John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
June-July 2012

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July 31 2012
Since the Olympics started airing, these Apple TV commercials have been seen, hated, defended, and discussed by even more people. Here’s the story, from CIO magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I just don’t see a lot of deep strategic thinking here. Instead, I see a throwback to Mr. Whipple: a contrived situation with dialog that knocks off the bullet points with no regard to believability. All the ads need are supers, “just in case people are watching TV with sound off,” as some people say.

On the other hand, the campaign certainly has lit up the online media channels with self-professed advertising experts (ahem) weighing in with opinions. Could that be the real strategy here? Sort of a Mentos approach?

At any rate, the biggest problem I see is that the ads are disconnected from the brand. I saw the spots in real life, assumed they were for a retailer, and ignored them. Which, despite all the thoughtful analysis in the advertising columns, is what most ordinary people will probably do.
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July 30 2012
American automotive brand Chevrolet signs a multi-year deal to sponsor British soccer team Manchester United. But before the ink is dry, heads get chopped, starting at the very top. Here’s the story, from BBC News and Reuters:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Is this the fate of forward-thinking marketing people in corporate America? I think the moves were basically savvy, if not exactly timed to deliver the immediate gratification that shareholders crave.

GM was one of the first and largest Facebook advertisers to make a case for its relative ineffectiveness as a paid media channel. And, as for the Super Bowl, that buy may have been fine in years past, but soccer is clearly the sport poised to take over the marketing world (and, really, the US was the last holdout on that front).

GM needs to put its money where the growth is, rather than chase yesterday’s buzz. And, as a global brand, it needs to align itself with global marketing opportunities. Both of those objectives, to my eyes, land a Man U sponsorship well into the target zone for prepping the soil.
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July 26 2012
Nike has a cool video that straddles the fine line between Olympic tie-in and Olympic co-opt. Here’s a blurb from Fast Company::
Advertising copywriter blog link

Be sure to check out the video link, because it’s one sweet piece of film.

Although the namesake city thing has been done to the point of cliché (and I’ve done it too, with a long-running campaign for First American Title Insurance back in the 80s), this execution gives it an everyman freshness that’s pitch-perfect.
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July 25 2012
Here’s a 3-minute feature on advertising of the “Mad Men” era, from BBC News Magazine :
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a little clumsily edited, juxtaposing a voiceover about the turbulent 60s with ads from the bucolic 50s. Still, it’s an entertaining look back on uniquely American advertising creative.

I disagree, though, that the Maidenform bra ads condescended to women of the era. If anything, they were empowering, expressing as they did a celebration of an individual’s abilities and desires. Yeah, the “dream” aspect in the headlines dates the stuff; today those headlines would make the reader an active participant rather than idle dreamer.

And by the way, the Maidenform ads were written by a woman, copywriter Mary Filius, with specific input from the client, also a woman, Maidenform co-founder Ida Rosenthal. Among the copywriters to work on the account was Kitty D’Alessio, who went on to become president of Chanel.
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July 2 2012
I just returned from a week-long family vacation to Washington, DC!

We saw the sights, enjoyed a couple days of truly pleasant weather for walking, and then experienced the derecho and more-typical East Coast temperatures the last days of our trip. Highlights included several Smithsonian museums, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (where the kids were hypnotized by sheets of hundred-dollar bills flying off the presses), and a few guided tours. Actually, the kids got as much of a thrill out of getting around on the Metro as anything else. Three hidden gems were the sculpture of Albert Einstein (on Constitution Avenue), the Memorial to Japanese American Patriotism in World War II (on Louisiana Avenue), and the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum (on Vermont Avenue; the closest Metro stop is U Street).

We also met up with family, and even found ourselves on a tour with people from San Diego – another freelance writer, as it happens, and her family!

Our local branding experiences included many Potbelly’s sandwiches. And, I guess I always knew this, but Old Town Trolley Tours is a national brand – I always associate it with Old Town and Balboa Park here in San Diego.
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June 21 2012
It’s always fun to see how much care goes into creating appetizing images of food. But, it often leads to a disparity between what you see in the ad and what you see on your plate. McDonald’s Canada addressed the issue head-on in a succinct video that went viral. Here’s the story, from MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Having been involved with many a photo shoot for restaurants and packaged foods, I can attest to the truth of the video. I’ve carefully sliced through dozens of chocolates, for instance, to find the one with the filling with the most attractive arrangements of nuts.

There’s a lot of detail work on the styling, but there’s also a lot of care taken to ensure that the hero is, in fact, the actual product, if idealized for advertising.

For instance, nothing is added that isn't in the actual product – ingredients are simply brought to the foreground so they can be seen. In the McDonald’s Canada video, I especially liked the point about the insulated boxes causing a certain amount of bun flattening in the as-served product.
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June 20 2012
Nike gives us the first Twitter ad campaign to be banned. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As Euro 2012 ramps up, footballers’ tweets are bound to attract more attention than usual. So, on the face of it, the campaign seemed like a good bet. Even a safe bet, given that the tweets were marked with the hashtag connecting them with Nike’s current ad campaign.

But, the British Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the tweets weren’t identified as advertising content clearly enough, and could be construed as personal communication – which is, of course, the goal of advertising, especially through social media.

At any rate, it’s interesting to see how the use of Twitter has evolved – or devolved – as a conventional advertising medium. I think the whole ecosystem loses value when it's used to deliver corporate ad payloads, and yet, that's clearly the direction all social media is headed. However, at a certain point, the audience will simply move on.
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June 19 2012
Venerable retailer JC Penney is the latest oh-so-watchable train crash as retailers and brands grapple with the new economy. Here, as something of a bookmark, is where the brand is now, from MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

JC Penney started its rebranding exercise with the advertising, which is a basic, almost newbie error. Then, it rolled out a pricing policy that eliminated its popular coupons – and keep in mind, there are entire websites and web communities dedicated to couponing, so this was walking away from a sizeable target audience.

I think retail product pricing isn’t transparent enough to support a new claim of “everyday low prices,” in large part because customers can always go online and find similar items for even less. It’s just not sustainable.

Compare that to a well-designed coupon promotion, which adds (or seems to add) transparency. The customer knows – or has a pretty good idea – what price the product sold for before. With the coupon, they can see the discount. It’s much more gratifying. And, apparently, much more successful.
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June 13 2012
Bankrupt automotive brand Saab may be coming back to life, thanks to a Chinese partner. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s been said that Chinese companies don’t understand Western branding practices. Well, they don’t have to develop competitive brands if they can simply buy them. Saab is a marginal enough brand with a strong enough positive aura that it could potentially transmogrify into just about anything. So electric cars is no reach.

While this development may bring the Saab brand back from the dead, it also means that both “Swedish” car brands are now owned by Chinese investors. Even American automotive giant General Motors is in kahoots with Chinese industrial giant SAIC. As with other acquisitions, those investors have so far seen fit to leave the brands alone, at least at the consumer touchpoint, possibly having gained valuable insights from Lenovo’s struggle to carve out a brand space it should’ve, by all rights, have already owned.

The point may be moot, though, since the reborn company’s initial focus will be on marketing to the domestic market – domestic in this case meaning China.
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June 12 2012
I have two today. First up, does nationality matter when it comes to products? Here’s a studied look at culture branding – the integration of culture and industry – from China Daily (dated tomorrow because it already is there):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although Japan’s “Cool Japan” effort may be one of the larger and more visible campaigns today, culture branding is nothing new. German industry has long been known for precision; American industry for innovation (or good old Yankee ingenuity). If those positions are eroding today, the erosion itself points up how embedded the perceptions were.

Still, as usual, the brand developers are following the consumers. This wave started long ago, with Japanese influences on major design movements like Bauhaus and the Craftsman style. That wave may have changed shape, but it’s still a powerful force, pushing creations like Hello Kitty and Domo to distant shores. The technological and industrial facets attained their high polish with the transformation and rise of Japanese consumer brands like Sony, Panasonic, and Toyota. (A digression: it’s interesting that, for all that, Japanese-branded refrigerators and dishwashers never made much headway; Japan didn’t enter the American kitchen in a big way until the microwave oven era.)

As business grows increasingly global, the intangible, cultural elements each player brings to the table becomes its major value-add.

Next, as a sort of case in point, Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive Group has hired famed Ferrari Daytona designer Leonardo Fioravanti to help establish its brand through improved product design. Here’s the story, from Bloomberg:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As Fioravanti says, it takes more than product design to build a brand. But it’s a good start. And, product design is a better place to start the rebrand than, say, attempting to rebrand through advertising.

I disagree with Fioravanti on one point. He says, “You can’t expect a new carmaker to immediately reach the standard of the likes of Mercedes, which has been in the business for more than 100 years.”

I’d point to Lexus as a brand that did exactly that. Industry – and branding – moves a lot quicker now. Yes, Lexus had a head start because it was able to leverage consumer perceptions of Toyota. But, consider how many of today’s top ten global brands weren’t around 20 years ago, let alone 50 or 100.
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June 6 2012
As a former drummer, I just have to point out this article about the oldest family-owned business in America, cymbal-maker Avedis Zildjian. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Four centuries is a long time for a business to be in business. I suspect the company - and the brand - has survived so long because it’s family-owned and operated. I think Zildjian’s success and longevity are both due in large part to freedom from greedy shareholders intent on eking out every last fractional percent of gain before they sell. By not being beholden to short-term interests, the entire organization is free to focus on the long term. That long view is reflected in the products, the processes, and the brand.

Besides, who better to shepherd the brand, than someone who’s name is on the company?
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June 4 2012
Schools all over the country are turning to advertisers to refill depleted coffers. Here’s the story, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In California, our schools may have an even worse crunch because property tax revenues are partially frozen, a possibly unanticipated side effect of Proposition 13. On the one hand, the amount we pay stays fairly level despite rising values; on the other hand the amount the state collects remains somewhat level despite rising costs. This situation also creates a tremendous financial incentive for older adults to age in place, locking young families out of the suburbs and simultaneously limiting tax collections on their desirable properties near schools at 1970s-era levels.

So, ads and sponsorships in our local schools are prevalent. My younger son experienced a program spread out over several weeks, culminating in an off-site field trip. It purported to teach economics by creating a mini-economy, with kid-run companies and organizations. The point was to demonstrate how money flows from businesses to workers to other businesses and government, and back. And the entire thing was sponsored. So, the kids competed for "jobs" at Best Buy or Sea World or Taco Bell. The "pay" differential between the CEOs and the workers was, oh, about 1.2x, and all "money" earned and not spent by the end of the day was forfeited. Oh, I think the program taught lessons all right, but I wonder how practical they really were.

Another actual recent field trip was to The Apple Store, which was a day-long indoctrination in bite-sized infotainment and brand-managed "creativity."

Meanwhile, truly educational events like sixth-grade outdoor camps and East Coast trips are cancelled for lack of funds. Why? Because there’s quicker money to be made by training young people to consume, than by teaching them to think.
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June 3 2012
Just a quick pick-up, from the Guardian (UK), about whether smart phones are leading to a dumbing-down of the web:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now that many of my oldest son’s friends have smart phones, I’ve seen this in action. To them, the web is no longer a source of in-depth and arcane content; it’s a source of 4"-screen-size bites of mainstream entertainment, pre-screened and pre-approved by their peers. The result: websites that look and function like candy bar packaging. And web users for whom that’s enough.
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June 1 2012
It's been a long time since I’ve posted anything, and I thought - before I return to posting regularly - that an explanation for the long silence was in order.

Last summer, my family went through a big change: my wife returned to work. She had been a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer for ten years or so. The plan, such as it was, was she’d look around through the summer of 2011, apply for relevant positions when the kids went back to school in the fall, and land a job in 2012.

Well, the second (!) company to which she applied snapped her up, and she’s been employed full-time since August last year.

Suddenly, our roles with the kids switched. I took on the job of getting everyone out the door and off to school or work, picking up the kids after school, coordinating after-school activities and appointments with doctors and orthodontists, navigating new health insurance forms and procedures, and all the family admin stuff I’d previously been able to take for granted.

Plus advertising work, which thankfully continued to flow in.

On top of that, throw in a major hard drive crash late last year, the decline and death of my much-loved father-in-law in December, and a somewhat more-complicated tax season in April, and I had a rather full plate every single day.

Something had to give. Not my clients. Not my kids or my family. So what gave way was this blog. Oh, and in the interim I got more efficient with my time.

After these many months, I think I’ve got a handle on simultaneously managing the kids and work.* So I’m back.

Not that I ever left, because I was always here every day, developing marketing strategies, creating advertising campaigns, building brands, and writing ads - all that fun stuff. But now I can get back to talking about it as well as doing it.

And I’m really looking forward to that. Because talking about advertising is nearly as much fun as creating it. And it’s been a while.

* Of course, school is just days away from letting out for the summer, so my confidence may be a bit premature.
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Backwards in time to July 2011

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

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