John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November, 2005

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November 30, 2005
Here’s something appropriate to holiday consumerism – this story, about advertising aimed at children, from the Bismark Tribune (ND):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s nothing totally new here, but there are some interesting tidbits. The sponsored slumber party, for instance (which proves my point on November 9: that parents who believed that word-of-mouth was a highly appropriate marketing channel were simply ignorant of current marketing techniques). And, for another, the trend toward real products for kids instead of kids’ products for kids (for example, real make-up from cosmetic brands instead of play make-up from toy brands).
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November 29, 2005
Just one more look back at the rather mixed retail sales over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Discounters did well, both online and offline. Those who pursued shoppers for the most part got them. (Hey, if you want to sell something, maybe it’s a good idea to advertise it.) Spectacular promotional markdowns designed to draw shoppers into the stores did indeed draw shoppers, who frequently made off with just the promotional goods. (Hey, if you want to sell more than lowest-priced goods and services, you’d better offer something other than low price.) And, more hot gift items became treated by consumers as the mere commodities they are.
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November 28, 2005
A post-mortem on Black Friday sales reveals that one key tactical edge may have been earlier opening times. Here’s the story, from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune (France):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The biggest retailers that had a good Black Friday, were non-mall stores like Wal-Mart and Circuit City. These stores turned a traditional disadvantage for free-standing locations, the responsibility of generating their own traffic, into a decisive advantage with heavy advertising, big flyers filled with promotional discounts, and opening times in the wee hours of the morning. So, by the time shoppers got to the mall, even in places where the mall shares the parking lot, their wallets and energy were picked clean. It was a masterfully executed sting.

Web-based retailing also seemed to be a factor, with online sales up 22% to $305 million for the day. However, I think the web was critical in another way: passing along early notification of Black Friday specials. Look at, for a single example, how differently Wal-Mart and Sears handled (to name one such site). Wal-Mart almost embraced it, and certainly embraced the concept by releasing its own PDFs of Black Friday flyers on its own website days before they hit the newspapers. Sears, on the other hand, threatened legal action and had its promotions pulled from the site.

I understand the logic, but it’s outdated thinking: that if competitors can see what you’re offering before the big sale day, then they could conceivably match or better the offers. However, the internet has made pricing transparent. And, retailer-driven product differentiation, particularly on consumer electronics, has made direct comparisons almost impossible. Finally, the sale items were mostly loss leaders. The objective was to get shoppers into the store, and by Thursday, shopper’s plans were already made.

What’s also cool, is that this is an example of using (or not using) online channels to drive offline sales.
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November 25, 2005
Remember those Firestone Christmas albums? Well, they’re back! More retailers are turning to custom music compilations to generate brand-building good will. Here’s the story, from the Miami Herald (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I talked about this particular trend back on August 1. But, it's been going on for longer than that. And not only aimed at adults; we’ve gotten free music CDs in boxes of cereal that are essentially promotions for kid’s television programming.

Although this trend makes it tough for music retailers, it also could make things better for small labels, independent producers, and just-breaking new acts. Hey, maybe after years of major-label dominance, there’s a renaissance in the music scene. And, it’s being driven by advertising – how cool is that? (Okay, maybe the advertising part of it isn’t so cool.)
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November 24, 2005
Happy Thanksgiving! Today I have a quickie about the pending “Black Friday” after-Thanksgiving sales, traditionally the start of the holiday shopping season. But maybe not any more, according to this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune (MN) via the Grand Forks Herald (ND):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Interesting statistical tidbit: in 2003, the Friday after Thanksgiving was the most-popular shopping day, in 2004 it was the Saturday before Christmas. So the shift may have started. I wonder how much of this is merely shifting to online?

As for me, I’m always interested in Black Friday promotions. After all, this is one of the year’s biggest marketing events for most retailers, and the results carry tremendous weight in profit forecasts. I think one of the more-interesting battles this year, is between Wal-Mart and Target. Wal-Mart started early, its pre-emptive strike seemingly catching Target off-guard, and is rapidly moving to capture more upscale value shoppers.
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November 23, 2005
Even with two articles today, it’s still follow-up week. The first is a follow-up to my October 27 ad blog entry about telecom giant SBC’s acquisition of the AT&T brand, from the San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote: “It’s perhaps par for the course these days that a company buys another company's name and immediately acts as if it’s the rightful heir to the other firm’s corporate legacy.”

Thing is, a brand is not quite a commodity. And, in the end, the brand (whether it’s AT&T, SBC, or XYZ) will be built or maintained based on the present customer experience.

Next up, is this article about ads as music hit-makers, from the Independent (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This harks back to my very first ad blog entry, on February 20 2003, about the superior memorability of jingles over popular music in advertising. I think in most cases, the artist benefits more than the product or service, such as what happened with Jaguar and Sting (see January 24 of this year) – and, with most of the associations mentioned in the article.

Using a recording artist’s music in advertising is essentially product placement, but from the other side, especially when that artist is marketing themselves independent of commercial work-for-hire. Hey, when do copywriters and art directors get their cut from the record labels?
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November 22, 2005
It seems to be follow-up week. Here’s more about the screenwriter’s guild attack on product placement, and the public attack on advertising in general, from the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I made my comments in my November 16 entry. However, on reading the reader’s comments on this article, I have a few things to add.

First, I’ve seen no credible, double-blind, large-scale research that shows that product placement drives sales. Exposure doesn’t mean persuasion. I think the practice is questionable on financial grounds alone.

Second, to those parents worried that their young children are swayed by advertising: turn the television off. And that means so-called educational programming as well. Sesame Street and Bob the Builder are teaching kids consumerism as well as more-admirable things. You know what kids want? Empty boxes. Empty boxes and sticks. Empty boxes, sticks, water, and rocks. A childhood spent without mud in the hair, scraped knees, and a pocket full of rocks and dead (or stunned) bugs is a childhood lost.

Sorry. Point three, right? To that radio copywriter in Swansea who proudly proclaims that he doesn’t use half the products he writes commercials for: you, sir, are what is wrong with advertising today. David Ogilvy made a point of using his clients’ products, a task made increasingly difficult as his ad agency and client list grew. This is an essential practice. I still eat Hain crackers and Hollywood mayonnaise. I drink Lactaid milk, Callaway wines, and Red Army vodka. I ride a Giant bicycle wearing a ProAction helmet. I use HP printers and all-in-ones. I listen to downloaded music on a Sony MP3 player. The simple fact is, if you don’t believe in a product or service enough to use it yourself, you have no business trying to sell it to others. As a copywriter, you simply cannot lose touch with what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to; if you do, the ads you create will become increasingly irrelevant and intrusive, substituting mere tricks for a real connection. Gee, just like it has done.
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November 21, 2005
Continuing from Friday’s entry about Coke’s branding, comes this report on how the Coke brand iconography was developed in the first place. Here it is, from Computer Arts (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I would agree that Coke has one of the most-powerful consumer brands out there, definitely in the top 10, probably in the top three, and possibly even #1. So, how does this square with Coca-Cola’s declining fortunes?

I would say that the recent slide in sales is proof, less of brand dilution (although, as I’ve said repeatedly, that’s in the mix) than of a shift in the soft drink market. And, having the weekend to think about what I said earlier, I’m more convinced that the way forward for the company as a whole is through one of the other brands in the stable.

Oh, and I thought that Raymond Loewy designed the Coke bottle. A quick search turned up this link from, saying that, while Loewy did do work for Coke, including a 1954 bottle re-design, and did associate himself rather freely with the bottle design, he in fact did not do the original design concept. Learn something new every day.
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November 18, 2005
One of the world’s leading brands, Coca-Cola, is in trouble. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There’s also an Open University brief that’s worth reading. It all confirms what I said here more than a month ago (on October 7, to be exact): that the two key problems facing Coke were an unsustainably large and diluted product line, and a sea change in the marketplace.

Now, the company is experiencing pushback from retailers who don’t want to stock the latest and greatest Coke products. And, the backlash against brown fizzy drinks is only increasing, everywhere.

Moving the sales curve back up for Coke without further brand dilution may be one of the key marketing challenges of the decade. Me, I don’t think it happens under the Coke banner. That world-famous Coca-Cola ribbon trademark can stand for only one thing: Coke. It cannot also stand for “healthy refreshment” or any other admirable but misguided marketing position. If I were to suggest a possible strategy (as if Coke is going to heed the strategic advice of a little ol’ freelance advertising copywriter), it would be to maintain Coke as it is and build the future on another Coca-Cola property: the Minute Maid brand.

Just a thought.
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November 17, 2005
This is sort of a follow-up to my November 15 entry about Miller and Budweiser slugging away at each other in courts of law and public opinion. Alcohol brands in general are having a harder time wooing the college crowd, and beer is on the losing end of the battle. Here’s the story, from USA Today via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the college scene now is a return to that of my mother and father’s generation: gin, vodka, rum, martinis, G&Ts. But with important differences (and, no, brand proliferation isn’t one of them): increased advertising and sponsorship opportunities on-campus, higher-profile sporting events on the mass-marketing level, and greater use of brand ambassadors on the peer-to-peer level. And, perhaps most important, a target audience with more disposable income.
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November 16, 2005
The increasingly lucrative field of product placement has television screenwriters circling like vultures to get their chunk of the carcass. Here’s the story, from The Christian Science Monitor:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have three comments. First, I completely agree with the WGA’s position that television viewers have the right to know when they’re being marketed to, within the context of programming. However, its actions reveal equal parts concern for the audience and lust for the lucre.

Which brings me to my second point: the financial demands being made, if granted, will drive up the cost of television advertising even further, adding mass to the exodus from television as an ad medium.

My third point concerns the argument that shrinking audience size is driving the need for product placement. That’s a specious argument. The audience for the ads is shrinking because the audience for the programming is shrinking. And, I still say that if audiences are declining, that’s a terrific opportunity to target through creative execution. In other words, create better television ads, and those watching will choose to watch them.

Getting attention through better creative. What a concept.
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November 15, 2005
The cat-fight between Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch just keeps growing new legs (and, apparently, fur). Here’s the story, from Reuters via USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The comments I’ve made in previous Ad Blog entries (January 20 2005, November 29, June 15, and May 20 2004) still apply. However, while this publicly fought battle is getting old, these are increasingly desperate times for mass market beer makers. And, it’s a positive thing to see two significant advertisers lock horns in a fight for consumers. It shows, among other things, that advertising still matters.
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November 14, 2005
Here’s an article about the occupational hazards of blogging, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Does anonymity outweigh credibility as a virtue? I would say that it does, to a moderately limited extent, for personal stuff, but largely does not for writing related to one’s profession. I understand how anonymous or pseudonymous postings can gain credibility through their own history, and how quickly history, or what passes for it these days, can be built online. Still, what ever happened to manners?
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November 11, 2005
Hey, an advertising copywriter got interviewed about copywriting as a career! Here’s the interview, with Thabo Seseane of Lobedu Leo Burnett, from The Star via the Independent Online (Cape Town, SA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, so there’s nothing new here. I had to point to it out of sheer delight at seeing a fellow copywriter get some press. One refreshing thing, is that it sounds like Thabo Seseane is more junior than big-name copywriters who get themselves interviewed or who write books, so the picture presented is a realistic view of daily life in the trenches of an ad agency.

One thing I’ll take issue with, though, is the comment about poseurs. Maybe it’s just me, but in 23-plus years in this business, I have never worked with, or for, a poseur. I suspect that the need to create relevant work that generates measurable results tends to push poseurs out of the ad biz.
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November 10, 2005
A short entry today after yesterday’s three-topic ramble. Food makers are targeting (or serving) people with chronic illnesses. Here’s the article, from the Associated Press via CNN:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s great to find gluten-free products on the shelves at ordinary supermarkets. On the other hand, one hates to be hyped at. Great, this loaf of bread has zero trans fats. But it also has more sugar and sodium than this other loaf, which has less total sugar but it’s in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Need orange juice? You can get it with added vitamin A, B, C, D, E, calcium, or even echinacea, in a dizzying array of formulations from heart-healthy to made-for-kids. The result, there in the grocery store aisle, is that health claims cease to be differentiation and become plain old noise.

Still, as the boomers and post-boomers age, it’s inevitable. Look for more packaged goods to be created serving (or targeting) the needs of an increasingly older, increasingly health-obsessed population.

And, be aware that the natural, organic, unfortified backlash has already started.
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November 9, 2005
A massively big news day today: a bit on advertising in Japan, a bit on advertising aimed at children, and a bit on city slogans. Let’s start with this article about the inscrutability of Japanese ad creative, from The Economic Times via Agencyfaqs! (New Delhi, India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a pertinent lift from the article, with a quote from a senior ad agency creative director:

... Japan is a high-context culture - a homogeneous group of people who speak the same language and live in a country that remained closed for large periods of its history.

He says, “With a great deal of shared information, a lot of the communication is silent because there is no need to resort to language or outward expression to be understood. This often appears to people from other cultures as cliquishness.

... even broadly cast creative is based on the premises of fundamental knowledge that Japanese people have within them. So, naturally, it is virtually incomprehensible to the judges at Cannes and elsewhere on the international stage.”
I think this is relevant to any true niche marketing effort, essentially saying “if anyone outside the group gets it, it’s not focused enough.” The flip side, though, is that the tighter you’re targeting, the more you’re talking to yourself. As markets get increasingly fragmented, we may see more and more ads that are incomprehensible to those outside the target, basically targeting through creative execution rather than media.

Next up is one of my hobby-horses (last ridden October 20, March 24, 17, and 16): advertising to children. Here’s an article about parental reaction to ads targeting kids, from Business in the Community (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

By the way, the PDF download of the report is essential reading.

It appears that 1,000 people were interviewed: 4 out of 5 parents said they would discontinue purchasing brands which engaged in what they felt was inappropriate marketing to their kids, and nearly 9 out of 10 adults (not necessarily parents) said that all marketing and advertising aimed at children should be regulated.

I found it fascinating that television advertising was viewed as appropriate, when television viewing itself is connected, at least apocryphally, with all sorts of other problems.

That could be related to the desperation many parents feel in losing control as media gatekeepers, with new media channels being used for direct marketing, such as text messaging, web pop-ups, and email. Television may be an acknowledged evil, but it’s at least a traditional one, the devil one knows.

Interestingly, word-of-mouth is viewed as a highly appropriate marketing channel, despite the rise of viral marketing and its use of many factors classified separately as inappropriate. I suspect those surveyed were naïve about the power of pass-along marketing, which, given the parental role of media gatekeeper, makes it even more powerful.

For a bit about the challenges of regulating buzz aimed at kids, see my entry on October 20.

Finally, on a lighter note, here’s an article from the Baltimore Sun (MD) about efforts to develop a slogan for the city of Baltimore:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wouldn’t look for any Las Vegas-style rip-roaring ad successes, if only because Baltimore and Las Vegas are two very different places, geographically, politically, and emotionally. But, the place to start gathering input is from those outside the city, which is what Las Vegas did (and, more recently, what Utah did - see my entry on November 2).

The key quote about tourism development comes at the end of the article, from USC professor of mass communications Karen Mallia, recalling a recent trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: “I doubt that’s where the natives hang out ... but then, that’s not really what tourism is about, is it?”

Yup. Tourism isn’t about the natives. It’s about the tourists.
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November 8, 2005
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising will open this December in London. Here’s the story, from Brand Republic (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is too cool. And, while I’m at it, here’s a relevant link I dug out of my bookmark archive: The American Package Museum, a virtual museum of U.S.-based product packaging, mostly from the early- to mid-20th Century.
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November 7, 2005
Miami-based Crispin Porter & Bogusky is one of the current generation of hot ad agencies. Here’s a look inside, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I see a couple cool things here. First, although the agency’s work may have been uneven (contrast the subtle, sure hand that developed the “Subservient Chicken” work for Burger King, or the brilliant copywriting that marked the Mini campaign, against the vapid, showboating “I’d Like to Teach the World to Chill” work for Coke Zero), it has seldom been dull. That’s a tough trick for a good-sized ad agency, and it speaks well of the management that the agency continues to take creative risks.

Second, we’re seeing an ever-wider dispersion of good talent, hot shops, and major accounts. One could credit the internet, but that’s simplistic. Two decades or so ago, the rising hot ad cities were Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and Richmond; the current diaspora is a continuation of what may have been a creative revolution against the New York/Los Angeles/Chicago mentality. Anyway, I like that.
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November 4, 2005
Podcasting may be old news to the terminally hip, but it’s just gathering up momentum in the rest of the world. Here’s the story, from BusinessWeek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think it’s great that major corporations like appliance maker Whirlpool and pet food purveyor Purina see the value in podcasting. When heavyweights hop onto a bandwagon, it picks up speed.

We’re in for exciting times ahead, especially as the video iPod and similar technologies get more entrenched. Just think: it’s the community access television concept gone global, the ultimate democratization of media. The golden years are right now and just ahead, before the inevitable mass consolidation and blandification of the medium. What a great time to be in advertising!
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November 3, 2005
Here’s an ad concept we’ve seen a million times: a spoof real estate ad for a jail cell, to discourage late-night drinkers from partying too hard. But this time, there’s a twist. Here’s the short blurb, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thankfully, this poster wasn’t created by a professional creative team. It was created by a cop, so he can be excused for seizing on a rather tired cliché. The twist, though, is where he got the idea: an actual local real estate ad that mistakenly ran with the phone number of the local jail.

Even old ideas can be found in new ways.
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November 2, 2005
War stories. We’ve all got ’em, about past clients, partners, projects, presentations, pitches, you name it. Here’s an article about the recent ad agency review for Utah tourism, from The Salt Lake Tribune (UT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

To all appearances, a well-connected newcomer brought in a ringer and won the account. Now the other finalists are protesting.

In doing a cursory post-mortem, a couple things strike me. First, it doesn’t matter whether political connections got one agency or another short-listed. Due diligence for the other finalists would have included determining the weight those connections would bring to the final selection and withdrawing if it looked dodgy. Of course, tourism accounts are always political. On top of which, it sounds to me like someone at one of the other finalist ad agencies had a brother who was highly placed politically and on the review committee. So, the connection thing is a moot point.

Second, the agency with the deepest insider connections brought in an acknowledged outside expert. This was a key strategic decision, and shows that they knew their weak spot. The outside expert gave their team third-party validation and credibility, and, just by being there, defended their presentation against the taint of inside-track cronyism. I called this nearly two months ago, writing about this very ad agency review back on September 13: ... the thing is, you have to look outside the locale itself to get opinions that are relevant to tourism marketing efforts.

This win wasn’t about a flashy gimmick. It was about one agency putting together a strategy that took into account both the client and the other finalists.
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November 1, 2005
Branding is an all-encompassing activity, and there are many areas in which to get it wrong. Less so in website design, say, but more often in website structure. Here’s an article about designing for usability, from BBC News (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like how usability was reflected in the Staples advertising slogan, which went from a tangible, inventory-based tagline to an intangible, customer-experience-based one.

One thing to remember, though, is that usability is a changing target. For example, take setting a digital device. Remember being a kid, and grown-ups would ask you to set their digital watch, or their VCR, or their clock on their microwave oven? Somehow, it was easy: just push a few buttons, figure out the sequence, and go. But for adults 20 years ago, it was a closed book. Two college degrees and an instruction book the size of a short novel couldn’t help.

A few years ago, the stumbling block was texting on a numeric keypad, the model being a telephone keypad. To a younger crowd, it was easy, intuitive, simple, fast. To an older generation, it was cumbersome, incomprehensible, and slow, leading to hand-held wireless devices with keypads based on the century-old typewriter model. Usability is relative, and the differentiator, despite appearances, may not be age as much as mindset.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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