John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November, 2004

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November 30, 2004
Here’s more about advertising aimed at the over-50 crowd (continued from November 18), from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, people are getting older all over the world (and if you don’t count yourself among them now, you will, and much sooner than you think). Which makes marketing to them an ever-increasing issue in ad agencies that have largely forgotten how to sell to anyone other than themselves.

However, in defense of advertising, the world has changed, and the metrics haven’t kept up. People are living healthier, longer, more-active lives. Global economic ties are growing broader and deeper. Yet, despite cheap labor and rapid innovation, the cost of living has gone up commensurate with people’s expectations of an ever-higher standard of living. So, more people (in First World countries, anyway) are delaying having families, or depending on parents for financial support, or otherwise blurring the lines between lifestages. And, with that, comes a blurring of the lines formerly designated as generational differences.

This could be good for advertising creative in general. Once the ad industry stops defining people by their age group, it can start dealing with them as individuals. And that’s how persuasion (and, therefore, advertising) works: on individuals.
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November 29, 2004
Advertising spoofs are no longer the province of Saturday Night Live and Mad Magazine. By way of proof, we have two recent advertising catfights, one discussed here earlier (Budweiser vs. Miller, see entries from May 20 and June 15 of this year), and this one, between internet service providers AOL and NetZero. Here’s the story, from MSN Slate:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The problem with parodying an ad, is that if the original ad was strong, the parody runs the risk of reinforcing the original message. And, if the original was lame, like these AOL television commercials, the parody runs the risk of being lame-once-removed. In this case, though, I think the parodies are stronger than the originals. That’s partly because the originals are richly vulnerable to parody, and partly because the strategy was unsound. You don’t go out with a competitive message about an uncompetitive product, and NetZero took full advantage of that lapse. They’re also enjoying the benefits of getting results from the other guy’s ad budget, a smart move.

Leveraging a larger advertiser’s message is one way to stretch a small budget. I did this eons ago, for a reduced-lactose milk called Lactaid, when the Milk Advisory Board was running ads and commercials built around the tagline “Milk. It does a body good.” I wrote a print ad addressed directly to those with lactose intolerance (click to see it larger):

This ad hasn’t been in my portfolio for years, since it hasn’t made sense for years. But, it did surprise me that it took so long for the company to start leveraging the “Got Milk” campaign, which seemed like an obvious play to make.
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November 25, 2004
Happy Thanksgiving! Just a quick follow-up post continuing the story of brand decline from Tuesday, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA). It contains an abbreviated case study tracing the rise and fall of Lionel (the toy train brand):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s interesting, is that what drove the company into bankruptcy wasn’t continued failure; it was a resurgence of interest and relative success, followed by an ethical lapse. How very 1990s of them.

Also, I must say that a large part of the earlier problems – the internal issues addressed in the article – were perhaps driven by focusing on volume as the only growth metric. It’s a popular management delusion. The reality is that dominating a tightly focused niche, even a declining one, can be both a plan for long-term (albeit boring) survival and a better launch pad for dominating the next related niche.
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November 24, 2004
The countdown to the nation’s biggest shopping day – the day after Thanksgiving – has started. And retailers are trying all kinds of ways to get customers excited in a make-or-break effort to capture those holiday dollars. Here’s an article, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! Finance:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Target sale-day wake-up call campaign is innovative in its use of technology, and the star-studded, whimsical TV commercials certainly got the word out, but will it deliver increased sales on the floor? If it makes Target the customer’s first stop of the day, it very well could. That is, of course, the underlying strategy. But, if customers buy into the concept for its amusement value alone, then it could turn into one of the season’s more visible misfires.

My prediction: when it comes to retail marketing, I don’t bet against Target. Still, though, I’d have liked to see more print and online support for the campaign.
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November 23, 2004
Continuing the branding discussion from yesterday, here’s an article pointing out the transient nature of even “iconic” brands, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote: “While it is difficult to build a brand to prominence, even dominance, in business, it is even tougher to maintain that position.”

That’s especially true now, with more brands competing for mindshare in more categories, through more channels. Things can happen quickly (as discussed in yesterday’s entry), the slide downhill is often unrecoverably fast, and the losses caused by failing to sustain a marketing message are often total.
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November 22, 2004
Here’s an excerpt from the book How Brands Become Cultural Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding, courtesy Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge website. In this chapter, author Douglas B. Holt uses a Snapple case study to argue that the effects of viral strategies are too short-lived to build brands:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Far be it from me to argue with the folks at Harvard Business School and Oxford University (combined, no less); heck, I’m just a little ol’ advertising copywriter from San Diego. But, it seems to me that they got it wrong, or at least more wrong than right.

To say that a community of brand loyalists is as much an artifact of a brand’s success as a cause of it, is unarguable.

However, the Snapple case study shows that viral marketing can be sustained, with sustained positive results. It wasn’t until a corporate owner came along who failed to understand the value of viral marketing, and who discontinued it, that the trouble started. Discontinuing marketing is a Bad Thing To Do, regardless of whether that marketing was originally traditional or viral. And, to blame brand slippage as a result of discontinuing a viral strategy on the viral strategy, and not on the discontinuance, strikes me as absurd.

Branding is branding, even if you’re highfalutin enough to label it “cultural.” Your customers either buy into your brand, or they don’t. That’s true whether you use viral tactics, traditional tactics, or both. And, in any case, for a brand to achieve iconic status, its marketing must be sustained
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November 19, 2004
I’ve been saying it for a long time (or at least since my April 15 entry), and now there’s research to prove it: DVRs and similar devices represent a major advertising opportunity. Here’s an article about soon-to-be-released research findings from CBS, showing that fast-forwarding through commercials boosts recall, from Media Post’s Media Daily News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Interestingly, I presented the :6-in-:30 concept to a client some 15-20 years ago, when fast-forwarding through TV commercials with VCRs was the major concern, but the idea went right over their heads. The concept is still valid, and it’s exciting to see some people working on it. In fact, in digital form, there are even more communication possibilities, with the shortened commercial carrying an entirely separate message to get that passer-by audience to stop and review the full commercial, or a bonus message tied in with the long version (e.g. “rewind and fast-forward this commercial to get your secret promotional code”).

Some things, though, need to be understood. First, regarding this new research, recall is not the same thing as delivering a meaningful message. Second, with current technology, a fast-forwarded TV medium is more like a billboard than a TV commercial. Third, what’s changing, is our ability to measure viewer behavior, not the viewer behavior itself. People still ignore commercials that don’t interest them, view commercials that do, and continue to use commercial breaks in general as bathroom and kitchen breaks.
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November 18, 2004
Advertisers are starting to pay attention again to the over-50 crowd. Here’s the story, from the Dallas Morning News (TX), via the Middle East/North Africa Financial Network:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key research finding: brand loyalty does not increase with age, and in fact 50-somethings are just as likely as 20-somethings to experiment with or switch brands. Key reason to market to over-50s: as a demographic group, they control 65% of the net worth of all U.S. households, and 50% of the discretionary income. Key reason why this age group has been ignored in mainstream marketing: the youthful self-centeredness of most advertising creatives. Key great quote: “50 is the new 30.”
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November 17, 2004
TiVo, long lauded as a television advertiser’s nightmare, reveals itself to be what many of us in advertising believed all along: a great marketing tool. Here’s the story, from the Los Angeles Times (CA), via the KTLA News website:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Even at the beginning, TiVo was a solution that enabled more individual interaction with advertising than it disabled. And now, the veils are off, presenting increasing numbers of viewers with the certain knowledge that they are being targeted, individually, personally, in their living rooms through data collected right there in their living rooms.

Look for two things. First, look for the advertising itself to become more useful, more relevant on a personal level even in pop-up form. Second, look for a TiVo backlash among consumers as they decide to opt out of being tabulated to begin with.
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November 16, 2004
A follow-up to yesterday’s entry about junk food advertising in Britain, again from the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

By George, I think they’ve got it.
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November 15, 2004
The British government seeks to reduce teen obesity through warning labels on food items and a ban on junk food television advertising during certain hours. Haven’t we been here before? Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Notable quote: “In Sweden, adverts [for junk food products] were banned but it made no difference to levels of obesity.”

Many people probably don’t remember American television commercials for  cigarettes. One of my childhood favorites was the Doral jingle with the animated pack (“Taste me/Taste me/Taste me!”). Bonus points to you if you can sing it. Moreover, it may not even occur to some that cigarettes were banned from TV, because the product is so ubiquitous anyway. For instance, there’s the Winston Cup, one of many major television events sponsored by a cigarette brand.

What has been effective in changing consumer behavior, is changing consumer attitudes. And that’s not a matter of slapping warning labels on products and banning advertising (although that could be viewed as a baby-step start); it’s taking an active approach to reach out through education, peer-to-peer marketing, and making alternatives more available and affordable. And (ahem) advertising.
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November 12, 2004
And now for something completely different. From BBC News, this tiny story about ... hmmm, well ... let’s just call it the limits to digital photo alterations in advertising images:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yup. Ethnic diversity in advertising: just a PhotoShop tweak away. Or not.
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November 11, 2004
I was discussing this week’s Frontline program with my wife, who does not work in advertising, and she made the comment that we aren’t nearly as bombarded with advertising messages in San Diego as we would be in, say, New York City. I thought about that; whether the suburban media environment is really all that different.

And I became aware, again, of all the media channels I’ve long since trained myself to ignore. Our bus benches, buses, and taxis are plastered with advertising messages. Our grocery carts. Our shopping bags. Even things we’d proudly point out as local events are in large part sponsored by major corporations. Corporations have embedded themselves deep into our community psyche. Qualcomm Stadium. Petco Park.

Which brings us to the issue of clutter. No one has yet addressed the underlying economic driver for media proliferation: inflation.

As incomes rise, service costs rise, prices rise, and incomes have to rise again to keep up. Simple. But, in our lifetime, taxation and rate increases were successfully branded as “bad.” Which leaves more organizations looking for ways to make up the difference by becoming an advertising medium. In the private sector, building owners can collect rent on the insides and outsides of their buildings. In the public sector, cities are selling or thinking of selling ad space on buses, trains, and police cars, as well as offering corporate sponsorships of public facilities.

This trend could be viewed as a good deal for the local residents. They get a spiffy new stadium, or more police cars, or enhanced educational systems, without having to pay higher taxes. And, as for the ads, they simply ignore them. No cost. And, no impact. Which means, by the way, an equivalently bad deal for the advertiser.

However, this kind of mercenary thinking is bad for society. The taxes we pay gives us a sense of community ownership that is denied to us if we simply pursue corporate sugar daddies to provide us with the things we need.
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November 10, 2004
It was the topic of the week, and last night I watched the Frontline program titled “The Persuaders.” Here’s a link to the program website, which has a lot of additional material, including entertaining (and counter-balancing) inter-guru slapdowns:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I didn’t see or hear any new ideas that the average advertising copywriter hasn’t long understood and practiced on a daily basis. A century ago, Claude Hopkins, in Scientific Advertising, wrote:

The good salesman does not merely cry a name. He doesn’t say “Buy my article.” He pictures the customer’s side of his service until the natural result is to buy.
And, about 40 years ago, copywriter Shirley Polykoff defined advertising copy as “a direct conversation with the customer.”

Indeed, some of the program’s examples of modern-day “branding” were laughable. For instance, GM’s rip-off of the 1971 movie Vanishing Point (starring a Dodge Challenger) for the new Pontiac GTO. To herald the Infiniti launch commercials, featuring “emotive” rocks and leaves, as a milestone of branding is to ignore the fact that the insipid and ineffective launch of the luxury car division was one of the things that lead to Nissan’s near-bankruptcy, merger with Renault, and new corporate leadership. And, to not mention eBay, in a program about building brands around community and a sense of belonging, left a big hole.

The TV program was edited for the sound-bites, which is why the website is well worth a visit. For instance, I don’t totally agree with Rapaille’s concept of a one-word “code,” but I can see the value in his methodology, and, knowing that, I can see how someone could to do something useful with his results. Like everything else in the program, Rapaille’s “code” concept is not as simple as the editors of Frontline would have you think.

At a certain point, consumers will stop allowing themselves to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered (to paraphrase The Prisoner). And, speaking as a long-time advertising creative who is still in the trenches every day, there are more effective ways of cutting through noise than increasing the volume.
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November 9, 2004
More about the Frontline TV show “The Persuaders” (the title of which presumably includes advertising copywriters like me), the first from Wired and the second from the Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

This program is on my local PBS station tonight. I’m going to watch it, and give you my comments in tomorrow’s entry.

However, in reference to the comment that advertising has created tribal communities for the 21st century, here’s an article that ran in my local paper, the San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, last Sunday. It points out the loss of neighborhood gathering places, the difficulties in creating them, and the social consequences of not having them:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote: “It’s against the law to create community.” Into the vacuum left by the departure of local pubs and neighborhood shops, step technology and advertising. The critically important “third place” (a neutral place for people to gather for human contact) has become a dialog, carried out by remote control, between a consumer and an advertiser. I believe this is far more damaging to society than mere isolation.
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November 8, 2004
In the world of branding, customers may wield the power but they’re fascinated with the possibility that they don’t. Here’s an article about an upcoming Frontline TV show painting the advertising industry as considerably more-powerful than it is, from the Los Angeles (CA) Daily News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Time and time again, the marketplace has proven that advertising cannot impose behavior. But, saying so would hardly attract viewers, would it? So the show is being promoted like snake oil, making spectacular claims about rather prosaic business procedures. If, at the bottom of the argument, there is a rising culture of consumerism, it is being driven by consumers.

And, it is also being resisted by consumers. Like the host of the program says about the whole branding effort, one could call it mind control, if it was more successful.
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November 5, 2004
Thanks to Dylan Alford for this tip, a great article debunking the aegis of branding, from Wired:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A lot of brand consultants promote branding as a sort of panacea, which stands to reason given the source of their livelihood. As a natural consequence, brands have proliferated at nearly the rate of branding experts, or rabbits.

The problem is, branding is not a solution. It’s a result.

What’s more important, it’s a consumer-driven result, and this even as consumers place decreasing value on brands. It’s no wonder so-called branding experts are worried.

Here’s a telling quote from the article, explaining much about why today’s marketers are mystified:

A brand is supposed to provide a haven from competition, offering what Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila calls insurance against missteps.
Uh-huh. The tricky thing is that this statement is true, when approached from the correct side of the equation. A strong brand is “insurance against missteps” ... for the consumer.

Which, working backwards along the quote, means that a brand represents less a “haven from competition” (corporate perspective) as safeness of choice (consumer perspective).

If, as a consumer, I like Blammo brand product A, it’s likely that I’ll take a good look at Blammo product B. And, if I have good experiences with Blammo products A and B, I will likely favor Blammo product C. Given a good experience with that, I may buy Blammo product D when I need it, without considering other brands. As long as I continue to be satisfied, I suppose one could call me a Blammo loyalist. But, what’s really happened is that I’ve found Blammo is loyal to me, serving my needs in a way that I find useful and relevant and accessible.

In other words, a strong brand doesn’t command respect; it is respect. Therefore it cannot be created; it must be earned. Every so often, it seems, marketers and advertisers have to re-learn the basics.
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November 3, 2004
Well, election day is over, and with it election advertising. But, right here in my hometown, our mayoral race showed democracy in action, the limits of advertising, and the power of branding. I have a few articles here, mostly outdated and all from the San Diego Union-Tribune. The first tells a bit about the mayoral candidates. The second talks about campaign spending, a relatively modest $2 million-ish for all three candidates combined. The last is a closer look at the San Diego mayoral race to date:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a synopsis: the San Diego mayoral campaign originally pit incumbent mayor Dick Murphy, a former judge who had been elected in 2000 as a political outsider, against county supervisor Ron Roberts, a former city councilman and capable veteran politician. Roberts was favored to win, a rare thing in a city which hasn’t booted an incumbent mayor since 1971, when then-state assemblyman Pete Wilson (who went on to become governor of California) defeated then-mayor Frank Curran, who had, the year before, been indicted then acquitted of bribery and conspiracy charges as part of the “San Diego Nine.” So, in general, this election was taking shape as a rematch of the March primary elections.

Then, just over a month from Election Day, city councilwoman Donna Frye suddenly announced her candidacy as a write-in. Frye is perhaps best known locally as a clean water activist, surf shop owner, wife of surfing legend Skip Frye, and persistent thorn in the side of the city council. Murphy and Roberts spent most of their time, energy, and ad dollars fighting each other, typically lumping Frye in with their opponents as sort of an also-running. Frye engaged in a small-town-like, grass-roots style of press-the-flesh campaigning aimed at painting both Murphy and Roberts as political insiders.

The election results are not final, and could hinge on a small number of votes. But, this morning, there are more than 121,000 votes for write-in candidates - which are assumed to be mostly for Frye but also certainly include other names - compared to Murphy’s 117,000 and Roberts’ 106,000. In other words, San Diego may elect a write-in candidate as its chief executive. That’s a rare, historic event.

And now for a brief marketing post-mortem. See, Frye may not have had the sustained campaign that the other two candidates had, but she had a huge head-start thanks to her powerful local brand. She’s well-known as a lone-vote maverick on the city council, even outside her district. Her brief, intense campaign - just over a month long - may have suited her message, which may not have stood up as well to the withering scrutiny of a year-long campaign. And, this may have been a moment when change, any change, was what local voters were looking for; so her brand resonated with large numbers of people. In true surfer style, she timed the wave and rode it flawlessly.

Despite claims to the contrary, people didn’t need vast amounts of information to be sold; they bought Frye based largely on her brand. It was a small-town victory for the underdog, yes, but that’s how it was supposed to look, in a campaign that was as delightfully subversive and viral as it was short.

The open question, should Donna Frye become mayor of San Diego (and it looks like she will), is whether her existing brand and market position will be strong enough to sustain her in office.
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November 2, 2004
A direct marketer talks sense about branding, in this article from MarketingProfs:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The author is so on-target, that I have little to add.

Except this: not only does advertising not create brands, advertisers don’t create brands. The only people in the whole wide world who can truly create brands, are customers. Period.

Every other marketing activity, advertising or otherwise, is an attempt to engage the customer in order to achieve branding. But, it’s increasingly common to mistake the route for the destination. And that’s why it’s easy to get tangled up in the differences between marketing activities that are designated as such, and actual customer experiences; all the while missing the fundamental truth that they’re the same thing.
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November 1, 2004
Long live Spam. The meat product, that is. Hormel Foods, maker of Spam, is trying to increase UK consumption with a new ad campaign. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Spam is a long-time camp box staple in my household, and to me Spam just isn’t even a food item unless accompanied by the taste of slightly burnt eggs, the sound of coffee perking on the propane stove, and the lingering scent of last night’s campfire.

Anyway, Hormel is spending £2 million, or about £1 per current customer, to increase its share of a 15 million household market. That’s a small investment, and the timing seems good. Of course, as an American, I may be biased. Spam may be one of those uniquely American products that utterly mystifies others, like Vegemite to Australia.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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