John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
June, 2006

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June 30, 2006
Hereís more on web-based social networking, from ClickZ Network (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a great piece. With all the hoopla surrounding the rise of social networks, itís easy to forget that web-based social networking is as old as the web itself. Remember BBSs? I do, logging on with a Commodore CBM 8032, when 14.4 was blazing fast. Heck, I moderated a chat room through the 1990s that was ostensibly about photography but was really about a bunch of online friends getting together and chatting. Remember CompuServe, AOL, and other now-forgotten ISPs? They started as online communities, and grew until they suffered the equivalent of urban sprawl and decay. The same thing is happening to the new social networking websites.

Niches are one way to focus. But the tighter the focus, the more-limited the growth potential. The financial temptation to overextend the brand is huge, and the downside to failing to capture market share at this juncture is also huge. Simultaneously, the target market is ducking and weaving.

As far as advertising creative goes, though, these new media options simply offer more tools that may or may not be applicable to a particular marketing problem. And, while social network site users may be engaged, theyíre engaged in their own activities within the channel, not the advertising on the channel. Itís not enough to just be there; you canít win on media savvy alone. You have to be there with a message that effectively interrupts what the site user really wants to do, and draws them in. Itís an old formula for new media: attract, intrigue, persuade. Only now, thereís much less time to make that emotional connection. Killer creative has never been more important.
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June 29, 2006
Jaguar further blurs the line between reality and advertising, by lending its cars to jet-setters in targeted cities. Here’s the story, from The Wall Street Journal via The Arizona Republic:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Call it organic placement. Or, the most-subtle form of brand ambassadorship. Or, how the rich and glamorous become even more rich and glamorous. After all, it’s not as if these people need a free car. They’d have as much cachet climbing out of a Honda Civic, and that’s the key factor in their selection. It’s their brand that’s important, and the product is just a small, supporting element.
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June 28, 2006
Kind of a continuation from yesterdayís entry, this article from E-Commerce Times (Encino, CA) talks about marketing to “Millennials,” nine- to 28-year-olds:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, advertisers are still failing to take into account the rapid evolution of the target audience. Yes, itís my old ecosystem model of communication I developed in 1983, but truth is, Howard Gossage said it nearly a half-century ago:

ďAdvertising may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but thereís some evidence that the fish donít hold still as well as they used to and are developing armor plate. They have control over what type of ammo you have, when the trigger gets pulled, and how fast your shot moves. Oh, and theyíre not all in the same barrel anymore.Ē

Media proliferation is driving audience evolution, plain and simple, and that evolution is happening at a far quicker pace than advertisers are prepared to admit. Word-of-mouth? Itís already dying from overuse and increasing irrelevance.

And “authenticity” is just the new media buzzword for “relevance.”
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June 27, 2006
Hereís a terrific synopsis of the state of digital/traditional media convergence, from RedOrbit (TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have nothing to add, other than to agree that media is in a shake-out mode and will likely remain that way for a couple years at least. However, the article merely grazes one of the key drivers of this convergence: people.

Consumers have grown increasingly ad-savvy. Yet, their media choices have proliferated even as their attention spans decreased. New media, old media, the creative challenge remains the same: to get a personís attention (whether that attention is grabbed or invited), and deliver a relevant marketing message. The tools may have changed, but advertising craftsmanship remains the same.

So, arguing over whether or not traditional media models apply to new media is pointless. Whatís important, is the state of the target audience: how engaged they are, what their expectations are, what theyíre thinking about at the moment of contact. Regardless of media, advertising creative starts where it ends: with the consumer.
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June 26, 2006
Parody ads and placements are serious marketing tools, says this article from BrandWeek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is one of those situations in which thereís a fine line between confidence and arrogance. A lot of parodies come off as self-referential instead of self-deprecating, and thatís where they go wrong. Done right, though, they are a powerful tool to embed a brand identity into a sort of collective social consciousness.
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June 25, 2006
Ford Motor Company is burying treasure, in the form of a customized Volvo XC90 SUV, to tie in with Disneyís Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Hereís the story, from the Detroit Free Press (MI) via The Boston Globe (MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What, do you suppose, has a Volvo got to do with pirates? The tie-in feels weak. And who wants a car thatís been buried for months?

While the viral element is clever, particularly considering Volvoís intended audience, the rest of this campaign feels like a misfire waiting to be set off. Do people in Volvoís target market really want to play games for a chance to win a car? Or do they just buy the car they want? While this campaign could attract those outside Volvoís existing target market to visit a dealer or take a test-drive, I donít think the relationship will continue beyond that for two reasons. First, Volvo ainít Scion. Second, Volvo ainít priced like Scion. Product design and pricing are a mis-match to the audience.

This has been done before, and better, back in the 1970s (when I was just a kid, by the way). For years, Canadian Club buried or hid cases of its whiskey in mystery spots all over the world. The ads (in magazines, as I recall) would give clues to a specific location. To this day, I remember Canadian Club, and associate the brand with a sort of whimsically globe-trotting adventurousness, even though I was far below drinking age when the campaign ran.

A bit of searching turned up this reference to the hidden case campaign, from Cecil Adamsí The Straight Dope:
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, this ad campaign had the right match of attitude, product, and target market, with a dash of humor and a hefty media schedule thrown in to make it memorable to those outside the target market. This is the right way to do it.

Would Captain Jack Sparrow drive a Volvo SUV, even one thatís been blacked out and trimmed with pirate decals? I think not. And thatís a fundamental marketing disconnect.
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June 23, 2006
The subject of youth marketing through web-based social networking is explored in brief, in this article from from the Associated Press via Yahoo! Finance:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The concept is simple and cool. Creating MySpace pages for fictional characters in a movie targeting kids is one of those no-duh ideas – of course it should be done.

But the power behind it is, oh, dare one call it media consolidation? The fact that the movie and the medium are both owned by the same company merits just a comment along the way. Blink and you miss it. But thatís the big story. Tapping into an existing social network to sell product has been a tactic since the days of Tupperware parties and school fundraisers. A single organization controlling the product, the medium, the message, and even (to a limited extent) the target market – thatís a recent development that evokes the old mining town company store. And that, I think, is too much power.
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June 22, 2006
Target, the discount retailer, is moving into the world of high fashion with a  line called Targťt Couture. Hereís the story, from the Washington Post (DC) via the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The line may have hot designers, but itís a self-mocking version of high fashion, camp couture. Whatís intriguing, is that Target has chosen to sell the line not in its own stores, but in established, trendy boutiques.

To my eye, this is the opposite of the “class for the masses” strategy that has driven some of Targetís most-successful lines. The products shown look more like trash for the classes, and while they might play with appropriate irony in some quarters, I donít know that that is the optimal way to support the Target brand.
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June 21, 2006
In todayís digital media age, an old-school media standby is poised for a comeback: billboards. Hereís the story, from USA Today via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This resurgence is being driven by two factors. First, outdoor is rapidly becoming a digital medium, as the examples in the article show. Perhaps outdoor is where weíre seeing the convergence of digital and traditional media executed the closest and best.

The second driver is also related to digital media: the rising importance and power of the web and digital communication. Billboards offer an affordable way to mass-market a simple message, like a URL or code, in a way that is intrinsically larger than life.

Thatís why many other old-media channels not only refuse to die, but are enjoying a renaissance. Postcards and promotional products, for instance, are more useful now than ever before.
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June 20, 2006
Marketing guru Clotaire Rapaille (The Culture Code) gave a talk here in San Diego last week. Hereís the story, from the local edition of The Epoch Times (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I talked about Rapaille and his concept of a “code” about a year and a half ago, back on November 10 2004. (You should click back if only for the link to the website for the PBS program The Persuaders and the interview with Rapaille). His system appears to be a combination of exhaustive consumer research, sales psychology (he was originally a child development psychologist studying autism), neuro-linguistic programming, and old-school marketing. Of those elements, I think the two most-useful are the research and the old-school marketing.

Saying that we buy from the “reptilian brain” is old news. Copywriters have known for a century or longer that the tipping point in a buying decision is always emotional. We shop with our brains. We buy with our hearts.

However, whatís cool and exciting, is when you get into the logic of emotion. And this is where the research comes into play, and the old-line marketing tactic of owning a position (or, in Rapailleís words, a “code”). His research methodology, which has less to do with product or media and more to do with life experience, is a new and better approach, particularly when the end result has to be something that breaks through an increasingly cluttered advertising environment.

Anyway, much cooler – and more-useful – stuff than it appears on the surface.
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June 19, 2006
Hereís an awesome PDF (2.7 MB) of an article exploring the disconnect between marketing and sales, from the June issue of Sales & Marketing Management:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Iím not going to go over the entire article, since to read it is to know the issue and see some of the solutions. However, Iíd like to comment on one key point.

As to the poor performance of websites and brochures as sales support materials, and the subsequent two-way finger-pointing: this, folks, is what happens when you relegate these projects to a copywriter who is not, first and foremost, an advertising copywriter.

Too often, these key components of branding in the face of the consumer are left to harried in-house employees or whoever happens to “be a pretty good writer” at a web design firm or graphic design studio. The ad agency is out of the loop, along with the copywriters who understand the brand platform (having been part of the team that created it).

On the other hand, many ad agencies prefer to outsource that work anyway, leaving their copywriters unsullied by front-line duty talking to sales staff. And, industry fragmentation hasnít helped deliver messaging that stays cohesive all the way from pre-contact to post-sale.

No matter how it happens, the result is the same, and you see it all over the place. Websites and brochures that support neither the brand nor the sale.

If you donít understand where the website and collateral fit in the sales process, you canít even begin to concept them, let alone write them.
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June 18, 2006
Corporate slogans are reviewed, in this feature from BBC News :
Advertising copywriter blog link

These are UK ad slogans. So, itís difficult, here in San Diego, to get a feel for the way they are deployed in real life. But, just looking at the words and not the execution, the ones that stand out to this copywriter are:

The rest are forgettable, vague, and high-falutiní. Like most ad slogans are.
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June 16, 2006
Hereís a great look at the world of non-traditional media and advertising, from the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I agree with the creative director who talks about people who made terrible ads now wanting to make terrible programs. I agree with the other creative director who says that it doesnít matter if whether youíve made potential consumers watch 30 seconds or 30 minutes, if they donít walk away with a personally compelling marketing message directly related to the brand, itís been a waste of time.

And, I agree that there are new routes to achieve the same results, and thatís what makes advertising so exciting right now.

Thing is, all successful advertising is fundamentally interactive. It exists to engage, to persuade, to move a person from here to there. It doesnít matter whether itís a 4-column-inch print ad or a 5-minute viral video; interactivity is nothing more or less than the traditional desired outcome of advertising in the first place.
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June 15, 2006
Japan finds itself branded ... as “cute.” Hereís the story, from the Associated Press via The Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, there are worse things. And, after all, itís not keeping people from buying Hondas or Toyotas, which hardly have a cute brand image. I suspect that this national image doesnít extend too far past the nationís borders, at least in a spiritual way. Product-wise, though, there remains the old stand-bys of cuteness, Sanrio and anime (of all kinds).
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June 14, 2006
Online shopping offers many benefits, including transparency in pricing. But, itís not all rosy. Shoppers can also be faced with information overload. Hereís an interesting article, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I find that thereís another symptom which is not discussed: Iíll call it the early bookmark advantage. For instance, I have hard-to-fit feet, so I buy shoes online. I tend to stick with shoe brands and models that I know from experience fit me, and I always return to the same two online stores. Those two stores have an early bookmark advantage. Since neither has given me a reason to go elsewhere, two are all I need to compare. This is reflected in the fact that I have a third bookmarked online shoe store that I have on occasion visited, but never bought from.

I donít want to fall into the trap of extrapolating everyone else from myself. But the power of online brands like Amazon tend to support the idea that there are established online categories consisting of a limited number of most-popular stores. Itís not quite consolidation, but itís close.
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June 13, 2006
A new survey of home electronics shoppers reveals the decline of branding and the rise of discounting in influencing purchases. Hereís the press release, from BusinessWire via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a natural evolution of the home electronics marketplace. Quality, once a variable upon which branding could rest, is now negated as a factor; most consumers assume that things will work. Likewise, transaction and pricing transparency are up. I went over this exactly two months ago, on March 13.

Forty years ago, buying a television set represented a considerable chunk of a familyís household budget. Our parents bought televisions sets intending to keep them 15-20 years, which, think about this, was longer than the average new car purchase. So, factors like reliability, ease of servicing, and ease of getting parts were high on the list – all things that could be encapsulated in a brand.

Today, buying a new television set can be an almost trivial purchase, something that follows the whims of the latest Ikea catalog. Speaking of which, our parents bought their furniture from furniture stores, or maybe from Sears or Monkey Wards, paid a lot for it relative to income and other prices, and kept it forever. This disposability of both home furnishings and home electronics is a new development.

So, given that, why not equate low price with value? Even after coming to a purchase decision, which more often than not is a decision to purchase one of several products, why not use discounts as the deciding factor?

Home electronics have become utterly commoditized.

Which, oddly enough, makes it easier for new brands to emerge even as it makes it harder for established brands to defend their turf.

On the other hand, thereís Apple and its iPod. Thereís a textbook case of branding as a key sales driver. Unfortunately, it seems more and more that the iPod is the exception that proves the rule. No other company in home electronics has had the patience, the persistence, or the presence that Apple has shown. Itís no wonder that no other company is enjoying the positive results of branding to the same degree.
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June 12, 2006
Dated tomorrow, because it is in Australia, comes this article about regulating “covert” food and beverage advertising aimed at children. Hereís the story, from the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This could be something of a follow-up to yesterdayís entry about Bernard Loomis, the toy executive who invented product-based childrenís television programming. But marketing to kids has gotten more subtle even as it grows ever more omnipresent.

Which brings us to this quite understandable desire to regulate ads aimed at children.

As much as I agree with the sentiment, I donít believe that regulation will have any appreciable effect on commercial messages reaching kids. The closing quote says it all:

Piers Hogarth-Scott, managing director of the marketing agency DMC Australia, said: “One of the dangers [of tighter regulation] is that marketers and their agencies get more creative. If you close off one area they will only find new and different ways to reach people.”
Itís environmental pressure driving the evolution of advertising (to dredge up once again the ecosystem-based model of communication I developed back in 1983).

The only practical solution rests, like I’ve always said, in the hands of the parents. These product placements are appearing in cartoons, videogames, and online. All places where children should be monitored, and time should be restricted. In order for kids to be kids, parents need to be parents.
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June 11, 2006
A rare Sunday entry to note the passing of Bernard Loomis. He was the guy who first turned characters on childrenís television programs into hucksters for themselves. Hereís the story, from The New York Times News Service, via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Loomis was “The Man Who Invented Saturday Morning,” a shrewd marketing executive who made his mark on just about every toy company around and certainly every kid. I mean, this guy invented product-based childrenís programming.

I find his story fascinating. As a child, he grew up with few toys of his own, and used a toy catalog as a catalyst for imaginative play. As a sales and marketing executive, he was a genuine visionary, a rare thing. He launched the first product-based childrenís show in 1969, for Mattelís Hot Wheels, and the FCC promptly shut it down as advertising. Eleven years later he tried again, and the floodgates opened with the first Strawberry Shortcake television special. And now, well, here we are.

Perhaps a moment of silence is appropriate. A moment, one blessed freakiní moment, when no one sells anything to kids, and their imaginations are set free again.
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June 9, 2006
Advertisers are on a constant search for fresh, yet established, songs to use as soundtracks to radio and television commercials. Hereís the story, from The Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, great music is great. But is it advertising?

I suspect that featuring well-known rock and roll songs in commercials does more for the musical artists than the products or services being advertised. This is a case where the emotion doesnít necessarily transfer.

Granted, a strong connection between song and product can help. But, of the examples mentioned in the article, I remembered almost all of the songs and almost none of the advertisers.

Rock and roll songs can be iconic. But, when it comes to advertising, iconic is as iconic does. And for long-term audio branding, Iíve yet to see anything beat a good jingle. Or, come to think of it, even a bad one.
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June 8, 2006
Iíve always said that brands are the property, not of companies, but of customers. And hereís proof, as luxury brands struggle to deal with the effects of becoming hip-hop icons. Hereís the article, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As the guy from Interbrand says, thereís really nothing a brand can do to avoid being co-opted by a set of people it would rather not have as brand ambassadors. Indeed, once it establishes exclusivity, it simultaneously establishes its value as a social prop. And, it becomes instantly middle-class.

A good, relevant read that I donít think Iíve mentioned here before: Class by Paul Fussell (1983, Ballantine Books, NY). The book is subtitled “A painfully accurate guide through the American status system.” Some of the vignettes tell more about the 1980s than about sociology, and what Fussell describes as the X-Type escape has itself become the tool of the middles. Still, the book is endlessly amusing, hurtfully provoking, and enjoyably easy-to-read. Take care not to get caught up in its curmudgeon-cool attitude, though. An essential part of being an advertising copywriter – or anyone in advertising – is to love the people Fussell skewers, to feel their pain and be tempted from the heart to rise in their defense even as you acknowledge intellectually that his assessments are spot-on.

By the way, the jump story about McJobs in BBC News Magazine is also worth reading, along with the reader comments.
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June 7, 2006
A tip of the keyboard to my frequent partner-in-mischief, Blaise, who sent me this great link on five words to never use in ad copy, from BusinessWeek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The banned words, by the way, are “quality,” “value,” “service,” “caring,” and “integrity.” To those, Iím going to add “innovation.”

Iíve often seen these words in ads that have obviously trickled down from corporate mission statements. You know: “The Mission of Acme Industries is to provide value through quality service and innovation ...” etc. Itís what you end up with when a committee writes ad copy, or reviews it. (Youíve been there. A thin voice from the back of the room, from someone with no business being there in the first place: “I like the copy, but I think we need to add that we care about our customers.”)

These are empty words, but not necessarily empty ideas when expressed properly. And thatís where a professional copywriter can deliver pure gold, if he or she is allowed to do so.
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June 6, 2006
First, a silly quickie for marketing numerologists about demonic-related film and music launches tied to todayís date, 6/6/06, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

When elements like a launch date are a little fillip, they add a sort of quirky fun. But when the launch is all about the date, thatís a marketing mis-step. Product launches should be about the product or the productís potential customers. The date thing was a good intention, but you know what they say about those.

Next up, and on a serious note, is this article about online advertising media spending, from Media Life Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Online media has twice the market share in the UK than in the US. Over the next few years, online ad spending in the UK is expected to grow even more, surpassing newspaper advertising to become the second largest medium after television.

The same thing is happening here in the US, only slower. I think that has to do with the strength of local newspapers and a basic consumer preference toward seeking local advertisers in localized media. Here in the US, thereís still such a thing as a home-field advantage when it comes to advertising media.
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June 5, 2006
Election Day is tomorrow. And here, from the front page of my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), is an article about political advertising, focusing on those “voter guide” slate mailers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

These mailers “endorse” a slate of propositions and candidates, based on which campaigns pay for placement. The mailers may be non-partisan, but they are certainly money-makers. To financially strapped campaigns, these mailers offer a way to reach voters at a fraction of the cost of doing their own mailings. On the other hand, some campaign staffers went so far as to call slate mailers “legalized extortion.”

Unlike traditional advertising, political advertising is Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Several attempts at regulating deceptive political ads have been struck down or gutted by the courts, making the political arena a safe haven for unscrupulous advertising techniques, although not necessarily for actual libel or slander. Itís odd that a porn website or fabric softener is held to a higher standard of truth in advertising than a ballot proposition or political candidate, but there you go. The natural outcome, however, is that we have porn websites and fabric softeners that generally do what they claim, and laws and lawmakers that often donít.

Anyway, the issue of slate mailers is not an easy one. Regulation is not the answer, because that could eliminate a key media channel for under-funded underdogs. I think the answer lies in consumer response. And, consumer behavior being what it is, it wonít be long before a presence in a “voter guide” is viewed with the same cynicism as any other product placement.
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June 2, 2006
Itís easy to look at a slogan like “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” and think it came out of nowhere. It didnít. Behind the tagline was a lot of hard work and, yes, research. This article puts the now-famous ad slogan back into context, as an evolution of a message. Hereís the story, from the Las Vegas Business Press (NV):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The reason the slogan was successful, was that it resonated with customers. The reason it resonated with customers, was that the creative team listened to customers. They did their research, and took that research seriously. Then, they created, sifted, and refined hundreds of ideas to develop a concept ... to test. As Bill Bernbach said nearly a generation ago, “The heart of creativity is discipline.”

I also like this article because it shows, in retrospect, how the marketing campaign for Las Vegas unfolded, through a presidential election, through 9-11, through some of the most-significant changes in the travel industry in the last 50 years. Rising fuel prices are the new travel industry challenge, and itíll be interesting to see how the campaign evolves. Itís already emotionally based on giving people permission to enjoy themselves, so Iíd say the campaign has a good head start.
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June 1, 2006
A young ad agency creative director talks about the young people he sees entering the advertising industry. Hereís what he says, from agencyfaqs! (New Delhi, India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Itís the same thing thatís happening all over the world. It has become easier than ever to implement ideas online, so kids see something stupid but fortunate like pixel advertising and think that thatís what the ad industry is all about. Then, they get into the field with little discipline or even care about acquiring discipline.

Like I said on May 29, thatís a lose-lose proposition.

Hereís the other thing I find fascinating about this article. With all we hear about India-based call centers, no one talks about what the success of that industry means to the Indian economy in terms of industrial diversity. The author says: “It is this influx of easy to get jobs that offer absolutely no challenges which are spoiling our youth.” Wow. Thatís a perspective I hadnít considered before.

One of the things you need to maintain a creative edge – in any field, not just in advertising – is constant challenge.
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Backwards in time to May 2006

My experience as a copywriter.

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

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