John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
March 2011

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March 22 2011
Insurer Aflac is looking for a new voice for the Aflac duck, after firing comedian Gilbert Gottfried over his tweets joking about the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Even with a made-up mascot it’s possible to run into trouble with celebrity misbehavior. All you have to do is hire a celebrity.

The thing is, this was preventable. There was no real reason to go with Gottfried when there were lots of other voice actors who could’ve been just as grating, just as annoyingly charming. It’s a duck, after all, a fictionalized duck. Hiring a known celebrity to voice the Aflac duck is like hiring Hulk Hogan to voice the Jolly Green Giant. Yeah, he could do it, and maybe do it well, but so could a lot of other unknown people.

Yeah, maybe it was Gottfried’s brand that sold the concept to the client. Maybe. After all, the Aflac duck didn’t start out as an advertising icon. Maybe Gottfried was a key part of the success. But to me, the duck’s celebrity voice always stole something from the purity of the concept. If you’re going to create something, create it all the way, without the lift from someone else’s brand.

Who voiced the Jolly Green Giant? Or the Pillsbury Doughboy? Or Tony the Tiger?

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March 21 2011
Just weeks after airing its vaunted first-ever TV commercial, on the Super Bowl no less, Groupon slams the ad agency that created the spot. Here’s the story, from Advertising Age:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t entirely understand why you would even undertake such a task on a project basis. (Yeah, money, but it’s not all about money.) For the ad agency, such a deal makes explicit the lack of an ongoing relationship, to say nothing of the trust, collaboration, and due diligence that goes into building and maintaining a relationship. For the client, the deal all but ensures short-term thinking with a big bang and minimal brand-building or accountability.

So why is it a surprise that this is how it ended up?

In a down economy, an ad campaign for Groupon could have had real heart. Instead, the creative team went for laughs, trivializing the medium, the message, and the client. But it’ll look good on the agency reel. And, for something that was just a project, maybe that’s all that mattered.

Except that it isn’t.
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March 9 2011
It must be something in the air. Just the other day I mentioned Toyota’s slow rise to US market domination, and today there’s a feature story about Toshiaki “Tag” Taguchi, who played a big part in that growth from the mid-60s through the early 00s. Here it is, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Toyota’s brand was made in the 1970s and 80s, during Taguchi’s tenure at Toyota North America. In a time of rising gas prices and a buckling economy, gas-sipping compact cars were easy sales. Unfortunately, the compact car market offered vehicles like the execrable Renaults and Fiats of the day (Brava, anyone?), or the woeful Chevrolet Chevette, or the dowdy-but-reputation-impaired Ford Pinto. Even VW was having problems following up the Beetle. Against that background, to sell a small, economical car that was actually dependable was a huge breakthrough – and that simple fact built the fortunes of Toyota and Nissan, at least.

It’s also worth noting, as I have before, that Toyota became a top automotive brand without a slogan or tagline.

Branding isn’t what you say. It’s what you do. That’s why Toyota’s corporate actions (or inactions) while a crisis unfolded did so much damage. And that’s also why the findings that cleared the automaker of electronic flaws is no “vindication.” The problem doesn’t lie in engineering, it lies in branding. And the solution is to return to having a relationship in full with customers, something that got streamlined out on the way to #1.
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March 7 2011
I saw this over the weekend, and had to share it. It’s a look at new market research tools using eye-tracking and facial expression recognition. Here’s the story, from the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Regardless of technology, I think market research will always be a gray area, as much art as science. Saying that software that can identify human expressions and log eye movements is like saying software can break a piece of art or architecture into golden sections and other mathematical formulae. It’s both true and only slightly relevant to creating the end result. A computer can no more read hearts and minds as a predictor of future behavior than it can create art.

And that future in which “no product is doomed to flop”? It sounds pretty dismal, a future without Apple Lisas to herald Macs or Toyopet Crowns to pave the way for Toyota Corollas and Camrys. People don’t always know what they want, even after they see it, and sea changes are rarely welcomed. If it were so, it would be the end of risk-taking, which spells the end of innovation itself.

Fortunately, I don’t believe it’ll come to that.
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March 4 2011
Under new Chinese ownership, Volvo has a “brand guy” at its head. Here’s how CEO Stefan Jacoby sees the immediate future of the Volvo brand, from Ad Age Global:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are definitely things to celebrate here. First is the fact that the CEO is ordering a massive branding makeover without also ordering an agency review. Jacoby’s comment that the current ad agency hasn’t had a good brief in a long time is spot on. And refreshing.

Second is the return to Volvo’s brand strength: safety. Volvo has so much equity in that position, that even though it walked away from it for years, no one else was able to stake a claim and make it stick.

The third thing to celebrate: Jacoby doesn’t see the brand wrapped up in a tagline. Heresy! At last!

Make the right product and position it the right way to the right market, and you don’t need no stinkin’ tagline. The brand lives in the product, the customer, and, most-important, the relationship between them. Do marriages have taglines? No? Then why long-term relationships between brands and their customers?

The one area where I reserve doubt, is Volvo’s ability to move upscale into the luxury market (e.g. BMW and Mercedes), at least in the U.S. and other developed markets. The mass luxury market is increasingly saturated with well-entrenched competition. The sexy innovation battle is being waged, not over safety, but over green technologies, leading to the rise of more luxury entrants like Fisker. There was a time when Volvo could run ads that visibly demonstrated its position. Now, much of that could be matched; safety has moved from being a differentiator to being a commodity. Without something absolutely spectacular to demonstrate, I don’t think that’s enough to pull the brand upmarket.

I could be wrong. On the other hand, the last successful automotive brand to enter the luxury market was Lexus, which was purpose-built to enable separation from its Toyota parent while still enjoying the benefits of connection. But remember, Lexus started out as a value luxury vehicle. It wasn’t until recently that it became a premium brand in its own right and a halo product line for Toyota.
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March 3 2011
There’s something subversive in me that makes me love bootleg ads and other guerrilla marketing tactics. In Seattle, companies are parsing the municipal codes on building signage so as to enable huge “on-site signs” that are, for all intents and purposes, advertising billboards. Here’s the story, from King 5 News (Seattle, WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, businesses are allowed to promote what they sell with on-site signage. Fair enough. But now, with major brands using pop-up retail stalls and kiosks, it’s easy to sell, say, airline or lottery tickets remotely. The point of the retail presence, though, isn’t to sell, although that’s a bonus if it happens. The point is to validate the presence of the sign.

After all, the billboards are about Alaska Airlines, not teapots or collectibles, presumably the primary products available at the two shops mentioned in the story. I wonder what the shop owners receive in exchange for offering Alaska Airlines gift certificates. In an economic time when retailers, especially small independent shops, are suffering, financial consideration from a major company could make the difference between survival and failure.

It appears that King 5 News, at least, wants the practice halted. You can’t say that’s completely unreasonable; the signs clearly violate the law’s intent. But then, that’s what bootlegs are all about. And these “signs” are some of the biggest bootlegs I’ve seen.
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March 1 2011
I saw this in this morning’s Wall Street Journal: fully interactive billboards that can recognize facial expressions and behaviors. Here’s the story, not from WSJ (because it’d be behind a paywall) but from the folks at brandchannel:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This would be very cool, except that it’s being deployed to target children.

Of course, I can understand why. Kids are growing up in an age of digital connectedness and electronic engagement. They’ll see it and get it, intuitively, as opposed to their parents, who will have to be enticed to spend time with the thing. So, if you’re rolling out a new interactive technology, especially one that relies on the user to take the lead in interacting with it, children are the low-hanging fruit.

I just have a big problem with children being viewed as so much meat on the hoof for marketers.
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Backwards in time to February 2011

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Advertising strategy and other lies
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
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The ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
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When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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