As much as I’d like to get excited about this, I can’t. For the consumer, this is a giant leap backwards.
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July 12, 2005
Yet another article dolefully forecasting the end of Television Advertising As We Know It, from Kyodo News (Japan) via Yahoo! News Asia:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The only people getting alarmed by these developments seem to be media researchers and their statisticians. Now, I’m just a little ol’ advertising copywriter, but I like the opportunities allowed by TiVo and related personal media management technologies. There is nothing to fear. These developments are merely the technological version of what happens automatically (and untraceably) in viewer’s minds anyway. Who believes that, in the world before personal digital recorders, every viewer paid attention to every TV commercial? No one, except perhaps the new media alarmists. Advertising was always an exercise in opt-in communication. But now, we can track it, right down to the individual TV spot.

And that increases the recognition of the strategic importance of great creative, to attract attention and hold it. After all, if more than half the viewers skip 80% of the commercials, then, for more than half the viewers, great TV commercials could enjoy 80% less competition.
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July 11, 2005
Event marketing is playing a more-important role in corporate brand-building. Here’s a press release from an event marketing firm and its research company, via Yahoo! News Finance:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although the methodology is only sketchily described, calling the specific numbers into question in my mind, you can still view the research results as a broad move toward (as the article says) a “Customer-Centered Shift in Marketing Priorities.” Wait a second, isn’t all marketing customer-centered? Well, yeah, or it should be, anyway. The underlying reality may be buried within the article:

“... closer integration with other marketing disciplines is identified as a key means to event success. For more than 80% of respondents, aligning and coordinating with a broader marketing campaign’s sales, marketing and public relations strategies – before, during and after an event – significantly heightens the success of an event.”
So, when events are integrated into the brand plan, and supported with other marketing, you meet with more success on all levels. And, more corporate executives are recognizing this.

See, branding isn’t one thing. It’s everything.
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July 8, 2005
Chin up, and back to the world of dog-riding monkeys delivering Mexican food! Here’s a look behind the scenes at the creation and continuation of a television advertising campaign, from Minnesota Public Radio:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a pleasant little break for the weekend. There’s nothing here that most of us we don’t know or haven’t seen, but it’s fun to see someone else sweating over the same details we do. And, it’s nice to see a smaller ad agency get some outside-the-ad-industry recognition for its creative work. Finally, it’s especially nice to see the creative department’s contribution to the advertiser’s growth acknowledged.
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July 7, 2005
What a horror for Britain to wake up to, on the heels of London’s triumphant bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, beating out Moscow, New York City, Madrid, and Paris. In case you haven’t heard, a coordinated series of terrorist attacks targeting the mass transit system at rush hour has rocked central London. Here’s a link to the latest coverage, from BBC News:
BBC News: London Explosions

In the Have Your Say section, these words were written by a Parisian who could be speaking for the world:

Yesterday, we were annoyed with Londoners and English people. London won the games and Paris lost them. And today we wake up. We realise that these little fights between old friends are for spoilt children. We are all facing a huge challenge. We have all to fight terrorism. We are all Londoners today. We all feel sad and share the pain of the one who are suffering today. Do not worry my friends, we will be with you in this fight and we will win it.
Julien, Paris, France

To be concerned with advertising seems pretty paltry today.
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July 6, 2005
On the face of it, this is a massive puff piece for Matthew Lesko, the guy in the question-mark suit who hawks dubious get-free-money books on infomercials, from the Baltimore City Paper (MD):
Advertising copywriter blog link

However, this is also a good case study about the importance of promoting and maintaining your brand in the face of adversity. And, it’s a great example of how advertising copy can elevate a commodity product or service.

Look: this guy started with nothing but reams of dry-as-dust government paperwork. This information is free to the public. But, by focusing on the benefits of that information (government grants and subsidies), in a relevant way (YOU can: get your share of that money > realize your dreams > become a happier, wealthier person), Lesko created a compelling message, a profitable product, and a brand. That’s the part he didn’t “plagiarize.” And, although it’s not the bulk of his product, it’s the bulk of his pitch and the main reason for his success.
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July 5, 2005
I’m not the only one who has noticed that the latest Chinese corporate buying spree has focused on acquiring companies with well-entrenched brand equity (including ThinkPad notebook computers, Rover automobiles, Maytag appliances, and the recent bid to buy U.S. oil company Unocal, which would mean the Chinese would own “The Spirit of 76”). Here’s an article, from the New York Times News Service, via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a comprehensive article, even pointing out that Chinese corporate executives may not have the chops to manage a brand once they acquire it since, after all, most of them have tried and failed to build global brands of their own.

My main concern, though, is bigger than branding. If we accept that economic cycles are part of our capitalist system, what can be done about, um, government-financed corporate entities from nations with alternative economic systems seizing buying opportunities when stock prices are down? They could conceivably buy U.S. (and European) companies when they’re down, milk them when they’re up, and buy more when they’re down again, in a never-ending spiral of gradual economic takeover. And, it’s amazing how much free cash a company can spend on acquisitions when it has minimal governmental regulations, environmental standards, and worker benefits to pay for.

Something to think about as a consumer, on this day after Independence Day.
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July 4, 2005
An Independence Day posting because I found this great overview of the ad concepting process, from Business First (Louisville, KY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

All of the processes and procedures here are pretty much standard in the advertising industry. However, it seems that less focused time is spent on concepting than I prefer, and fewer ideas seem to be generated (come on, five ad concepts to run by the creative director is nothing).
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July 1, 2005
Another ad critique, this one from BBC News Magazine about the latest Virgin Trains commercial:
Advertising copywriter blog link

My take in a nutshell: technically brilliant execution of a graceful concept based on a deeply flawed strategy of over-promising. Whether this works will depend on whether, in the end, people buy the sizzle or the steak. In a commodity market like mass transit, this tactic could make the advertiser stand out. Or, the sizzle could fizzle in the real world, even while simultaneously captivating customers in their imaginations.
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Backwards in time to June 2005

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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San Diego, California

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