John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
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July, 2006

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July 31, 2006
Continuing the discussion from July 18 and 20, is this article from CNet News (San Francisco, CA) about MySpace, kids, and advertising:
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Although I bemoan the apparent lack of parental involvement, I also wonder if the researchers aren’t giving children enough credit. Clearly the line has been blurred to the vanishing point between advertising and entertainment, peers and promoters. But, kids today have a lot more to do than be a dogsbody to an advertiser. Just because a corporate profile has 80,000 “friends” doesn’t mean that 80,000 people believe there’s a real person there worth engaging in. They could be there just for the discounts and notification of  promotional deals. Just like you probably have loyalty cards from several grocery stores or office supply retailers. Do they make you loyal? No, they make you shop whichever one gives you the better deal. They actually make you disloyal.

The profitable bit about loyalty programs isn’t that they increase loyalty. It’s that the sponsoring companies get purchase information and other bits of customer data. That helps a retailer refine its offerings, and it allows MySpace to pursue advertising dollars.

My prediction: by the time any reasonably valid study on children, social networking, and advergaming is performed, the audience, the medium, and the tactic will have moved on, leaving alarmed academics bobbing in their wake.
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July 29, 2006
A weekend quickie because I saw the latest brand valuations on BBC News:
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No real surprises. American companies still dominate the top positions. Korean companies are edging up. Nokia is back on its game. The value of Ford’s brand has fluctuated downward, which would be more of a problem if brand valuation weren’t a soft science anyway. (For instance, I don’t see eBay on the top ten list, and I think eBay has a stronger brand right now than Mercedes.) A few hot products could boost Ford’s brand considerably, and a green corporate vision seems to be in place which could be a critical differentiator to the vast numbers of people who would opt to help the environment if they could do so without too much cost or inconvenience.
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July 28, 2006
Yet another story from Business Week Online, this one about the new head of marketing for Coca Cola:
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Cool! Mary Minnick is doing exactly what I said Coke should do back on July 11! Of course, she was working this plan years and years before I came along with my little comment, but I didn’t know that.

Her iron-fisted management style seems cast in the Carly Fiorina mold, so it’ll be interesting to see how well she builds up the internal brand. And that success doesn’t hinge only on the support she gets from higher up. People like this can either be stranded, or strand themselves.

But, I think she’s on the right track.

That said, corporate survival takes more than transformational change within. The marketplace has to agree. I’ll leave you with a quote from a November 1952 Fortune article about James Nance, newly hired president of automaker Packard Motors, who struggled mightily to accomplish the same sort of transformational niche marketing: “The president has turned loose thunder and lightning at Packard.”

Four years later, Nance was gone. The company lingered four more years before vanishing. 
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July 27, 2006
I have two articles from Business Week Online to look at today. The first, via CRM (Woodland Hills, CA), looks at the rising cost of viral video campaigns even in the midst of increased competition and noise. The second, via Yahoo! Finance (UK/Ireland), looks at the related problem of copyright enforcement in an environment where immediate digital distribution is the model:
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If a viral video campaign now costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and must compete in an increasingly crowded media environment, is it still worth it? The critical factor, more and more, is the creative. For advertisers who deliver outstanding creative work that connects with the intended audience, viral videos remain a valuable advertising tool. But for the vast majority, this bandwagon is already moving downhill. Remember, a million views may not equal a million rating points against a specific audience, even less so if the emphasis is on entertaining instead of advertising.

The copyright infringement issue hitting YouTube may seem to be a tangent, but the intersection is a huge collision point. See, a key area of contention is that YouTube places (and profits from) ads associated with search results. In other words, any viral video an advertiser posts may be used as a launching pad for a competitor’s search-based ad!

From there, you have to believe one of two things.

Option one: the search result ads are largely ignored. In which case, they offer no value to the advertiser paying for them, and are pointless.

Option two: the success of any search result ad rests largely on the creative (and, since the ads are text-only right now, it comes down to the power of copywriting). In which case, a skilled copywriter can draw targeted eyeballs away from one video and down a whole other path controlled by an advertiser. Which may not matter if you’re an amateur posting videos for the sheer fun of it, but it does matter, a lot, if you’re an advertiser who’s just paid a chunk of change to have a viral video created only to have it co-opted by a competitor at the very point – indeed, the very moment – of contact with the intended audience.

I think this particular iteration of this media channel may be flying into the ground.
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July 26, 2006
I heard about this online Museum of Online Museums (“MoOM”) on a KPBS radio program yesterday afternoon, and looked it up. And the next time I looked up, it was a couple hours later. Check it out:
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The Museum of Online Museums belongs to Coudal Partners, a small design firm in Chicago. It lists online museums about advertising, design, art, packaging, and promotions, mixed in with exhibits about fishing lures, playing cards, Matchbox cars, manhole covers, and old telephone books. Lots and lots of very cool stuff to while away slow times or fire up the neurons for concepting. It’s well worth a bookmark.

For more advertising-related archives and online exhibits, see my Ad Blog entries for March 9 2006, April 29 2005, February 8 2005, January 3 2005, and December 28 and 29 2004.
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July 25, 2006
Here’s a profile of David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO North America, from the New York Sun (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key take-away: despite media proliferation and increasing amounts of noise and clutter, the average amount of time that people spend with media has remained roughly level since 1985. The difference between 1985 and today, is that in 1985 the bulk of that time was spent with a handful of media, and today smaller amounts of time are spent engaging with more media channels.

Key quote about the value of advertising practitioners: “We are chefs, not waiters. We are in the service business. Waiters take orders from clients, but what clients want is for you to be a chef.”

I like that. A lot.

I don’t agree with everything he has to say – for instance, I think reading news online is very “realistic,” and I don’t see New York City as a Mecca for advertising creative (although I also have to wonder which of us is being provincial). But, I got a lot out of his comments, like the one about media bias affecting its value to advertisers. Interesting insights, from one of the world’s top advertising creatives.
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July 24, 2006
As summer crowds flock to the water, floating billboards are popping up. Here’s the story, from Media Life (Herndon, VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now that waterfront skywriting is too costly or prohibited, this seems to be the next best thing. I like the McDonald’s board, which was practically a direct response concept, more than the teaser for the new television show. But, creatively, these floating boards practically invite interaction because, unlike traditional outdoor boards, they are reachable by those being targeted.

Yes, the advertiser would lose control over what happens, but that’s true of a lot of viral and online post marketing too. Vinyl prints are relatively cheap; one could conceivably have a fresh start every day. I wonder what it would take to accompany the floating board with a boat-by or swim-up kiosk?

Even looking at this medium from a passive perspective, how much other technology can be put on-board? Can you project a moving image on it? Use it as a base for a low-power radio station? Make the message change?

I have a few ideas, and by now so do you. New forms of media are always fun to think about. See, this is where media planning is creative, and ad concepts can drive the plan.
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July 21, 2006
Big brands go small, sponsoring intimate events. Here’s the story, from yesterday’s BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quotes, from a branding professor: “Things are moving towards more one-to-one campaigns . . . Because they’re small and intimate events, people really can touch, feel and experience the brand on a one-to-one basis.”

As a result, these mini-events are great ways to take a brand to the streets, or to reinforce relationships with customers. They add value to the brand from a lifestyle perspective. And, more than larger, less-personal events, they can turn brand consumers into brand advocates and evangelists.

Success, though, rests on four key factors: the act, the venue, the audience list, and the relevance of the brand.
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July 20, 2006
This article, from the Chicago Tribune, looks at how food and snack makers are luring kids through online gaming and other virtual experiences:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I guess it’s my time of the month to rant about marketing to kids and the apparent absence of parenting. (A quick search turned up more than two dozen entries: June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003. There are no doubt several others that I missed.)

The Kaiser Family Foundation report referenced in the article is the first comprehensive look at online food advertising aimed at children. And, as a parent and an advertising copywriter, I found no surprises. In the relatively unregulated world of the Internet, savvy marketers are using every trick in the book to grab mindshare. Here’s a relevant snip from the article:

Television advertising still far outstrips what is available online. But as Internet marketing grows, and as children become more adept at using computers, health specialists say the interactivity and intensity of online promotions, combined with the amount of time children spend viewing these sites, could have a large impact.

As I said, no big surprise. Out of the 77 websites identified as targeting children under 12, nearly 3/4 of them used advergames as a way to grab and hold interest. Left uncovered was the viral element to advergames: children competing against friends for high scores and prizes.

What do the advertisers have to say? Here’s another snip from the article:

Quaker, which manufactures Cap’n Crunch, said it does not target children under the age of 8. “Cap’n Crunch understands the importance of being a responsible marketer, and we follow established ad standards and practices,” said spokesman Jamie Stein.
Yeah, right. Cap’n Crunch is not targeting children under the age of 8 in the same way cigarette makers are not targeting children under the age of 18 and beer makers are not targeting people under the age of 21. As for those “established ad standards and practices,” there are very few on the Internet and compliance is largely voluntary. 

If advertisers don’t clean up their online acts, they will provide an already Internet-unfriendly government with the perfect, populist Reason To Regulate, and that means a restricted Internet for all. So the stakes are nothing less than freedom itself, a freedom that, for now, is being relentlessly abused.

The only real, permanent answer, though, lies in parenting. Where are these parents, who teach their small children (many from infancy, by the way) to consume hours of television and online programming? And, more important, what kind of example do those parents set in their own viewing and recreational habits? 
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July 19, 2006
Corporate teamwork is proven to stifle innovation and creativity. Here’s the story, from Reuters via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The best creative team, I think, is made up of two people. Work alone and concepts tend to be isolated, and often impractical or irrelevant or obvious. Work in a group, even a small one, and the intimacy needed to create is lost.

I like being able to bounce concepts off a partner, who often takes them in unexpected directions, or expands them, or refines them. We amplify and improve each other, while also keeping each other focused.

One significant benefit of being a freelancer is that I can work alone when alone works best, and partner up by choice rather than by imposition. It keeps the work better all the way around.
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July 18, 2006
As social networking sites grow, they’re becoming increasingly portal-like. Here’s an article about MySpace, growth, and reaching out to advertisers, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Once something like the X-Men MySpace page has been done, it’s old news to this market. To be the second, or third, or 83rd commercial enterprise to develop a MySpace profile is to chase a target market that is increasingly likely to be actively running away from you.

As for the new content sections? Well, to me it looks like MySpace is setting up to be the Yahoo! of the teens and twenty-somethings. That’s a powerful and profitable thing to be, no doubt – after all, a lot of traffic goes through the Yahoo! homepage.

But at some point, probably very soon, it’ll be time for something new.
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July 17, 2006
This is a look at the GEICO Gecko and a continuation, of sorts, of my July 13 entry about advertising characters. Here’s the story, from USA Today (McLean, VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The gecko concept was not the marketing managers favorite. It was a stop-gap solution created to keep new ads rolling through the Screen Actor’s Guild strike in 2000. Minds changed, though, when sales went up. Now that more ads are focusing on the gecko, the gecko himself has undergone some subtle changes in appearance and character. Yet, funny non-gecko ads keep rolling too, ensuring that he never wears out his welcome. Companies tempted to follow this advertising model, though, need to have a budget to match.

I find it very interesting that two of the top advertising characters today were created to promote, not breakfast cereals, or indeed any packaged goods, but that most commoditized product, insurance.
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July 14, 2006
Here’s a Knowledge@Wharton article about companies feeling their way toward monetizing online video:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The meat of the issue is contained in the last two sections, in which online video is described as a media channel in search of a business model. However, the reality is, there are lots of companies making money using online video. The catch, though, is that most of them are in the adult entertainment industry. Yes, porn.

I’ve been over this recently (or, maybe not so recently – it was on October 24 2005). The factors that affect the ability of an online video provider to generate a revenue stream are the same regardless of the content. Controlling bandwidth costs, converting visitors seeking free content to a paid model, building and managing a subscriber list, profiting from user-submitted content, blending amateur and professional content, making money from both subscribers and advertisers, marketing both online and offline – these are all areas the adult entertainment industry has down pat.

So, the answers aren’t as lofty as some ivory-tower ponderers might think. In fact, one need only adjust one’s sights downward. Closer to, oh, the gutter. It’s amazing what you can find there. Like maybe a relevant, useful, ready-made business model.
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July 13, 2006
Here are some reflections on what happened to brand mascots like Reddy Kilowatt and Cap’n Crunch, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What happened, was that attention spans got shorter. And, I’m not talking so much about consumers as about the advertising industry. So, it’s hard to find an ad agency or a client with the long-term discipline needed to create, launch, and support a brand character. It’s much easier, and more publicity-worthy, to buy a celebrity.

Never mind that brand characters done right still work like wildfire. The Aflac Duck. The GEICO Gecko. No, the mechanics of making brand characters work have not changed much, and if anything (as the article points out) the creative and media opportunities have expanded. I also agree with the article in saying these things run in cycles. So, Reddy Kilowatt, Buddy Lee, the Keebler Elves, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the Michelin Man will rise again, accompanied by hoopla and a new generation of advertising characters.

And wouldn’t it be great to have a hand in creating an icon?
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July 12, 2006
A newly published guide attempts to coach people in the art of assessing the value of an idea. Here’s the story, from (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This article is worth reading if only for the summation of James Webb Young’s five-step process of creative thinking. But some of it seems backed by flawed research, and that’s coming from someone who makes his living as a creative.

So only half the clients think that their agency or freelancer keeps their objectives in mind while concepting? Within that other half may be people who actually understand the process, and know that objective analysis comes after concepting. So none of the clients were interested in “breaking the mould”? Perhaps so, when phrased that way, but I’d bet that nearly all would say they want their advertising to be noticed.

I’ve mentioned it before, but two of the best recent guides to creative thinking are Roger Von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head (revised edition 1998, Warner Books) and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants (1986, Harper & Row).
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July 11, 2006
Here’s a report about Coca Cola and market segmentation, from Sunday’s Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, Coke has issues in the UK that it doesn’t have in the US. While the disaster that was New Coke was a worldwide fiasco, the Dasani bottled water debacle (see my Ad Blog entry for June 16 2004) was a more localized black eye.

I think consumers, like the journalist, are likely to get weary of the brand extensions. At a certain point, Coca Cola must stop stretching its Coke brand to reach increasingly small market segments. I think the P&G approach, of developing target-specific brands with target-specific media strategies (see Ad Blog, June 13 2005 and May 23 2006), is a smarter long-term approach to gaining market share without compromising already-successful brands.
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July 10, 2006
Another local university fires up a branding initiative. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

UCSD faces local competition, not just from small, private USD (I talked about USD’s branding efforts on September 21 2004) but also from the larger and more-aggressive state university, SDSU.

One interesting comment is made by a recent UCSD graduate, at the end of the story:

Feldman added that when he is outside California and telling people he attends UCSD, he often is asked for further clarification.

“If I get a blank stare, I’ll tell people, ‘It’s like UCLA, or Berkeley, but it’s in San Diego,’” Feldman said.

That means that the UC system has no brand of its own outside of certain individual schools; UC Berkeley, for instance, is better-known as just Berkeley. That puts it at a competitive disadvantage against even the Cal State system, which is pretty well-known.

As to whether it matters, it does. The value of a degree as a marketing tool for graduates depends largely on the outside perception of the school that awarded it. That translates into job opportunities even before the knowledge or quality of the individual grad can be tested or proven. A graduate of USC will almost inevitably begin his or her career with more opportunities than a graduate of Grossmont College, and that’s the edge you get from branding.
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July 7, 2006
As ambush marketing goes increasingly mainstream, campaigns find themselves up against city ordinances restricting advertising. Here’s the story about some self-proclaimed guerilla marketers and the upcoming All Star game, from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (PA) via Rocklin & Roseville Today (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It seems to me that, by definition, if you ask permission it’s not ambush marketing. A lot of these seem like questionable tactics anyway. Most seem off-target. Many seem to deliver a message that makes you say “huh? whatever.” Of course, if the cost is kept down, ROI can be huge even if response is minimal. In the case of the ad agency, one or two inquiries could make the whole exercise a huge jackpot.
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July 6, 2006
In advertising, how short is too short? Here’s an article about television and radio commercials of one to five seconds in length, from USA Today (IN):
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The best creative executions either recall a larger campaign, like Master Lock’s one-second spot of 1998, or tie in to a product attribute, like Cadillac’s five-second 0-60 acceleration time campaign. The others, well, they’re audio-visual billboards at best. And, whether they work or not is still an open question.
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July 5, 2006
In keeping with the theme of patriotism and national identity, here’s an article about America’s brand as the “original start-up,” from the South Bend Tribune (IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

That America has a brand is unquestionable. It is unique, recognized, and still surprisingly vibrant and powerful. But to conclude with a pedantic slogan that lectures the audience is a flawed execution.

I believe the best slogans are affirmational, not aspirational. And, just off the top of my head, Lincoln’s of the people, by the people, for the people has rhythm, memorability, and succinctness. I think it’d be hard to beat.
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July 4, 2006
Happy Independence Day! I’m posting because I saw this article in my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about how hosting the World Cup games and making it to the semi-finals are raising Germany’s national pride:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is at bottom, a branding story. And, while it seems that soccer has accomplished what a major ad campaign could not (see my Ad Blog entries on January 24 2006 and September 30 2005), this is not quite the case. It takes a lot of steps to achieve a change this big, but the only thing people notice is the last step before the summit. The ads, as ridiculed as they may have been, were among the steps taken to prepare the field for this harvest of patriotism. Anyway, I think this is very interesting.

And we will be watching the World Cup game today. In Spanish, most likely.
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July 3, 2006
More about luxury brands and their relationships with hip-hop rap artists, from the Chicago Tribune (IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I talked about this last on June 8, and Cadillac’s embracing of rap back on March 2 2004. It’s a fine line that luxury brands have to tread, and I didn’t exactly point to Cadillac as a successful case of brand management for the long term.

But, on reflection, I think I was wrong about Cadillac. Since the 1950s, Cadillac has been a more a vulgar icon of conspicuous consumption than a true upper-class product. When Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy thought they were rich, what car did they order? A periwinkle blue Cadillac. When one-time truck driver Elvis Presley became a star, what did he give as gifts? Cadillacs. Here’s a terrific quote, from The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste (1990, HarperCollins, NY) by Jane and Michael Stern:

Cadillacs are to cars what Jayne Mansfield was to women: big, flamboyant, brazen, and extreme. She was a sex symbol; a Cadillac is a sex symbol and more.... Blues singers cry for them, lottery winners run out to buy them. “Cadillac” conjures images of rowdy Texas millionaires who mount steerhorns on the hood, of cruising city pimps who put black-out film on the windows, and of annoying old people on their way to Florida, going thirty miles an hour in the passing lane.

So the hip-hop connection is a reaffirmation of the brand, not a straying from it, as it might be for other luxury brands that had never quite achieved the level of iconic awareness as Cadillac. Like, perhaps, Cristal.
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July 1, 2006
Euro-style mall advertising is coming to America. Here’s the story, and on a Saturday no less, from my local San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

To read that Fashion Valley shopping mall attracts more visitors than all of San Diego’s major tourist attractions combined is a testament to the successful development of malls as destinations. I’m not convinced of the value of things like naming rights for food courts, but the retail environment is surely the front lines for any consumer brand. What better place to seek one-to-one engagement, than at the mall?
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