John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
March 2008

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March 31 2008
The town council of Florence, Arizona recently considered spending some money – along with a matching Federal grant – to rebrand. They voted no. Here’s the story from the Casa Grande Dispatch (Casa Grande, AZ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s some free marketing advice, easily worth the $110,000. To conflate Florence, Arizona with Paris, France and New York City is delusional. Florence, Arizona doesn’t need a brand. What they need is bandwidth – otherwise known as reach and frequency. If you don’t advertise, don’t do PR, and don’t market yourself to potential customers, having a brand just means you have a nice logo to go on all the stuff you’re not doing.

The town council made the right decision; perhaps for the wrong reasons.

On another note, I’m going to post this link because it’s a beautifully written piece that captures a slice of the American heartland. It’s from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Because advertising fundamentally promotes a consumer culture, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on in the real world. But as that disconnect grows, the advertising drifts away from real relevance and becomes increasingly self-referential, self-centered, and self-indulgent. And then, suddenly, it starts to fail.

You can’t create relevant advertising in a vacuum.
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March 28 2008
I often get asked how to go about switching from some other department into the creative department. My answer is: I don’t know. I’ve never personally known anyone who successfully made the switch. Well, apparently, that’s true in the media department as well. Here’s a Q&A column from Media Life Magazine (Herndon, VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve mooted one answer that this column doesn’t mention. If your career in advertising is going down the wrong path, at a certain point it may be easier to jump ship entirely and start your own ad agency than to switch careers to your new chosen path. Like moving up, moving out requires you to make the transition from specialist to generalist, which carries with it a host of other demands and responsibilities.

This illustrates the importance of that first agency job. Get it right, and you’re on your way to a lifetime of job challenges you’ll enjoy. Get it wrong, and you could end up having to make drastic changes to get out of the rut.
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March 27 2008
Another obituary, this one about Herb Peterson, a fellow who started out at McDonald’s ad agency writing slogans and ended up owning several McDonald’s franchises and inventing the Egg McMuffin. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press, via The Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Peterson’s other claim to fame, was writing McDonald’s very first national advertising slogan: “Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day.” As a slogan, it’s as good as anything else that’s been done in the past 40 years – at least it makes a promise, although when you think about it, it’s kind of a lame promise. You know, why wouldn’t they start fresh every day – what do others do, squirrel away yesterday’s cheeseburgers for sale today? Maybe that was a valid concern back then.

Still, had there were 40 years of continual investment in it, it’d be huge. Bigger than an Egg McMuffin; we’re talking Big Mac big. But, like nearly every other company, McDonald’s had branding attention-deficit disorder, and went changing slogans every few years. Now, there is at last international commitment to a slogan: the intentionally vague “I’m Lovin’ It.” The fact that such a line is catching on, is proof of the importance of sheer volume in embedding a corporate tagline in mindspace.
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March 26 2008
Hal Riney, an art director turned ad agency head, died yesterday. Here’s the story, from the San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Riney was an art director who influenced a generation of copywriters, with his finely tuned sense of conversational copy; copy that was straightforward and casual, yet powerfully compelling. His ads told stories; moreover, they brought the viewer into the story. You really believed in these two guys Bartles and Jaymes, or that the future would be rosy and bright under Ronald Reagan, or that buying a Saturn car meant becoming part of a community. Powerful stuff.

I did not know that the Carpenter’s hit (and signature) song “We’ve Only Just Begun” was originally commissioned for a Riney-directed TV spot for Crocker Bank. It was written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols; Williams also performed it for the commercial. It pre-dated Coke’s use of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” by about a year.

Anyway, :60 of silence to honor one of advertising’s greats.
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March 25 2008
Last year saw a mere fraction of a percentage gain in ad spending, according to a report just released by TNS Media Intelligence. Here’s the story, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I see a mixed bag. On the one hand, web advertising grew nearly 16%, and magazine advertising (don’t write off print media yet) rose 7%. On the other hand, spot TV advertising dropped 10.2%, local newspaper advertising dropped 5.6%, and radio advertising dropped 3.5%.

I think these numbers need to be filtered through the realization that media are converging. Ad dollars spent in the local newspaper may well result in ads both in print and online; which medium gets credit for the sale? Also, many an online campaign gets launched in traditional media. There’s more media crossover than ever before.

A more realistic overview of ad spending, might be aggregating market presence across all media on a per-capita basis. Yeah, that doesn’t factor in targeting, but neither does the current media-driven breakdown. Aw, heck, maybe you need both.

It is interesting to see that radio ad spending is down. That makes for a nice competitive advantage for radio advertisers (and remember, a lot of radio programming ends up streaming online). And (ahem) radio copywriters.
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March 24 2008
Cool car company Scion now lets owners create a personal logo for their cars. Here’s the story, from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

No, they’re not letting owners mess with the Scion logo. It’s about add-on decor that may be free to create, but could cost thousands to execute.

It’s kind of a cool thing, but it’s still one-way communication. Mere interactivity is not dialog. I think this might have been much cooler.

Still, if this marketing experiment pays for itself, that might be good enough.
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March 23 2008
It’s Easter Sunday and my lovely hometown is looking for a miracle. Because, if current travel and tourism forecasts hold true, it looks like a pretty meager summer for the local tourism industry. Here’s the story from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is going full-bore to attract tourists, conventions, events, and meetings. After all, San Diego is an ideal drive-to vacation from points throughout the southwest. Two big questions remain: can people afford to drive here, and can they afford to take time off work (those that have work).

Meanwhile, we’re rolling into a gorgeous springtime – one of the best in years – which bodes well for a glorious summer.

So come to beautiful San Diego! It may be less crowded than you think.
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March 21 2008
It has been two years since the state of Washington launched, amid great fanfare, its new state ad slogan: “SayWA.” Yeah, I’d forgotten too. But it comes up again in this recent column from The News-Tribune (Tacoma, WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I want to reassure the columnist that more time and money invested in "SayWA" would have been wasted. The thing was misdirected to begin with, as I pointed out at the time (Ad Blog March 16, 2006):

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.

The tourism office’s rationale was a desperate reach that fell far short. I think having a constant presence beats having a slogan, no matter whether that slogan is great, mediocre, or really really bad.
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March 20 2008
And now for something upbeat after yesterday’s downer of an Ad Blog entry. At the New York International Auto Show, American car brands are showcasing products from everywhere for everywhere in an aggressive effort at brand globalization. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

It doesn’t matter any more where the product is manufactured or where the product launch takes place. As the article points out, Buick chose to unveil its Riviera concept in Beijing, where this quintessentially American luxury marque holds significant market share, and so far has no plans to bring the Riviera to its birthplace, the U.S.

Yes, all the automakers are predicting sales slumps and layoffs as the recession gets deeper. But, in the mad scramble to differentiate, streamline, and make relevant, it sure seems like cars are getting fun again.
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March 19 2008
Tibet. Darfur. Advertising. Sponsors of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are finding themselves walking on eggshells, trying to balance ethics, politics, and their investment in the games. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

These issues were predicted years and years ago, even as Beijing was being mooted as a potential host city. Once the decision was made to hand the Olympic Games to a nation with a history of human rights abuses, pollution, and what seems like state-sponsored contempt for freedom, the stage was set. And, likewise, the issues with sponsoring the Games had to have been predicted. But the payoff was just too big, or so it seemed at the time the deal was signed (and remember, those were heady days of global expansion and lots of newfound wealth).

The payoff may still be big enough to overcome objections from almost any quarter, because the market potential in China is 100% new growth opportunity for most of the sponsors. In terms of new market share, it may be as big as the rest of the world put together. Which is why consumer protests may ultimately fail. The sponsors may be able to lose market share everywhere else as a consequence of their support for Beijing, and still come out ahead if they can get a toehold in China.

That may be “smart business,” but it’s a rotten deal for the human race.
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March 18 2008
New research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the University of Waterloo, Canada indicates that mere exposure to a familiar logo makes you behave in alignment with the brand character. Here’s the story, from Duke University via
Advertising copywriter blog link

This appears to have been a careful study. Unfortunately, there was no control group, only two groups exposed to two different logos incidental to what they thought they were doing.

Advertising professionals typically pooh-pooh the whole “subliminal seduction” theory propounded by Wilson Bryan Key and other self-proclaimed researchers into the world of advertising (among other things, his early work reveals an almost complete ignorance of real-world print and film production). However, this Duke/Waterloo research is the first real academic study showing that subliminal flashes of well-known logos actually can affect behavior. In other words, Key had the right basic idea; he just went looking for it in the wrong places, equipped with the wrong visual vocabulary. (That brings up the topic of the influence of observer bias, which I’ll get into some other day.)

To get back to the research, it’s important to note that the findings are based on logos that are well-known and strongly connected with specific traits. The Apple/IBM test, for example, rendered a strong result. The Disney/E! Channel test also rendered a strong result. A GE/Whirlpool test, or a Chevrolet/Ford test, or even an HP/Dell test, would probably be utterly inconclusive and open to all sorts of manipulative interpretation.

I think I’ll end this on the same note as yesterday’s entry, if only to illustrate the prescience of Marshall McLuhan (The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, 1967):

“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible. The groundrules, pervasive structure, and over-all patterns of environments elude easy perception.

In advertising, power doesn’t come from being in the environment. Power comes from being the environment.
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March 17 2008
Online video has passed the point of being “hot” and is now just another utility. Which leaves content providers in an quandary over how to best monetize those eyeballs. Here’s a look at online video advertising, from the Associated Press via ABC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

By coincidence, I happened to watch several online television episodes from several networks over the weekend. The German programs from WDR (I watched Der Grosse Finanz-Check and Hier und Heute) still have no commercials, and the ones from the BBC (I watched a couple Working Lunch programs) say that they’re ad-supported but so far carry no ads.

The TV episodes on MSN, however, carry a payload of pre-roll and in-show commercials. I watched an episode of The Office that I’d missed, an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and several episodes of McHale’s Navy. And here’s the thing I found annoying: the utter lack of targeting and relevance. Come on, it doesn’t take a media genius to know that someone who’s catching up on The Office is in a very different mindspace than someone who’s whiling away time with a black-and-white sitcom from the 1960s. Why run the exact same spots? Why even take the same approach?

You want your net video ad to gain attention while reducing annoyance? Be relevant. Integrate the message with the media space – not just the technical medium but also the creative content. Marshall McLuhan said it back in 1967: the Medium is the Massage.
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March 13 2008
This is hilarious, and an incredible time-waster. It’s a website called Make Radio, and  in it you get to mix a music track, sound effects, and snippets of dialog into a :30 radio spot for a fake scented candle company. Here’s the story, from Creativity Online (NY): 
Advertising copywriter blog link

What do you call this? It can’t be consumer-generated content since there’s no product. It’s not a spoof or a parody, because the competition itself is real, or has transmogrified into reality. It’s sort of pointlessly interactive and engaging though.

No, I take that back. The point, is to win the competition, an actual Radio Mercury award.

So far, the entries are really, really weak, most apparently from people who were just twiddling the controls. So, go for it! You have until mid-May. Oh, and here’s a link to the actual website (not linked in the article):
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March 12 2008
The Super Bowl is long over, but the advertising goes on and on and on. Here’s a follow-up about a Coke commercial that was among the most remembered and talked-about weeks after game day, from the Wall Street Journal via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA): 
Advertising copywriter blog link

The commercial went through a variety of iterations, from the characters to the ending. I especially liked that the concept was saved by the input of a 12-year-old. Great ideas are everywhere, and come from everyone.

One thought, though, occurred to me. Here’s this four-month-long production to create a $2.3 million TV spot. And you know what? You could’ve done the whole thing in a radio spot quicker and for a lot less money.
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March 11 2008
I was right about Google’s lower reported click-through rates not being an indication of trouble, and instead being an indication of straightening up its ad program. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s what I said back on February 27: “Running a profitable online ad program isn’t about your click-through rate; it’s about your conversion rate.  And here’s what Google’s North American president of commerce and advertising said about the drop in click-throughs: “Conversions are a better metric by which to gauge the effectiveness of a campaign.”

Yup, never mind the stock market; Google still knows what it’s doing.
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March 10 2008
As the economy tanks, the entire retail industry is taking a huge hit. Here’s the bad news, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Even the discounters have to discount now, and back end-cap clearance cruising at Target, once practiced for fun, is now practiced with desperate intensity. And, as niche retailers fold up their tents, one has to wonder if they are preceding a similar decline for niche marketing and niche media. That runs counter to what I said in Friday’s entry about direct mail.

In a worst-case scenario, this devolution has us all watching mass-market television again, and buying everything at Wal-Mart. Which is not too far a cry from what’s happening.

The irony is that niche marketing in niche media is a highly cost-efficient way to reach optimal prospects at the optimal time with an optimally relevant message. (Which, in turn, begs two questions. First, is it possible to survive in a niche? I think you can if you don’t get greedy. Second, have niche marketing experts gotten lazy? I rather think they have, substituting short-cuts and boilerplate tactics for relationships and relevance.)

Ultimately, mass could be like horsepower. You can do all the fine-tuning you want, but there’s just no substitute for it when the chips are down.
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March 7 2008
In the world of direct response, junk mail finds an ally in ... the U.S. government? Yup. Here’s a story about the U.S. Postal Service and its reliance on commercial mail to make its numbers, from the Washington Post (DC) via the Honolulu Advertiser (HI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As discussed yesterday, consumers are more and more willing to exchange some privacy to receive relevant advertising. The problem with a mass mailing, is that it’s exactly that: it’s mailed to a mass instead of to an individual.

I think the future of direct mail lies in creating tightly targeted lists, and then using first-class mail to reach individual consumers with a customized, relevant message. Such lists exist. The technology is there. None of this is new or difficult. Heck, our auto mechanic does this.

Bulk-rate is dying because bulk messaging is dying.
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March 6 2008
Webwise, a system that will serve online ads based on behavioral targeting, passes its first test on privacy protection. Here’s the story about the system and its upcoming release with three UK-based ISPs, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Behind the curtain, the results are anonymized, and no specific pageview can be ascribed to a specific individual. Or so we think.

In the U.S., one wonders what those in charge of national security might make of such a real-time web surveillance system. And, on more nefarious grounds, or at least grounds more relevant to advertising, one wonders how scrupulous the ad firm will be once it embeds the system to obtain the data. It’s valuable data to marketers, no doubt about it. But it seems like advertisers are being offered just a taster compared to what could be available to them, perhaps, at the right price, and it’s the future of this system that has some privacy advocates worried. For now, the safety is on. But it could easily be switched off.

Meanwhile, consumers themselves are signaling an increased willingness to allow their online movements to be tracked, in exchange for more relevant advertising. That’s one more indication of a sea change in consumer attitudes.
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March 5 2008
Just a quick one about an airline ad characterized as misleading by a government agency after a complaint by a rival airline. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I guess the thing I find amusing, is that the complainer was Ryanair, which consistently garners headlines for controversial ads. (See the Ad Blog entries for January 31 2008, April 7 2006, and August 9 2005 for examples.)

On the other hand, it’s probably because the company is an aggressive marketer that it can recognize a threat when it sees one. It would be perfectly in character for Ryanair’s next step to be a spoof of the Easyjet ad.
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March 4 2008
I think one set of important advertising metrics concerns what happens during tough times. Here’s a look at how real estate companies are dealing with falling home sales, reduced consumer confidence, and the mortgage mess, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the move to digital media was well on its way before any of this happened. The relative ease of tracking ROI with online media compared to traditional media made it easier to justify maintaining or increasing the ad spend there. By comparison, the traditional media efforts seem colorless and strained. You can almost sense the desperation in them.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Century 21’s relatively strong brand helps it transcend the market. It should, if it’s managed well. But even a strong brand represents only one asset among many.
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March 3 2008
Just a quick follow-up about the role of gift cards in accounting for retailer’s sales, something I’ve wondered about once in a great while over the past few years (January 2 2007, January 7 2005). Here’s a look at how a retailer’s bankruptcy affects gift cards, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The part I glommed onto was about five paragraphs down: “Chapter 11 bankruptcy ... treats gift cards as a loan to the company, not as cash.” That follows what I said earlier, based on my own gut feeling, that gift card sales represent income in the quarter they were paid for but liabilities against future sales because you’ve essentially advanced income into a previous quarter.

Treating such an advance against future sales as a debt makes sense, which is why it follows that gift card sales are treated, by many retailers, as liabilities until they are redeemed. Now I think I understand. It only took me three years.

I have no idea what this has to do with advertising creative, other than that gift cards are a part of marketing – both as a product and as a branded promotional tool – and I think marketing should make sense.
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March 2 2008
As the American auto industry dies off, brand by brand (the last few years have killed Oldsmobile and Plymouth, for instance), new brands are springing up. Well, not entirely new brands. Here’s a Sunday story about a recent Renault-Nissan tie-up with Russian automotive brand Lada, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The key, is that the plan is to move forward with the existing brand, not just leverage the existing manufacturing and distribution infrastructure. That’s similar to what Volkswagen did with the Skoda brand in Europe, in a few years changing perceptions of the brand from a punchline to serious contender. (Serious enough that, when we were in Germany four years ago, most people were surprised to hear that we have no Skoda cars in the U.S.)

Don’t be too surprised to see Lada – or Lada-based cars – fighting for U.S. market share along with the imports from China, Korea, and (one hopes) rejuvenated offerings from our own auto industry.
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Backwards in time to February 2008

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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