John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
June 2009

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June 29 2009
This is great. What happens when you give a 13-year-old an old-school Sony Walkman? BBC News Magazine found out:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I love stuff that takes a fresh look at old high-tech (for instance, there’s this Ad Blog entry from April 5 about a fellow who made his own Commodore 64 laptop).

This is a great article, showing that intergenerational mystification runs in both directions. Can you imagine starting your car with a hand crank and manual choke, or using a mimeograph machine? I’d be as confused as my mother is with her latest mobile phone. So whether or not one grasps the current iteration of high tech depends more on what one uses than one’s age. That’s nice to know.

The other cool thing is that 13-year-old Scott Campbell can write a feature article, and do it well. Way to go!
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June 28 2009
Great American pitchman Billy Mays is dead. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Mays has joined the pantheon of the advertising greats. Although he was never given the respect accorded to the creative legends, he brought direct response into the 21st century and made a brand name out of several products and, almost incidentally, himself. His relentless drive to put the customer first and put the product before himself, combined with his attention-getting delivery, were what made his spiels so effective. I think copywriters who develop :15s and :30s still have a lot to glean from his half-hour infomercials, one lesson of which is to question whether 15 or 30 seconds is long enough to persuade anybody of anything.

RIP Billy Mays, a master persuader.
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June 26 2009
American Irony: embattled GM vehicle brand Hummer’s pending sale to a Chinese company may be off due to the Chinese government’s emerging concerns over the environment. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

China has every reason to take up the environmental torch concurrent with rapid industrialization and modernization. So that’s not where the irony is.

The irony is that a brand that coulda-shoulda intrinsically stood for the great global outdoors screwed up by focusing on a peculiarly pop version of military wanna-be-dom. Come on, the brand name Hummer was made, made to produce a hybrid. Not only that, think of the smooth power transfer of four electric motors driving four wheels, no axle needed. Plenty of people have noted that off-roaders (and the military) might have welcomed the potential for improved ground clearance and longer operating range.

Anyway, I don’t know where a manufacturer of construction equipment would find value in what’s left of Hummer. Outdated vehicle designs? Perhaps the engines and drivetrains are more-efficient that what they currently have, but are those worth the price? Or is it really about the Chinese government wanting to reverse engineer an American product to decode the American process of invention? Ah, now that last one, that’s priceless, if it’s a possibility.
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June 25 2009
Another grand old retail brand is resurrected online. At least, in the UK, Woolworth’s has returned as an online store. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The issue is, how much will the traditionally value-oriented Woolworth’s shopper be willing to pay for shipping? If the company offers free or discounted shipping, that eats into the margins quite a bit, especially on children’s apparel, candy, DVDs, toys, and party goods. I think the management of the UK-based Wellworth’s, which took over a closed Woolworth’s store, had the better idea in keeping it real.

The other issue is whether or not the brand name alone will transfer the positive associations to the online shopping experience. We’ve seen this approach tried before, taking a grand old retail brand and relaunching it online. Consider Montgomery Wards, which launched as a web-only retailer a while back amid trumpets and lots of press. Although the Wards online storefront is still up and the business appears to be a going concern, the online retailer is virtually absent from shopping bots, deal sites, and fresh press. Or, for that matter, um, advertising. And, a quick look at the available products shows non-competitive prices in categories where the competition is fierce.

So taking ownership of an established bricks-and-mortar brand is by no means a fast-track ticket to online sales, a lesson many so-called branding gurus have yet to learn.
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June 23 2009
The shootout between heavyweight search standby Google and hard-charging social network Facebook is getting even hotter. Here’s the story, from WebHostDirectory (part of Serchen Interactive, an online directory and ad provider based in Dorset, UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Google is mathematics; Facebook is people. Ultimately, there is room for both, although neither seems to see it that way. I am not at all convinced that I trust my friends and family for, say, automotive reviews, more than I trust the testing geeks and beancounters at Consumer Reports.

On the whole, if I’m looking for an objective aggregate value, such as the answer to the question “what’s the most-reliable dishwasher,” then math (and Google) wins every time. But, if I’m looking for a subjective individual value, such as the answer to the question “should I paint my kitchen blue or yellow,” that’s an ask-your-mother/poll-your-friends/check-out-the-neighbors query that’s better suited to a relationship-oriented medium like Facebook.

The inevitability of a collision between Google and Facebook depends on whether both sides deliberately steer toward each other. I think that would be a waste of resources. Like the guy at the end says, “it almost doesn’t make sense to compare them.” Ayup.
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June 22 2009
Where do top online brands look to advertise when they want more market share? Traditional media, of course. Here’s the story, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a no-brainer for anyone with real media sense. The online environment is filled with potential users, but it’s also filled with embedded behaviors and noise. The only way to reach someone who hasn’t either actively shopped or actively rejected the major online retailers, is to go offline.

What’s surprising to me, is that this story seems to be big news. It isn’t; it’s just a reaffirmation that, no matter what the self-proclaimed new media gurus say, smart marketing is media-independent.
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June 20 2009
Just a weekend quickie – a Columbia professor and Yahoo researcher says that the concept of “influencers” is bunkum. Here’s the story, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The whole influencer argument was always a trifle suspicious; the after-the-fact tracing of an effect to an alleged cause. That, plus, moving forward, it never seemed to work quite as neatly. Here’s a key snip about why that’s so:

The reason is that history is a very poor guide to the future. Just because the hipsters in the East Village were wearing Hush Puppies and suddenly everyone else started wearing them doesn’t mean that you can go out and get the hipsters in the East Village to wear your product and it will be popular. To put it another way: Hipsters in the East Village are wearing stuff all the time and it doesn’t always become popular.

That said, I’m not convinced that targeting influencers is without value. The key is identifying them and the specific action one wants to influence. The better you can identify those two objectives, the more targeted and relevant the creative can be, and the more successful the campaign is likely to be.

The question of whether a campaign targeting influencers of potential consumers is more or less efficient than a campaign targeting the potential consumers themselves, I leave to better scientific minds than my own.
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June 19 2009
You always knew it. Idleness, daydreaming, and distraction are essential steps to achieving creative insight. Here’s scientific validation, from no less august a source than The Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Scientists monitored brain waves and were able to witness an actual flash of creative insight, recorded as a burst of gamma waves in the brain’s right hemisphere. What’s more, when the mind was apparently idle, that’s when the brain activity associated with complex problem-solving kicked into high gear. The brain waves generated by working on a problem methodically were significantly different. A key quote from one of the principal researchers:

“Solving a problem with insight is fundamentally different from solving a problem analytically,” Dr. Kounios says. “There really are different brain mechanisms involved.”

And another quote, from the cognitive neuroscientist who presented the findings:

“We often assume that if we don’t notice our thoughts they don’t exist,” says Dr. Christoff in Vancouver, “When we don’t notice them is when we may be thinking most creatively.”

This is stuff that most creatives already know and use. But it’s awfully nice to have some honest-to-goodness brain study research to back it up.

Time for me to go out and play with the kids, and maybe watch a movie with them later. After all, I have a lot of work to do.
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June 18 2009
The government is looking into how to regulate behavioral ad targeting and the use of private information gathered from web visitors. Yeah, that’s a comforting thought. Here’s the story, from Multichannel News (New York, NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The two key issues the House is trying to juggle as this bipartisan bill takes shape, are consumer privacy and business growth. Fortunately, it sounds like they’re actually going to proceed cautiously on this topic, for fear of (as the article puts it) “knee-capping” a business model that delivers free content and other benefits to consumers. The chairman of the House communications subcommittee, Representative Rick Boucher, goes so far as to say, “I support and benefit from behavioral advertising.” So it sounds like he gets it, he understands the big picture here.

Yet the government knows – or thinks it knows – that a line must be drawn to protect consumers, and is casting about for guidance on the best place to draw it.

I think there’s more on the government’s plate just now (oh, the economy, taking the wheel at General Motors, an increasingly armed North Korea ...) to expect any great shakes on this issue. And, I would think that most legitimate advertisers would welcome clarity on the appropriate use of information gathered from web users. But, any time our government gets involved in legislating business, it pays for the people most-affected – and that would be you and me – to keep a weather eye on things. As methodical and balanced as our elected legislators are trying to be, the situation is just one Oprah program away from descending into a screeching battle of sound bites, with populists railing against advertisers. And when that happens, even when you win, you lose.
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June 17 2009
Oh groovy. First the 1980s enjoyed a moment of retro hipness, and now advertisers are digging farther back, to the 1960s. Here’s the story, from The New York Times via (Henderson, NC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This 60s throwback isn’t about nostalgia; anyone old enough to have lived it the first time is retired by now. It’s about the pop media-filtered “optimism” of the age, and also the global threats (then it was Russia, now it’s Iran) and the economy (the Wall Street Journal today carried a story about the Labor Department’s latest consumer price data, showing the largest annual drop since the 1950s).

Will we go back to the 50s next? Or forward to the 70s? When will the first retro-90s fad hit? Guesses?

Personally, I think I see a glint of the 50s emerging, albeit with a millennial social ethic. And that brings up another question: at what point in refining and updating an era-based style does popular culture create a new style? For instance, and within recent memory, what’s the difference between 1980s design and the Bauhaus upon which a lot of the iconic fashions were based?

Even when recalling the past, life (and design and advertising) only moves forward.
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June 15 2009
I know I’m busy, really busy, when I can’t even take 20 minutes to track down a link to a cool news story about advertising. I’ve let so many pass by lately. But today is tax day for those paying quarterly, which is worth a quick mention.
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June 9 2009
The fog of enthusiasm is lifting on micro-blogging site Twitter. A new Harvard study of Twitter reveals that it’s more of a micro-publishing platform than a social networking site. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snip, from the person who led the study:

“The Harvard data says very, very few people tweet and the Nielsen data says very, very few people listen consistently.”


On the business side, I’ve sort of given up on Twitter due to excessive noise, and that’s the problem with it as a social networking site. Once you buy into the idea that the object is to amass a large number of followers by following others, the whole thing becomes a pyramid scheme of themed accounts (not people, just accounts) and the bulk of the so-called conversation is just one-way broadcasting for the folks at the top of the pyramid.  And, when it comes to broadcast media, there’s less advertising almost any where else.

Where I’ve found Twitter more useful, and useful is probably too strong a word, is on the personal side. There, I have a very small list of followers and people followed. And there, there’s more real and relevant dialog.

It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Twitter in a few years. I think it’ll be remembered fondly as a pop culture fad, and as someone who makes a living from pop culture I’m glad to have participated. But is it important? Nah. The opportunity was there for it to be important, but the advertisers already killed it.
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June 1 2009
Despite increasingly rosy economic forecasts, U.S. consumers are reining in their spending. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Personal income rose, partly due to reduced taxes and increased government benefits, but personal savings rose even more. A key snip:

“The consumer doesn't seem convinced that it’s an ongoing benefit with the income increase,” said independent market strategist TJ Marta. “After careful consideration, the consumer is retrenching with the decline in spending.”

In other words, the battle for market share and sales are far from over. If anything, with a declining pool of available spenders in the marketplace, the battle is going to heat up.
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Backwards in time to May 2009

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

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