John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
May 2010

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May 28 2010
Ford Motor Company is pondering the future of its Mercury brand, and the big question is whether Mercury has a future at all. Here’s the story, from this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, Mercury still outsells Lincoln, which isn’t bad for a brand “that has lost its meaning,” especially in light of recent concerted efforts to build up the Lincoln brand identity. Why is this so? Because sometimes, what you want just happens to be what thousands of other people want, and although you still want it, you also don’t want what everyone else has. So you personalize yours somehow, with paint or stickers or wheels. Or, you buy from a stablemate brand.

The need to assert one’s independence even as one consumes a mass-produced product makes little rational sense, which is why analysts just don’t get it. But emotionalists do, and branding is all about emotion, not analysis.

All Mercury has to be, is not a Ford and not a Lincoln; it fulfills that objective just sitting there. The next step, is to increase the advertising, to increase awareness, and develop more corporate-funded dealer-level promotions, to increase foot traffic. The market share issue can be addressed on a purely tactical basis. Once sales increase, the brand profile will increase.

Most marketing strategists like to start with branding. But that’s not always the right answer in achieving relevance or market share. Because branding is fundamentally affirmational, based on history rather than vision, in many cases sales can drive branding more cost-effectively than branding can drive sales.
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May 25 2010
Okay, this time they really mean it. Mobile advertising is set to explode this year as the tech stars align. Ayup. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (Calabasas, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The obstacle to success here wasn’t a technological or content-oriented barrier; it was independent and inscrutable human behavior. Relevant ads will beget responses and more relevant ads. Irrelevant ads will beget ad-blocking mobile apps and low-tech tune-outs. The old way to try to achieve relevance was through data mining, but the results always lagged behind the real world. The new path is through search, which captures and uses active, real-time consumer input that all but assures relevance.

The future of mobile advertising isn’t going to look like advertising. It’s going to look like a service.
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May 24 2010
Just a quickie to point out this wonderful little history of the Rolodex. Remember the Rolodex? Here’s the story, from Gizmodo, via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s my dirty little secret, but I love obsolescence. Lost civilizations. Bypassed towns. Abandoned factories. Old, orphaned technology. I like them not because they evoke a different time, but because they demonstrate a different solution. Once you realize that all these obsolete things worked, and in most cases worked very well, you can see beyond mere chronological dust to the concept within. And that concept may well be worth applying in new ways, to meet new needs.

Some creatives read advertising annuals searching for inspiration. Me, I read histories and books like the one this author wrote.
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May 22 2010
I saw this in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, and had to point it out. It seems that the factor that separated modern man from the Neanderthals may have been creativity. Here’s the story:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a key snip underscoring the cultural importance of trade expansion ands economic growth (and, by extrapolation, the importance of advertising in human evolution): Trade is to culture as sex is to biology. Exchange makes cultural change collective and cumulative.

Once the population in a given area reaches a critical mass, creativity explodes, leading to expressive arts, technological innovation, and social invention. That seems to endorse the importance of population centers – cities – at a time when the trend is to decentralize and disperse the workforce. Another side effect seems to be the development of a division of labor – specialization. What that leads to is frankly disturbing: Prosperity consists of getting more and more narrow in what you make and more and more diverse in what you buy. Self-sufficiency – subsistence – is poverty.

I’ve gotta go. I’m engaged in important work helping further the evolution of humanity. Or, perhaps, not.
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May 21 2010
Ronald McDonald: spokesclown, logo, advertising icon, and junk food peddler? Apparently, some people would like to see Ronald McDonald “retired” over concerns that he’s promoting unhealthy food choices to kids. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It is not Ronald McDonald’s job to teach my kids what to eat. It’s mine. Parents need to model healthy food choices. Otherwise, all the counter-advertising in the world will accomplish nothing.

What’s notable about this story, is that for the price of a press release, an obscure organization claiming about 10,000 supporters can play whack-a-brand. That’s a lesson too many mainstream marketers have not yet learned.
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May 11 2010
I have two quickies today. First up is something of a continuation from yesterday’s entry about low-end Russian automaker Lada. It’s about wanna-be high-end U.S. auto brand Lincoln, and it comes from Bloomberg/Businessweek via
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s not such a long shot. After all, Lincoln was a high-end brand once in the memories of anyone who lived through the early 1970s. The 1964 Lincoln Continental (the first one on the longer wheelbase) is a gracefully massive vehicle that exudes elegance, yet it’s also like nothing else on the road, then or now. No fins, no fender skirts, and very little chrome. Just killer design. That’s what needs to be recaptured to reinvigorate the Lincoln brand. Not newfangled marketing. Not new technological gimmicks. But killer design.

Next up is a story about A-list Hollywood actors selling their voices for advertising, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Time was when you could get an A-list voice on the cheap, as long as the celebrity wasn’t identified (which would turn it into a much more-expensive endorsement deal). Those days are obviously over. But it was never just about the celebrity; it was about what the celebrity’s voice brought to the table. When you get the audition files it’s still a shoot-out, and having done it myself I can say that it may be one of the few times when a C-lister or even a no-lister can take work from an A-lister.
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May 10 2010
Russian automaker Lada, in partnership with French automaker Renault, is attempting a comeback in Britain. Here’s the story, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For those of us on this side of the pond, this is akin to Yugo partnering with, say, Fiat to make a comeback in the U.S. If it happens, it’s very likely to be a short-term success.

First, Britain is reeling from the loss of practically all its home-grown auto brands. MG-Rover? Bankrupt, sold off in bits and pieces to China. Rolls-Royce? Owned by German automaker BMW. Bentley? Owned by German automaker Vokswagen. Jaguar? Owned by Indian mega-manufacturer Tata (best known among auto buffs for the Tata Nano, designed to be the world’s cheapest car). Aston-Martin? Okay, it’s at least part British-owned, although the co-owner is a Kuwaiti investment group.

Second, the Lada is diving into a very crowded pool, as new players and established brands alike have been scrambling to grab share at the low end of the market.

Third, austerity-measure products often do well when austerity is needed, but get dumped in favor of better-perceived brands as soon as good economic times return. One notable exception in the auto industry is Volkswagen, with its original Beetle, but that success was driven almost entirely by marketing. It combined brilliant positioning that tapped into the counter-cultural zeitgeist, with some of the best advertising the world has ever seen.

Fourth, unless the financial mess in Greece spills over beyond Europe to kill the nascent global recovery, the economists are already calling this recession over.
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May 7 2010
The Los Angeles City Council may soon be considering a proposal to tax advertising billboards and supergraphics. Here’s the story, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The comments are largely split, with some residents arguing against continuing to fund a city budget and union pay scale seen as bloated, and others saying tax away because outdoor advertising is a visual blight on the landscape.

That latter argument should give any thoughtful person pause. It’s the old divide-and-conquer strategy. Just tax the use of something unpopular (alcohol, tobacco ... advertising), and then let mission creep take care of the rest. Look at how invisible the taxes are on, say, gasoline.

A value-added tax? It’s already almost here. And the first victim is lined up in the bureaucrats’ sights: advertising. Unfortunately, the ad industry has done itself no service by admiring the outrageously backward culture of Mad Men and its ilk. Way to make advertising seem like something underhanded, overpaid, and oh-so-tax-worthy.

Advertising is the engine of commerce. It’s an accepted business axiom that nothing happens until somebody sells something. Well, nobody sells something until somebody advertises. Start choking the engine, and the whole economy will stall.
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May 6 2010
One effect of the Great Recession may be a lingering freelance economy. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve long felt that there’s greater security in freelancing than in permanent employment. You’re not dependent on a single company or handful of accounts for your daily bread. Just as important, you’re not restricted by a single company’s menu of opportunities.

For instance, in most ad agencies a copywriter might work on a half-dozen accounts, often within a small handful of industries (common examples include defense, hospitality, or real estate, for instance). As a freelancer, I can bounce between dozens of clients in a equal number of industries. That keeps me from getting stale, or bored. And, in a creative business, fresh thinking the ultimate job security.
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May 5 2010
BP, the company behind the world’s latest environmental disaster, has mucked up more than the Gulf Coast; it has reversed years of investment in advertising designed to brand the company as “green.” Here’s what purports to be the truth about the company behind the ad campaign, from progressive author, journalist, and blogger James Ridgeway, via the Baltimore Chronicle (MD):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The “Beyond Petroleum” concept was brilliant positioning, and the fact that it worked so well is a testament to its foresight and power. But it should not have been the brand slogan until the company could live up to it.

Unfortunately, as with many companies, the underlying corporate culture didn’t – indeed, couldn’t – match the brand message. It even seems that internal processes and decisions were in direct opposition to external marketing communications. That, in turn, made the brand strategy a victim of its own success: the better the brand performed in environmental focus groups and awareness surveys, the less the employees, managers, and executives felt they needed to do to live up to that brand. It was an ethical death spiral.

This is the danger of what I call aspirational branding – branding designed to stake a company’s claim to the future rather than reinforce and leverage its known past. In rapidly changing times, being future-focused seems like a good thing, and it is, in many ways outside of branding. But branding must be rooted in a company’s historical relationships with its audiences, both external and internal. It is a foundation for development and growth, not the goal. As such, it is fundamentally a nod to the past, not a look forward.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: branding must be affirmational, not aspirational.
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May 4 2010
Even as Microsoft’s search product, Bing, is picking up steam its browser product, Internet Explorer, is losing market share. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What we could see here is a repeat of the 90s, with multiple browser platforms leading to the rise of a new common standard. If HTML5 emerges as that standard, as Microsoft seems to believe and Apple fervently hopes, then Flash and a host of other modular add-ons are yesterday’s fish. On the web as with other media, diversity will be followed by consolidation.

In the meantime, the knock-on effect of a (temporarily) growing diversity in browsers and online compatibilities, combined with the need to allow full website access for mobile- and web-enabled devices, is bringing the online world back to simple, sensible web design. Hey, like my website! Or not.
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May 3 2010
Automaker General Motors is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the oldest model name in continuous use: the Chevrolet Suburban. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s noteworthy, is that not only has the name remained the same, but so has the brand essence. What made a vehicle a Chevrolet Suburban three-quarters of a century ago is still what makes one so today. It’s not about styling, like many retro-designed vehicles evoking pop-culture artifacts. Instead, the brand is carried within the product DNA (and vice versa), which allows the product to evolve organically so it’s always the best version of itself.

There’s a Zen parable (for lack of a better word) in which the key concept is that there are limited ways to change, but unlimited ways to stay the same. The Chevy Suburban is a good example of a Zen brand. It isn’t necessarily this thing or that thing; it simply is.
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Backwards in time to April 2010

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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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