John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
June 2007

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June 29 2007
I’ll be taking a few days off, so here’s something to kill time with until I return. It’s the Minisode Network, a MySpace page that’s the brainchild of Sony TV:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Haven’t you always wanted to catch up on all those shows from the 1970s and 80s – Fantasy Island, What’s Happening, Starsky & Hutch, Police Woman, Charlie’s Angels, TJ Hooker – all those comfortably formulaic sit-coms and cop shows? Well, here’s the answer. The Minisode Network offers 30- and 60-minute TV programs condensed into 5-6 minute “minisodes.”

It’s amazing how little is lacking in them. The primary sponsor is a good match, too, the Fit, Honda’s U.S. minicar entry. So, until I return, pull up a chair and re-live the good old days at warp speed. And remember, if anyone asks, you’re not wasting time, you’re studying American cultural history.
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June 28 2007
I have a follow-up to my entry from the 26th, about the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing big money political ad campaigns to run right up to Election Day. Here it is, from the Associated Press via CBS News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The ruling was such a victory, and one so rife with potential future lawsuits, that the beneficiaries of the ruling – well-heeled advocacy groups of all persuasions – seem a bit wary of their good fortune. As for the creative challenge of making the ads focus on issues, not candidates, that should be no problem at all for copywriters of all political stripes.
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June 27 2007
Saturn is challenging Toyota and Honda by placing Camrys and Accords on its own lots, allowing direct comparisons with its own Aura mid-sized sedan. Here’s the story, from MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like that this national campaign concept emerged out of one dealership in St. Louis, MO. It made such a splash locally that the ripples hit the national headquarters, which was nimble and sharp enough to grab the ball and run. What’s notable is the dealer’s comment that most of her foot traffic was previously unaware that Saturn even had an car to compete with the Camry and Accord, which reflects rather badly on the previous Saturn ad campaigns.

This evokes the Plymouth ad from the early 1930s. Plymouth was then a fresh-faced brand, just a few years old and already struggling. It had been created by Walter Chrysler with the express purpose of doing battle in the entry-level automotive market, a field then dominated by Chevrolet (part of Alfred Sloan’s expanding General Motors empire) and Ford (then gearing up a massive ad campaign for its new V-8 engine).

The J. Stirling Getchell Agency, the ad agency for Chrysler/DeSoto, produced, on spec mind you, an ad for Plymouth with the headline “Look at All Three.” The other two being, of course, Chevrolet and Ford.

In one ad, Getchell leveraged the competition’s ad budget, cut out all the other brands, and captured traffic for the dealers. He created the “Big Three,” and in so doing put Plymouth on the map as one of the trio. Plymouth sales went up more than 200%; in fact, Plymouth went on to surpass Ford in sales and for a short time was the #2 car brand. And, by the way, Getchell’s fledgling ad agency won the Plymouth account and grew to multi-million-dollar stature, and this was 70 years ago when that was really huge.

It’s a great story except maybe for that spec creative thing. But sometimes it’s worth the risk, and this was a risky approach for Getchell, and for Plymouth. And for Saturn. Will Saturn’s new gloves-off comparison campaign  work? It depends on (a) whether or not foot traffic goes up and (b) whether or not the cars are truly competitive.
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June 26 2007
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision yesterday that significantly rolls back a lot of political advertising campaign finance reforms, allowing big corporations, unions, and wealthy special interest groups to hide behind the First Amendment. Here’s the story, from The Washington Post (DC) via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, political advertising is a peculiar animal. It’s the only form of advertising protected by the First Amendment. Other ads have to be truthful; there are regulations governing what can be said, and how, and even how often. In some cases, specific wording and fonts and sizes are mandated.

Political advertising is a license to lie, shielded by the First Amendment. The result, is that we have more-honest ads for over-the-counter weight control treatments than for presidential candidates or ballot measures.

But, that’s not the real problem. The typical political consumer – er, voter – has well-trained eyes and ears. One has no problem filtering messages, typically choosing to notice only those that support one’s own beliefs, either though alignment (“see how right I am?”) or opposition (“see how stupid they are?”). Furthermore, political advertising needs its Constitutional protection; the possibility of a voice being silenced outweighs the possibility (okay, probability) of being misled by campaign promises that most of us already know are so much hot air.

The question, is whether in today’s media environment, being outspent is the same thing as being silenced. I think media has moved faster than the courts  There are other options, unconsidered as yet by the Justices. So: who’s going to run the first candidate/ballot initiative to capitalize on the power of user-generated content and social networking sites to counter traditional media, and which side will win?
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June 25 2007
Today I have a lightweight Beckham/branding reprise, from the Associated Press via MSN/Fox Sports:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Reprise? Yeah. Check out the Ad Blog for June 9 and 11 2004, about soccer teams, sports marketing, and branding. Too bad the BBC radio shows linked to on the 9th are no longer available – they’d make great listening even now.
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June 23 2007
A Saturday entry to point out this article about one company’s method of researching the effectiveness of TV commercials on consumers by inviting them to a fake TV pilot testing scenario, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I remember participating in one of these tests as part of a junior high school class field trip. We each got two pushbuttons on cords, and were instructed to press one button when we liked what was going on, and the other button when we didn’t. We were told that the company was testing the chemistry between the stars of the shows, the story lines, and the jokes. Within minutes, we all knew that the TV programs were fake, and what was really being evaluated was our response to the ads. How do I know this? Because we laughed about it all the way back to school, in the bus.

Some of the kids had immediately voted thumbs-down on all the ads. Some tried to sabotage the results by pressing the opposite buttons, voting in favor of the things they didn’t like and against anything they liked. Others just held the “don’t like” button down the whole time. Almost everyone made things up on the follow-up questionnaire, in an effort to gather up the maximum amount of freebies. Funny thing was, as far as I can remember, none of us actually received anything, which just cemented the whole experience as bogus.

If this method was that transparent to a group of ordinary 13-year-olds some 30 years ago, I wonder how valid any of the data is.
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June 22 2007
And now, here’s a worried take on user-generated content as advertising, from Reuters via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For crying out loud, if these people are still entranced by the consumer-created Doritos commercial, then they’re well behind the times I think.

And, they’re missing some important points. Look at this snip, which reveals a real lack of understanding about advertising: “Advertisers are learning from amateurs who in turn are using traditional tricks of the ad trade -- be fast, focused and fun.”

No, the traditional trick is attract, intrigue, persuade. See, this trend is all about the easy, fun part – attracting attention – but in most cases these efforts fail to deliver a relevant, persuasive message. If that’s the lesson advertisers are learning from amateurs, then it’s the wrong one.

And that, in turn, gets into the whole issue of blurring the lines between entertainment and advertising. I think it can be done well, and in fact has been done well, both historically and recently. But to make a real emotional connection between all three points of this love triangle – product, story, user – takes more than 30 seconds, not less, as the research pointed to yesterday shows.

How self-involved are these new media gurus? Look at this quote from one such: “Now, networks and maverick companies are looking at it through the eyes of the consumer rather than through the eyes of a 30-second television slot.

So these people have just discovered the consumer? Well, heck fire, Sadie, I ain’t old-fashioned, I’m cuttin’ edge.
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June 21 2007
More research supports the idea that context matters when it comes to online advertising. Here’s the story, from Media Life:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hmm. The advertising environment can deliver messages (in this case, trust and credibility) quite separate from the ads themselves. Marshall McLuhan, anyone? Only in this case, it’s less about hot and cold media and more about relevant and irrelevant media.

It’s also interesting what this research implies about the state of mind of the typical website user. Someone going to a news or information site is looking for (duh) news and information. The advertising on such a website benefits as much from the user’s state of mind as the user’s perceived credibility of the site. In contrast, someone going to a user-generated content website (like YouTube, for instance) is looking for entertainment. The advertising on those websites may entertain, but they also may fail to inform or persuade because of the mindset of the user.

As a sidebar, I think the way to capitalize on the audience on UGC sites is not to advertise, but to post worthwhile content that demonstrates and dramatizes user benefits. You don’t just buy the channel. You become the channel.
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June 20 2007
Are nano ads the next mega trend in media? Here’s a look at the emerging use of two-second radio spots, from the Washington Post (DC) via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

When my wife saw this article on the front page of our local newspaper, her reaction was instantly positive. Then she read on and learned that the two-second spots don’t replace regular commercial breaks, and her enthusiasm waned.

As the article says, the two-second ad is tailor-made for brands that already own considerable mindshare. But there’s an even more-potent tool in the creative arsenal than merely trumpeting a corporate slogan: audience completion. For instance, Aamco transmissions might have a strong enough audio brand to say “Double A beep beep ... ” followed by about one second of silence. Many listeners would mentally fill the gap with ... M-C-O. And when two seconds of audio stimulates an automatic audience reaction that supports your brand, well, that’s about as good as it gets in two seconds.

However, the opportunity goes beyond branding. As the “iced coffee” example in the article shows, a two-second spot can also be used for retail. For example: “Women’s shoes, now on sale at Sears. And, yes, that fits in two seconds; professionally read, it would fit with fractions of seconds to spare. The critical issues would be cost per placement and effective exposure compared to traditional-length radio commercials.

In addition, two seconds is long enough for a sound effect, a music clip, or even just a read that delivers its own spin on a simple message. To think of two-second spots as mere on-air mentions belies the potential power here.
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June 19 2007
Honda is taking its marketing to the streets in a new “engagement marketing” campaign based around everyday good deeds. Here’s the story, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t know. The strength of this campaign is also its weakness: the prosaic-ness of the tasks performed for the customers by the brand. On the one hand, it elevates the ordinary into an extraordinary experience for the customer, which is good. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of sizzle to it. It’s about getting carryout service for your groceries, not a rock concert. It seems to me that the good-deed campaign might need more than a five-month effort to achieve stand-out mindshare. But I’d love to be proved wrong.
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June 18 2007
Digital is finally becoming important to advertising agency creative directors. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The problem is, digital marketing goes beyond what can be shown in a portfolio, even a digital one. You can’t show all the key components to a past buzz-marketing campaign, you can only talk about them. And even at that, post-campaign analysis is likely to miss as many triggers as it correctly identifies.

But ad agencies are still stuck in the 1990s, seeking portfolios that show digital marketing experience from prospective copywriters and art directors, a desire that demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of digital marketing’s scope. What could go into a copywriter’s portfolio? A website, yes. A cross-platform, multi-site social network that feeds that website qualified traffic ... no. An email campaign? Yes. The back end of the email campaign, including the filtering and branching systems that determined who got which email with what offer and when? Um, no.

Even a case study can tell only so much of the story.

The good news, though, is that there’s an increased interest in mentoring creative talent, which can only be good for the ad industry.
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June 15 2007
Today I have another cat-fight between two big brands. No, not beer. This time our scrappers are PayPal and Google Checkout, competing online payment processing systems. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So Google planned a merchant’s event timed to coincide with an eBay/PayPal merchant’s event. And eBay reacted by pulling all its Google advertising, a sizeable retribution estimated at $25 million per year. And that’s it in a nutshell, which is, perhaps, where it belongs.

The key analyst comment, though, comes at the end: “There certainly will be other conflicts as the industry consolidates in areas such as digital advertising and others.”

In other words, they have not yet begun to fight.
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June 14 2007
A follow-up to my entry on June 5, about the 2012 London Olympic Games logo, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s not so much that “great minds think alike,” a cliché that incidentally strikes me as being overly dismissive of the process. It’s that similar creative briefs will produce similar creative solutions. That goes even more so when, as in this case, the client is not just similar but the same.

Anyway, I think the logo chosen was a brave effort despite the rapidly rising tide of second-guessers. It’s designed from the ground up to be dynamic, as opposed to so many other logos which are designed to be static with dynamic elements bolted on. And, after all, the Olympic credo is Citius, Altius, Fortiusfaster, higher, stronger – nothing about safe choices there. I think a dynamic, interactive, changing logo is more in keeping with the spirit of the Games than traditional static branding, which is what more people are accustomed to now. But in 2012?
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June 13 2007
Here’s a look at how Disney is both expanding and protecting its brand, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Disney crosses over several industries: media, entertainment, tourist destinations, products and services. And many of the key issues it faces transcend industry categorization anyway. So it’s neat to get a glimpse at how this multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-industry giant is going to successfully expand while staying true to its core brand. Leveraging branded assets (like, say Pirates of the Caribbean) across multiple platforms is only part of the plan. And, it appears the organization learned from its EuroDisney experience – rather than merely exporting the American brand, it’s seeking to establish the brand on a locally relevant basis. That’s smart marketing.
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June 12 2007
I have two short ones for you today. The first is here, really, for future reference. In high-definition DVD formats, Blu-Ray, backed by Sony, is battling it out with HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the Betamax vs.VHS grudge match. Remember Betamax? In videotape formats, VHS came to dominate the market despite Betamax being in some ways technically superior and having an entrenched professional user base. I think Betamax may even have held the first-mover advantage for both recorders and camcorders, although not by much given the pace of market adoption (even early adopters adopted slower 30 years ago). Powered by some heavyweight brand partners (including Toshiba), Betamax carved out a massive chunk of market share. At first.

Unfortunately for Sony and its partners, those advantages failed to hold against an onslaught of competing VHS brands, many of which were also cheaper given economies of scale both in manufacturing and distribution. The proprietary format strategy (which sometimes works well, such as for Apple) failed utterly, despite selling Betamax products under many major brands.

Now we get to see if Sony learned anything from that experience.

Next up is this article about some recent research into the effectiveness of product placement, from Media Life Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Three key takeaways: successful product placement is about context and social validation. And, it’s generally less-effective than more overt media advertising.

I think product placement is something of a spent force, at least when it comes to commercial broadcast television programming. The TV-watching audience’s BS filter is already set to “kill.” It’s not like watching a movie, where there are two hours in which to suspend disbelief (along with a buy-in cost that makes it in one’s best interests to go along). Also, there are many other channels that accomplish the same thing in terms of contextual social validation. Is it already old-school to mention the Mentos/Diet Coke/YouTube thing? Yeah, probably.

The point is, brands don’t have to place products on shows. Instead, they can own the shows by becoming content providers.

Another point I’d like to make, is that if product placement is in the plan, it’s essential that the product actually stand out on its own. This is another area in which product design can become a key competitive edge: a great looking product has more eye-pulling power than an ordinary looking product. It’s about style.
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June 11 2007
Some area hospitals are ramping up their advertising as local competition increases. Here’s the story, from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hospital advertising is one of those peculiarly cyclical categories. The peculiarity is that it’s cyclical at all; if ever there was a category that should champion a constant ad presence in the community, it’s hospitals. Still, the tendency is for all the hospitals in an area to scale back their advertising budgets at about the same time, usually in response to some localized economic force or marketplace change. Things quiet down; other than occasional newsletters and ads promoting classes, not much happens. Then, triggered by some other factor (new management, M&A activity, facility expansion), one hospital begins to advertise. More follow, and pretty soon they’re all advertising. Then the cycle repeats. This cycle is reinforced by limited open enrollment dates, driven by the insurance companies, which tends to concentrate the market opportunity.

But in healthcare advertising, as in any other advertising, consistency builds the brand. It shouldn’t be (to make a bad analogy) major surgery every time an ad campaign launches. Advertising should be part of an ongoing wellness program for the business side of the hospital. Unfortunately, few hospitals really take care of themselves; in that way they have a lot in common with the people they treat.
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June 8 2007
Here’s a must-read article, headlined “Top-Ten Principles of Consumer Generated Advertising Campaigns,” from OnlineSPIN, a MediaPost blog (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, author Max Kalehoff is someone who gets it, someone who understands the advertising ecosystem. Notice how he views the consumer generated components and even the online components as tactical expressions of an overarching strategy. I think it all boils down to purposeful dialog.

It’s purposeful because there are objectives and connection points beyond the campaign itself. Being purposeful helps you stay focused on long-term goals while still seizing relevant opportunities as they arise.

It’s dialog because it has to be real, honest two-way communication in which all parties are perceived to have value. Dialog begets dialog; that’s how brand advocacy can get traction, how the feedback cycle can be used to improve products and processes, and how authenticity can be maintained.

These are great principles. More than that, the article offers great commentary. I’ve printed the article out for future reference, and I’m rather hoping other people don’t, that’s how highly I think of it. Not that any of it is some sort of secret weapon or magic formula. It’s just sound marketing sense, cogently presented; something that’s hard to find in discussions of new-age buzz-marketing.
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June 7 2007
Proctor & Gamble is rolling out a new sponsored reality-based television show featuring celebrities learning to race cars. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle (TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a marketing professor on this new development: “The standard 50-year-old advertising model that P&G almost invented doesn’t work nearly as well anymore,” said Leonard Lodish, a Wharton School of Business marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Perhaps not, but the standard 100-year-old advertising model works just fine. See, the TV marketing expert has it wrong because this isn’t a throwback to the early days of television; it’s a throwback to the early days of radio, which is where the term “soap opera” originated. All of which I’ve been saying for more than four years now (all the way back on March 13 2003).

I think the experts and gurus are so narrowly focused on their areas of specialization that they lack an understanding of the whole advertising ecosystem. There’s nothing new about buzz or product placement or peer-to-peer marketing that wasn’t well established in oral traditions going back a half-dozen centuries or longer. And guess what? The principles that worked then continue to work now. Technologies change. People don’t, or haven’t done enough to make a difference. So if you focus on the technology or the technique, you overlook the more important issues related to people.

And, from start to finish, advertising is a people business.
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June 6 2007
Bank of America is spending part of its ad budget telling people how to cut their fees, reducing the bank’s profits – and some people are still complaining. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key complaint, from the head of a consumer watchdog group: “Banks are in the business of making money hand over fist, any way they can.”

Well, yeah. That’s the point of being in business, making money. And non-profit organizations often make the mistake of automatically equating profitability with evil. This kind of complaining happens all the time, and unfortunately, addressing the issue through advertising only riles up the complainers.

Look, we’re talking about a target audience that’s behaviorally proven to not read disclosures, to skim (at best) their monthly statements, and to make bad decisions about their own money. Considering all that, I seriously doubt that this advertising campaign will make a significant difference in the income the bank generates through fees and surcharges. On the other hand, the secondary target may well be those customers who do make decisions that keep their bank fees down, to make them feel good about themselves and BofA. 

Either way, there are also these things called credit unions, which are typically not-for-profit financial institutions. So there are lots of options out there for anyone who cares to investigate them.
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June 5 2007
I have two today, both from BBC News. The first is a look at the 2012 London Olympics logo, and the criticism surrounding it, from the BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

You can file this under “Everyone’s A Critic.” This kind of uproar would happen over anything new and different. And, judging from the ordinary, trite, and downright poorly designed reader submissions (there are only two or maybe three good ones), people are much more comfortable with ordinary, trite work than anything radical. A few of the better-looking reader submissions look very much like something that would successfully make it through a committee, for the worst possible reasons.

My first thought when I saw this logo, was that it looked more like a TV program title, something that needed animation to show it at its best. And, as it turns out, that may be the case. At any rate, it’s a brave step, and like other brave steps it should stand or fall on its own merits, not a focus group made up of wanna-bes and second-guessers. And, should it survive, we’ll see how well a dynamic logo is translated to work in static media like print.

Then again, print may not be as static as one thinks. Here’s the second BBC News story about a newly developed paper that can talk:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, talking packaging could be cool, but audio point-of-purchase displays and advertising inserts could be even cooler. And, as LCD screens get thinner (Sony just presented a bendable one), it could be possible to embed entire video clips on a sheet of paper. I think that’s a fun possibility, one deserving of better thinking than merely moving TV commercials to another media space.

Media convergence comes in many flavors. And, to get back to that London 2012 logo, it may end up positioned to hit much of it just right.
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June 4 2007
Here are one journalists’ gleanings about the future of digital content, from the Wall Street Journal tech conference held just a few miles up the coast in Carlsbad. The story comes from The Seattle Times (WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s pretty obvious that we’re in the beginning of another internet boom, only this time the shake-out will be related, not to service, but content. That has to be a good thing for those of us who create content, like web copywriters and other creatives.

But, beyond that, and contrary to this set of pundits, the convergence point isn’t a piece of technology or even an online destination. The convergence point is in peoples’ lives. That which enhances will be integrated, that which does not will fail, and there’s more to a consumer’s judgment of value than features and specs. Many a superior technology has fallen by the wayside because it lacked a broad emotional connection.

The keys to the future of digital content are the same as any other content, including successful advertising: relevance and resonance.
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June 1 2007
I agree with almost everything in this paper from RedOrbit (Dallas, TX), studying advertising and food marketing aimed at kids:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As for the shift from tangible benefits (tastes great) to the symbolic (be cool), I think this research proves what I said on November 13 2003, about brand advertising being far more subversive when aimed at children than the old school advertising model that fueled pester-power.

I still maintain that, just because the media programming is out there, that doesn’t mean it makes it the last 50 feet into my house to be seen by my kids. The key to the issue is parenting, plain and simple. And, yes, our boys are 7 and 5 so our days of exercising that much control over our kids’ media choices are numbered. But you know what? You teach your children by example. My kids don’t see my wife and I watching television; they see us using computers as work tools not recreational playthings; they see us reading and writing all the time. They see us choose to walk the ten blocks to the grocery store or post office instead of driving. They see us choosing to hike, to walk, to run, to dig in the garden. They see us thinking about our choices of food, recreation, entertainment. In the end, it’s our hope that all that will carry some weight, no matter what their friends are watching.

Anyway, this article gives us, as parents, even more justification for the choices we’ve made.

As an advertising copywriter, I think a lot of these approaches will migrate from advertising and direct branding into into buzz and indirect branding, where regulation will be all but impossible and parental controls will be pushed off onto a siding, irrelevant, something to be blown past without so much as a glance in service. And facing that future makes early parenting choices even more important.

For more of my thoughts on advertising targeting children, see my Ad Blog entries for March 19 2007, February 28 2007, January 15 and 31 2007, December 19 2006, November 14, 17 and 20 2006, October 2, 3 and 27 2006, June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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