John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
June 2013

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June 27 2013
The spread of English vernacular is driven in part by the global growth of brand USA. But some are trying to stem the tide. Here’s a story about English terms creeping into everyday Japanese, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For its part, though, English is confoundedly adaptive, assimilating foreign words and phrases with an almost gleeful ignorance of original context or pronunciation. For instance, of the “English” words currently corrupting Japanese, radio and collaboration are Latin, system Greek, compliance French, and towel apparently Old High German (yeah, I had to look it up). And that’s without considering the influence of advertising’s cross-cultural linguistic mash-up – what other tool could put fahrvergnügen on American tongues?

Language is a living thing. If it fails to adapt, it will die.
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June 25 2013
As local governments deal with the global recession, advertisers are finding opportunities in naming rights, ads on public facilities, and more. Here’s the story of how some marketing tactics are attracting a backlash, from Eyewitness News (Johannesburg, SA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, the backlashes typically serve merely to attract further publicity, enhancing the ROI. As much as I don’t like the idea of my own local government selling ad space and naming rights (Qualcomm Stadium, anyone?), sometimes the alternative is no funding at all. And, as far as putting a branded shirt on public statuary, San Diego is the home of the Cardiff Kook – who’d notice?
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June 19 2013
Despite the buzz digital privacy has been getting lately, research seems to show that consumers are, by and large, happy to share their personal details in exchange for more-relevant advertising. Or does it? Here’s the story, from The Drum (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, this study was commissioned and compiled before the NSA Prism story broke, so consumer sentiment may be different now. Or not, depending on the power of inertia.

Second, just because consumers are willing to share personal details doesn’t mean you can take the rather large and unsupported leap into assuming that they desire deep emotional engagement with a specific brand. Often, what they really desire is a discount coupon.

The challenge, as always with retail, lies in breaking the discount habit and finding a value proposition in something else. (JC Penney anyone?) That something else is often entertainment, which was the same exchange effected by many ads and ad campaigns from the 1960s on. Again, only the tools have changed.
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June 18 2013
I’ve got two quickies today, both celebrating creative branding tactics. The first is the story of how Watermelon Oreos came to be, from Yahoo! Finance. The second is a short story about the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival in Ohio, from BBC Travel:
Advertising copywriter blog link
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Whether you find the concept of Watermelon Oreos revolting or intriguing, they’re a limited-time item so they won’t last long. That short lifespan is essential to enabling a timely brand extension without diluting the strength of the core brand.

As for the duct tape festival, this too enhances the brand while expanding its use into non-traditional areas. Mainstreaming duct tape as an art medium pushes the product into untapped territory, growing the market at the same time as it promotes the brand and the product’s all-purpose usefulness, and celebrates the brand’s customers. It even brings in tourist revenue. Promotional perfection!
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June 17 2013
I have a fondness for outdoor, although old-school opportunities to deploy it are rapidly vanishing. In Escondido, just north of San Diego, the city council is wrestling with the results of having temporarily rescinded a ban on feather flags, those flappy fabric vertical banners. Here’s the story, from the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like any medium (including so-called “native advertising”), feather flags generate noise in the communication ecosystem, with the result that if there are too many of them, none of them get noticed.

My main problem with feather flags stems from the overwhelmingly weak creative. Most businesses use them as mere shouters, with no thought given to branding or fitting the message to the medium.

In English, the vertical format forces a hard-to-read arrangement of letters, either stacking them or running words sideways, a readability problem exacerbated by using all caps. (This problem is not shared by the age-old Japanese flags on which these banners were based simply because Japanese is written and read in vertical columns.) Yet, the vertical format also lends itself to visual opportunities that are seldom seized upon.

Placement, too, is a missed creative opportunity. Given that so many of these flags are produced onesie-twosie for small businesses, the ability to localize the message represents a potentially valuable, usually squandered, media opportunity.

One of these days, a hot creative shop or freelance team will win a major award for a feather flag concept, and then maybe things will improve. If the medium doesn’t disappear under local restrictions first.
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June 13 2013
Following on the heels of Tuesday’s entry, here’s a look at the ultimate (so far) attempt to pigeonhole people according to mathematical formulae: big data. This column from BBC News, titled “Will Big Data Drown Out Genius,” puts its finger right on the problem:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Big data, the article says, should not be confused with big ideas.

The hope, though, is that big data can help lead to big ideas when understood and integrated by minds that reach beyond the numbers. Unfortunately, those are typically not the kinds of minds that appreciate big data in the first place. And those who do have a passion for data are rarely the types who can use it as a springboard for the intuitive leaps necessary to breakthrough thinking.

But, as the article points out, in collaborative teams all the ammunition is on the side of those with the numbers, rather than those with the ideas.

That’s the huge error in using big data: biasing action toward that which fits existing metrics, thereby discounting the notion of undiscovered metrics.

After all, you can only measure what’s already known, and what’s already happened. No matter how big it gets, the nearest thing to today that data can accommodate with certainty, is yesterday.
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June 11 2013
For many students across the country, today is graduation day. Unfortunately, the educational system has left many new grads unprepared for life in the real world. Here’s the story, from CNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I had a fifth grader being promoted out of elementary school today. Several students were selected to deliver speeches, and they were all filled with platitudes of hope and formulaic nods to the teachers, staff, and parents. Just like every other commencement address.

Here, though, is the speech college graduates need to hear.

Good morning graduates.

School is over. Also over, is the life of measured progress toward standardized results. Unless you aspire to a job fitting nuts to bolts, and possibly even then, from here on out your life depends on the one thing the entire educational system has worked hard to suppress: your ability to come up with the unexpected solution – aka the wrong answer.

No matter what your major, what you learned was history. The history of English literature. The history of education. The history of theoretical physics. Everything you’ve learned may already be out of date.

Your education has impressed upon you the need to conform to that out-of-date thinking, in order to pass tests. But in the test of life, real progress is not made by conformists. Use what you have learned, but don’t be afraid to destroy it in order to gain something better. Every act of creation is also an act of destruction.

So, congratulations, Class of 2013. Now go out, break stuff, and learn new stuff in order to build the future.
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June 10 2013
Apple may have the buzz right now, what with its annual conference, but it’s not the only tech brand with design chops. Here’s a look at one of the most-recognized branded laptop designs, from Fortune magazine via CNN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The ThinkPad design has, over the last two decades, been widely copied. Yet each series remains instantly recognizable as a ThinkPad. That’s good branding, and it’s one thing Lenovo got right when it bought the brand from IBM.

I’ve owned two ThinkPad laptops. The first was the diminutive IBM ThinkPad 500, which pretty much created the ultrabook segment. The second, years later, was a ThinkPad T22: a workhorse of a machine and one of the pioneer desktop replacements, as well as one of the earliest uses of stealth black in consumer goods design.

Because I’m a copywriter, keyboard feel is critically important to me. Although I have no problem writing on a virtual keyboard, ThinkPad laptops always had the best keyboard feel in the business. (Also, count me among those who love the little red eraser-head joystick control.)That’s another thing Lenovo got right; the brand isn’t just how a product looks, but also the way it feels and functions. Because Apple also brands its products through the whole user experience, it would be easy to tell an Apple product from a ThinkPad product by touch alone.

That’s less true of most other technology brands, including the rest of Lenovo’s line and the plebian Dell laptop I use now. But unique product design is essential to good branding practices, especially with high-touch products like portable computing devices. That’s something Apple understands and builds into everything it does. It’s odd that Lenovo can understand this, but apply it only to its ThinkPad line.
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June 5 2013
Ogilvy has its own process for measuring the effect of branded entertainment. It has its own acronym, so it must be the real deal. Here’s the “sponsored content” (read: paid press release) on Fast Company:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s important about the process is that it begins at the strategic phase, in determining what objective is going to be measured. I’ve long suspected that an awful lot of branded entertainment is done out of mere amusement or curiosity with no thinking about the purpose beyond “we’ll look cool.”

That said, shifting brand perception is in fact a measurable objective, if one does the necessary pre- and post-campaign testing. The problem is that few advertisers bother with testing, believing they can measure success by sales – even with campaigns not designed to drive sales in the first place.

I think the big missing piece here is the consumer. The process describes what the advertiser wants to achieve, but doesn’t address the role the new media consumer plays in achieving it. Where consumers are concerned, it still comes down to the age-old question: “What’s In It For Me?” What does the consumer get out of the artificial, temporary relationship that is branded entertainment? If the answer is “oh, just some cool down time,” then the strategy doesn’t dig nearly deep enough.
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June 3 2013
I find stuff like this fascinating, perhaps because it ties into the whole engagement element of branding and advertising. People apparently do make real human connections with inanimate objects, even if those objects are known to be inanimate. Here’s the story, from NBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, this is how branding works, whether it’s a man made of tires or a small dog listening to a recording of “His Master’s Voice,” or a robotic baby harp seal designed to spur interaction in an Alzheimer’s Disease patient. In any case, externalizing a relationship (such as, say, brand engagement) starts with internalizing a relationship, which, in turn, starts with that essential connection. Now there’s more science behind the practice of engagement, which is always a good thing. Because, as we know – and now can even measure – that emotional connection can happen very quickly when the object is designed right.

Branding is, after all, a lot like love.
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Backwards in time to May 2013

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Advertising strategy and other lies
An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books
Brands and branding: a white paper
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Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
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How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
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Long John Silver on writing ads
More career advice: what’s it like being an advertising copywriter?
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
The ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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