John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
May 2009

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May 31 2009
Man, I get busy for a while, and all heck breaks loose. In the U.S. auto industry, it appears that Fiat (Fiat!) is taking over what’s left of stalled Chrysler, while General Motors has the pedal to the metal en route to bankruptcy protection. Here’s the sad story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The plan is for the government to take over GM, a plan into which the British have a unique insight because their own government did so very well running British Leyland. (Into the ground.)

It is, perhaps, a small nod to the ephemeral nature of branding that I felt compelled to write out GM’s full name in that first sentence. In a year or two, what will the letters GM stand for? Come to that, what has it stood for these past few years?
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May 22 2009
Inventors compete for the money to make infomercials in the latest, tightwad iteration of VC funding. Here’s the story, from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snip:

The direct response industry is recession-proof, mainly because it reacts so quickly to consumer demand, said Dan Danielson, chief executive of Mercury Media ...

I wouldn’t call direct response recession-proof. But its responsiveness absolutely enables direct response to ride out economic turbulence better than other approaches. And that’s an area in which traditional advertising could deliver the goods, if advertisers didn’t so frequently opt out.

Most ad campaigns take a long time to hammer into approved form. I have worked on projects in which crafting a usable creative brief alone took many weeks and several meetings. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Normally that’s not a big problem; fundamental strategic issues are important to get right, and they’re rarely subject to volatility. Except in extremely volatile times such as these. Now is when a more-agile organization can seize the initiative (and market share) with a series of fast, smart moves.

In addition to responsiveness, I’d add measurability as a major benefit of direct response. You know within hours (minutes, even) whether an ad works or doesn’t work. That measurability adds up to some incredibly useful data, which can be used to hone the message for maximum effectiveness if the ability to respond quickly is retained.
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May 21 2009
I’m in head down writin’ mode, but this tidbit about some truly viral marketing from BBC News just made me smile::
Advertising copywriter blog link

The company that created and manufactures the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt apparently did nothing to instigate the campaign, if one can call it that. The whole brouhaha was started by a snarky review on posted by an anonymous internet ironist (there are tons of them; they outnumber people). And from there it just took off.

Lest one think this is something novel, the article cites a similar customer-led viral effort for a brand of milk in 2006. I especially like the last one; that was the one that put the whole thing over the top for me.
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May 19 2009
A set of non-binding guidelines covering paid or otherwise compensated blog posts (see the Ad Blog entry for April 13 2009) have now been laid out in a major update to FTC rules for editorials and ad testimonials. Here’s the story, from Business Week via
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is apparently the first major revision to those FTC rules since 1980, and certainly a lot has happened in media since then. The lines between content and advertising, private citizen and journalist and spokesperson, have become blurred to the point of invisibility. My attitude is, it’s about time.

Unfortunately, the fact that the guidelines are just that, a sort of regulatory wish list, reduces the gray area not a whit. As an advertiser and as a blogger, I’d rather have clear-cut rules.

Oh, and for what it’s worth (and in case you haven’t visited my FAQ), I don’t make any money on my Ad Blog. More to the point, I don’t want to. Some people have called it mildly ironic that a blog about advertising refuses ads or swag or links, but there you have it. I’m low-tech, but I’m a real working advertising copywriter. And I make my money writing ads and marketing materials, not by blogging about them.
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May 18 2009
I have two quickies today from BBC News. First up is this surreal look at the newly built, virtually abandoned Yangyang International airport in South Korea:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have a soft spot for urban ghost towns, and this sure qualifies. Quick, got any TV commercial concepts that need to be filmed at an airport? Check out the BBC’s video footage – this place may be perfect. These guys may be willing to dicker on price; after all, right now it’s just sitting there, a $400 million boondoggle. (How do you say boondoggle in Korean?)

Next up is this story, about entrepreneurs emerging from the ashes of the global economic flameout:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I mention this article mostly because of my first-glance, gut-level reaction upon reading the list of brand-name companies that started in recessions or depressions: Disney, McDonalds, Burger King, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft. The very first thought that crossed my mind: they’re all American companies. Ayup. Every one of those major global players began as Yankee ingenuity. Sorta makes me proud.
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May 15 2009
I have today a study in contrasts that demonstrates how advertising lags behind reality. First up is an article about angry-sounding ad copy, from The New York Times via The Gainesville Sun (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve always called for more passion in advertising (here are some recent Ad Blog entries from April 13 and 21 2008, June 30 2008, and November 17 2008 that relate directly to the recession). Tapping into consumer frustration last year or earlier would have connected with the confusion and outrage people felt. Now, in the real world, people have moved on; a point demonstrated by the next story from today, about consumer confidence reaching a post-crisis high, from Providence Business News (RI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yet today, the advertising ecosystem is so infested with angry ad copy that The New York Times runs a story about it. In this case, I think the news feature lagged behind the advertising, which followed the customers. Most of the most-successful tap-into-the-anger ad campaigns started last spring, which means the strategy was developed even earlier. Those slashed through the clutter and struck an emotional chord at the right moment for that chord to be struck. The creative teams moved fast, responded with their hearts, and achieved relevance.

As for the angry ad campaigns coming out now? Sheer me-tooism. And the popular environment is such that people are beginning to get a little sick of being told how bad things are – they know, better than the advertisers sitting safe in their offices, exactly how bad things are, because ultimately, how people view the world depends on how they view their own place in it. The economy may be global. But advertising must be individual.
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May 14 2009
Back to the world of advertising and marketing – and apologies about the total non sequitur yesterday but it was by far the most moving story I saw in the Journal and I just couldn’t get past it. Anyway, here’s a look at retail, another industry struggling to recover from a stall. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Discounters like Target and Walmart, and low-end fashion stores like Kohl’s and J.C. Penney are holding steady by taking market share from competitors, both living and dead. For instance, Mervyn’s bankruptcy definitely helped Kohl’s and J.C. Penney. But mid- to upper-tier retailers, like Macy’s and Whole Foods, are still losing ground.

However, if the name of the game is stealing market share from competitors, as the economist says in the article, one important piece of that strategy is advertising. That’s the only way to attract the growing, increasingly tippable legion of non-customers. But, before you can capture customers, the ads have to capture attention.

I’m reminded of the words of Leo Burnett: “A good basic selling idea, involvement and relevancy, of course, are as important as ever, but in the advertising din of today, unless you make yourself noticed and believed, you ain’t got nothin’.” It was true back when he said it, and if anything it’s more true now.
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May 13 2009
Call it morbid curiosity, and it has little to do with advertising, but I have been riveted by the story of Flight 3407 and its fatal crash, the worst U.S. air disaster in years. Here’s the story, from The Wall Street Journal; the second link is the NTSB’s release of the full transcript from the cockpit voice recorder of the ill-fated ship:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

I can’t say for certain whether it it’s the writer in me responding, or I’m just woozy from the sheer weight of emotion (and I suspect the former triggered the interest and the latter compelled me to keep going), but the transcript reads like a screenplay. It has it all; a dramatist couldn’t heighten the drama, or the irony, or even the comic relief. And the tragedy is all the greater for knowing how it ends, with 50 lives lost, and that it was all real.

I will never again listen to a flight attendant’s arrival spiel without this hitting me again, hard.
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May 12 2009
Proctor & Gamble, maker of Bounty brand paper towels, is suing Georgia-Pacific, maker of Brawny brand paper towels, over a paper towel pattern. Here’s the story, from the Dayton Business Journal (OH):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s more to a brand than a logo, and a paper towel pattern is surely a part of the brand. What with the wary weather eye packaged goods competitors keep on each other, it’s a little hard to imagine that the similarity was totally unintentional. The legal question, though, is whether a judge will rule that a consumer might be confused.

See, here’s where the packaging makes a difference. For the life of product while on the store shelf, there’s no confusion likely. But, once the product is unwrapped and in use, which is most of its life in front of the consumer, the similarities may very well confuse. Imagine an M&M-like candy brand named, oh, “Jackpot,” the point being that it’s nothing like M&M. Acceptable competition? Probably, especially if the packaging is nothing like M&M packaging. But imagine if, once you opened the package and poured the candies out, the product itself looked similar to M&Ms – perhaps the colors are a bit different, and instead of an M imprinted on each candy these have three tiny 7s side-by-side. Like this: 777. Acceptable competition?

From a design standpoint, this was a trick. From a branding standpoint, this may have been a dirty trick. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, both in court and in the grocery store aisle.
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May 7 2009
Here’s a look at what BBC News is calling “the greatest PR stunt ever"”:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hmm. This multi-channel PR campaign didn’t get much play on this side of the Atlantic; the only place I heard about it was on BBC News as the competition was winding up to its climax. So, unlike, say, Google or Twitter, the reach, while masterfully orchestrated, wasn’t global. Also, and this is me being the typical advertising copywriter here, the weak spot in relying on PR is the relative inability to call for direct action. You have all these great stories and they just sit there, unless we’re talking about a non-profit advocacy issue. When it comes to promoting for-profit enterprises, whether B2B or B2C, PR has a softer sell than advertising. Of course, that’s exactly what makes PR so useful.

Like one commenter, I question the inflated media value placed on the campaign’s effect. The real question, though, is simply this: will it increase tourist traffic in Queensland? If it does, then it’s a success; if not, then it joins a host of other creative, well-executed, temporarily high-profile marketing flops.
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May 5 2009
Here’s a cool story about stealth advertising, or hanging a marketing campaign on a viral component, from NPR:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Unfortunately, this story is behind the times. Viral has long been yet another tool in the traditional advertising toolbox. In truth, viral marketing has been around as long as advertising itself, and probably longer, pre-dating the world of organized media (and advertising agencies) by several centuries.

The only thing that gets trimmed by going viral, is the media buy. Creative and production costs remain similar, and if anything the PR component to promulgate and promote the viral component costs more. And, when viral campaigns fail, as many quietly do, the reach and frequency drop to zero for an almost infinite CPM. There still hasn’t been any A/B testing that shows that one is a more cost-effective alternative to the other, because ad campaigns are intrinsically unequal. Furthermore, when the volume of viral advertising increases so does the environmental noise, and the audience – which does the heavy lifting in a viral campaign – will tune out.

Still, whether going viral or traditional, good creative increases effectiveness by breaking through the clutter in relevant ways. That’s even more true with a viral campaign, because no one’s going to pass along the ordinary.
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May 4 2009
My hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, has officially changed hands. Here’s the story, straight from the horse’s, um, mouth:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Our beleaguered, beloved U-T is Platinum Equity Group’s first media company. We may also be the first major metropolitan daily newspaper to be owned by a guy who looks like a Mexican soap opera star, which isn’t a bad thing and certainly a change from David Copley.

Although I’m provincial enough to mourn the fact that our local newspaper didn’t stay in local hands, I wish Platinum Equity Group well. It will be interesting to see what a company that specializes in turnarounds, instead of traditional media, will come up with in the way of moving forward in these turbulent times for media and business.
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May 2 2009
Oh, this is just too cool! A design student in England took an actual car, and created the illusion of invisibility. The project is an ad for a local recycling firm. Here’s the story, from BBC News (Lancashire, UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wish the article had video, because a walk-around would be awesome. You’d see this strangely painted car in the middle of a parking lot, and you’d circle it, and suddenly everything would snap into alignment and the car would visually vanish. I wish there were a stronger conceptual connection with the recycling angle, beyond the fact that the recycler donated the car body. When you recycle something, it changes form but doesn’t vanish – in fact, ongoing re-use of resources is sort of the point of recycling.

But that’s a minor point. I think this is a really neat visual idea, and there are more concepts in it than can be explored in a single installation. Cool beans!
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May 1 2009
This may be the most successful stealth rebrand of the year. U.S. automaker Ford outsold Toyota in the U.S., recapturing the #2 spot. But, more important from a brand marketing perspective, look at the first line of the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

“Detroit’s Big Three is becoming Ford and the other two.” You can’t beat that for some fast repositioning. It wasn’t long ago that Ford was seen side-by-side with GM and Chrysler, testifying before Congress and asking for financial support. Ford management decided to go it alone, and moreover made an issue of it. And now, the company’s brand resurrection, at least in the U.S., can just about be called complete at this point. The next step is positioning Ford vs. The World.

Also notable, was that despite GMs huge marketing and PR push behind the new Chevrolet Malibu, it was the Ford Fusion that emerged as the hot sales-stealer.

Finally, I think it’s interesting that the management of both GM and Chrysler are calling the bottom of the recession. I’d like that to be true, I really would. But somehow, those guys need a little more credibility before I’d believe them.
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Backwards in time to April 2009

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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