John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
July 2011

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July 27 2011
Brand evangelists are a rare breed, and some QSR brands seem to foster them more than others. Here’s the story, from The Associated Press via the Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s no single secret formula for creating brand evangelists. But it starts with a solid product, delivered consistently and well, within a sound brand environment. From there, the recipe for success is varied, with a few common touchstones. Like event marketing. And social networking.

But one major common theme is relative scarcity. Neither Chick-fil-A nor Chipotle has nearly the market reach as McDonald’s; such a situation is tailor-made for developing and nurturing a cult following. So what did McDonald’s do to tap into this same fervor? It deliberately limited access to its McRib pork sandwich, creating the mystique of chasing something elusive and obscure. Note that McDonald’s doesn’t even talk about McRib sales; if it did, the peek behind the curtains (even though everyone knows the curtains hide a massive corporate machine) would break the spell.

No brand is too large – or too small – to create passion.
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July 26 2011
Quick service restaurant brand KFC is looking for stories about its founder, Colonel Sanders, and has set up a dedicated website for the effort. Here’s the story, from The Associated Press via Food Inc. on
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this is a smart move, capturing those stories while there are still people around to tell them first-hand. It forms an oral history of the brand, and as a corporate history it was at risk of getting lost forever.

Similar projects have been launched to record stories from veterans of WWII and survivors of the Great Depression. Reaching back beyond that, the Library of Congress made audio recordings capturing the Black experience during the dark years of slavery.

Such stories are powerful things, because they are real.

When it comes to consumer brands, it pays to maintain a connection to those stories, even as the brand evolves.

One of my favorite things Colonel Sanders did, was appear on an episode of the fast-paced sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. It was just a quickie, featuring him in his trademark white suit and string tie, sprinkling cracked corn on the bare stage floor and cooing, “ Here, chick, chick, chick ... ”

That neatly combined snarkiness with product placement and branding, without showing a product or a logo. Brilliant!
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July 25 2011
The English language is a constantly evolving tool. Here’s a Monday quickie to point out this piece on how American English is invading its native England, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve been following this story since it broke a couple weeks back. Like the author of this reply to the original article, I was mystified by some of the so-called “Americanisms” submitted, many of which rang false to my ear.

Unlike, say, Latin, English is not a dead language. Indeed its usefulness stems from the fact that it is very much alive. English is increasingly the common denominator for communicating in a global marketplace in which no nation – or culture, for that matter – has a monopoly on introducing and integrating new words or phrases. (My favorite former immigrant word? Chocolate, which comes to us from the Aztecs. Yes, the Aztecs. In Mexico. Put that in your cup and drink it.)

I feel compelled to address two of the top three complaints, I hear “Can I get a ...” most often used as a single compound word, canIgeda, defined as (a) “may I have” or (b) “do you have.” And, as for “two-time” and “three-time” instead of “double” and ”triple,” I’d argue that each set of terms are necessary as they have different nuances. To me, double and triple imply back-to-back events, like running bases; two-time and three-time imply separate events, as in “the Pittsburgh Steelers are six-time Super Bowl champions.”

Just some thoughts from an advertising copywriter, one of the folks most-often blamed for ruining language.
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July 22 2011
Good ad agencies pilloried for bad advertising seems to be a theme this week. Here are two examples to discuss. First up is the Milk Board’s now shut-down “PMS” campaign, from today. The second is the latest TV campaign for Summer’s Eve, from ABC News a couple days ago:
Advertising copywriter blog link
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I’m not totally certain whether these campaigns should’ve been killed at the concept stage, or whether they should have been pushed way, way farther in tactical execution. As it is, neither delivers its concept all the way, and neither nails the voice of its target market. It makes me wonder if meddling with the concept and copy nudged the efforts off-course. Or, if the strategies were off-course to begin with.

With the milk campaign, I’m inclined to think that the strategy may have been wrong. If the target was men, why bring in women and PMS to make men seem out of control and dumb? Men may laugh at that guy, but they don’t exactly want to be that guy. If the target was women, why approach them obliquely, through their men, instead of talking to them directly? In either case, the campaign went for easy laughs instead of evangelical engagement. What could’ve been great became trite, and the news opportunity was wasted.

With the Summer’s Eve spots, I don’t know. My wife thinks the target market for such products is largely relatively unenlightened about self-care. I think there may be other issues going on that the creative brief addressed. Even so, and acknowledging that tapping into my feminine side is digging deep, the scripts misfire in so many ways that I wonder if they drifted off-target during the approval process. I do not hear the voice of a vagina in them. And I feel talked at instead of engaged.

Ads should make people uncomfortable. As great copywriter Bernice Fitz-Gibbon said, “A good ad should be like a good sermon: It must not only comfort the afflicted, it also must afflict the comfortable.” After all, discomfort is what stirs people to action. But with these campaigns, I think the discomfort is irrelevant in one case and unintended in the other.
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July 21 2011
Just a quickie today to point out this piece on global innovation and Yankee ingenuity, from BBC News:
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I think the article has the wrong premise, in that innovation isn’t about specialized knowledge or skill or funding except to the extent that those factors provide the ground on which innovation can launch. Specialization leads to linear movements, evolutionary refinements to a basic idea. True creativity is revolutionary, not evolutionary. And, revolutionary thinking is the province of the highly engaged generalist.

Note that Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, was neither an engineer nor a scientist studying electromagnetism. He was an artist.
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July 20 2011
For the past nine years or so, a hospital system has used an innovative – and highly effective – approach to marketing, leveraging 30-minute documentary “episodes” that follow real-life patients. My two favorite things about this story? First, the hospital system is Sharp HealthCare, right here in San Diego. Second, the work was produced by local advertising veteran Rich Badami. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Note how the documentaries and segments are used. They’re not just thrown up on YouTube. Instead, they’re launched like a movie, with a gala off-site premiere for employees. Then, episodes are aired in full through paid television time, and posted on the hospital’s own website. Each episode is broadcast multiple times, so they’re not one-offs but part of an integrated, sustained campaign that has spanned years.

In addition, the documentaries, or segments from them, are edited into more traditional 30-second commercials, although the more-powerful versions still seem brisk at 90 seconds. Yes, 90 seconds – these are, after all, story-based messages and a good story deserves the time to be told. Tell a compelling story in a compelling way, and 90 seconds will fly by.

Finally, there’s the PR aspect. What, you think this article idea just emerged from a journalist’s mind un-nudged? Especially right before open enrollment?

See, this is what I mean by owning the channel. It’s not enough to create content, you also have to actively manage and integrate how it gets out, whether through media or marketing.

The work has earned boxfuls of awards. But, more important, it has generated retail results in call volume, web traffic, enrollments, and market share. Kudos to Rich and Sharp HealthCare!
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July 18 2011
Viral marketing and tapping into the power of Influencers are nothing new; savvy marketers (and politicos) have been using the techniques for centuries. (It’s worth remembering that Machiavelli didn’t invent anything; he just recorded it.)  Here’s how soft drink brand Orangina has grown its brand for 75 years, from the AFP via The Independent (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Look at everything the brand did right. Amid a sea of soft drinks, it used packaging as a differentiator. And not just any eye-catching package, but a package that related directly to the brand experience. Many, many product packages are distinctive without being tied to the tangible brand experience. Often they try to leverage some version of “history” to convey “authenticity.” Unfortunately, in most cases history is not a tangible part of the brand experience: it can’t be tasted, touched, smelled, heard, or even, really, seen. It’s sensible instead of sensual. A brand can’t live in the mind; it must reach the heart. And to reach the heart, you have to move through the senses.

Orangina’s early advertising did exactly that, using a highly visual approach to convey a tactile/taste experience. As media evolved, the approach evolved, but it always maintained a consistent tone. There was constant reinvention of the same brand promise. I’m reminded of the Zen story about two novitiates, one of whom is unsuccessfully trying to outwit the other. The point, such as it is, may be that the ways to change are limited but the ways to stay the same are infinite. Orangina tapped into that infinity of ways to stay the same.

The brand also leveraged social networks in the physical sense, hiring young people (the target market) as claques.

Cool stuff, and just the thing to ponder on a hot summer day.
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July 14 2011
Food companies are voluntarily cutting back the advertising of less-healthy foods to children. But the industry’s proposed voluntary guidelines fall well short of what the government would like. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

To me, 8 grams of sugar in a breakfast cereal is way too much (and don’t even get me started on pre-packaged flavored yogurt or sports drinks). And therein lies the key: changing behavior isn’t about industry standards or government standards. It’s about the parent’s standards. It doesn’t matter whether those products are advertised or not, if you limit your child’s screen time you limit the child’s exposure to marketing. And, in the end, the decision to purchase or not rests – or should rest – entirely on the parent.

Junk foods don’t fatten people; people fatten people.

I would like to see more effort and money and creativity put into raising awareness and educating people about the effects of their food choices. Otherwise, what will this degrade into? Warning labels on junk foods, graduating to photos of hardened arteries, dialysis machines, and obese people? We don’t need more Puritanism; we need more Enlightenment. And that’s where advertising can help.

At the same time, certain food brand extensions just haven’t made sense. Within the Cheerios product line, the Honey Nut variety and its ilk are basically candy bars in disguise, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios are practically rebranded Apple Jacks in the same way Fruity Cheerios are basically Froot Loops, and Frosted Cheerios and Chocolate Cheerios are just off-strategy. And yet, their continued existence would seem to validate their profitability even as they corrode the Cheerios brand itself.

As for advertising junk foods to kids, as much as I’d agree that it is not helpful, I also think kids’ exposure to poor choices didn’t begin with advertising. In fact, I’ve long said the bigger threat today comes, not from advertising, but from programming. I’d also add that the more-recent and relevant development has been the removal of the backbone from parents.

A fairly comprehensive list of my Ad Blog entries on advertising aimed at children was compiled on June 28 2011.
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July 13 2011
The retro TV commercial trend is stirring again in the UK. Here’s the story – complete with YouTube videos of vintage British TV adverts – from the News & Star (Carlisle, UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I love seeing how creative teams in the 1950s and 1960s used their relatively sprawling expanses of media time. Even that minute-long Gibbs SR toothpaste spot from 1955 has a cinemagraphic quality, although the ad concept itself wouldn’t lose much by being condensed to a :10. That demonstrates how much people’s perceptions have changed: once there was patience and an appreciation for the medium, and now the medium is just another utility.

Even so, there’s no shorter way to do Coca Cola’s classic I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing TV commercial. At a minute long, it’s perfect.

Between the 1955 toothpaste spot and the 1969 Coke spot, there was nearly 15 years of evolution in the ad industry as it adjusted and refined its approach to television. The creative revolution happened. The madly paced Rowan & Martins Laugh-In started. And yet, both spots are :60s. Flash forward another 15 years and the typical TV commercial was just half as long, and many of us were creating paired :15s. But, the most-revered ad of that year was Apple’s 1984, a :60.

I think we need to take back longer-format media buys from the world of infomercials. Because, as I’ve said before, in most cases I just don’t believe ten seconds is enough time to sell anything.
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July 11 2011
In honor of 7/11, 7 Eleven is continuing its annual promotion in which its stores give away 7.11-ounce Slurpees. But does it generate fans? Or freebie-seekers? Here’s the story, from CBS News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Never mind the 3.75 million Facebook fans; it’s the projected 5 million actual customers that make the promotion successful.

Another key is portion control. As the article says, a 7.11-ounce Slurpee isn’t enough for most people (although for my two kids it was the perfect size). So, 7 Eleven makes its money on size upgrades and sales of additional merchandise.

I think this is one of the best ongoing promotions out there. It’s tightly branded – who else could do a promotion based on the date 7-11? And, it’s doubly branded, because the giveaway is a Slurpee, 7 Eleven’s most-identifiable product. That’s smart marketing!
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July 7 2011
Apple suffered a (possibly) temporary setback in its attempt to trademark the term “App Store.” Here’s the story, from All Things D:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is how fast things move in the digital world: an invented term can become a descriptive term almost overnight. The time between first-use and popular explosion might be a matter of days or even hours. In the case of “app store” (lower case), it’s hard to tell who used it first, especially when intervening years – and branded marketing – have clouded the term’s genesis.

The fact that none of the commenters can recall anyone using the term prior to Apple doesn’t mean it didn’t previously exist . If anything, it proves the power of marketing to popularize a term.

I think the more-important factor, is that it doesn’t seem as though any company is fighting the trademark based on prior use. Instead, Amazon is claiming the term is generic, and therefore not protectable. However, if the term is indeed generic, then it is largely Apple’s marketing that has made it so.

So it’s a Catch-22 (another copyrighted term that has, through use and sheer usefulness, become generic when applied outside of the Joseph Heller novel.)
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July 5 2011
The problem with advertising today is that it it’s pop but it should be punk. So says ad legend John Hegarty. Here’s a bit more on that thought, from the Sabatoge Times (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now, I believe that collaboration is a good thing. (As I’ve said before, come of my best headlines were written by art directors.) But there’s collaboration and there’s cooperation, and the more people who are involved in creating the ad concept the more cooperative the result will be. The mediocrity will survive because it’s so innocuous no one will object.

Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way. But it happens that way often enough to avoid group concepting sessions.

At the same time, there’s a difference between grabbing attention and being irrelevant. A lot of wanna-be punk ad concepts fail to make the final connection; they can’t deliver any punch beyond whatever gimmick they used to garner attention in the first place.

Inoffensiveness and irrelevance are extremes that wind up on opposite sides of the same coin; either way, the ad message is ignored.
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July 4 2011
For Independence Day, I have a self-serving pointer to an article I wrote for San Diego Freelance Writers about how to tell the difference between an independent contractor and an “outsourced employee”:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This taxation and human resources issue is especially important to smaller ad agencies because creative services are probably already part of their offerings. When you have internal creative resources, it pays to make doubly sure that any external creative resource you pull in can be solidly categorized as freelance talent. That’s usually easier for highly technical service providers like coders, photographers, or illustrators than it is for strategic generalists like art directors or copywriters.

But, for the record (and this is the self-serving bit), I meet the requirements with ease.
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July 1 2011
Just in time for the Independence Day weekend, here’s the story behind one of the greatest advertising slogans of all time, “Don’t mess with Texas,” from CNN:
Advertising copywriter blog link

At this point, it’s often forgotten that the slogan came out of a 1980s-era campaign for the Texas Department of Transportation aimed at reducing highway litter. From there it snowballed, attracting attention from celebrities and the target market. Now, of course, its meaning has expanded to express an entire state of being. I love it because it’s a campaign concept with legs.

I especially love the part where one of the clients asked if the slogan could be “Please don’t mess with Texas.” That’s so very clientesque, along with “could we re-phrase it positively?”
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Backwards in time to June 2011

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

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