John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter

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(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
March, 2006

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March 31, 2006
And, speaking of Wal-Mart, if the giant retailer’s ads seem oddly familiar, here’s why, from The New York Times :
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the current ads for Wal-Mart are indeed very similar to the mid-1990s ads for Sears (“Come see the softer side of Sears”). The strategy is also similar: a Perception/Reality message (to evoke yet another ad campaign, this one for Rolling Stone) that contrasts consumer perception to in-store reality. I wonder if the results will also be similar to what I remember: sliding per-store sales as core customers abandon the brand to shop elsewhere.

My problem with this approach, is that I think telling customers that what they think is wrong is, well, wrong. It condescends to existing customers. And it reinforces the popular perception to new potential customers. You could very well lose both ways: alienating your customer base while simultaneously failing to attract new customers.

So, how do you combine paper towels, toasters, and inexpensive-but-trendy tops in a cool way? Just look at what Wal-Mart competitor Target has done (and still does) in its ads. See, when you’ve got it for real, you don’t have to spell it out.

Also, isn’t this a case where a key tactic should be point-of-purchase as opposed to mass media? Oh yeah, POP isn’t commissionable.
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March 30, 2006
Big brands were a big bust in 2005, according to this review of their advertising from CNN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It seems the best work in branding lately, has been the work of smaller (but still big) advertisers. The Mini Cooper, for instance, as compared to Ford or GM, or Apple Computer compared to Microsoft. In other cases, when two behemoths fight it out, a temporary edge accrues to the one that makes the fewest mistakes; Target vs. Wal-Mart could be one example.
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March 29, 2006
This was too weird to resist. There’s a trend afoot for people to take their cell phones to the grave. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think they just couldn’t get out of their wireless contracts.

Silliness aside, there is a media connection. After all, more and more ads are being served up on mobile devices. If the burial-with-phone trend continues to grow, list companies will have to filter for dead people with still-active accounts. The only thing madder than an undead person with an inbox full of ads, is the media buyer who just paid to send that person a message.

As for me, I’d take the opposite approach. Bury my mobile phone now, and then happily get on with my life.
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March 28, 2006
Hey, wanna be a copywriter? Companies are now turning to consumers to create the advertising messages they receive. (And, by the way, if youíd like to make ad copywriting a career, these contests are another way to get a foot in the door.) Hereís the story, from USA Today via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the new version of those old slogan-writing contests, re-interpreted in the early 1960s in the classic DDB print ad for Volkswagen ("How to do a Volkswagen ad"). Itís interactivity to be sure, and as long as it hits the right target itís a great way to involve customers in your brand.

Good consumer-created ads are excellent. In fact, Iíve long admitted that most of my best ad concepts and copywriting comes directly from listening to consumers. It was the separation of agency creative team from consumers, and the focus on technique over target market, that created the vacuum thatís now being filled by consumers themselves. 

What I find interesting, is that so many consumer-created ads suffer from the same flaws as any other ad. Theyíre self-indulgent, overly produced, and either too ham-fisted or too clever to be smart marketing. When that happens, you havenít achieved outreach at all, youíve just solidified your corporate insularity. And that misses a key benefit to getting consumers involved.
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March 27, 2006
Another article about virtual product placement (see my entry for February 27), this one from the Associated Press via the Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

People in the ad industry seem overly concerned that product placement will turn consumers off. I think the risk is the opposite: that product placement will fail because consumers will ignore it. Even if a product is placed in the foreground, it remains in the background unless itís picked up and used. Relevant interaction is the key to product placement, whether live or digitally placed. Otherwise, youíd might as well provide the countertop or the drinking glasses in the cabinets.
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March 24, 2006
Jeff Goodby is an advertising copywriter and agency partner who has turned out some of the most-memorable campaigns of the last 30 years or so. Hereís an interview with him, discussing the state of advertising, from BusinessWeek Online via Yahoo! Finance (UK and Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the advertising = entertainment model is flawed from the get-go, because the purpose of advertising isnít to entertain, itís to sell. Sometimes you do that through entertainment; entertaining someone is a great way to build rapport, credibility, and a positive perception of whatever it is youíre selling. But it seems that a lot of marketers have become one-trick ponies that way. Entertainment, like humor or shock or pathos, is just one possible approach to the market, one tool in the creative tool chest.

The difference now, is that the cycle of entertainment, or whatever ad approach is taken, can spin out longer and reach deeper into the sale. Itís not just an ad campaign, or even an ad slogan creeping into popular use; itís a sustained creative execution that actively reaches out and embeds itself in a personís life through a variety of channels, including the web. And, the primary medium has become the people in the target market themselves, and thatís why entertainment is such a powerful tool these days. I think thatís been the big shift in the advertising model, that people = media. Still, as Goodby says, it remains essential that there be something in it for the consumer. In the end, as as it has been for more than 100 years, successful advertising is all about the consumer.
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March 23, 2006
A look at how companies are using creative doo-dads to inspire creative thinking, from Scripps News Service via the Daily Record (Parsippiny, NJ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Tricks like that can work. But they seldom keep working once the novelty wears off. At some point in the process, you canít just have multiple conversations; you have to have a meeting, a sit-down meeting where a small team of people focuses on working the problem. Iíll end this with a quote from my first creative director, Mark Doyle: “the people with jukeboxes in their offices never did any work.”
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March 22, 2006
Hereís a brief look at how advertising has reflected the changing image of women in American society, from the Chicago Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

That we are beginning to see people of all genders, races, and ages as rounded individuals is a positive thing. However, it must also be recognized that the image of men in advertising has not been entirely flattering or multi-dimensional either. In 1904, a company advertised its growth system to men with the headline “Every Woman Admires a Tall Man,” complete with an illustration of two attractive women at a dinner table chatting happily with a tall man while a short, bespectacled fellow sits between the women, ignored. In todayís advertising, men tall and short are commonly the buffoon, the dopey dad, the incompetent husband, the well-meaning knight shown up by a smarter fair maiden. Things are getting better. But it ainít all progress.
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March 21, 2006
Pepsi and Coke slug it out in ads and in court all the time. This time, though, itís not their respective flagship cola drinks that are at issue; itís their “sports drinks.” Hereís the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This strikes me as counter-intuitive. A calorie is a unit of thermal energy. Why should the product containing less energy allow a user to go faster? The simple calorie=bales analogy doesnít hold up. And, if you extend the argument, wouldnít the consumer get the best performance by drinking plain old water, which contains zero calories? I donít know what the creative brief was, but I doubt that this ad answered it.
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March 20, 2006
Whatís next for business? Here are 10 visionary business leaders and their views on the future, from Fast Company:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Good stuff here, and itís telling that none of these CEOs and business writers see corporations surviving as they are today. Whether the driver is the rise of individual empowerment, globalization of intellectual capital, or issues with American health care and pension funding (see October 2 2005), no one sees business continuing as usual.

Think this doesnít affect advertising creatives? Iíll refer you to my own entries on May 9 2005 and August 22 2004 (yes, a year and a half ago), about outsourcing creative to India. The future? Folks, itís all happened already, and the only question remaining is whether you adapt and remain competitive, or begin the death spiral.
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March 17, 2006
Hereís a great article on brand extensions, from Entrepreneur.com via TheStreet.com (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I agree with everything written here (here, for instance, is my own take on brands and branding). Too many companies, having established a good brand, seem determined to squander it in the name of short-term cash. Personally, I blame greedy shareholders, who are turning out to be the weak link in the market economy.
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March 16, 2006
Another mystifying state tourism slogan, this one from the great state of Washington: “SayWA.” Say wha? Hereís the story, from the Associated Press via The Seattle Times (WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the “brand development task force” of 32 people (yes 32!) who had input on this ad slogan was part of the problem, and a big reason why they took 18 months to land on something as dumb as “SayWA.” I donít remember from whom Iím borrowing this idea (it may be physicist Richard Feynman) but itís true: out of a dozen people I may be the dumbest one, but Iím smarter than the other 11 people put together. A committee of 32 is guaranteed to act stupidly.

The only group of people who would use “Wa” as a verbal abbreviation for “Washington,” is the same group of people who occasionally (and sarcastically) say “Ca” for “California”: the people who already live there. So, right out of the box, this slogan is aimed in the wrong direction.

Youíd think that would have occurred to one of the 32 people on the committee. In fact, it probably occurred to all of them. But, in a “brand development task force” of 32, whereís the accountability? Or the focus, for that matter – and the one thing a slogan must have, is focus.
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March 15, 2006
This sort of goes with my entry on February 22, about creative professionals who refuse to sell out to advertisers. Sometimes what looks like product placement, isnít. Hereís how a Porsche SUV became a key prop in HBOís The Sopranos, despite both Porsche and HBO having policies against paid product placement, from the Chicago Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The product used in the story came out of the storyline. Gee, what a concept. Unfortunately, the ring of truth was muffled by the popular assumption that when a brand appears on-screen, it must have bought its way there.

So, even as product placement grows in popularity and ad spending, its persuasive influence is already on the wane.
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March 14, 2006
In-store television networks are gaining popularity as advertising media. Hereís the story, from Sunday’s Bradenton Herald (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As the article notes, execution is everything. So far, Iíve yet to encounter an execution in the wild that didnít irritate me as a consumer, even as it intrigued me as a media professional.

As a consumer, when I first saw a television above the grocery check-out stand, my immediate thought was “theyíre planning to make me wait in line longer.” Sure enough, there was one checker on duty, and the line was five deep. After more partly self-induced experiential validation (you go looking for an effect and of course you find it), I switched to the grocery store down the street.

But I may not be the typical consumer. So, thereís my wife, who two years ago stopped patronizing a local gas station because she was so bothered by the tiny television that started up with the pump.

So, in-store TV is 0 for 2 in this household. Yet, there is a golden opportunity here, if only retailers would shift from TV-think to customer-think. At a minimum level, it would be handy to have a kiosk where I could enter an item I wanted to buy and get directions to where it was shelved, along with suggested related items. On a more-complex level, it would be cool to have entire cooking programs available for in-store or online download to a portable media player, so I could have the ingredient list – and live on-site directions to each item on the list, complete with coupons – then follow along with the show as I prepared the meal in my own kitchen.

These are approaches to the technology that work from a consumer perspective. However, the trend now is all push and no pull. I hope that doesnít last; for new media to be co-opted by old models wastes the opportunity. 

But the biggest tangible shift may be buried at the bottom of the article, where one media analyst suggests that ad budgets will shift to in-store networks from newspapers. Yet another nail in the coffin.
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March 13, 2006
Branding is a long-term investment. Yet, in todayís fast-paced marketplace, itís easier and quicker than ever for a start-up brand to challenge established brands, particularly in certain niches like home electronics. Hereís the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Itís hard to write this off as simple low-end positioning. I see three key changes that are enabling the fast-track to branding.

First, todayís home electronics purchases are made with an underlying assumption that things are going to work. As consumers, weíve become comfortable with technology and technological products.

The second key change, has been the transfer of risk from the consumer to the retailer, through generous (and well-advertised) return and exchange policies, backed, if needed, by the financial clout of peopleís personal credit card companies.

The third key change, has been transactional transparency. Before, any one consumerís circle of advisors could be measured in how many people that person knew. Word-of-mouth was as powerful as ever, but it moved slower. Now, ordinary consumers can instantly tap into reviews, test results, comments, and recommendations from all over the world. And, not only is customer satisfaction with the product transparent, so is satisfaction with the retailer, delivery options, and pricing information.

All of which makes the good/better/best marketing model harder to sustain without concrete evidence of value.
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March 10, 2006
Today I have an entertaining and enlightening look at one place where design and emotion meet branding and sales: the “faces” of cars. Hereís the story, from The Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

For all the innovation in technology, and all the influence of new media, the design of print advertising has remained relatively static. Most ads look like ads, or posters, or articles, or other printed pieces. I wonder if thereís a way to design a more human “face” onto the page through the ad elements themselves, and if that would be effective? I would imagine that the more literal an interpretation you execute, the more disturbing it might be to viewers, this non-human, non-face-like face looking back at you from a magazine page. So, I donít think you could hang an entire ad concept on the design alone, although I suppose for some products or categories or brands you might. But, just where is the line?
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March 9, 2006
I was doing research (or getting distracted; itís hard to know which in this line of work, and distractions lead to ideas nearly as often as ideas lead to distractions), and stumbled upon a website I had to share. Hereís a wonderful collection of 1960s and early 1970s Saturday morning television commercials, from TVParty.com:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The site also has an archive of cigarette ads and commercials from the same era.

These old commercials are fun to watch, but after watching several I started to feel that many of these spots could do with tighter writing and editing. While, at the same time, I envied the luxury of a full 60 seconds to create an intriguing story.

If you want even more, I have links to other good online advertising archives on April 29 2005, February 8 2005, January 3 2005, and December 28 and 29 2004.
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March 8, 2006
This is something of a follow-up to yesterdayís entry. A survey by Google shows that people spend more time browsing the internet than watching television, an indication that Anheuser-Busch was on the right track with its Super Bowl strategy. Hereís the article, a short one, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Not surprisingly, the biggest online users were also the biggest online buyers, and the biggest increase in online browsing time was seen in the 16-24 year-old crowd. But, regardless of target market, marketing strategy must include the web, and an advertising strategy that doesnít incorporate web-based follow-through is missing an ever-growing segment of the audience.
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March 7, 2006
The Super Bowl: a follow-up. Anheuser-Busch says its Super Bowl commercials generated traffic and downloads long after the game, to the tune of 21 million viewings and 300,000 downloads so far. Hereís the article, from Beverage World (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

That increases reach or (more likely) frequency, essentially adding some 23% to the initial audience of 90+ million while simultaneously building a great direct-marketing list. Not bad, for simply re-using television commercials in an online medium.

Now, more than ever, advertising isnít just about being there, whether “there” is the Super Bowl or the local throwaway shopper. Itís about being there with something people want to enjoy again and again – and thatís the difference good creative makes.
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March 6, 2006
A French breakfast drink company officially abandons its copyright to a 100-year-old advertising slogan many denounced as racist. Hereís the story, from the Miami Herald (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The ad slogan is the pidgin-French “Yía bon Banania,” which translates as “Me like Banania,” Banania being the name of the product. It originally appeared associated with a logo featuring a smiling Black colonial soldier. In this context, the slogan could be classed with “The Ham What Am!” for Armour (1917) and some of the worst of Amos ’n’ Andy. Somehow, the Aunt Jemima brand seems to have kept up with the times.

Anyway, it could be argued that the very artlessness of the “Me like (PRODUCT NAME)” phrasing is what gives the slogan its whimsy and memorability. After all, “I like (PRODUCT NAME)” could hardly be trademarked. It was the combination of the words and the image, set against an uncomfortable historical context, that was the kiss of death. In this case the image, which strikes me as laden with more potential for racist interpretations, won out. Just shooting from the hip, I might have gone the other way: kept the slogan and swapped out the image (which needed to change anyway), possibly even using multiple images to reflect a broader global market. At the same time, I understand that not all corporate pressures are worth resisting.

What I donít understand, is why it was so important for the company to abandon not just the use of the slogan (which it had done after 1977) but the copyright as well. That seems like it leaves the slogan an open and usable asset for those groups which really are racist, and at the very least allows ironic, low-camp interpretations of the slogan to be commercially viable. To me, stewardship of both the brand and society would have been better served had the company continued to retain the copyright.
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March 3, 2006
File this under “That Didnít Last Long.” General Motors has decided to de-emphasize GM and start focusing on its individual vehicle brands. Hereís the story, from the Chicago Tribune via HispanicBusiness.com (Santa Barbara, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Gee, and it was just less than a year ago (see April 13 and 19 2005) when the big push was to promote the overall GM “portfolio.” Meanwhile, the top ten car picks from Consumer Reports are all Asian, Toyota recently surpassed GM as the worldís largest automaker, and the G7 just released a report saying that the Chinese economy will dominate the combined economies of all developed nations by 2050.

If GM expects to survive, its products better get relevant, along with its marketing and advertising, and fast. And GM is not alone; the clock is ticking on all American brands.
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March 2, 2006
I was feeling miserably sick today, so I listlessly watched some DVDs I had gotten from the library, a collection of Fawlty Towers, the BBC comedy starring John Cleese. For the sake of consistency, hereís a link to BBC article about the show:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, humor really is good medicine. Thereís only so many times you can fall off the couch laughing before you decide that lifeís worth living after all.

But the real treat, is buried in the special features section. Itís an interview with series star and co-writer John Cleese, with different segments on each of the three DVDs. And nestled within that interview, is essentially a post-graduate course on the theory and practice of writing really funny stuff.

Not surprisingly, it all begins with the idea, which is extended through the plot. Only at the very end of that process, does pen get set to paper to write the dialog.
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March 1, 2006
Call this the strangling of a brand. Hereís an article about Isuzu, once a player in the U.S. car and truck market, from USA Today via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thereís nothing pretty about a dying brand. For that matter, the Isuzu name itself was always eclipsed by its model names: Trooper, Impulse, Rodeo, Amigo. Even memorably funny ads with lying “company spokesman” Joe Isuzu barely budged the needle on name recognition. Isuzu does have a strength, though, in its ubiquitous light trucks. The challenge, is using an essentially industrial brand to carve its way back into the consumer arena. It could be done. But it wonít be easy, particularly without some clearly differentiated new models to catch the eye and engage the emotions.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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