John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
March 2003

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March 28, 2003
Selling a career in the military during wartime is a challenge. Here’s the link to two stories in Business 2.0 (the second one reveals key marketing tactics and results):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

And another to an article in Newsday:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are a lot of good lessons here for advertisers, the main one of which is to keep advertising. Whatever you have to sell, it can’t be harder than this.
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March 25, 2003
UPS is re-branding, and here’s the article in CBS’ MarketWatch:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, paying $20 million to throw away 42 years of visual equity is stupid. It doesn’t matter that they no longer accept packages tied with strings; it was visual shorthand for a package, any package, for crying out loud. The new logo carefully represents nothing.

Second, changing the slogan from the concise “Worldwide Delivery Service” to the meaningless “Synchronizing the World of Commerce” is stupid. “We Run the Tightest Ship in the Shipping Business” was a great slogan, one with both internal and external branding. (What’s internal branding, you ask? Here’s an example: if I work for the Tightest Ship in the Shipping Business, that gives me a pretty good idea how to go about my job, whether I’m the CEO or a shipping clerk. But, if I work for the company that is Synchronizing the World of Commerce, what the heck does that mean to me? A slogan is meant to rally the troops. It comes, by way of the Irish slogorne (“battle cry”), from the Gaelic sluagh ghairm, meaning “army cry” or “cry to the multitude.”)

Third, because of this stupidity, I believe that UPS will lose market share over the next three years. It’s not entirely the bad re-branding that’ll be at fault; it’s also having executives dumb enough to have commissioned and implemented this nonsense.

You know, it occurs to me that there’s no money in smart branding - encouraging clients to stay the course and persevere, building their brand equity day-by-day and dollar-by-dollar. All the money is in dumb branding - encouraging clients to dump years of brand equity in favor of some slick, meaningless logo and jargon-filled, new age slogan. There is something seriously wrong with that picture.
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March 24, 2003
Here are the results of a poll in Ad Age, about changing advertising practices because of the war:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The question asked was “Does it make sense to shut down advertising, further weakening the economy during the new kinds of conflicts we’re engaged in?” Yes, the question is poorly written, but the intent is clear. Out of 1,089 people, about 751 (67%) voted no to curtailing advertising - not a surprising result given that the livelihood of the typical Ad Age reader depends on advertising.

Ad Age apparently fielded few responses from those engaged in the creative side of advertising. So, speaking as an advertising copywriter, here is my response to the question: No, it does not make sense to curtail advertising, nor to reduce the commitment to the brand strategy; however, it does make sense to evaluate advertising tactics (including the media buy and creative execution) in light of current events. By way of example, let’s take a hypothetical product, say, a household cleaner. If the media buy included Time magazine or, on TV, The Nightly News, I could definitely see reducing the immediate spend there and increasing the spend in, say, Good Housekeeping or a cable-access Home & Garden Show. Likewise, if the creative execution was over-the-top war-like, as might happen when advertising a product that kills germs and wipes out stains, then that should be adjusted.

This could be a good thing for copywriters and art directors. Suddenly (and at last), cheekiness for cheekiness’ sake is revealed to be simply irrelevant. We could see the rise of creative that actually respects the product, respects the medium, and, most-important, respects the audience, breaking through the fourth wall in unexpected ways.
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March 20, 2003
An article from the Wall Street Journal, via Yahoo News, about advertisers rethinking their advertising plans during war:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m not going to address the issue of whether or not to advertise during wartime, having done so weeks ago.

Instead, I’ll talk about the creative side of the issue. I believe that some ads (such as the Miller “cat-fight” ad) are bad creative and an inappropriate tactic at any time, not just during war. Demeaning women is neither creative nor necessary to sell beer. Perhaps the war makes advertisers more aware of the mass in mass media; more aware of  audience segments outside their target market which frequently make up the bulk of mass media reach. If one result of the war is plain old-fashioned respect for the audience, that would be a good thing for advertising.
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March 19, 2003
The U.S. State Department cancelled a $15 million image advertising campaign headed by veteran advertising whiz Charlotte Beers. The Arab outreach infomercials in particular fell under heavy criticism as “happy Muslim ads,” and most stations - both government run and private - refused to air them. Here’s the link to the story by UPI:
Advertising copywriter blog link

And another to an earlier story from ABC News 13, Panama City, Florida:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s tempting to blame Beers, but the key hint lies in the long approval process through layers of bureaucracy - no wonder the State Department ended up talking to themselves. The people in the target market were forgotten, an unforgiveable advertising sin. These people don’t know us and have no reason - in their minds - to trust us. The task of the advertising should have been to build that trust, not dive in with a transparent, we-oriented, propaganda piece.

A noble effort at heart, but the advertising strategy was so far out of touch with the intended audience that it negated everything else.
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March 17, 2003
Al Ries (Positioning, etc.) has an article in Ad Age titled “Why Marketing People Get It Wrong:”
Advertising copywriter blog link

Normally I agree with Ries, and I mostly do in this case, but I think he missed something in his set-up. The litany of words in that Infiniti FX45 ad are less an attempt at communication as a (bad) attempt at positioning.

I have seen with my own eyes the kinds of documents that lead to this sort of advertising drivel. They ask fuzzy questions like “If the product were a person, it would be ...” and “If the product were an animal, it would be ...” and “Product’s key emotional attributes.” The list (renegade, fearless, unexpected, bold, true, spontaneous, curious, etc.) is likely pulled straight off an actual creative brief.

Now, those questions are not bad ones to consider as part of the creative process. They are, however, very bad ones to over-think, which is what often happens. Stuck with a form to fill out, someone fills it to the brim, piling thought upon thought until the creative brief is sunk in minutae. “Ah, now that’s a detailed brief,” the person thinks.

This positioning-by-thesaurus fails for two reasons. First, because positioning doesn’t work once you get past one concept, one thought, even, if possible, one word (note Ries’ automotive branding examples at the end of his article). Second, because positioning carries within it the concept of competition. “Renegade” is perhaps competitive, in that there’s an implied majority being rejected; most of the other words are not competitive singly and cannot be competitive as a group.

What’s wrong, as I see it, is not that there was no attempt at positioning, but that it was done so very poorly.
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March 15, 2003
A study of generic orange juice ads showed that (by golly) they worked! Each dollar in advertising led to an additional 0.62 gallons of orange juice sold. The article is from The Ledger, in Lakeland, Florida:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The study also points out that brand advertising did little to increase total per-capita consumption of orange juice, but then, that’s not the point of brand advertising. Generally speaking, the goal of category advertising is to increase market size; the goal of brand advertising is to increase market share. It takes both to have a healthy brand in a healthy category. It’s nice to see that the old thinking about the roles of category and brand advertising continue to be validated.
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March 13, 2003
Everything old is new again: an article from the Cox News Service in The Springfield News Sun, Springfield, Ohio, about blurring the boundaries between advertising and television programming:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s the return of the Westinghouse Theater! Can the rise of Rinsoville be far behind? (N.B.: “Rinsoville” was part of a tongue-in-cheek chapter title in James Thurber’s excellent study of the radio serial, “Soapland,” in The Beast in Me and Other Animals. Read it and see the future in the past.)
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March 12, 2003
On a lighter note, here’s a story I love. Here’s a link to the blurb in the Cincinnati Enquirer, about how one advertising agency turned the tables on the traditional pro-bono pitch:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Anyone who’s worked in an ad agency knows the business value of doing pro-bono work, and also the challenge of competing for pro-bono accounts. Yes, compete - I have seen 100-page RFPs for these kinds of advertising accounts. Now, Cincinnati-based Barefoot Advertising has challenged area non-profits to compete for their services in the form of two advertising campaigns. I hope it works. I hope they get lots of agencies and organizations competing for their work. I hope their work makes a real difference to two small, previously overlooked non-profits. And, I hope their work wins boxfuls of accolades for them. Starting with this one.
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March 10, 2003
Okay, this one makes me scared and angry. Connecticut is now taxing creative services and production services related to advertising, public relations, and direct mail. Here’s a link to the article in Ad Age:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A 3% tax on creative services and production services is nothing less than a Value-Added Tax, plain and simple. And, according to the article, Connecticut is not alone; Arkansas and Nebraska are considering similar measures.

It seems to me that advertising agencies and public relations firms in Connecticut are potentially d-e-a-d, dead. A media company can just increase the price of the (un-taxed) media buy, and charge zero for creative and production services, side-stepping the tax; for ad agencies and p.r. firms, their creative and production services are their products, and they’re going to be saddled with both paying and keeping track of a new tax.

Every service business needs to be very, very worried about this. State legislators spent recklessly during boom times, and now, instead of having money set aside to handle a cyclical downturn in the economy, they turn to reckless “emergency” taxation as the ready answer. The new tax takes effect on April 1, but the real April Fools are anyone - consumers and businesspeople alike - who ignore the devastating economic effect a trend toward Value-Added Taxation will have, not just on the cost of goods and services, but on the cost of compliance and, indeed, of doing business at all.
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March 7, 2003
An article from the Contra Costa Times about how advertising is intruding itself into the movie-going experience:
Advertising copywriter blog link

These advertisers are missing the boat here. There’s a terrific opportunity to provide sponsored or brand-centric “shorts,” and web-driven “newsreels,” modeling the movie-going experience on the old days. Again, this involves thinking of the audience first, and providing worthwhile entertainment - otherwise, movie-goers will simply start arriving 20 minutes late. If in-theater advertising remains formatted as ads, even in extended theatrical format, I doubt that the recall rate will remain higher than that of television advertising, especially once the novelty factor wears off.
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March 6, 2003
Yahoo! News picked up this press release from Macromedia about an “industry initiative to improve the online advertising experience:”
Advertising copywriter blog link

I read it, and I read it again, and one thing became obvious. What they’re concerned about, is improving the online advertising experience for advertisers. There is little concern expressed for the online advertising experience for potential consumers, except to the extent that the advertising be effective (which it won’t be, as long as they keep putting themselves first). I have a problem with defining advertising as an “experience” anyway. Advertising is an act of persuasion, which requires more involvement on the part of the potential consumer than just sitting there having “an experience.”
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March 5, 2003
Two stories from the San Diego Union-Tribune today . The first is about a recent U.S. Supreme Court case that pit Victor’s Little Secret against Victoria’s Secret in a trademark dilution case:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it’s not enough to show that the use of a similar name was of benefit - fair or unfair - to the lesser-known brand. Instead, evidence of damage to the better-known brand must be given, putting the burden of proof squarely on the better-known brand to show harm. The case is now back in a Federal Appeals Court, where Victoria’s Secret will have the opportunity to prove damages.

I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously Victor’s Little Secret is leveraging the branding associated with Victoria’s Secret, and planned to do so from its start-up in 1998. (Note that you probably didn’t have to think more than a second to know what kind of products you might find at Victor’s Little Secret.) Yet, “Victor” is the owner’s name, and one ought to be able to use one’s own given name in a business enterprise.

The ramifications are pretty big. For instance, someone named Ford could go into the automotive business (and, conversely, why should he or she be prevented from using his or her own name?), as long as Ford Motor Company can’t provide “proof of real harm” in its trademark dilution suit. It also means that made-up brand names, such as, say “Compaq,” may have a future edge over proper names, such as “Dell,” or existing words, such as “Gateway,” especially as the brand begins to extend its reach.
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Next up are two articles (a big news day today) about advertisers bracing for war by cutting ad placements (and, thereby, slashing their budgets):
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Having your brand vanish during wartime is exactly the wrong thing to do, especially if events turn out to take longer than our government would have us believe. Granted, the creative may need to change to reflect new realities, but that should have been built into every advertiser’s contingency planning all along. Disasters, natural and man-made alike, happen all the time. History has shown that advertisers who kept their brand before the public grew when good times returned; those who vanished when times were rough stayed gone. I find it telling that the guys who intuitively understand this are the car dealer and the furniture store, who depend on a constant flow of customers regardless of the economy; most smart retailers, in fact, will act in similar ways with a combined tactical approach. However, it also appears that a whole new generation of advertisers are about to re-learn the same old lessons about consistent branding.
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March 3, 2003
My goodness, self-referential already! I am quoted as an “industry expert” in the Asian Business Strategy Ezine, published by the Asia Pacific Management Forum (, in an article about branding titled Building a Brand and Losing Your Shirt by Kristian Gotthelf:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s the link to the article on this website from which that quote was pulled: Advertising strategy and other lies. And, having said what I needed to say, I don’t have anything to add.
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Backwards in time to February 2003

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

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