John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
March, 2004

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March 31, 2004
Product placement on television programming is being challenged (again) by the FTC and FCC, and advertisers have responded with a brief of their own. Here’s the article, from Ad Age (QwikFIND ID: AAP50C):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I disagree with the “marketer’s rights” argument. And, at the same time, I believe that consumers are smarter and more-discriminating than both the advertisers and the regulators seem to think. I remember when every car on Kojak was a Buick, or at least a GM product, and every car on The Andy Griffith Show and The FBI (“starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr.”) was a Ford product. Even as a little kid, that struck me as fake.

Furthermore, there’s nothing especially “radical” about disclosing sponsorships. The closing credits of those TV shows consistently named companies that provided ongoing production support (“Vehicles provided by Ford Motor Company,” “Suits by Botany 500,” and so on). However, I don’t think that the Ford Mustang that played a significant role in the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was credited, nor the Sunbeam Tiger (or, later, the VW Karmann Ghia) in the opening of Get Smart.

Anyway, if all the products placed in today’s television shows were credited, the closing credits would roll for several minutes, which means even less time for programming. And that makes me wonder: when will the balance between creative content and corporate sponsorship tip past the half-way point? When that happens, will people continue to watch? And, will sharing sponsorship through traditional advertising and product placement continue to make sense?

The future of advertising, at least short-term, goes beyond product placement or media buying. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: smart advertisers would do well to transform themselves from content sponsors, to content providers.
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March 30, 2004
Here in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is our Governor. But, he’s also an international celebrity and a global brand. That creates issues in advertising because advertising often reflects popular culture. Here’s the article, from the Los Angeles Times via Yahoo News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, a spectacularly effective ad doesn’t merely reflect popular culture, it influences it. Second, and this is the point here, with Schwarzenegger and many other celebrities, there is a growing gray area in the triangle between political parody (Constitutionally protected and defensible), commercial spoofing (no Constitutional protection but often defensible), and trademark violation (illegal and almost never defensible). Beyond its examination of these issues, I think this article is worth reading for its examples of specific ads and products that Schwarzenegger’s legal team has challenged, its sketches of print and television advertising Schwarzenegger made in Japan, and its brief review of other key celebrity trademark cases.
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March 29, 2004
I’ll start with a side note today, about Intel’s new chip naming strategy, from the San Francisco Chronicle via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Naming a product after its speed or any other metric was always a limited strategy. In the early days of the automobile, for instance, there were lots of cars with model names like “60” or “100,” indicating their claimed top speeds in miles per hour. As the auto industry matured, and as products grew more stable and customers grew more sophisticated, other characteristics rose in importance and were reflected in model names. Intel chips have been name-branded since the first Pentium. What Intel is doing, is series-branding, with an approach almost identical to BMW’s current naming matrix. Nothing new here.

No, the main thing that caught my eye in today’s Union-Tribune, was this local article about wireless service, and how phone number portability has not produced the volume of carrier switching anticipated:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are three key marketing points here. First, inertia in consumer behavior is hard to overcome. Second, right before number portability went into effect, all the wireless carriers advertised and promoted heavily in an massive effort to lock customers into one- or two-year contracts. That was smart. But the really smart play, was made by Verizon, which apparently worked its back end to make sure that phone number transfers would go as smoothly as possible. Verizon gained some 1.5 million customers last quarter, more than twice the number gained by Cingular and nearly 12 times the number gained by AT&T over the same period. Perhaps that’s because some of Verizon’s growth came at the expense of  its competitors. And that’s the third and most-important marketing point: how strong an effect a  “non-marketing” business process can have on sales.
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March 26, 2004
This is a follow-up to my December 9, 2003 entry. A court in Shanghai ordered Lacoste, the clothing brand, to stop using its crocodile logo in parts of China, and to pay a token one dollar in damages to Crocodile International, also a clothing brand. Here’s the story, from the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Both Crocodile International and Lacoste claimed first rights to the crocodile trademark in China. The trigger was the extension into China of Lacoste-branded cosmetics. However, the key corporate issue, and it’s one increasingly faced by companies competing in a global economy, is weak branding. Here’s what I said back in December:

While the language of iconography is largely international, it carries with it potentially crippling limitations. After all, how many defensibly unique ways are there to show a specific object, whether it be a crocodile, or an apple, or a wheel, or a smile? That’s why branding goes deeper than mere logo design; it must communicate true, relevant differentiators that are uniquely owned by the brand.

Your brand isn’t a physical mark you slap onto your products; it’s a whole set of emotional responses that you own. At its core, branding isn’t visual, it’s visceral.
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March 25, 2004
Yeah, it’s a press release from Microsoft. But, it’s also one of the more significant studies showing the interconnections between online and offline advertising, branding, and sales in the packaged goods category. Here’s the release, fresh off the PR Newswire:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The traditional marketing mix for packaged goods relied heavily on traditional media for both trade and consumer branding and promotion. Now, there’s ample evidence (some might say proof) that online advertising helps drive offline sales. This is something that companies in other sectors have known all along (many service providers, for instance), but for it to be validated in a fast-paced, high-turnover arena like consumer packaged goods is good news, even if somewhat expected. One note about ROI: right now, the cost of online advertising is relatively low, hence the higher cost-efficiency numbers. As advertising rates for online media stabilize upwards, look for that advantage to shrink. Online media will become just another component of the new traditional marketing mix.
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March 24, 2004
Speaking of performance art, here’s a good article about art cars from the Orlando (FL) Sentinel. It lacks only photographs of the cars to make it great:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Owning an art car, now that’s individualized branding. Here in Southern California, there are many of them around, as you’d expect in a region with a strong car culture. You see them with fair regularity, on the freeways and in parking lots, and each one draws your attention. Art cars are at once ubiquitous and unique.
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March 23, 2004
Ahh, the pitch. Some agencies turn what ought to be a business presentation into a high level of performance art. Here’s the article, from the UK-based Media Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Participating in pitch theater is fun for the agency staff, and can help build morale. And yes, theatrical pitches can work if they’re researched, relevant, and right on-target, and if the fit feels good between advertiser and ad agency. But then, a researched, relevant, right on-target pitch with a good client-agency fit will likely be successful even without the theatrics. Dressing up a presentation with a dog-and-pony show is usually an inefficient allocation of agency resources. I think the real appeal to these things, lies in the fact that all advertising people are performance artists. I’ve said it before: advertising is the ultimate performance art. However, I also think that the skills that go into creating that art serve the client best when they’re deployed in the marketplace, not the boardroom.
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March 19, 2004
The marketing mix for a brand may – or may not – include advertising. Witness, for example, the revival of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the highly competitive beer category, with no change in the marketing. Here’s the article, from my hometown San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Market niches grow and market niches shrink, and brands rise and fall with them. It is no less brilliant to stick with a marketing strategy and rise with a cyclical trend, than to re-brand or re-position to catch a new trend. It is no more brilliant, either. Both actions incur costs: the latter in media, creative, and brand equity, and the former in downcycle market share.
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March 17, 2004
Is the advertising industry heading for another boutique renaissance? This article, from the Toronto (Canada) Globe and Mail, looks at the increasing number of small, creative shops landing major advertising accounts:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like many things, it’s a cycle. Remember when the list of hot boutique agencies included names like Borders, Perrin & Norrander, Weiden & Kennedy, Chiat/Day, The Martin Agency, McKinney, Silver & Rockett, and Fallon McElligott Rice? Then, those agencies grew, and their ideas became folded into the advertising establishment. And so it goes. The exciting thing, is this: new hot agencies supplant older hot agencies not generally because the older shops have lost their creative fires. It’s that the new shops start new creative fires. And the world of advertising creative opens up a little wider, and gets a little hotter.
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March 16, 2004
I found this yesterday on the BBC website, but yesterday’s entry ran long so I held it over for today. It’s about the rise of TV-style advertising on the Internet:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve been involved in copywriting projects similar to this, using similar technology. Here’s the rub: the technology must eventually render something beyond “TV-style” advertising to be viable long-term. The big opportunity lies in providing valuable, relevant, individually focused content that happens to be supported by an advertiser which benefits from the click-through. Making the transition from mere advertiser to content provider is the step most companies don’t take. Ultimately, that will be to their loss.
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March 15, 2004
In the aftermath of a general election in Spain, here’s an article from the BBC and something of a follow-up to my Friday (March 12) entry:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising was effectively nullified as a force in this campaign. It doesn’t matter whether you believe that the unexpected Socialist party victory was the result of a people rising up in righteous anger, or of people panicking into changing their government. What is important here, is that a terrorist group – possibly al-Qaeda – effectively altered the course of a major Western election by using terrorist tactics, a horrible reality for democracy itself.

Okay now, back to my regularly scheduled rants limited to advertising and marketing. The ability to simultaneously deliver television commercials aimed at separate market segments is now available in the top ten cable markets. Here’s the article from Ad Age (QwikFIND ID AAP45P):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article says that resistance to customized advertising has come from the creative quarter. To me, the problem with mass communication, from a creative standpoint, has always been the mass. The potential for breakthrough communication increases with demographic focus. The closer you get to one-on-one communication, the more interesting and innovative and effective your advertising can be. (As an aside, I think the problem some “creatives” have lies in the fact that they would have to create ads targeted at real people, and not at ad award judges, but there you go.) The key, creatively, is to move beyond mere cut-and-paste, retail-oriented customization. Personally, I think this is exciting stuff.
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March 12, 2004
The U.S. presidential election has already turned nasty on both sides, with the Bush and Kerry campaigns rolling out negative attack ads on television and in print. In doing so, they are “fighting for the middle,” but they also risk alienating the American public. Here’s an analysis, from AFP via Yahoo News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, if you think American democracy is going to Hell in a handbasket, open your eyes to what’s going on in the rest of the world. In Russia, the general election will be this Sunday, and Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin faces only token opposition. He also recently replaced his entire cabinet, and one opposition candidate vanished for a month, emerging about a week ago to withdraw from the race with little comment. In Spain yesterday, just three days before a general election, a coordinated series of bomb attacks in Madrid left hundreds of commuters dead, and thousands more injured. The bombings were believed to be politically motivated. In South Korea today, one month before the general election, president Roh Moo-Hyun was impeached, his party broken and locked out of government proceedings. Currently, his supporters and detractors are fighting in the parliament, the press, the courts, and the streets. And, in Iraq, people are struggling to establish a democracy in a nation where the entire social infrastructure is either primitive and spotty, war-torn and damaged, or brand-new and untested.

And, here in America, we have political attack advertising. Well, God Bless America.
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March 11, 2004
A brief look at brand rationalization, from businesstoday via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a good read, although I disagree with some of it. Within a brand portfolio, the purpose of a marginal brand may be defensive; it may exist to shield a core brand (and also to serve as early warning about changes in consumer behavior). If you liquidate it, you eliminate a key component of the overall corporate strategy.
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March 10, 2004
Thanks to fellow copywriter Ken Johnson for this tip, an article in the New York Times about the rise of gay and lesbian corporate hucksters:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It seems that gays are the cool-minority-du-jour again (or, put another way, the latest in a long line of stereotypes exploited to show that an advertiser is edgy and up-to-date). It’s sort of a relief to me, personally, that the public eye seems to be off the Young Asian Male Or Female With Cool Glasses. The last time gays and lesbians were featured in advertising (and other pop culture), was in the 1980s, in similar ways and with similar self-congratulatory fanfare on the parts of their corporate employers. Does anyone else remember the Tony Randall sitcom Love, Sidney, in, oh, 1981 or so? It was the first major-network prime-time tv show centered around a gay character. It lasted a couple years, right around the time retailer Ikea aired a commercial that showed two men buying a couch together. So, the 20-year trend cycle still holds, itself an interesting thing.
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March 9, 2004
This is way cool. It’s a one-volume database of advertisers, advertising agencies, and media, and it’s totally free. Download a PDF of  “FactPack 2004” courtesy the fine folks at Ad Age:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Among the data, there were a few surprises. For instance, you might well expect General Motors to be a top U.S. advertiser through 2003, but would you expect ad spending to the tune of $10 million per day? I’m more pleased than surprised that the number-one advertising medium was direct mail, with more than $46 billion spent. And, to those advertisers who believe that the youth market is where it’s at, a heads-up: the number-one magazine in the U.S., by circulation, is AARP The Magazine with nearly twice the readership of second-place Reader’s Digest. Each table, taken by itself, is mere data-in-a-vacuum; the real value comes from spending time with the booklet as a whole and spotting clusters and trends.
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March 8, 2004
Happy Monday. I picked up my local paper, and saw this article about the rise of unscrupulous and unlicensed “health insurance” companies preying on, among others, freelance writers. Here’s the article, for the third day in a row from my own San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I realize that this is less about advertising and more about freelancing. However, I pay more than $900 a month for health insurance for me and my family (four people total). I get mailers, spam emails, and junk faxes all the time offering me coverage at substantially lower “group rates,” all from companies with realistic-sounding brand names and a plausible third-party connection to my business or industry. I’ve remained with my two major-name carriers out of no small fear of change, and this article supports my sticking by my long-established relationships. However, the way things are going, there’ll soon be one surefire way to judge the authenticity of a health plan: if it’s affordable, it’s a hoax.
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March 6, 2004
A little bit of weekend catch-up from yesterday, from my own hometown San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune. This first article discusses a major shift in retail advertising strategy, from print to broadcast and from traditional retail-oriented ads to brand advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Probably the best model in retail advertising, is Target’s double-barreled approach. Retail ads in with the Sunday circulars, focusing on products and pricing, sale and promotional items, and attracting store traffic. Image advertising on television, focusing on creating a hip, friendly image and making the store a desirable place to shop. The key here, is double-barreled. You can’t get there by reducing sales-oriented ads and increasing branding-oriented ads, any more than the reverse has (not) worked. It only works when both barrels are firing.

And, as long as I’m here, there’s Martha Stewart, who was found guilty of insider trading, lying about it, and obstructing a Federal investigation. Here’s the article, again from my local Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The question of what happens to her brand is now in the hands of an entirely different – and more capricious – jury: the American public.
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March 5, 2004
Does sex sell? Maybe not, especially if it’s commoditized. This article, from The Age (Australia) looks at risque French retail advertising, and the flaccid sales results achieved by it:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising must forge an emotional connection between the seller and the buyer. Period. And, when sex is used as just another design element, it loses its emotional power. It becomes just another shock visual. And, rather unshockingly, just another ineffective ad.
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March 4, 2004
This is something of a follow-up to my February 10 entry about wacky sandwich shop advertising tactics. This article, from the Mobile Register (AL) looks at franchisee discontent and confusion over the Quizno’s television commercials:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article itself contains a share of the weird, including the franchisee whose day job is county coroner. And, the advertising is not aimed at the franchisees, so their confusion over the quirky, youth-oriented commercials is perhaps understandable. Are the ads brilliant, or a bust? Are they branding, or are they mere buzz? Only the marketplace knows for sure. The key unanswered question in this retail environment: how are sales doing?
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March 3, 2004
In its new ad campaign, Molson beer playfully denies that its “Saskatchewan barley” is an aphrodisiac. Here’s the press release, picked up from Business Wire:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like the concept, even though the whimsical focus on ingredients in beer advertising is nothing new. Does anyone remember the unseen “Artesians” whose water “makes it Olympia Beer?” Still, the approach feels fresh because it hasn’t been used lately.
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March 2, 2004
More about car marketing, in an article from Crain’s Detroit Business (MI) focusing on the automotive industry’s belated discovery of urban hip-hop:
Advertising copywriter blog link

These people have missed the point. There’s a huge disparity between the values embodied in hip-hop and the values embodied in some of these brands. Urban hip-hop may be many things, including attention-getting, trendy, and youthful, but it’s also neither sophisticated nor upscale. What may be right for Pontiac may not be right for Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, or Volvo. And those brands will suffer for the disparity.

In addition, attempting to cobble together a brand with pop culture carries a huge risk: you can’t control the message. From a branding and marketing perspective, that risk may outweigh any short-term reward. “Risk,” by the way, is not the right word, as it implies a measured possibility of a positive outcome. That pop culture will move on is not a probability, it’s an inevitability. Hip-hop is not here to stay; indeed, one might argue the opposite – that its adoption by 50-year-old corporate managers is a sign of its decline.

In the end, the lesson that will be learned – painfully, expensively, repeatedly – is that there’s a big difference between creating a buzz and creating (or supporting) a brand
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March 1, 2004
What does chick-lit and car advertising have in common? Ford. Here’s the article, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Ford Fiesta (that’s the Focus here in the U.S.) will now feature “prominently” in several stories by British romance novelist Carole Matthews, including a novel and short stories for women’s magazines and the Ford website. Both the car and the writing is aimed at 28- to 35-year-old women.

Of course, product placement and literature is hardly new. One of the earlier automotive tie-ins I can think of, is the fictional Hirondel driven by Simon Templar (aka “The Saint”) in the books by Leslie Charteris, although I’m sure there are others. When The Saint was turned into a television series in the 1960s, the Hirondel, being fictional, turned into a white Volvo P1800, which was real and contemporary and to this day makes me want one. Then, a Jaguar XJ-S, a Jensen Interceptor, and, in the movie, a Volvo coupe again in a move that felt forced to me. The more-famous James Bond cars have a certain cachet, carried over from the Aston Martin written into Goldfinger in 1959 by Ian Fleming as a DB Mk III (before that, Bond drove Bentleys) and placed in the movie as the contemporary DB5. Finally, a prosaic example: the 3/4-ton pick-up truck driven across the country by John Steinbeck in Travels With Charley. Although the manufacturer was never identified, there were enough details for a car buff to figure out that it had to be a 1960 GMC. The truck itself was given a name, Rocinante, under which it became practically a third character.

One thing revealed by this recitation, besides my own personal geekness, is that in the past, character-driven car tie-ins were aimed at men. The Ford deal may be the first literary connection between cars and women. File that under the category “it’s about time.”
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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