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

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June 30 2014
Here’s a happy little story about how Hindi has made English its own, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of the Hindi creations, I especially like miss call and back and jack, the latter of which has an Anglo-Saxon rap that just feels like urban corruption.

The English language has absorbed many influences and cultural perspectives over its lifetime. And, it has evolved geographically to the extent that American English and British English are distinct languages, each with grammatical rules and usages that require separate modules in most text-to-speech and speech-to-text devices.

Japanese English, especially in advertising and commercial design, strikes me as a separate creation that transcends mere written or verbal communication. I suspect that the English words and phrases are used as much for their sound and graphic design as their meaning.

So I think it’s cool to see that English is alive and evolving in India. After all, India gave us wonderfully evocative words that, despite their many syllables, trip lightly off the tongue: veranda, calico, avatar, juggernaut, and – one of my personal favorites – hullaballoo. It’s only right that we should return the favor.
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June 27 2014
Volkswagen in China is being accused of plagiarizing an ad, or at least its “mechanics.” Here’s the story, from The Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One is a movie theater ad that tied in a localized transmitter to trigger people’s mobile phones. The second is a web-based system in which people are directed to download and watch a video, which uses submitted data to trigger their mobile phones.

In both cases, the unsuspecting viewer/s start out watching a POV video of driving a car and, upon being distracted by their phones at a specific moment, look up to see a horrific road accident.

It’s a great idea, and a smart use of technology to break that fourth wall and really drive the message home. But plagiarism? I’m just an advertising copywriter with no law training, but I’m doubtful you can copyright the idea of interrupting an ad with a phone call. There are differences in medium and delivery methodology and even the type of accident that occurs.

The VW ad may even help raise the profile of the earlier advertising system, especially as a ready-to-go, licensable technology.

I think a lot of times an idea is seeding the air, finding fertile ground in many places and growing into similar ads and campaigns for different products in different categories. See April 16 2014 for an occurrence from my own career.

However, in this case five years separated executions. Also, and significantly, the people making the infringement allegation have more skin in the game than an ad concept. They invested in and developed the technology to deliver the key element of that concept. That’s what makes the whole thing so confounding: technological advances have made individual experiences deliverable on a mass scale (and vice versa) pretty much across the board. Furthermore, as more people live on their mobile devices, it’s already possible to bypass the media middleman entirely, delivering the entire advertising experience direct-to-mobile.

Plagiarism? It doesn’t feel like it to me. But it is an interesting story about how an advertising concept can jump from one technological medium to another with minimal change in the viewer experience.
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June 26 2014
Here’s an in-depth look at the ad agency-client relationship, complete with infographics, via Co.Create (from Fast Company):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s a lot of talk about building trust. But I think some of this research approaches the issue from the symptom side instead of from the relationship side, which is the same brand of thinking that leads to tired old axioms such as “you start losing the account the day you win it.”

I think it’s a huge leap of faith for a client to commit to an advertising agency (or, ahem, a freelance team) in the first place. Something clicked. That initial deal isn’t the beginning of trust; it is trust. And it’s risky for both parties, each in different but highly valued ways.

I don’t think it’s important for an ad agency to understand everything about the client’s business, and I doubt most clients think it’s important either. What we’re hired for, is our expertise in advertising. (And, incidentally, what makes that expertise effective is understanding not the client’s business but the client’s sales process and customers.)

That’s why collaboration is essential from the get-go. What the two parties bring to the table are different knowledge and skill sets. That’s not a problem, that’s the very foundation of doing great things together.

Doing great things, increasing market share, building a brand, lowering the cost of sales – that’s what a good partnership can achieve. Jerry Della Femina said advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And, like that popular activity people engage in with their clothes off, it’s infinitely better with a partner. That’s the naked truth.
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June 24 2014
Native advertising is rapidly becoming just another name for product placement. And, in an increasingly “ad-free” TV environment, injecting brands into program content has never been hotter. Here’s the story, from The Guardian (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Everything old is new again, again. (See, for instance, my Ad Blog entry from 11 years ago, March 13 2003 – scroll down to the date – in which this same issue arises.)

Sometimes it seems we’re back in the 1960s with “The F.B.I.,” in which every car was a late-model Ford product, a sponsorship prominently disclosed in the closing credits.

But 40 years before that was the radio daytime serial, broadcast content created by advertisers and designed to sell stuff. And, although scripts, roles, and even actors were rigorously screened for morality (or what passed for it then), there weren’t nearly as many scruples as today about disclosure or the nature of promotions and giveaways.

There’s much to be gained from a study of that seedy past because many of the underlying techniques remain relevant. I highly recommend James Thurber’s readable, anecdote-packed, five-part study “Soapland,” based on a year-long journalistic dive into the world of radio soap operas. It’s collected in The Beast in Me and Other Animals and maybe other volumes. Here’s a snip outlining the basic serial formula:

A soap opera is a kind of sandwich, whose recipe is simple enough, although it took years to compound. Between thick slices of advertising, spread twelve minutes of dialogue, add predicament, villainy, and female suffering in equal measure, throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce, and serve five times a week.

Nowadays the music is indie and the announcer is either absent or replaced by a character/POV narrator who fulfills a similar function. The biggest changes are duration and frequency.

Someone will be the first to run a nationally viral native+social promotion using TV programming, and it’ll be big news. But the radio soaps did it long ago, and even offer a blueprint for how to make it work. Let the race begin!
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June 23 2014
Here’s yet another story about how social media fails to live up to the hype as a marketing tool, this time from the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What this means is that those outside marketing may at last be evolving a more nuanced view of the role social media plays inside marketing. I’m sure there was a time when business columns said TV was the killer medium; it turned out to be just one more tool in the toolbox. Just like social media.

That said, though, the transformative power of social media to engage customers one-on-one continues to be overlooked in the attempt to make it do the work of a traditional mass medium. That’s what led to the race for fans, likes, followers, and ad exposures on Facebook and Twitter – digital metrics that are futile unless they represent genuine human interactions.

That kind of thinking is what leads in turn to things like Gallup poll results in which nearly 2/3 of adults say that social media has little or no influence over their purchasing decisions. Well, there’s an increasing disconnect between what people say and what they do, a disconnect that’s growing commensurate with concerns over privacy. In other words, yes, out of those 18,525 U.S. adults surveyed between December 12, 2012 and January 22, 2013 (a period that is (a) ages ago and (b) covers the consumer frenzy that is the holiday season, but no one seems to be pointing out that either makes a difference), I say a lot of them are lying.

Or, rather, some of them are lying. Some are telling the truth. And most are simply not self-aware enough to recognize the role social media plays in their lives.

No one wants to admit he or she can be manipulated by advertising. But social marketing has never been about advertising. It’s about presence, and that’s what social media delivers in a big way; a way with such sheer volume that it’s easy to overlook the frequency, the harmony, the individual interactions that make the whole thing work.

And that leads us back to the key question to ask about social media consumption: how is it used? And it’s notable (but, again, skewed by the holiday season) that 94% used social media to connect with friends and family. That’s a huge amount of influence on tap right there. Nearly 30% used it to follow trends and find product reviews and information – activities intimately connected with purchasing decisions. And fully 20% used it to actively engage in the social media ecosystem by contributing comments or reviews.

All of which, contrary to the WSJ headline, points to a lively, healthy, growing social media marketing environment. For those marketers savvy enough to understand how it works.
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June 20 2014
After stirring up a social media uproar, Ikea has cautiously climbed down from its cease-and-desist order on, although it’s not yet saying it’ll change direction entirely. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

All Ikea did is open a dialog, which should’ve been the first step anyways. So what’s really going on here is a correction, with management getting involved and temporarily restraining the legal hounds protecting its brand.

My initial thought (see Monday’s Ad Blog entry) was that Ikea had prepared its own branded social media program to take over the turf from which IkeaHackers was forced. But now it seems there was no such conniving behind the move. Indeed, the whole kerfluffle may turn out to be simply a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing, a fairly common event in large enterprises.

Mind you, the fate of IkeaHackers is still up in the air. But without a program of its own in the wings and the budget to maintain it, I think it’s in Ikea’s best interests to to extract itself gracefully and set the whole shebang free. Especially now that some of its most-ardent fans are watching.

Ikea could, as some suggested, align itself closer with the IkeaHackers community. But I think the brand and the community are already aligned as closely as they can be without polluting the community. Draw closer, and the fan community will be suspected of acting as a corporate cat’s-paw. Plus, in this case it strikes me that a close relationship could raise liability issues should someone be injured from a poorly modified product. The wiser decision – for the health of the community and the brand – is to unwind the last week and back off completely.
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June 19 2014
I love awesome outdoor boards. Here’s a handful of brilliant ones from around the world, compiled by Business Insider (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Outdoor represents the most-condensed distillation of a brand’s ethos. Plus, many outdoor media opportunities are located right in among the people. So a creative team can really reach out and engage its audience on a tangible, physical level.

Some of these concepts would’ve been impossible to execute just a few years ago, like the British Airways board and Pepsi Max bus shelter, which almost invisibly integrate some pretty advanced technology to deliver a viscerally engaging experience. Others are low-tech but powerful ideas, like the Kit Kat bench and the biodegradable Prius “billboard.”

I think these are all cool. Many seem like they could be good smaller posters as well, or even reimagined in some other medium. But some – the best, really – could only be executed in outdoor.
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June 18 2014
The Washington Redskins football team may have to come up with a new name. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, under mounting pressure from Native American groups and others, cancelled the Redskins’ trademark, pending appeal. Here’s the story, from The Washington Post (DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What wasn’t negative in 1932 or even 1962 is negative today. Many brands, faced with the same problem, have rebranded under new names. Philip-Morris found its name too closely aligned with tobacco products to support diversified growth, so it became Altria. Kentucky Fried Chicken determined that “fried” was a negative to today’s health-conscious consumer, so it rebranded as KFC.

Sometimes, what’s deemed offensive about a brand name has nothing to do with the name’s origin. A popular casual restaurant chain called Sambo’s was in fact named by combining the names of its founders. But in the 1960s it started featuring illustrations from the old children’s story “Little Black Sambo” in its menus and décor, and that connection proved to be its undoing. While the plot of Little Black Sambo wasn’t racist – it’s about a child who outsmarts a gang of tigers – the names of the characters and the original illustrations definitely evoke the Colonial plantation stereotype. By the late 70s, the restaurant chain was in retreat, under fire by communities and civil rights groups. By the mid-80s it had vanished, a victim, at least in part, of its own promotional tie-in.

The Redskins should’ve rebranded a while ago. Instead, anxious to protect a proven revenue stream from merchandising, it opted to fight on the wrong side of history. I think this shows little faith in the merchandising machine, which will keep pumping out dollars no matter what the team name is or when it’s changed.
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June 16 2014
In protecting its brand Ikea may have made a rare social media gaffe. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s active protection of one’s trademark and over-active over-protection of one’s trademark. This feels like it falls into the latter category. Forcing down a fansite really kills the love.

Does it matter to Ikea? Probably not; the brand is so big it can afford to alienate a significant social media audience in order to clear the ground for its own social media maneuvers. This is where the virtual power of influencers meets real life, and eventually real life always wins.

But spare a thought for Ikea and its ilk. Brand owners have always had to balance competing urges. On the one hand, they want the sway that can come only from sources outside their corporate walls. On the other hand, they want to own their own influencers, the better to control the messages. That’s not an easy task.
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Backwards in time to May 2014

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

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