John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
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March, 2005

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March 31, 2005
A look at advertising aimed at women, asking why most of it is awful, from Red Nova News (Dallas TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article asks the question, and supports that it’s a valid question to ask, but doesn’t try to answer it. So, here’s my response.

Advertising aimed at women is mostly poorly done because copywriters and art directors of both genders have forgotten (or never learned) how to connect to a target audience one at a time. They’ve grown up on a diet of mass media instead of conversation, stand-up monologues instead of meaningful dialogs. Sometimes, this sort of broad, self-referential cleverness works. Often it doesn’t. But, there are maybe two or three generations of creatives (including my own) which, largely, know of no other tool.

The problem with advertising aimed at women is the problem with advertising period: too much self-absorption, not enough empathy.
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March 30, 2005
The topic of the week, product placement and name-checking, gets a good look-over from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this strategy of surrounding people with commercial messaging is going to backfire. People have splendid built-in filtering abilities, and this trend only supports increased cynicism about anything in the media. Also, the problem of advertising remains the same: delivering a relevant sales message that resonates with the viewer or listener or reader. It is fundamentally interactive. And in a participatory enterprise, exposure ain’t the same thing as communication.

My favorite jump story on the sidebar is the one about “orthorexism,” an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Hey, if you don’t eat an occasional mystery meat hot dog (preferably with a ballgame in front of it), how are you going to get those essential hot dog antibodies?
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March 29, 2005
Here’s an article about making a persuasive presentation (and, therefore, about effective copywriting) from Marketing Today (Darien, IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have my own story about vivid writing to add. At my family’s traditional big Easter get-together, the conversation turned to books, and I mentioned that I was enjoying The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

“But that’s a women’s book,” my cousin exclaimed.

Yeah, I suppose that’s how you might categorize it, if you have to categorize books.

But to say that The Red Tent cannot speak volumes to me, a male, is like saying it can’t connect with anyone who is not a woman who has seen a strong and loving family break apart, experienced first-hand birth and death, and been a midwife in Biblical times. Of course I’m not that person, and neither is anyone else.

It’s the writer’s job to put us there and make us that person.

A story is neither female nor male, but well-presented or not well-presented. It either reaches out, enfolds us, and carries us along, or it doesn’t.

A well-written book takes you outside yourself, giving you – even if only temporarily – flashes of insight that you might not have otherwise had. That’s extremely useful stuff for a copywriter. In fact, I have a project right now for which this book triggered some very intriguing ideas, like nothing else in the market yet so on-target that it’s hard to believe no one’s done it before. I’m excited.
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March 28, 2005
McDonald’s launches a program to pay rap music artists for product mentions. Here’s the story, from the New York Daily News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Product placement in pop music is a happy thing for marketers. The question, with this program, is one of ROI. Just because a song with a plug gets played on the air, doesn’t mean the listener has been exposed to a meaningful advertising message.

Besides which, on an individual level, the corporate fatcats at McDonald’s had better hope that young people are less influenced by rap lyrics than this. Otherwise, they could find themselves victims of the urban rage contained in the rest of the lyrics.
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March 25, 2005
A more in-depth look at the commercialization of podcasting, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I touched on this back on February 28. I don’t think podcasting is “totally going to kill the business model of radio” as Adam Curry says. It’s simply going to spread the model to a new channel. And, as much as blogging gurus such as Dave Winer want to believe that the real force here is the democratization of media, the fact remains that a fair amount of blog growth today is driven by potential income from affiliate links, banner ads, and plugs. It’s as much the democratization of media dollars as it is the democratization of media itself.
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March 24, 2005
Dated tomorrow, because it is in Australia, comes this story about kids and advergaming (that combination of videogaming and marketing). Here’s the article, from The Age (Melbourne, AU):
Advertising copywriter blog link

An 8-year-old girl has a “commercial she loves,” and it’s about underwear for young women, and she feels okay about telling off her parent for changing the channel? What? There is so much wrong in every part of that sentence, that it’s hard to know where to begin. Of course, I’ve been over this topic many, many times before (March 16 and 17, February 17 and 28, January 11, December 16 and 22 2004, November 13 and 21, 2003, May 6, 2003, April 16, 2003, and maybe a few that I’ve missed). The only way to fight advertising to children, is for parents to parent.
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March 23, 2005
This seems like a product story, but it’s really a branding story. Blue Cross rolls out Tonik, a new health insurance plan aimed at 19-24-year-olds. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now, this is really, really smart stuff. It’s a product developed and aimed at a hole in the market share. It’s niche marketed, with cool-looking ads. The product itself has relevant benefits and price points. And, it’s bringing in about 1,000 new subscribers a month, about 70% of whom were previously uninsured. So, the launch marketing is solid. The next challenge is customer retention.
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March 22, 2005
When the New Yorker does a piece on the state of advertising today, you know it’s going to be a good one. Many thanks to Dylan for this great link to a fantastic read:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Salient points are everywhere, from the retail success of the Aflac duck, to the renaissance of of product placement, to the fragmented complexity of the current media environment. Yeah, it’s also a puff piece on Linda Kaplan Thayer, but she’s one of the creative giants in advertising today and what she has to say is worth listening to. All in all, it’s a well-balanced, sympathetic yet not kowtowing look at the ad industry. I printed out a copy for my files, and suggest you do too. And, thanks again to Dylan for the tip!
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March 21, 2005
This article from the New York Times looks at the rise of “sitcommercials:” ensemble-cast, story-oriented television commercials. Here it is:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The intent is to make the advertising more like programming, increasing viewer involvement in the ad message and the brand.

The problem is, this only works if you see the whole campaign, or at least most of it. If you see only a few commercials here and there, you have no idea what’s going on. The Verizon ad campaign, for instance, made no sense to me as a consumer. I utterly failed to connect with those people (or vice versa).

Lest you think I don’t like the concept of ensemble-cast, story-oriented advertising, I do. Very much. But, I think it would play out better online or as :60s or :90s than it does as a campaign of :30s.
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March 18, 2005
“Beanz Meanz Heinz,” one of Europe’s most-recognized and beloved advertising slogans, was written a decade before the agency’s copywriter came up with the idea, by a ten-year-old in a slogan competition. Except, in the ten-year-old’s version, nothing was misspelled. Here’s the story, from IC Wales (Cardiff):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s axiomatic among creative professionals that there are no new ideas. There is no doubt that the slogan, written by copywriter Maurice Drake in 1967, was developed with absolutely no knowledge of Jeff Bennett’s competition entry from ten years prior. Different people, working to a similar brief on the same product will develop similar concepts. That’s a fact of life in advertising.

Yet, such things as a slogan’s success turn on the details. Despite the similarity between the phrases (and Mr. Bennett’s horror at the misspelled version), the corny difference in spelling is what transforms a prosaic statement into a memorably unique, personable, appealing slogan for the product.
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March 17, 2005
A quick follow-up to yesterday’s entry about the “blob” television commercial for Marmite, exploring advertising creative and anticipating what might frighten small children. Here it is, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, most three-year-olds are insufficiently developed to recognize that there’s a difference between what’s real and what’s on television. I can agree with that, with the caveat that most parents simply never teach their kids this fact.

Granting the premise, isn’t it equally obvious that those three-year-olds should not be watching television?
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March 16, 2005
A British television commercial for Australian food icon/condiment Marmite, inspired by 1950s sci-fi classic The Blob, is banned for “terrifying children.” Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Why is no one asking what two- and three-year-olds are doing watching television? There is no reason on Earth for a two-year-old to watch TV. Once again, it ain’t the advertising, it’s the parenting. And I say that as a parent of two small children (2-1/2 and 4-1/2). Yeah, I know, I seem to go off on the topic of ads and kids every couple weeks. (A quick search shows my last rant about advertising to children was February 28, so I’m right on schedule).

One result of the television commercial, was that “Four (complainants) said their children refused to watch television after seeing it.” Hey, sounds good to me.
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March 15, 2005
I have two articles today. First up is this great piece taking a devil’s advocate approach to automotive branding, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Core concept: branding works best at differentiating high-margin, parity products with which customer loyalty translates directly into a high volume of purchases. Examples include soap, toothpaste, and corn flakes. Even if you create absolute brand loyalty to an automotive marque, you get only a few purchases per decade, at relatively low margins considering the costs of development, manufacturing, marketing, and support.

Note that this isn’t about price. Some high-dollar items benefit from a brand, either at the manufacturer level or at the retailer level (Rolex watches come to mind as an example of the former, Tiffany jewelry as an example of the latter). Also, the high volume of high-margin purchases may not be for the product itself; HP printers are a good example, with which the real profit is made on consumables.

Anyway, it’s an interesting read. Branding is a specific marketing tool, not an all-powerful solution.

Next is this tiny little news item next to the comics in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about music getting stuck in your head and the latest brain imaging research from Dartmouth University:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is fascinating. With familiar songs, people not only reported hearing the songs continuously even though there were actual gaps in the playback, but their brains continued processing as if there was music playing. The brain fills in audio gaps, just as it fills in visual gaps in a flipbook.

To me, this is increasing evidence of the power of advertising jingles.
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March 14, 2005
Boo-hoo, internet users delete our ad-tracking cookies, it’s all the consumer’s fault. More self-absorbed whining from the advertising community, as a survey of 2,337 consumers reveals that 39% of of them delete cookies at least monthly, casting a shadow on website traffic statistics. Here’s the article, from ClickZ News:
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The analyst comes off positively plaintive:

“For some reason, consumers have identified cookies incorrectly as spyware. Consumers don’t understand what cookies do.”
Or maybe they do. Maybe they’ve decided that some minor added privacy is worth the small speed difference. Maybe they don’t want some porn site (or any other website, for that matter) greeting them by name. “Hi John, welcome back.” Eeek! Clear cookies! Clear cache! Clear history!

Consumers do agree to be tracked. Look at supermarket loyalty programs. There, consumers have overwhelmingly opted to have their buying behavior tracked, in exchange for substantial discounts. And that’s what it’s going to take on the part of the internet marketing community, if they want to track online behavior. Cash for cache, or some other tangible reward. What won’t work, is the one-sided relationship that has been pursued so far.
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March 11, 2005
American advertising creatives often bemoan our nation’s puritanical roots, and envy our European counterparts’ freedom to push boundaries with sexuality and social irreverence. However, here’s a controversial advertising poster that could play here. But not in France or Italy. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The poster, a photographic, female version of The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, was banned as “blasphemous” and ordered removed, and the plaintiff was awarded costs.

I think the photograph is beautiful, and certainly no worse than other fashion ads and posters I’ve seen. I think it’s respectful of the original art, unlike many take-offs and parodies. And, I think it adds a layer of relevant social commentary. I think it’s nice work, and I’m a little surprised at the level of controversy. Sanctifying a depiction of an historical event seems to me akin to sanctifying other well-entrenched visuals, like the parting of the Red Sea, or even the concept of angels with wings and halos. Or, to extend, perhaps inappropriately, from religion to government, Emanuel Leutze’s George Washington Crossing the Delaware.
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March 10, 2005
An interesting article about a book about the beer industry, and, therefore, beer marketing, written by a husband-wife team of economists, from Oregon State University News Service via the Corvallis Gazette-Tribune (OR):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The book, The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis by Victor J. Tremblay and Carol Horton Tremblay, examines the economic effects of advertising and corporate strategy on the whole category. Not surprisingly, those effects are large and quantifiable. For instance, advertising is identified as the most-influential factor in the industry. And, television advertising is blamed – or credited – with killing off small brewers and speeding the trend toward corporate consolidation.

Many years ago, Mark Doyle related this anecdote to me: he was part of a team from an ad agency touring a brewing facility, gathering information to develop a campaign for a major beer brand. He asked the brewmaster what it was, exactly, that made a premium beer a premium beer. The brewmaster looked at the people from the ad agency and replied, “you guys.”

So it’s not the water (remember Olympia Beer?), it’s the advertising.

All of which puts the kibosh on the so-called “first-mover advantage.” An innovative brand can carve out a market niche. But, once that niche becomes profitable enough to support a big player, the big player enters the niche, dominates it through advertising and clout with retailers, and puts the first-mover out of business, or at least relegates it to a sliver of the share of a sliver of the market. Small brands essentially become market testers for big ones.

As with beer, so with foods, sporting goods, technology, and many other product categories.
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March 9, 2005
Global stuff marketplace eBay is launching a free classified ad service in six countries. Watch out Craigslist! Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A quick look at the site shows free classifieds for services as well as goods. The listings are still sketchily populated, but the community appears fairly active.

I’ve bought and sold on eBay since before it was called eBay the second time (eBay veterans will know what I’m talking about), and I love free classified sites. To me, selling stuff on eBay is a great test of copywriting chops. It’s rife with advertising copy challenges: breaking through the clutter and getting click-throughs with a limited-character-count headline and no big visual, writing copy that is persuasive, personal, and rigorously honest to avoid returns. There’s no place to hide. And, I can easily measure performance by checking closed auctions for similar items. If I haven’t sold my item for significantly more than the average, that’s worth studying as a probable copy failure. It’s a real-world check on my copywriting skill.

With the free classified sites, my test metric is speed: how quickly can I land a buyer at a reasonable price? My record so far, is under three minutes.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how eBay brings this to the U.S. Buying Craigslist comes to mind, but that community may not be the most loving fit. And, launching a new branded classified ad service is going to encounter some well-entrenched competition.
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March 8, 2005
Continuing the automotive market share story from Sunday, here are two articles about shrinking profits at GM and Ford. The first, from BBC News, places partial blame on the product mix. The second, from Bloomberg, examines a financial outcome: GM’s bonds are now just one level away from junk status:
Advertising copywriter blog link
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The new car market has gotten smaller, not surprising given all the recent promotional incentives that have essentially advanced sales into previous quarters. The Bloomberg article analyzes the real costs of those incentives, pointing out that if GM’s financing arm was a bank, it would be the sixth largest in the U.S. It also looks at design and production costs as another obstacle to profitability. It’s like I said nearly six months ago (September 28, 2004): Manufacturing efficiencies are marketing when they result in improved deliverables and a decisive consumer experience.

Yet, despite that shrinking market and an historically weak dollar, most Asian automakers have posted huge gains in market share. Suzuki, for instance, saw year-for-year sales rise more than 17%, and Hyundai saw sales increase 19%.

In other words, small, efficiently designed cars are outselling larger, boldly designed cars. Is it just me, or is it 1970 all over again?
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March 7, 2005
Remember the Subservient Chicken? Yeah, viral marketing has been moving so fast that something that happened last year seems like ancient history. Here’s a good synopsis of the campaign for Burger King’s chicken sandwich, along with a cursory look at the results, from Adweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So one franchisee wants to see more food in the advertising, a constant, ready criticism. Yet, there are no complaints about the results of the campaign in terms of increased sales: 9% per week from zero is nothing to sneeze at. What’s missing, though, is whether that 9% came from a competitor or from within Burger King’s menu itself; the rise in same-store sales seems to indicate either the former or an increase in market size. And, without pre- and post-campaign demographic skew, we can’t tell if the effort mobilized its target market.

Still, this article captures a slice of viral marketing history.
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March 6, 2005
A Sunday BBC News article about automotive brand icon Ford Motor Company underlines the difference between brand identity and profit centers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Where Ford makes money isn’t in building cars but in writing car loans. The other interesting thing, is the analyst comment that, given Ford’s total business value of about $17 billion and its healthcare liabilities alone of $24 billion, the only thing standing between it and bankruptcy is its brand.
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March 4, 2005
Quick, what image comes to mind when you think of Nottingham? A big, lopsided, purple “N”? Yup, Nottingham is rebranding, giving Robin Hood the boot in favor of a stylized letter. Here’s the story, from the Daily Telegraph (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like the article says, the new would-be icon has already failed at one of its objectives: overcoming local cynicism. What is it with cities and regions walking away from well-entrenched brands? (See January 6 for the state of Kansas’ misfire.) Brands can be given nudges to refine their direction, or, even better, products (such as cities) can be repositioned within the brand. Did they hire brand strategists or graphic designers? In, this case, I suspect it was the latter. And, I think events like this give branding and design gurus alike the opportunity to double their money in a few years by resurrecting the old icon in yet another much-ballyhooed rebranding exercise.

My second bit today is from BBC News Magazine, about placing televisions on trains:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This project seems to be going forward despite many riders saying they don’t want to watch television on their commute. My wife actually stopped going to a local gas station when they installed tiny television sets on the pumps, so as you pumped gas you were bombarded by TV programming. On the Tube, though, riders don’t have a choice, and that strikes me as being out of line.
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March 3, 2005
Saatchi & Saatchi has a new creative director for its General Mills account, after an exodus of 17 employees all of whom worked on General Mills. Here’s a brief blurb, from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal (MN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What got my attention, is that the new advertising creative director is the former creative director at the Cartoon Network. In other words, the convergence of advertising and programming now extends into senior creative positions. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
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March 2, 2005
Dated tomorrow, because that’s when it is Down Under, comes this story about retail shopping mall branding from The Australian (AUS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Successful brand-building is an exercise in detail, especially when brand differentiation is the competitive differentiation. But, when people talk about branding, they usually focus on the high-profile stuff: ad campaigns, PR pushes, graphic design. I like how this article focuses on the details that go into building a brand at the consumer level, where branding really happens. Details like the copy on the “parking lot full” signs.

When Westfield first started branding their malls around San Diego as “Westfield Shoppingtowns,” I thought it was ham-handed corporate branding. After all, how could tacking a cumbersome name onto a well-known mall name add anything? I thought that, no matter what Westfield did, customers would continue to refer to each individual mall under its own name. I missed the point, of course. Westfield was positioning itself as an umbrella brand, a mark of consistent quality from mall to mall. And, they’ve achieved that, through superb implementation and paying attention to the details.
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March 1, 2005
It’s not often you get a CEO calling a competitor’s management strategy “stupid,” at least in the world of major multi-national corporations. That’s the comment from an unidentified chief executive of a “leading European car maker,” about the possibility of GM moving Saab production to the U.S. There’s more here, related to marketing and managing a global brand, but the C-level name-calling was what really caught my attention. Here’s the story, from BBC News (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The vaunted “million-mile test drive” program is a good idea, product sampling on a grand scale, as long as the cars are up to the task. It’s not enough to improve relative to past products; the cars must be demonstrably superior to current competing products.

But, product has been one of GM’s problems in Europe, compounded by (or resulting in) dismal market penetration by some of its major brands – Saab and Cadillac spring to mind – despite significant and sustained investment.

See, branding is just a hypothetical, largely promotional exercise unless its backed in the real world with the rest of the marketing equation: product, price, and distribution.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
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