John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
July 2010

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July 30 2010
Just a quickie today to point out this brief sketch of Alan Lane, the man who founded Penguin 75 years ago and built it into a multinational book publishing powerhouse, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a reader, my relationship with a book centers on the story or the author, not the publisher. But from a bookseller’s perspective, the publisher’s brand remains a compelling element, encompassing as it does the whole of its relationships – with readers, authors, even other booksellers. The Penguin brand, from its unique name to its fun-but-dignified logo, turned out to be perfect.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, from brand integrity and the importance of merchandising to harnessing controversy to sell. The bit toward the end about the timelessness of children’s books is very cool. I think brochures in particular should aim to be more like children’s books: physically interactive in surprising ways.

And I love the idea of book-vending machines in train stations. That was the instant download of the day.
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July 28 2010
A recent study reveals that Twitter is turning out to be not exactly the branding panacea marketers thought it would be. Here’s the story, from Wired:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Twitter users, it seems, are no more likely to go parroting advertising messages to their friends as anyone else. And, when they do discuss branded products and services, the conversation, such as it is, is seldom directed at the brand itself. Which reduces the whole brand dialog scenario to wishful thinking.

Key snip:

“Twitter is primarily for people, not corporations,” reads the first line of the study’s executive summary. “Those of us in the marketing industry tend to see Twitter as a marketing or professional networking tool, but it’s important to remember that it is a consumer-dominated medium.”

But when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Marketers can’t help viewing Twitter as a massive opportunity to market.

In social media, whether you are fanned or followed is less important than whether you actively eavesdrop to integrate genuine feedback into everything from product development to marketing and advertising. I think an awful lot of marketers – and brands – have their eyes on the wrong ball.
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July 27 2010
Target is finding itself in hot water with its customers after it donated money to support a political candidate in its home state of Minnesota. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via CBS News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ayup. That recent Supreme Court ruling allowing the corporate backing of political campaigns is playing out exactly as I predicted six months ago, back on January 22 2010. Target donated, not directly to the candidate, but to a supposedly non-partisan interest group made up of businesses based in the state. That group endorsed a particular candidate for governor, and will be running ads on his behalf. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect one’s business interests with well-placed political contributions. Nothing wrong, unless one is in the business of selling, in which case one has just alienated a sizeable number of buyers holding opposing views.

The key, as yesterday, is the social aspect. With today’s increased transparency into financial operations, it’s all but impossible for a significant amount of donated funding to go unnoticed by one opposing interest group or other. The political tactics that worked in the days of industrial barons like Andrew Carnegie just don’t work any more. Customers are too connected with the brand, the corporation, and each other.

Supporting a candidate brings a whole new passel of problems, because a candidate is a package deal. Support Candidate A, and you’re automatically categorized as agreeing with that candidate on all the issues, and, furthermore, opposing Candidate B on all the issues. In today’s 140-character newsbreak world, nuance is all but impossible to achieve. Yes, brand communication is in part about creating dialog, but in most cases a dialog about political views is irrelevant. Potentially fascinating, but ultimately irrelevant.

Although a brand must stand for something, that something must transcend mere politics.
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July 26 2010
The MGA-Mattel catfight over the ownership of Bratz dolls has been temporarily settled in favor of MGA, and new Bratz dolls are heading for store shelves. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, what with the Spice Girls well into middle age and the whole glitterslut look on the wane, Bratz may find itself ill-positioned for even a retro resurgence. Have those MGA executives taken a look at elementary school playgrounds lately? I have a couple kids in one, and for the entire time it’s been all about a more wholesome brand of fun, Hannah Montana and Barbie and (among the younger set) Dora the Explorer. (With boys, it’s about campy grossness in either fun or educational modes: Captain Underpants and Stink and science-of-snot stuff.) Granted, it’s probably high time for a shift, but I doubt it’ll be toward the whole Bratz look and feel, even with the changes to the line. It’s just too recent to be fresh.

That said, I think the key to making a successful comeback is going to lie with the social component, including personalized, interactive websites for each character, online upgrades and upsells, mobile apps, and brand extension into non-toy merchandise. Stuff that the Hannah Montana machine nailed.
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July 21 2010
Anheuser-Busch is happy with how its sponsorship of the 2010 World Cup helped its Budweiser brand beer penetrate new markets as part of a global brand strategy. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wonder how Coke marketing people feel about being Bud’s global stretch goal. Probably pretty good. Come to that, the story mentioned Coke as often as Budweiser.

The other thing I wonder, is how long it’ll be until the World Cup overtakes the Super Bowl in advertising importance. After all, the World Cup is to the global mass market what the Super Bowl is to the U.S. mass market, much more so than, say, the Olympic Games. I think the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is going to be a tipping point in ad prominence for global branding, if it doesn’t happen before then. (Speaking of which, does anyone else think it strange that the logo for the 2014 World Cup shows three hands in a ball shape – a graphical hand ball if ever there was one? To my eye, that logo would be perfect ... for volleyball.)
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July 20 2010
File this under Dumb Publicity Stunts: some businessmen sent a live donkey aloft in a parasail to publicize their private beach in southern Russia. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, this is why businesses need independent counsel from an advertising agency or consultant. Then someone would have assumed the role of Responsible Adult and said, “This is wrong.” Instead, you have entrepreneurs with more ideas than sense, and no one or nothing holding them back.

The fact I find most disturbing is that people watched this helpless creature screaming in terror, and no one called the police. They just took pictures. Not nice.

I will add, though, that America did it first, albeit not for real. Remember the episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in which management decides, as a pre-Thanksgiving Day publicity stunt, to drop live turkeys from a helicopter over a crowded shopping center? I think the last line of the show was delivered by the late, great Gordon Jump (one of only three men to play the lonely Maytag repairman): “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
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July 19 2010
Mass-market retailers, having apparently run out of new tricks to persuade consumers to open their wallets, are turning to an old one: the holiday sale. In July. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press, via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Few people are really buying for the holidays. Hot fashions, technologies, and trends change too fast to effectively do any Christmas shopping four or five months out. What retailers probably hope to achieve, is to add incremental sales to all those obligatory summer birthday present purchases. I predict the biggest product movers will be toys, accessories, and electronics.

As for cannibalizing back-to-school and other fall season sales, that can be minimized by managing the sale product mix.

No, the problem I see is twofold. First, how much will the discounting eat into the profit margin? The key metric should be profitable sales, not just line item sales or foot traffic. (The same thing is true online, by the way.) Second, retailers in all market segments made a concerted effort to hold the line on pricing during the 2009 holidays. Will that hard-won line be squandered by pre-holiday discounting? Way to train your customers, guys.
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July 17 2010
Happy weekend! I was leafing through the Wall Street Journal and came across this article about small businesses and a tax reporting requirement that may kick in come 2012:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Businesses have long been required to file a 1099-MISC for any vendor to whom they pay more than $600. The new wrinkle, designed to close loopholes that allow unscrupulous businesses to evade taxes by fudging expenses or income, is this: if a Federal Tax ID number can’t be obtained from the vendor, the business itself has to withhold taxes and send them on to the IRS.

As a taxpayer, I welcome this change. I do everything I can to make sure my business runs clean and that I pay my fair share (not a penny more, if I can help it, but not a penny less either). It always bothered me that some businesspeople partially freeload, often by taking off-the-books cash payments or having checks made out to separate entities – and unfortunately, the potential new rule does little to curb those tricks.

However, it might put a welcome damper on the practice of buying generic copy online from writers identified only by user names or pseudonyms. As a professional, full-time freelance writer, I can support that. Under the new rules, both sides could be held accountable: the buyer and the seller. But, if the seller accepts payment by credit card, that may provide another loophole.

On the seller-of-services side, though, the credit card option all but ensures timely payment processing. Vendors may no longer have to extend credit at zero percent for 90 days. Hey, payment cycles could actually get shorter, which could pump more money into the economy.

I just hope the paperwork side of it is sorted by the time 2012 rolls around, otherwise tracking vendor payments could become a huge pain for a lot of owners of small businesses. (But one more reason to work with someone like me, who has a Federal Tax ID number and will happily fill out a W-9.)
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July 15 2010
I love ad jingles (or, as I call it, audio branding). Here’s a look back at some of the best, from Forbes via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising jingles from the past were judged by a panel of chief marketing officers on the corporate side and top creative directors on the agency side. Their picks as the Top Ten along with the year of first use (from Forbes):

Now that you’ve read the list, at least one of those jingles is going to be in your head all day long. And that’s the kind of staying power that you don’t get by simply buying a current pop song. Of course, sheer reach and frequency had a lot to do with some of these jingles working. You’ll notice that most date from a time when media buying was a lot simpler, less fragmented and more consolidated. A slogan or jingle could enter the public consciousness en masse.

I’m going to add eleven (like a Top Ten, but one better) of my own favorites in no particular order, along with very approximate and possibly incorrect dates of first use:

That last one even had a viral element, triggering establishmentarian outrage at its wildly improper grammar. Here’s James Thurber lashing out at the tendency for advertising copywriters to play fast and loose with language. His rant, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ear Muffs,” was originally published in The New Yorker, and I have it in a collection called Lanterns & Lances:

The Madison Avenue advertising men, the men in the gray-flannel minds, deliberately take advantage of all the slur and sloppiness, because when purists object, it simply serves to spread the news of a product advertised in lousy English. Incidentally, some months ago I offered to sell to a brewery – any brewery – the slogan “We still brew good like we used to could,” but for some odd reason I have had no takers.

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July 13 2010
A U.S. federal appeals court ruled that the FCC violated the First Amendment when it issued guidelines penalizing broadcasters for “fleeting expletives.” Well that’s just really, really f**king brilliant. Here’s the story, from The Washington Post (DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

How long until the first advertiser goes on the air with an “unscripted” live spot in which the on-air talent (preferably already a celebrity) lets loose with a “fleeting expletive” when something “unexpected” happens?

Imagine one of those TV chefs doing a spot for, say, their own branded cookware. You know, a 30-second how-to. Here’s how ya do this, here’s how ya do that, and now ya just add the wine to the pan (SFX: FOOMP! KABOOM!) *&%#!

You pay to run it once, live on the Super Bowl, and it runs forever after on YouTube and blooper shows.

Yeah, that concept is contrived enough that it wouldn’t pass muster. But you get the idea. And someone, somewhere, with the right client and the right product aimed at the right audience, will do better.

But it’ll have to happen quickly. The FCC may find its best protection in more rules rather than less – the guidelines the court objected to were both sweeping and simple.
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July 9 2010
An analysis of advertising complaints in Australia revealed that a third of them were essentially trivial time-wasters for industry self-regulators. Here’s the story, dated tomorrow because it already is there, from the Brisbane Times (Queensland, Australia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Unfortunately, the sample size was tiny enough to throw doubt into any conclusion; just 25 complaints were evaluated, out of nearly 4,000 received annually. Also, the math doesn’t add up: if a single complaint triggers an investigation, and the bureau receives 60 complaints a month, that totals 720 complaints (and investigations) a year – not 3,795. Some information about the process seems to be either in error or missing, which introduces more doubt.

However, there’s no doubt that complaints related to advertising are on the rise, and will continue to rise. There are many contributing factors. Media proliferation exposes more non-targets to targeted messages. Media noise drives increasingly edgy creative as a way to stand out. Increasing cultural diversity – in audiences and other communities – means keeping up with a broader range of social rules.

On the consumer side, that same media proliferation and noise create an environment that all but promotes misunderstanding. And, increased connectivity and ease of anonymous communication makes it easier than ever to push a “flag” button or send a complaint.

Regulation isn’t the answer. Complaints about advertising creative are caused by ignorance and intolerance on both sides. As advertisers and consumers move to a more global vision of themselves, assimilating new cultural ideas, the ignorance and intolerance will fade. It will take many years, but it will happen. Regulation won’t make it happen any faster, because change by diktat fails to address the underlying issues of education and exposure.
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July 2 2010
A new usability study indicates that people read content faster in traditional book format than on e-reader screens. Here’s the study findings, straight from lead researcher Dr. Jakob Nielsen, of the Nielsen-Norman Group (Silicon Valley, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The study was tiny, with just 24 test subjects counted. Subjects were all avid readers, with literacy pre-testing to ensure that they read at a high school level or higher. The test reading media were a traditional paper book, a PC, a first-generation Apple iPad using the default iBook application, and an Amazon Kindle 2 e-reader. The testing involved reading a Hemingway short story, taking on average 17 minutes and 20 seconds to read, with comprehension tests given immediately after reading. Key snip, about the 17 minutes:

This is obviously less time than people might spend reading a novel or a college textbook, but it’s much longer than the abrupt reading that characterizes Web browsing. ... It’s also representative for many other formats of interest, such as whitepapers and reports.

The study found that the PC screen was universally loathed as a reading medium. And, readers on the the iPad and Kindle were 6-10% slower than readers reading old-fashioned books.

Those findings pretty much parallel my own experience reading the same novel online, in book form, and on my iPod Touch. When presenting a fair amount of content, especially when you want messages to roll out in a linear fashion (as in a brochure), paper trounces electronic media – at least where user usability and efficiency is concerned.

A major caveat is the miniscule sample size and test scope. For instance, the test checked immediate comprehension, but not retention, which is a whole other high-value asset in marketing communications. Finally, I wonder if a few years will produce a generational difference between younger people and older people – older, in this case, meaning those over, say, 25. (Ha!)

However, there are unique elements to reading linear content on an e-reader. One I’ve discovered, to my delight, is the element of surprise. Since my eye can’t subconsciously bounce around across two pages as it undoubtedly does when reading a book, I find a lot more surprises in stories read on an e-reader. In a way, that aligns the reader more-tightly with the writer, which is cool.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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