John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
March 2007

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March 30 2007
Here’s a great rant about the rise of copying and the concurrent decline of creativity in advertising and branding, from the E-Commerce Times (CA):
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I would hardly point the finger at “small foreign markets.” There’s an awful lot of copying being done in major domestic markets. DaimlerChrysler, for instance, is being sued over a Jeep campaign that allegedly came too close for comfort to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of children’s books. When I saw that campaign, I assumed there was a connection; it made smart marketing sense. But, apparently there wasn’t, at least, not a conscious, legally secured one.

I never owned a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book; they were aimed at a younger market than I when they were introduced in 1979. That doesn’t stop me from being aware of them, purely as a function of cultural literacy.

And I think that points to a fourth major factor driving the decline of creativity in advertising and branding: the rise of self-centeredness. There’s a tendency among less-mature creatives to assume that every concept they have is original. So we see the same old ideas, done over and over again, in part because creative teams may not even be aware that they’re repeating the past.

You can’t innovate in a vacuum.
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March 29, 2007
Today I have a home-grown branding story, from my hometown paper. Here’s the story about Callaway’s re-launch of Top Flite golf balls, from the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
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There’s an old marketing axiom about product shortcomings: “if you can’t fix it, promote it.” In this case, the company did both, fixing the product and embracing the low-end character of the brand. And, like many recreational activities, golf has gotten so high-falutin’ these days that the market may be ready for a low-end brand with attitude.

As far as the speed of change, though, I would argue that it is possible to turn a brand around in one season. So you see a bit of expectation management going on among the industry insiders, because even if the marketing takes off, there are other factors to gaining market share, including manufacturing efficiencies, distribution channel management, logistics, and shelf presence.

But as a strategy, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Now, we’ll see how well Top Flite executes tactically.
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March 28, 2007
Spring break is just days away! Here’s a look at the marketing side of spring break, from The Washington Post (DC) via the Ashland Daily Tidings (Ashland, OR):
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Buried in the article is one of the key reasons for all the loot being given away: research. Case in point:

It was during research like this in Miami last year, says Victoria’s Secret Direct copywriter Sarah Stark, that Pink discovered its demographic prefers the word “underwear” to “panty.”

There is just no substitute for getting out there in the trenches.
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March 27, 2007
Ah, the good old MG sports car. A British motoring icon, now owned by the Chinese government through Nanjing Automobile, and about to be re-launched worldwide. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The hidden threat, is that by buying an automotive home team China is effectively blocking American and European manufacturers from getting in on what is bound to be a huge growth market. It almost doesn’t matter whether or not they plan to sell a bunch of MGs in Europe; it’s enough to have a strong, state-protected market share in China.

Note, too, that the export strategy is to export the brand not the hardware. Following the footsteps of Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, Nanjing Automobile will manufacture MGs for the UK market in Longbridge, and MGs for the American market in Ardmore, Oklahoma. 

Like I said on March 9, the Chinese automakers are on their way.
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March 26, 2007
The term “guerilla marketing” gets tossed around so much, that it’s easy to forget there are real guerillas using real marketing techniques. Here’s an interesting look at the Mexican Zapatista movement, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA):
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How many wanna-be guerilla marketers are missing key ingredients of the real thing? Charismatic and media-friendly leadership. A keen sense of drama. The ability to piggyback onto other causes to gain support.

You can see that people like Richard Branson are true rebel leaders, putting the lie to the idea that guerilla marketing is just for the little guys.

And, you also can see the power of personalities. Corporations do not lead revolutions or rebellions; people do. So, what’s the face of your revolution?
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March 23, 2007
This article, from BBC News, about a Kenyan bank ad just brought a smile to my face:
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While using a “nearly naked” man in advertising might be revolutionary in Kenya, showing a rounded body with pride is revolutionary here. I also like the model’s line, about breaking through boundaries in advertising: “We must be bold in a good way.”
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March 22, 2007
NBC Universal and Fox have joined forces to put television programming online. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
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Speaking as someone who has been watching British and German television programming online for, oh, four or five years now, I can safely say “it’s about time.”

In fact, it’s nice to see someone not going into YouTube/Google. The fact is, although this may not be exciting to people still caught up in the Thrill of the New, what we’re seeing is just the thin end of the wedge. There is ample room for growth, and content creators don’t have to buy into existing networks to connect with audiences.

Content creators. You know, like, um, advertisers.
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March 21, 2007
I’ve been a bit long-winded this week. But this article, from, about the problems with the current emphasis on entertainment in advertising, pretty much says it all:
Advertising copywriter blog link

You can both entertain and sell. In fact, that combination has made for highly effective advertising for the past 100 years or so. It’s nothing new. What is new, is that today an awful lot of ad creatives seem to be wanna-be-screenwriters or wanna-be-film-directors instead of craftsmanlike copywriters and art directors. The result has not been an improvement.
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March 20 2007
So much for being a prognosticator. On October 2 2005, I predicted that “Lenovo will knock out HP to challenge Dell in the U.S. market within 18 months.” Here’s where the U.S. notebook computer market stood as of the fourth quarter 2006, from DisplaySearch via Technology News Daily:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, HP has done some knocking out of its own, and the rising star is Acer, the Taiwanese computer maker. And Lenovo, despite being surprisingly sure-footed out of the gate, has proven to be surprisingly clod-footed in the short run. I think there may be enough brand equity and mindshare, if not market share, for Lenovo to make a play for the top. But first the distribution channel, which was one of the key assets of the sale, needs to be fixed. So, it’ll take a whole product cycle or two before Lenovo has again as good a shot as it had once.

If ever. Because there’s this report that has Acer eyeing U.S.-based Gateway as a possible acquisition, from ArsTechnica (MA):
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So the window of opportunity for Lenovo may be closing, a mixed bag for the home team if Gateway goes offshore.
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March 19, 2007
A branded broadband video player aimed at pre-schoolers has signed up its first advertiser. Here’s the story, from brad intelligence via (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, there is no place in a pre-schooler’s life for on-demand television. Sorry, that’s just the way it is, I don’t care how many child psychologists and researchers line up against me. Because I’m not talking about numbers and social norming and statistics, I’m talking about real children, having real childhoods.

The pre-school years are the last ones in which parents can exercise a high degree of control over most of the day’s content. Those years, zero to five, are critical exploring years. Those are the years when children should be learning experientially – heaven knows, there’s little time for that from age five to 20-something, when you’re expected to learn from books and teachers and, yes, media content.

Note that I am an advertising copywriter; I have no training in child development. But, as a parent of two small children, it seems to me that plunking a pre-school-age child in front of a television or computer deprives him or her of active learning. It models passivity and builds an expectation of entertainment instead of exploration.

Okay, on to a second point: advertising content. Here we have a branded toy promoting itself on a branded, highly targeted media player. And here I do have some relevant expertise as an established creative professional.

If every toy comes with a pre-existing storyline, its value as a creative plaything declines. That’s why Tinkertoys and Lego blocks (and rocks and sticks and mud, for that matter) enhance creativity more than carefully defined action figures. That’s not to say that Thomas the Tank Engine isn’t a fine toy. But it is to say that the more established the storyline (in other words, the more entrenched the branding), the less creative value it has. The more you expose your child to corporate Thomas, the less freedom he or she has to engage an imaginary Thomas. And, the less ownership your child has of the whole play experience.

Kids should be kids. And we must not use the creativity of this generation to quash the creativity of the next.

For more of my thoughts on media programming, advertising and kids, see my Ad Blog entries for February 28 2007, January 15 and 31 2007, December 19 2006, November 14, 17 and 20 2006, October 2, 3 and 27 2006, June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 13 and 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003. There may be others.
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March 16, 2007
Here’s something of a rant, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about the growing use of pop music in advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

On the plus side, using pop music means the advertiser can tap into an existing well of emotion. It offers instant recognition. Moreover, pop artists are very good at creating hooks.

However, I still maintain that the minuses outweigh the pluses. In most cases, the advertiser’s brand is overshadowed by the strength of the music. Brand equity is borrowed instead of built. And, for the expense of licensing a piece of music for a year, it’s possible to commission a piece of music the brand can own.

Yeah, that takes commitment. But that’s what branding should be, commitment.

Look: the one bit of advertising music the commentator wants to hear again, is a jingle: Nestle’s specially commissioned Sweet Dreams song from the mid-1980s.

And, by the way an internet search will turn up not just a bunch of audio files, but also people’s memories about the commercial (almost all positive), backstories, tributes to the commercial, lyrics, and even chord charts.

You don’t get that kind of staying power with borrowed interest.
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March 15, 2007
Cell phone advertising is heating up (see February 20), and it’s the young who are setting the pace. Some recent University of Iowa graduates have launched an advertising media company specializing in text messaging to students. Here’s the story, from the Iowa City Press-Citizen (IA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are three really smart bits. First, they’re focusing on a niche: the student market. Second, they’re integrating the text messaging channel with traditional print channels, even starting a magazine to help businesses handle the transition. Third, they’re aggressively promoting opt-ins by running their own promotions beyond what the advertisers are doing. Those opt-in databases are their largest long-term corporate asset, and, with less than 3% of the one local market opting in, they’ve not yet reached a critical mass.

Still, very cool.
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March 14, 2007
Here’s a great marketing success story about fashion e-commerce company Naughty Secretary Club, from Jupiter Media’s ECommerce-Guide (Darien, CT):
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Pay attention to how the founder, Jennifer Perkins, has blended new-wave social marketing with classic retail channel management, using traditional retailers to both sell product and spread brand awareness for her main ecommerce channel.

Key quote:

“Marketing is every bit as important as your product. It’s 60 percent what you can do, and 40 percent how you market it.”

Also worth noting, is the value of PR in the form of editorial placements. And that comes from having a story to tell. A lot of companies use PR as an announcement channel rather than a storytelling channel; the best marketers use it both ways.
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March 13, 2007
Advertisers are still seeking a way to determine viewership ratings for individual television commercials. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

At a certain point, increased data just translates into increased noise. The fact that no one turned the TV off or changed the channel is no measure of whether anyone saw a given commercial, let alone reacted positively to it.

Commercials at the beginning and end of a break allegedly get the most viewers. So what? Give me a relevant message, creative freedom, and a 30 second spot in the middle of the pack, and I’ll own the entire commercial break. As could a lot of other creative professionals.

To increase the viewership of your TV commercial, first make it worth viewing.
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March 12, 2007
The fashion brand Diesel is no stranger to provoking controversy with its advertising. Here’s a commentary on Diesel’s latest perceived outrage, from the Washington Post via The Daily News (Longview WA):
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This strikes me as yet another rant about an ad campaign from someone who’s outside the target market; someone who, but for media or industry connections, might never encounter the campaign in the wild. Come on, fashion advertising is all about the brand. And frequency comes less from media insertions and more from media reactions.

The innocence is revealed in the mild complaint that “Diesel gets to have it both ways” – simultaneously parodying, leveraging, and benefiting a social cause. But that’s the whole point of the campaign. It’s not a “funny thing,” it’s smart marketing to a generation raised on multi-tasking and perfectly capable of absorbing multi-messaging. And if you have to break it down to get it, you don’t get it.
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March 9, 2007
It’s stake-in-the-ground time. Here’s a look at some unknown Chinese automotive brands that are likely to become major players in a few years, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Shanghai Automotive (SAIC), Chery, and Brilliance may be the GM, Ford, and Chrysler of the 21st Century. Indeed, Chery already has a deal with Chrysler, and SAIC owns a potentially valuable legacy brand in Rover.

I’m not going out on a limb like I did with Lenovo (and I can’t help but think that really smart management there would have achieved the market position I had predicted), because the legislative hurdles to be overcome stretch the timeline beyond what I can get my little brain around. With each month, more variables appear, change, or vanish; it’s almost an exercise in chaos theory to predict which brand will emerge, and where, and how. But let there be no doubt, the Chinese automakers are a-comin’.
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March 8, 2007
Here’s one man’s look at how Staples advertising is flanking that of rival Office Depot, from SeekingAlpha via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s not as simple as new advertising model vs. old advertising model. The reality is that with approximately equivalent exposure, the more-relevant, more-engaging message wins, regardless of format or medium. It could be brand/programming integration. It could be mobile marketing. It could be a 30-second TV commercial. It could even be, wonder of wonders, a print ad.

What’s more, media users have always been able to opt out, as easily as flipping a page, leaving the room, or simply zoning out for a few seconds. That’s always been the problem with traditional media ratings metrics. Advertising isn’t about the number of views, it’s about the number of engagements. Where TiVo brings something new to the table, is in its ability to count the people who re-play a commercial. That’s a useful measure of pre-retail level audience engagement.

The point about campaign integration, though, is well taken. Staples has done a masterful job at bringing their marketing message to life in both tangible and intangible forms.
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March 7, 2007
The intrusion of gas pumpcasting is forcing its way deeper into everyday life.  Here’s the story, from the San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, consumers have a choice. My wife, for instance, stopped going to the local Exxon station after it installed video screens that aired television programming while the gas pump ran. Because she’s not particularly brand-loyal when it comes to gasoline, she switched not only stations but brands to get away from the pumpcasts.

Me, I don’t usually go to that station (it’s on the wrong side of the street for my most-traveled routes) but when I do I rarely see the pumpcasts because I’m washing the windshield and logging my mileage.

However, now that I think of it, shouldn’t the gas prices be lower at that station than elsewhere? After all, the pumpcasts are another profit center, right?

I think these could be made much more interactive. You know, watch the ad, answer a question at the end, and get a few cents per gallon discount. Then there would be something in it for the customer, which would make it both worth watching and trackable.

As it stands, there’s nothing in it for the customer except more noise. And there’s a big difference between being an effective channel of marketing communication, and being noise.
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March 6, 2007
Television network ABC has ordered up a pilot episode of a half-hour sitcom based on the GEICO cavemen. Here’s the story, from the Wall Street Journal via the Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is not the first time advertising has crossed over into mainstream entertainment, but it’s been a while since there’s been a convergence of this scale. It’s worth noting that neither GEICO nor its ad agency will retain any creative control over the TV program; they’ve merely licensed the characters. Sort of like what kinda sorta tried to happen with the sock puppet a few years back.

Which brings up yet another way to monetize ad creative: licensing. Sports teams do it all the time, along with many travel and lifestyle brands.

Is an inspired set of characters enough to achieve this kind of breakthrough, or is there more to it? The answer lies buried in the article: “The characters have achieved celebrity status, thanks in part to Geico’s enormous ad budget.”

So it’s a reach and frequency game after all, or at least this iteration is. But the rise of alternative media channels opens a huge opportunity for even more character-based advertising.
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March 5, 2007
Here’s a report on the rising star of mobile marketing, from Adweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the industry shake-out continues to decentralize control of the marketing message. Key quote:

Agencies overestimate their relevance to marketers, as those clients are already relegating them to a more fractionalized role, according to findings from Forrester Research. In a recent online survey of 141 marketing and agency executives, an overwhelming number – 93 percent – believe their contributions drive their clients’ marketing success, while only 63 percent of marketers feel the same way.

Yikes! Of course, there is this snip offering hope to those both smart enough and hungry enough to take it and run:

... nearly 60 percent of respondents cited “creative” as the next main reason to outsource work.

Put it together, and you see that more companies are looking beyond their primary ad agency for both core messaging and superior creative. That’s a huge growth opportunity for smaller shops and independent creative teams.
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March 2, 2007
I have two examples today of media extension. The first is about the BBC/YouTube deal, from the Associated Press via Kiplinger Forecasts (Washington, DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the BBC is showing an enlightened attitude about the balance between promotion and protection of its intellectual property. Key snip:

Ashley Highfield, the BBC’s director of future media and technology, said the BBC would not hunt down all BBC-copyrighted clips already uploaded by YouTube members, but would reserve the right to swap poor-quality clips with the real thing, or to have content removed that had been edited or altered in a way that would damage the BBC’s brand.

“We don’t want to be overzealous,” he said. “A lot of the material on YouTube is good promotional content for us.”

On the other hand, having trailers and clips is a far cry from having full-blown programming, which brings us to the second example, a multi-partner deal between broadcasters and Verizon Wireless to let you watch television shows on your mobile phone. The story comes from (Woodland Hills, CA) via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Suddenly, what used to be the television networks are the content providers, and the wireless network is the media channel. This is a huge shift in both the media and creative industries, and the speed with which both evolve is only going to increase. You either have to embrace it or become caught in the backwaters of communication.
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March 1, 2007
Old celebrities don’t fade away, they’re reborn as advertising pitchmen. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via the International Herald-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

One of the risks in using a current celebrity in advertising, is that his or her personal brand will overshadow the advertiser’s. Figures from the past evoke a non-specific warmth that’s easier to transfer to a product or service.

Key quote:

“They are making use of the peripheral rather than the central route to persuasion,” said Rod Martin, professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario and the author of “The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach.”

It is “difficult to make a compelling, logical, rational argument for these products’ superiority over their rivals,” Martin said, so advertisers need to “evoke positive associations with the product in the minds of the viewers without encouraging them to think too much about it.”

In other words, from start to finish, it’s about branding.
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Backwards in time to February 2007

My experience as a copywriter.

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Advertising strategy and other lies
An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books
Brands and branding: a white paper
Do you make these mistakes in advertising?
Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
Four ad copy traps that ensnare even experienced copywriters
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How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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Phone and fax: (619) 465-6100

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
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