John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
July 2007

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July 31 2007
I have another new study today, this one looking at in-game advertising. Here’s a Q&A with the CEO of the research firm, from Media Life:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, the study reveals that simple messages and visible logos, placed at eye level, generally get the most attention. Ads at the periphery, cluttered ads, and ads that need to be read generally attract fewer eyes. And, overall, in-game advertising is primarily a branding vehicle.

Yeah, those results sound like no-brainers, but in today’s fast-moving media environment there is considerable value in validating the ideas one thought was obvious. And, research like this marks a significant step toward increasing the accountability of in-game advertising.

I think the exciting thing about digital media channels such as games, is their emerging ability to measure actual and individual consumer ad sightings instead of extrapolations based on passive mass exposure. It’s the difference between measuring how many ads you throw on the wall, and how many stick. The ability to measure the audience instead of the medium represents a fundamental improvement in the research tools available, not just for tracking ad campaigns but also for creating them.
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July 30 2007
A new study upholds the concept of multi-media, multi-channel ad campaigns. Here’s a PDF of the report from Atlas Solutions, a digital media marketing company:
Advertising copywriter blog link

No, the report doesn’t claim that digital media is the be-all end-all of modern media. That’s what makes it so refreshing. Although the research focuses on digital media as ad portals, the conclusions are valid across all media.

Here are two key points about reach and frequency:

So, even counting clicks doesn’t reveal the value of the other ad exposures in other media channels. Click-throughs are as much a result of other, possibly non-digital, media placements as they are of targeted digital ad serving, which is what media traditionalists have said all along. See, technology changes, but people don’t. You still need to build a compelling case across several media channels in order to punch through on any media channel.
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July 27 2007
Just a quickie tying together brand perceptions, corporate sponsorships, and the Tour de France, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the problem with associating your brand with celebrities in almost any field of endeavor: the well-rounded, emotionally healthy individual is far and few between.
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July 26 2007
How a brand is perceived depends a good deal on how the brand’s quality is perceived. Here’s how Mattel maintains its product quality - and protects its brand - despite having almost all its manufacturing based offshore. The story comes from the New York Times News Service, via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s notable here is that, while other companies are just starting to grasp the importance of checking and double-checking to maintain brand standards, Mattel has had protocols in place for nearly five decades.

Also notable, is that supply chain management  is clearly part of branding. And the larger the operation, the more the operational details loom in importance to the maintenance of the brand.
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July 25 2007
McDonald’s joins the consumer-generated ad craze, cashing in on a YouTube video created by two young comedians. Here’s the story, from The Boston Globe (MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, so it’s obvious that YouTube is the premiere portfolio showcase for aspiring copywriters and art directors. However, the problem here isn’t the creative or even the execution. It’s the overarching strategy.

So far, I have seen very few major corporations leverage a consumer-generated ad into anything more than a short-term PR bump.

This despite the fact that the mere presence of consumer-generated advertising indicates tremendous brand buy-in. The concept – not of each ad but of giving the customers a platform – should be innately campaignable, and yet there are very, very few integrated ad campaigns based on amateur content.

So the opportunity to take full advantage of consumer-generated commercial work is still wide open. The question then becomes: will the opportunity be taken up before the trend crests and falls?
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July 24 2007
I have two for you today. First up is a quickie about a short-lived attempt to tow floating ad billboards on San Diego Bay. Here’s the story, from the local-interest column of the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hey, it was exactly one year ago that I talked about this media option (see my Ad Blog entry for July 24 2006). Now someone has tried it here and run afoul of the local authorities.

As an advertising professional, I’m still excited by the creative possibilities inherent in the medium. But, as a San Diego local, I sure as heck don’t want billboards cluttering up my waterfront. Yup. Classical NIMBYism.

The next article is about a recently concluded in-depth study of youth and technology, surveying 18,000 kids and young adults in 16 countries. The study was sponsored by MTV, Nickelodeon, and Microsoft. Here’s a summary of the research conclusions, from Multichannel News (New York City, NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Among the surprises: the strength of traditional television, both in viewership and in its ability to introduce new concepts to an otherwise distracted audience.

Then, there’s this key snip, talking about the importance of good creative:

On the advertising front, the survey indicated that kids still enjoy good creative, especially on TV. While respondents indicated that “best ad they’ve seen recently” is still overwhelmingly on the small screen, marketers have the opportunity to extend their digital advertising across the other technologies kids are engaged with, including IM and social-networking sites, especially since 47% of youth IM each other about “what is on TV right now.”

In other words, the television commercial can be the portal to deeper and more-meaningful online interactions with the immediate audience – and the audience’s circle of friends.

Exciting stuff!
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July 23 2007
These days, branding is everything. And one unintended consequence is the rise of fake branded luxury goods. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Talk about ambivalence. While roughly 70% of consumers said they’d be deterred from buying fakes if they thought they could go to jail, about the same percentage said that buying fakes should not be criminalized. It’s no wonder the acceptability of counterfeit goods is up from 20% in 2006 to about 66% now.

So, basically, most consumers think the only thing they’re buying when they buy a prestigious brand is the brand name itself, and are happy to own counterfeit merchandise.

But there is a defense. At the very end of the story, it says “More than half those surveyed said luxury brands lose their exclusivity if fakes are widely available.”  So intrinsically unique, hard-to-fake design elements are critically important to the long-term success of a luxury brand. Even more so than advertising.
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July 20 2007
A little compare-and-contrast for the weekend. Two stories, both hinging on YouTube popularity, one featuring some home-grown efforts and the other a professional ad campaign. Here are the stories, the first from the Associated Press via the International Herald Tribune, and the second is a puff piece from Fox News:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Next to The Skeletor Show, the Wendy’s commercial seems contrived, over-written, and hobbled. In a quirk perhaps reflective of the medium itself, I think the very randomness of the spot is overdeveloped, like someone had a coolly surreal vision upon which someone else bolted on a Serious Selling Message. Which, in turn, degraded both the surrealism and the sell.

And lest you think The Skeletor Show wasn’t selling anything, it was. It successfully sold one man’s creative talent.
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July 19 2007
Here’s a puff piece about guerilla marketing and some emerging “shock tactics,” from ABC World News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

However, featuring a marketing stunt gone wrong (see my Ad Blog entry for February 1 2007) isn’t the best way to show proof of concept. Even the CEO of the company that created it admits at the end of the story that it was a mistake.

I think it was a mistake primarily because it was incomprehensible. People can’t connect with what they don’t understand, a basic truism that has yet to be learned by many would-be guerilla marketers.

I also think this article emphasizes the over-the-top approach, more characteristic of big-budget traditional advertising than the below-the-radar essence of guerilla marketing. The key isn’t that the ad concept is interruptive (heck, almost all advertising is an interruption), but that the ad and the media channel are attractively subversive.

But there should be no doubt that an effective ad campaign can be built using non-traditional channels and the element of surprise as tactical tools.
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July 18 2007
It’s summer, and everywhere places are suddenly becoming aware of tourism marketing. Here’s something related to my entry two days ago, on July 16, about regional branding, from The Caledonian-Record (St. Johnsbury, VT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This article is interesting (if filled with clichés) but inconclusive. In fact, the inconclusiveness is what makes it interesting.

If these people are in a war for tourist dollars (as one harried-sounding motel owner/local chamber of commerce president says), then the outcome of this high-level meeting should have been more than an agreement in principle that they ought to work together to develop a plan for working together.

Forgive the interruption from a copywriter from San Diego, but folks, your window of opportunity is now. Gas prices are high now. American families are looking for close-to-home vacation ideas now. The Canadian dollar is at a high against the U.S. dollar now. The chance to draw tourist dollars from such a small outside area may not come again until the next similar economic cycle.

If you don’t act quickly, your plan will be years out of date and possibly mis-targeted by the time it can be implemented.

But then, that’s the challenge of trying to get something done through a committee
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July 17 2007
How important is branding to a packaged food product? The answer used to be that it was very important, even essential. But now, perhaps, food branding may not be as important as it once was. Here’s an article about the rise of private-label food manufacturers, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, recent missteps by major brands have contributed to their downfall. Yet, past brands in this category have overcome similar problems.

What has changed? I think part of the new challenge facing brands in all categories, is increased transparency. Where in the past the actual manufacturer of a private-label product was hidden behind the private label itself, now the source can be identified with the click of a mouse. Credibility can be established – in an instant, and in real time – from the consumer side; it’s not just a push strategy from the brand owner.

Also, there’s a time element. It has been 30 years or so since the first “plain-wrap” food products appeared on grocery store shelves. Remember them? That ubiquitous white package with the blue stripe and text spelling out “sliced peaches” or “paper towels,” a design that became the generic shorthand for generic packaging. Now nearly two generations of shoppers have grown up with the idea that you can get adequate quality at a very low price.

Finally, there’s branding itself. Private labels have become increasingly sophisticated about their branding and pricing (look at the Vons chain’s premium-priced O organic brand, for instance).

I think the last point validates the importance of branding in this category. But, it also points out the importance of relevant branding, and that’s something that’s hard to achieve over multiple disparate product lines.
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July 16 2007
Vallejo, a small city in Central California, is thinking of branding itself. Here’s the scoop, from the local Times-Herald (Vallejo, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Branding initiatives work best when there’s already awareness of the product. But if no one is thinking about Vallejo, then the key marketing challenge is to get more people to do so, not to pin a slogan onto an ignored place name.

Internal buy-in is critical to the success of any local branding initiative, but remember: the real target lies outside the local area. The real target includes out-of-town businesses that might consider relocating, out-of-town tourists who might consider visiting.

None of the city or regional branding efforts pointed to in the article mean anything to me, nor do they motivate me to learn more. They are vapid, tepid, committee-safe phrases that probably made for good press a year or so ago but are now just placeholders on stationery for the next round of so-called fresh brand thinking.

Usually, the people who benefit most from city branding initiatives, are the branding consultants. The wicked catch, though, is that the exceptions can be transcendentally effective.
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July 13 2007
Happy Friday the 13th! I have a couple entries today, both pretty lightweight. The first is from MSNBC, about MySpace’s decline in popularity, a tough thing for a social networking site:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The befuddled surprise of the Berkeley researcher would be funny, if it weren’t for the fact that someone is going to get a Ph.D from a serious school, in something about which he or she may be utterly clueless.

Anyway, like others here in the real world, I’ve been here before (see my Ad Blog entry for October 26 and 29 2006 – nearly eight months ago). It’s product lifecycle, more-refined new competitors, and a changing target. In other words, the same old market forces.

The next one is just plain fun. YouTube has lots and lots of old TV commercials archived, and here are one blogger’s picks, from MSNBC’s Test Pattern:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Just a fun resource, and a small reminder of how great television ads were when they had 60 full seconds in which to tell the story and sell the product.
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July 12 2007
Here’s a little opinion piece titled “When To Fire Your Ad Agency,” from BusinessWeek Online via Yahoo! News (Asia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The catch, for ad agencies, is that they sometimes get fired for challenging the client too much.

That double-edged sword is why many ad agencies use freelancers: to bolster their creative firepower, and to get an infusion of fresh thinking that challenges the status quo while remaining completely behind the scenes. And, really, there’s no reason client companies can’t do the same thing, for the same reasons.

Which brings up another way to validate whether your ad agency is still doing its job: bring in a freelance creative team to handle the same project. Yes, you get – and have to pay for – duplication of effort, at least through the concept stage. But you’ll also gain a fresh, outside perspective on your company’s marketing challenges and potential solutions, without opening the door to a costly agency review.

Just an idea, from someone who obviously has something to gain from it.
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July 11 2007
Well, I’m back from vacation, reloaded and ready to go! You know, for the whole week, I don’t think anyone in our party responded to ads in the guidebooks and local magazines; most were guided by their past experiences or following others who were guided by their past experiences. That’s how we found the best places for souvenirs, groceries, memorable snacks, and kid-friendly beaches. So this article about word-of-mouth/mouse struck me as being particularly relevant today. It comes from Media Life:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I guess my issue with the prognostication, is that if 20% of us become influencers, what room does that leave for followship? Yes, micro-niche marketing is the trend du jour, but how many companies can live in such a niche profitably?

Also, I don’t think word-of-mouse is as consistently reliable as worth-of-mouth. Influencer quality declines online. The anonymity of the web, combined with the sheer weight of it, means a lot of so-called word-of-mouth reviews are influenced largely by people who have way too much time on their hands, and way too many axes to grind.
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July 4 2007
Happy Fourth of July! I’m still here in Hawai’i enjoying a week of relaxation. Today, the whole extended family went to Haleiwa, where we bought shaved ices from Matsumoto Grocery Store. The line for ices went out the door and down the street, but still everyone waited, while near the end of the line was another shaved ice shop with almost no line at all.

So why were people waiting? After all, how much better can one shaved ice be than another?

Then we got into the store, and I saw the real key to the marketing here. Souvenir t-shirts, tanks, sweats, and caps. Lots of them, with cool designs, all carrying the Matsumoto name. This, plus word-of-mouth, was how the shop marketed itself. Take a look at the store:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Remember, this place started as a grocery store, and according to the sign outside is one still. But you’ll find no ketchup here, or apples, or laundry detergent. Instead, you find shelves stocked with souvenir items. But not just any souvenir items, Matsumoto-branded souvenir items.

Also, note how there isn’t a single logo or graphic approach. The key to the success of this viral marketing is the shotgun approach, with styles and designs for everyone. So, not only do the customers spread the word, but they pay to do so. Matsumoto has turned its marketing into a profit center. Brilliant!

Oh, and the shaved ice (or, as they call it, Shave Ice)? It was good. Not like a Slurpee or an Icee; the finer ice shavings carried more of the flavor of the syrup. I’m sure the shaved ices at the other shop were good too, but one had all the sugar I could handle, so only one shop got my business: the one that everyone knows. Hey, a branding success story, direct from the North Shore.
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July 2 2007
Aloha from Hawai’i! On an inter-island flight, the fellow in the seat in front of me was reading this article, from USA Today, about consumerism and the American Way:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So consumerism is is inextricably linked with the birth of our nation. Hey, that’s not debt, that’s freedom.

Yeah, right. You can’t buy your way into anything worthwhile, whether it’s happiness or social success or environmentalism.

As for the threshold for gas prices to affect driving habits and purchase choices, $3.50 per gallon seems low. The magic number I’d heard was $5 – that gas would have to reach $5 per gallon for Americans to make significant changes in their driving habits. That’s roughly the cost of gasoline in most of Europe, so those changes are previewed elsewhere in the world.
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Backwards in time to June 2007

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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