John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
July 2014

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July 18 2014
Collaboration is the hot trend in advertising these days, or perhaps it just seems that way in the media. But here’s a good look at the power of creative collaboration, from Campaign India:
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All advertising, good and bad, is collaborative from start to finish. It’s a collaboration between agency and client, between creative and research and media and account services, between art and copy and production. And it’s exciting to integrate new disciplines into the creative process because they give us new tools to work with and new ways of seeing things.

That said, though, there is one danger in collaboration, and that’s diluting the vision.

I’ve found that collaboration works best when everyone shares ideas, and worst when everyone shares the work. Beyond a certain point, for instance, collaboration doesn’t help in writing copy; it either throws up roadblocks and detours or adds too many voices.

Maintaining focus used to be the province of the creative director. But now, as cross-disciplinary teams get larger and more diverse, I think it’s best to delegate downward: keeping an eye on the ball is everyone’s job. That gets the most out of both the collaboration and the individuals within it.
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July 16 2014
A recent study shows that storytelling across sequential ads beats multiple direct call-to-action ads on Facebook. Here’s the story, with a link to the full report, from Marketing Land (Redding, CT):
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This isn’t a new phenomenon, although it may seem so because it’s being applied to a newer medium by researchers who either don’t know or don’t remember old-school direct-response packages. But look at all the most-effective traditional direct-response ads. Were they one-shot messages with a call to action? Sequential calls to action? No; most were long-copy direct mail packages, often containing three or more elements including an interactive piece such as a scratch-off card, a choice of bonuses, or a questionnaire. In print advertising, again long copy ruled. Direct response print ads occupied a full page at least, if not a spread. And direct-response TV commercials took 60, 90, or 120 seconds or longer.

It takes time to build a case for action. You must call to mind the problem, pick the scabs, expose the problems of inaction. You must establish credibility. Only when all that has been done can you offer your solution with a fair chance of converting exposures to sales.

Updating the actual traditional direct response model to online media gives you something a lot more like a sales funnel than a so-called “performance ad.” In fact, the old-school model goes far beyond that, integrating many more pieces including layered ads, interactive experiences, email follow-ups, and multiple websites.

As for what the study calls traditional “performance ads,” they have more in common with billboards than direct response. Presumably, they rely on big data to deliver relevant messages. But big data is no substitute for persuasive ad copy.

I’ve said for years that banner ads are usually misused as direct-response vehicles, regardless of the channel on which they are deployed. And the main creative reason they fail is simple: they ask for the sale before they’ve done any selling.
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July 15 2014
The war in the Middle East is also being waged on social media. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
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That military forces are deploying current propaganda tools in sophisticated ways should come as no surprise. Likewise, that both sides are trying to reach both internal and external audiences. That tactics are swiftly countered, both directly and indirectly. And, that both sides actively target journalists for maximum spin (a powerful aspect of social media that is overlooked by many corporate players).

What struck me, though, was the relative lightness of messaging. In an advertising category in which audiences expect – and are, perhaps, somewhat inured to – dramatic, gritty realism, both sides use cartoons, humor, interactivity, and snark to attract, intrigue, and persuade.
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July 14 2014
Top brands lists seem to be the thing to put together on a slow news day. Here are two. The first, from Business Insider (India), looks at top US brands and the second, from The Drum (UK), examines top UK brands:
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With lists like these, it’s important to look at the metrics, including who was surveyed and what they were asked. In the case of the “most-respected US brands” list, the survey group consisted of 10,000 executives at fairly large companies. They were asked to rate a list of 500 brands by familiarity and “favorability,” which was defined as management capabilities, investment potential, and “overall reputation,” whatever that means to executives. Not noted, is how many of those surveyed actually completed the survey.

At any rate, it’s no surprise that the top ten were mostly massive consumer brands: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, Harley-Davidson, IBM, Apple, Kellogg’s, and General Electric.

The second list, about brand storytelling, is smaller but more interesting. To compile it, 2,000 actual shoppers were surveyed about what brands they thought were the most authentic (whatever that means any more) and believable, and which brands they were most-likely to talk about with other people. That list’s top five were Apple, Cadbury, McDonald’s, Ikea, and Walkers. Virgin Media and YouTube also made the top ten, supplanting longtime consumer brands Heinz and Kellogg’s.

No brand made both lists’ top five. The only brand to make both lists’ top ten was Apple, which, along with Google, is consistently mooted as one of the world’s “most-valuable” brands. Google, by the way, was notably absent from either top ten list.

These are fun, but it’s easy to get deceived into thinking they’re important. I think the only real way to rate a brand, is by category market share relative to its competitors. Except in cases of emerging and very young categories, for the most part all branded consumer goods are adequate. They all do the job pretty well, and functional differences between competing goods are incremental at best. Which is why differences in sales can be largely put down to the attraction of the brand.
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July 11 2014
It’s easy to be creative when you have a cool consumer product to advertise. It’s harder when you're advertising something ordinary. Or is it? Here’s a look at the basics of using creativity as a lever to elevate one “low-involvement” product above the rest, from Business World (India):
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I go back to the admonition that there are no boring products, only boring ads. Terrific, clutter-busting work has been done for prosaic products like glues, tape, and paint, and also for everyday stuff like milk, insurance, and transit safety.

I question the concept of high-involvement vs low-involvement products. There’s nothing innately low-involvement about water heaters or switch gears, for instance. The moment you need them they become high-involvement products.

That said, whether a product is classified as high-involvement or low-involvement, I don’t think the key is differentiation. The key is always catching attention. If you can grab attention and differentiate your product simultaneously, that’s optimal. But unless you get a person’s attention, you have no chance to differentiate, substantiate, or elaborate. The opportunity is lost.

I also think it’s a common mistake to focus entirely on B2C advertising when it comes to selling “low-involvement” consumer goods. If I were marketing a new kind of electronic cabling, for instance, my initial move probably wouldn’t be consumer advertising. I’d market to the electronics trade and retailers first, backed by consumer-focused packaging and point-of-sale materials. I might not advertise to consumers until I got a whiff that competition was brewing, although ideally I’d launch the consumer campaign just before competition stirred, the better to stomp it down and kill it.

Even in B2B, though, the goal is to set your product apart. And the best, most cost-effective way to do that across all media channels, including social, is through better creative.
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July 10 2014
Just a quickie to point out this article from yesterday on naming brands, from BBC News:
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I’ve done naming for brands, products, and services, although nothing yet on the scale of Placek’s firm. But I wouldn’t call naming a “dark art.” Like any other creative project, it begins with a strategic brief. And then it goes into a free-association, quality-through-quantity thing before doing a quick sort and sift through existing trademarks. From there, it’s simple marketing: looking for something catchy, memorable, different, and relevantly evocative.

Just like concepting an ad headline.
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July 9 2014
Here’s an interesting article exploring obstacles to agile advertising, from iMedia Connection:
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I totally agree that agility is a key differentiator in today’s instant-up-always-on media environment. A brand’s ability to respond to events in real time is a fantastic and powerful creative opportunity. (As an example, look at all the brand tweets for the 2014 World Cup, in which today’s Germany win over host nation Brazil was the single most-tweeted topic ever, easily surpassing the Super Bowl.)

But, blaming “process and risk aversion” may be blaming symptoms for the disease. I think the real reason brands don’t take advantage of advertising and marketing opportunities as nimbly as they should, is a lack of trust.

But even that could be a symptom. As marketing and advertising tasks get more and more fragmented, serviced by a growing army of siloed specialists, what often gets lost is the One Brand Voice. There’s no single agency tasked with managing the whole spectrum of marketing communications.

That not only makes it hard to build the kind of deep, broad relationship that is the very foundation of trust, but, worse, it can put the various arms at odds with each other. The result: a brilliant agile advertising idea executed in one channel may have difficulty getting the coordinated, overarching support that could drive it over the top. It may even be sabotaged by those with competing interests.

I have ideas about how one might approach the problem, but I don’t have answers. Different situations require different solutions. But I believe the ad industry will work its way toward increased agility.

In the meantime, though, the whole marketing environment favors strategically focused, tactically agile opportunists like me. It’s a great time to be in advertising!
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July 8 2014
I think the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) is one of the greatest things that the Internet has wrought. The ability to audit the offerings of some of the world’s top universities from anywhere with an internet connection is simply revolutionary. Here are a few top professional development courses, from Coursera via Business Insider (India):
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These look interesting. I may sign up for one or two (or three or four).

One benefit to professional development is that it can also lead to personal growth. But I’m partial to the opposite approach: taking MOOCs about diversionary interests and, somewhat unexpectedly, discovering ways they relate to what I do for a living.

For instance, literature classes teach good copywriting, should the learner care to notice. History classes offer lessons in strategy for those wanting to conquer market share and expand their spheres of influence. Science classes show how to demonstrate or prove a point, and how to be methodical in one’s quest for discovery.

I’ve been participating in a few course offerings on Future Learn, which is a UK-based project of the Open University in collaboration with other colleges and universities. Sadly, I’ve completed but a few of the courses I started – I seem to be greedy about wanting to learn all kinds of things. But even the classes I had to let slide I thoroughly enjoyed until life got in the way of even a few-hours-per-week commitment.

Also, there’s a lot to learn from the way the MOOC works. It’s fascinating to get an worm’s-eye view of a guided online group collaborative experience. This is social media put to measurable, task-oriented work, and some approaches seem to resonate better than others. Experiencing the process from within is valuable by itself. After all, advertising is in many ways customer education. So it’s all good, useful stuff.
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July 7 2014
A mobile payment app is re-branding after it finds itself sharing a brand with religious militants. Here’s the story, from NBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While I agree that the rise of an identically named militant group is unfortunate and unforeseeable, I also think this whole thing falls into the category of turning lemons into lemonade. Most people obviously had no idea there was a wallet app out there named Isis. Now, thanks to news stories like this one, they do, and it’s a hook that will culminate in the unveiling – with full press coverage – of a spiffy new brand.

Lemons, as I said, into lemonade.

As another example of this trend in action, look at GM. In the news daily with coverage of its expanding recalls, yet also setting sales records. Far from being negative commodities, automotive recalls have become valuable consumer touchpoints and surefire ways to attract current owners back into the dealerships.

In branding as in life, it pays to look on the bright side.

As a side note, I think it’s funny – and telling – that even in tweets about Isis the mobile payment app, the militant version of the brand, ISIS, dominates.
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July 3 2014
Since his latest book launch, John Hegarty seems to be everywhere. But he’s always worth listening to. Here he sounds off on what he sees as the lack of big ideas in today’s advertising efforts, in The Drum (UK):
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I agree that advertising has gotten very metric-happy of late. But that’s because we have all these great new ways to measure things. Had these tools been available 20 or 40 or 100 years ago, advertising practitioners would have used them. For the moment, metrics are the shiny new object grabbing everyone’s attention.

On top of that, we have media channels that didn’t exist just a few years ago. One would have to be a fool – or comfortably removed from the trenches – not to seize them with both hands, if only to experiment with their possibilities.

But I don’t agree that those things lead to a lack of big ideas in advertising. In fact, I think in many cases ideas have gotten bigger. They extend over more media channels in more ways, delivering more cumulative impact than before, in more-individual ways than before.

If Hegarty has, as he says, sat in meetings in which he’s had to suggest improving the product as a means of improving market share, then I wonder if maybe his agency has grown too big to handle the kinds of accounts in which real innovation is taking place. It seems that, in many industries, there’s something of a size limit on game-changing reinvention. Google and Apple may be exceptions, or not, as both have a recent history of acquiring and absorbing small, innovative ventures.

As companies and industries grow, they become increasingly invested in the status quo. Smarter people than I have noted that that’s why, after more than a century of automotive development, most of us are still driving around on four wheels, on public roads, burning fossil fuels in our internal combustion engines and using friction-based braking systems. But I digress.

Here’s what I think happened. Audiences changed. They’re more distracted and fragmented, and at the same time easier to distract and target as fragments.

Which really raises the question: what is a big idea? In the old days, it was a concept that appeared in mass media and affected people en masse in a sweeping, general way. That approach still exists, of course. But nowadays, a big idea could also be one that reaches a single individual, and connects in a very deep, intimate way to evoke a specific, measurable action.

Such big ideas often operate under the radar, especially to those outside the immediate target. Today’s big ideas may not make as big a splash about pushing the brand towards people. Instead, they quietly attract people to brands. That’s what advertising is all about. And that’s why I think the big idea remains alive and well.
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July 2 2014
After the U.S. men’s national soccer team was eliminated from World Cup contention by Belgium, many brands took to Twitter to capitalize on popular sentiment. Here’s the story, from Business Insider (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First off, it’s great to see so much positivity in marketing. Most everyone wisely kept their snark hats off, and if they couldn’t think of something clever to say they at least stuck with nice.

That said, some of these are clever tweets. But the really clever bit has gone uncommented: that many of these brands have neatly associated themselves with the U.S. national team despite not being official sponsors. In other words, yes, they have effectively hijacked the World Cup brand, with the apparent complicity of all involved.

One really good tweet, or, better, series of tweets, can garner the same consumer-level attention that an official sponsorship might receive. But here’s the rub: the tweets have to be good. They have to be authentic and contagious. And that’s where skillful copywriting comes in.

For instance, of the examples shown, the Bounty and Baskin-Robbins tweets come off as a little too self-serving, a bit too contrived; one senses the hand of the copywriter behind them. Denny’s is authentic, but it’s not really retweetable. But Miller Lite’s tweet has both authenticity and passalongability.

I’d anticipate more of the same thing during the Olympic Games in Rio a couple years. Only the creative bar will be higher. And, given the IOC’s traditionally hard-line stance on ambush and bootleg marketing, it’ll be interesting to see what the official response will be, if any, to non-sponsor companies creating commercial tie-ins via Twitter.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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