John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
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May 2008

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May 30 2008
Today I have a continuation of what I was talking about on May 26 and even earlier, on March 19, about recent events in China, the Olympic Games, and advertising. Here’s an interesting article about the fine line marketers are having to tread, from the Hollywood Reporter (NY) via Reuters and Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So there are roses among those thorns, roses as as rich – and as fleeting – as a flash of gold.  However, and despite events and reactions, the return of advertising is inevitable. As long as there’s an Olympic Games to sponsor, there’s too much at stake for those sponsors to not move forward with their marketing plans.

These days, the Olympic competition is one of marketing rather than athletics, and it’s the ads, not the games, that take center stage. 
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May 29 2008
Call this entry “Selling It.” I have two, the first a sublimely ridiculous look at the marketing - and demise - of a heavily advertised herbal male enhancement supplement, coupled with its president and founder (and possibly his mother) heading off to prison for fraud. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t quite understand how the company itself is going to keep going, but branding was never an issue so a name change won’t matter. This was all snake oil, and snake oil is never about the brand, it’s about the product. Which is why branding must make up a part of any legitimate product advertising.

And, speaking of snake oil, here’s an article about automakers’ latest twist on promotions, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

So discounts are being re-packaged as gas price guarantees in a form of, um, sale enhancement. I think inquiries will go up, dealer traffic will go up, and test drives will go up. But saving $2-3 per gallon on gas for the next few years isn’t going to make or break the purchase decision.

I think that way for two reasons. First, a customer who responds strongly to a gas discount may have other financial issues that will stymie the purchase; this offer self-selects the wrong audience. Second, I think people will spend their money carefully in this economy, ultimately choosing to buy the best product for their purposes. And, unfortunately, Chrysler just doesn’t have competitive products in the hot categories right now.
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May 28 2008
Here’s a follow-up to my entry on May 16, about companies resurrecting dead brands. Now Kellogg Co. is reviving the Hydrox sandwich cookie, purportedly in response to overwhelming consumer demand but pragmatically just another way to get some buzz for a short-term product. Here’s the story, from The Record (Hackensack, NJ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s interesting about the Hydrox/Oreo story, is that the much-touted first mover advantage was, in classical tradition, overwhelmed by sheer volume. The result: the better-backed later entry not only took all the market share, but took over the emotional mindshare as well. After a while, even the straightforward truth was no longer credible.

This is why such marketing positions as “the first” or “the original” are so shaky, even given people’s inclination toward authenticity. Authenticity and originality in product positioning are more functions of perception than truth.
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May 27 2008
Here’s an interesting article about behavioral targeting based on tracking and sorting people based on their web surfing habits, from The Washington Post (DC) via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve occasionally wondered why I don’t see more-targeted online ads. No matter where I go, and my work demands that I be a fairly promiscuous web surfer, none of the ads seem particularly relevant or even remotely targeted. And here’s why: my behavior trumps their behavioral targeting. I dump my cookies and cache at least twice a day, and always at the end of the day before powering down. Yeah, it means I have to log back onto certain sites, but that’s a minor annoyance.

With the ease of dumping, blocking, or selecting tracking cookies, you could almost call behavioral targeting an opt-in system, except that very few people have expressly opted in.
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May 26 2008
Today is a holiday for some; I’m actually taking most of today off but had to point out this article, from BBC News, about the uphill battle Chinese companies face in going global with their brands:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Notably, it’s not about financial or economic clout, both of which China Inc. has in spades. It’s about what the article calls “soft power,” or what in marketing circles might be termed emotional resonance. Many nations would turn China’s recent hand into a big winner: a major natural disaster to unify the world in an outpouring of support, followed by hosting the Olympic Games, a global feel-good event if ever there was one. Yet, China persists in fumbling the ball in both areas. And companies based in China have to deal with the fallout.

A few years ago, I had pegged Lenovo as the rising power in PCs, even predicting that it would knock out HP to challenge Dell for global supremacy. I misjudged how the cultural differences would play out, and HP has come out strong while Lenovo – and, to a lesser extent, Dell – seem hampered by missteps in the marketplace.

Still, here in Southern California, we have a Chinese automaker coming to our doorstep in the form of factories in Mexico, factories built with a gleaming eye on the U.S. market. The next few decades should hold some interesting brand development projects!
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May 22 2008
Yet another region launches a new marketing campaign aimed at attracting business. This time it’s the Greater Dalton area of northwest Georgia. Here’s the story, from the local newspaper, The Daily Citizen (Dalton, GA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The new slogan: “Greater Dalton. Where Inspiration Lives.” Yeah.

Well now, it’s no better and not significantly worse than most regional advertising slogans that result from political-governmental committees. But this one might have a shot at working. Why? Because it’s starting with a soft launch, an overt buy-in campaign aimed at local business leaders.

Key snip:

“Any campaign like this is sort of a building,” said Chuck Dobbins, chairman of the development authority. “The first building block is making sure that our local stakeholders fully believe and are prepared to help us tell the story.

This is a much smarter approach than simply proclaiming the new slogan by decree. Groundwork like this is what often spells the difference between success and failure, especially when addressing diverse internal and external audiences with a message calibrated for obsequiousness.
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May 21 2008
Everything old is new again, and now live television commercials are back in vogue. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via its global online edition, the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Doing a live TV commercial is the ultimate webcam act, at least until webcam traffic to a given site exceeds the size of the audience for a popular television program. That day will come, but it’s not here yet.

Of course, a live webcam commercial might deliver an extremely targeted niche audience, and targeting is something that should not be discounted in the search for higher advertising efficiency.
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May 20 2008
Accessible design may finally come to American currency, as a federal appeals court rules that our paper money discriminates against the blind. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s about time. Actually, a full-scale redesign of American currency might also be an opportunity to eliminate the $1 bill in favor of a $1 coin. I wouldn’t want to see the penny go away, though; a currency system should encompass all of its whole components. If I were to get rid of any coin, it would probably be the nickel. But then, I’m about as far from a finance person as you can find.

American currency was revolutionary, once, for being based on the decimal system; it may even have been the first fully decimal currency system. We have Alexander Hamilton to thank for that, I think. But, those were revolutionary times for the nation.

Anyway, for the U.S. to lag so far behind other nations in adopting currency that can be distinguished by feel is an embarrassment. And, I think it would be a cool design and branding assignment to develop the new paper money.

One thing I’d recommend, just from a branding perspective, is to go back to green. Maybe use more shades or hues of green, but I think the dollar, in any denomination, should be green. That pink blush just never did look right on our greenbacks.
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May 19 2008
Here’s an article from Adweek about advertising on social networks:
Advertising copywriter blog link

You gotta love that subhead. So, “connecting is the key,” huh? Golly, who’d have thunk it?

Thing is, and this is where the new media gurus and social networking experts get it wrong, connecting is the key to success in all advertising media. The challenge isn’t to “mimic the connectivity experience” in social networks; the challenge is to achieve a connectivity experience across all media. The problem isn’t new, and neither is the solution: a campaign.

Which brings up another key point. Creating an ad campaign isn’t just about developing a series of ad concepts that relate to each other. It’s about developing a series of ad concepts that relate to the potential customer, and do so in a cohesive way so as to maximize the impact from a finite media buy.

Furthermore, the advertiser’s goal shouldn’t be to “match” the content. The goal should be to stand out from the content. Or, even better, to be the content, and that’s where a lot of advertisers are still missing the boat.
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May 16 2008
Yesterday I talked about brand extensions. Today I have the ultimate brand extension: brand resurrection. You know, all those brands you haven’t seen in a long time, but vaguely remember when you do see them. Here’s the story, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I love brands and branding stories, so I think this is just fascinating. The great thing about dead brands, is that they almost always have much less negative baggage than current brands. So the time may be right for Montgomery Wards, or Studebaker, or Commodore to make a move.

Here’s a key snip:

The other interesting thing is that when Earle talks about consumer memory, he is factoring in something curious: the faultiness of consumer memory. There is opportunity, he says, not just in what we remember but also in what we misremember.

Not only that, but new advertising can actually implant old memories, custom-tailored to the updated brand experience. So aligning the old brand and the new brand is as simple as putting it out there. Hey, how about that: advertising works.
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May 15 2008
Marketing professor Rohini Ahluwalia from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management has published a paper about brand extensions and the factors that make some succeed and others fail. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

A key finding is that people who are relationship-oriented (including, according to the professor’s findings, women, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics) accept brand extensions more readily than people who see themselves as independent (including white males). Which may be why the Jeep baby stroller, aimed at active women, did better than the Jeep boom box aimed at active men.

So, how do you communicate the relationship of the brand to the new product? Here are some tips:

... advertising copy strategies like using a question headline, pun or metaphors will engage and motivate those with a relational self-view to focus and elaborate on the connection,” advises Ahluwalia. “When this audience is challenged to think about the relationship of the product to the brand, they are even more likely to understand and accept the brand stretch.

Okay, one more long snip to wrap this all up:

“Know your target audience,” Ahluwalia prescribes. “Your customers who relate to an interdependent or relational self-view – like Asian, Hispanic, or female markets – are more likely to accept brand extensions than other people, especially if you capture their attention and get them to think about the brand-product connection.

In other words, the advertising challenge isn’t merely announcing the newly extended brand-to-product relationship. It’s spurring the potential customer to think about that relationship. After all, the most-desired takeaway isn’t, for example, that Jeep makes baby strollers. The key takeaway is that there are baby strollers with the positive brand characteristics associated with Jeep.
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May 14 2008
EBay’s lawsuit against Craigslist (see April 23) is answered with a countersuit alleging theft of trade secrets and illegal competition. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

You know, all the way back on March 9 2005, I said that the eBay and Craigslist communities “may not be the most loving fit.”

That’s because, from the get-go, eBay has been about making money by building a community, while Craigslist has been about building a community by providing services. There are a number of fine distinctions there that cumulatively add up to a bad corporate fit.

No doubt eBay wanted to acquire inside knowledge about building a successful classified ad site. But, if the underlying model remains the same – charging for the service – then pushing the results forward will require a massive capital investment just to get the ball rolling. It’s no good targeting traditional media like newspaper classifieds. That’s already been targeted and hit by Craigslist. There must be a new space to move into, and whatever that is, neither eBay nor anyone else will discover it by obsessing over the past.

Evolution is nothing more than progress. It’s not innovation.
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May 13 2008
Frontier Airlines has developed and maintained a unique brand personality, with the help of animals. Here’s the story, originally from four years ago, from the Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s one of the old standbys: babies and animals. And it still works. Even though this article is something of a time capsule, it’s still notable that the approach survived three different ad agencies; often, a new agency kills the offspring of the previous agency in an attempt to stamp the brand with its own DNA. In this case, there was continuity, and that was a key ingredient in making the effort successful.

I liked that most of the animals have names. And, I enjoyed the bullet points at the end of the article, outlining (among other things) rules about the types of animals to be used and the process for applying the animal image to the airplane’s tail. Buried in the bullets is a key tactical concept: back when the fleet was small, the company decided to put different animals on each side of the tail to make it look like the airline had more planes.

Neat stuff!
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May 12 2008
Midwest ad agency Campbell Mithun is on the rise. Here’s the story, from the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Campbell Mithun once had a presence here in sunny San Diego, but the office, once known as Phillips-Ramsey, was bought by the local managers running it and rechristened MeadsDurket.

Anyway, here’s proof that the fundamentals of advertising don’t change. Media changes, data changes, perceptions change, audiences change. But the underlying principles of persuading someone to buy something just don’t change, no matter how many new media gurus line up to proclaim a “paradigm shift.”

The key principle, articulated by agency founder Ray Mithun in 1933: “a big, pioneering brand idea that communicates the point of the product and its value, driving increased sales and profits. Sounds simple, until you realize that a big part of the reason such simplicity is successful, is that so many other advertising efforts fall short.
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May 9 2008
One of the early victims of any recession is creative advertising, at least in some sectors. Here’s a story about restaurant advertising “returning to basics” (i.e.: showing food and prices), from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have a couple things to say about this. First, I would hardly call Applebee’s $180 million talking apple campaign a creative breakthrough. On October 24 2007, I called it something rather different:

I think this new effort comes off as curmudgeonly whinging instead of hip repositioning. ... Applebee’s is not going to become the key player in “togetherization” (their made-up word) without some core changes in what it offers as a third place. And what makes a third place work isn’t food or appearances or messaging or technology; it’s a sense of belonging.

I don’t know if Applebee’s management or its spiffy new ad agency understands the way social bonding works, which would be a massive shortcoming in developing a marketing campaign that hinges on creating a unique sense of community. And to kick it off by “chastising” potential customers through traditional TV commercials? Oh, that misses the mark on so many levels (creative and media, to name two).

So, I hesitate to call that campaign a victim of a bad economy. It was a victim of bad thinking. Yeah, it could’ve worked, maybe, given enough time and media dollars, but it still would’ve been an inelegant and inefficient solution.

I don’t think throwing out creative communication and going full-bore retail is the answer either. As Ed McCabe said, “Imagination is one of the last remaining legal means you have to gain an unfair advantage over your competition.” While I don’t think it’s a mistake for advertising to feature the product, my key issue is one of differentiation: how to make your beautifully art-directed food shots look better than the next guy’s beautifully art-directed food shots.

Here’s Bob Holtcamp, senior vice president for brand advertising at Wendy’s, on showing the food: “The consumers are now seeing the quality of our food in our advertising. Uh-huh. Because the food shots in McDonald’s ads sure look bad, don’t they? You can just tell it’s lower-quality stuff. Right.

Somehow, I feel like the time is right for a restaurant jingle. Show the food, that’s retail; play the jingle, that’s branding. Yeah. That’s the ticket. Thing is, if it’s done right, it could work.
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May 8 2008
Lots of exciting things happened at Google’s shareholder meeting, and two separate demonstrations of having it both ways. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, a Google-Yahoo ad hook-up looks more likely than ever, which was thought to be exactly the thing Microsoft wanted to prevent. Since no one’s merging or buying, it’s just an ordinary business deal for one party to serve ads on the other party’s network. Okay, a really big business deal. But, and this is the clever bit, it’s a deal that neatly sidesteps any talk of the formation of a monopoly. A win for Google, a win for Yahoo, a solid strike against Microsoft which benefits them both, and almost no likelihood of government intervention. You couldn’t have planned it better.

The other cool thing, was that one of the majority shareholders, company co-founder Sergey Brin, abstained from voting on the two shareholder motions I mentioned yesterday. His abstention may not mean much in terms of what will happen internally; both proposals will be shot down. But it does give a huge lift externally, to Google’s brand image.
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May 7 2008
Just a quick one to point out that there may be limits to how far a brand can stretch. Look at Google, a phenomenally successful brand by any measure and the third major player in the recent Microsoft-Yahoo thing. Yet, the expansion and growth of that brand has led to serious conflicts about what the brand stands for. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

When Google went into China, it put its whole image on the line. How would this innovative, free-wheeling company, self-dedicated to doing no evil, work with the restrictive, repressive, and regressive Chinese government?

Google’s argument was that openness and freedom would come in time, and that meanwhile, more harm than good would come of depriving Chinese businesses and consumers of the tools Google offers, even if in temporarily hobbled form.

But now, there are shareholder motions that urge Google to resist censorship, one of the core requirements of its doing business in China, and form a human rights committee. There’s no way either will pass. But the fact that this should come up tarnishes the brightly human brand image Google has fought hard to maintain.
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May 6 2008
Buying advertising time on the next Super Bowl will start at a record $3 million for 30 seconds, or a cool hundred grand per second. Here’s the story, from The Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is one of those reminders that, like many others, the ad industry spends more time looking back than looking forward. Like coaches who make their plans based on last season’s winning plays, or investment counselors who base recommendations on last quarter’s results, or generals who fight wars based on what won the last one, the ad people who rely on this kind of thinking will invariably stumble. Really, it’s a fluke when it works.

Betting that the value of the Super Bowl audience will match last year’s is like betting that the 2009 Super Bowl will feature the Giants and the Patriots, or that the Giants will win it 17-14. Who’d take that bet? Then why take it with media dollars?

Oh, that’s right, it’s the client’s money that’s being spent.

I think media people should borrow a phrase from investment people: past performances does not guarantee future results.

In that light, we have a recession on. That could drive viewership up throughout the season and into the finals. Furthermore, there are more broadband webcasting opportunities than ever, and more mobile apps coming online. The audience might be larger, but less modular – that is, less clustered around the TV set. Those are all solid opportunities, should the technologies be deployed.

And, if so, then the question may shift from being “why $3 million?” to “why only a 10% rate increase?”
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May 5 2008
Hey, it’s starting to occur to people that innovation and creativity can be incremental as well as exponential. Here’s a peek under the hood of automotive juggernaut Toyota, from The New Yorker via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here were my own observations four years ago, from September 28 2004:

Toyota’s brand, and it’s a formidable one, has nothing to do with its advertising and everything to do with delivering value to consumers over the long haul. Yes! Manufacturing efficiencies are marketing when they result in improved deliverables and a decisive consumer experience! If this is a revelation, it shouldn’t be.

So Toyota has a real edge, in production and in marketing because all things are ultimately marketing, that it can hide in plain sight. And this is just starting to get noticed in the popular business press.

Key quote: ... cumulatively, every day, Toyota knows a little more, and does things a little better, than it did the day before. If that’s not creative innovation, what is?
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May 4 2008
It’s Sunday, and I was re-reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row when I came across a fantastic example of tight writing. It’s just a side note, a brief detour that leads no place in particular other than ostensibly filling in a chronological detail in the life of a ancient Model T Ford truck. But it condenses an entire human life into two sentences. And not two dusty, obituary-like sentences, either, but two sentences rich with movement and emotion.

Here they are, an entire short story and an entire life, in two sentences: “His name was Francis Almones and he had a sad life, for he always made just a fraction less than he needed to live. His father had left him a little money but year by year and month by month, no matter how hard Francis worked or how careful he was, his money grew less until he just dried up and blew away.

It’s rare to read writing that strong. And it’s rarer still to write it.
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May 2 2008
The quintessential American brand-name cookie, the Oreo, is heading across the pond to the UK. Here’s the story, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

But, there’s more to this story than what’s in this story. The UK Oreo may end up being a very different cookie, or biscuit, or whatever, than the US Oreo. Here’s a glimpse inside Kraft and its effort to expand the Oreo and other products as worldwide brands, from the Wall Street Journal a couple days ago:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Oreo was already successfully reformulated for the Chinese market, even getting away from the “twist, lick, dunk” tradition of the Oreo as we know it, and as it’s being sold in the UK. Yet the outside element of milk remains.

With that experience, if the UK market share does not come, it seems to me that the top management are open to local concepts and local development of existing brand assets.

All of which broadens the concept of global branding as it applies to individually experienced products and services like packaged goods.
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May 1 2008
News Corp., the media giant that owns MySpace, is planning to turn MySpaceTV into the online version of its Fox television network, with repurposed programming. Here’s the story, from BusinessWeek Online:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote from Jeff Berman, sales and marketing director for MySpace and founder of MySpaceTV: “We’d be foolish not to take advantage of what has worked for us in traditional media.

Uh-huh. Here’s a relevant quote from a media expert: “Our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old.

You know who said that? Perhaps the original postmodern media guru, Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media, The Medium is the Massage, etc.). In 1967, more than 40 years ago.

The point is, the vast potential of online programming is already being limited by media consolidation, the pursuit of advertising revenue, and the lack of real imagination – among media executives and media consumers.
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Backwards in time to April 2008

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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