John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November, 2006

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November 30, 2006
A recent study of 70 major companies showed that about half of them were not satisfied with their ROI on innovation spending. Here’s the story, from The Advocate (Stamford, CT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I wonder if this is related to the 66% of top corporate executives who felt their companies were ineffective at converting customer data into something useful (see the Ad Blog entry for November 28). After all, innovation that begins at the customer level has the best chance of positive returns.

Both reports cite competing corporate priorities as major hurdles. I have a hard time understanding what corporate priorities could be more important than customer-focused innovation, but there you go. That’s why I’m a freelance advertising copywriter and they’re CEOs.

Or, actually, that’s why CEOs need freelance copywriters, or outside marketing counsel in any case: as external resources that help them keep internal priorities in proper order.
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November 29, 2006
You could file this under “stating the obvious,” but here’s an article titled “Young Favor Internet Over TV,” from Reuters via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The interesting thing is that Internet usage seems tied to – get this – radio listenership. My key question concerns the mechanism: is it because you can listen to the radio at the same time as you browse, is it because people are tuning into streaming webcasts, or is it because exposure to the web drives an interest in radio content?

I thought this statistic was interesting too: “76 percent of Chinese broadband users watch downloadable or streaming music video clips while 70 percent watch TV over broadband.” The future Market With Clout has arrived.
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November 28, 2006
Leveraging customer data is one of those marketing tasks that gets more lip service than labor, for no reason other than that other corporate tasks take precedence. Other corporate tasks? What could be more important than satisfying customers? Anyway, here’s the article, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve seen situations where the marketing department can’t extract customer data from the IT department, or, conversely, in which the marketing department can’t even tell the IT department what data it needs because it has no action plan for implementing the results of analyzing the data. I heard an apocryphal-but-believable story that several years worth of recent data from a major supermarket chain’s customer loyalty card program was dumped – yes, dumped – because no one could figure out how to use it.

I guess this is where you end up when marketing becomes thought of as strictly a creative function instead of a business function with a creative aspect.
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November 27, 2006
More updated analysis and prognostications about the retail shopping season, this time from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’ve seen stories saying sales were up, and I’ve seen stories saying sales were down. And, I think they both could be right. As the market fragments, final returns will be mixed based on individual retailer performance. Take Wal-Mart, for instance, a retail brand with a significant national presence. It’s a model of logistical brilliance right up to the point of customer contact, where the wheels fall off. It would take a massive customer service initiative to bring back a profitable customer base. That’s not an industry-wide issue; that’s an individual brand experience issue.
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November 25, 2006
Early sales figures are showing that high traffic at retailers may not mean high sales, from Reuters via MSN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If retail traffic was driven by deep discounting, then the key piece is missing from that Reuters headline. Not only does high traffic not necessarily mean high sales, but high sales may not mean high profits. Even if the strategy is one of volume, it has to be profitable volume. Anecdotal evidence – and by that I mean me talking to some neighbors, and therefore a sample size in the low single digits – is that shoppers snapped up the bargains and left, just like last year.

Oh, and that vacuum cleaner I bought yesterday? It fits right into this year’s trend in that it is not a gift. In fact, if the status quo remains, I’ll log more hours with it than anyone else in the household, at least until the kids are old enough to do chores with powered appliances. No, our old one just pretty much died, or was murdered, choked to death on dog hair, Lego bricks, plastic dinosaurs, and scraps of paper with beads glued on them.
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November 24, 2006
I hope you had a Thanksgiving Day filled with gratitude, warmth, and love!

Capping off a week of retail-focused entries, comes this early return on Black Friday sales, from Reuters via MSN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I found more retailers putting their Black Friday ads online, and offering web-only Black Friday deals. In fact, that’s how I just ordered a new vacuum cleaner from Sears, and came within a hairsbreadth of ordering a new digital camera, all without leaving the house.

Did you know where the term “Black Friday” came from? The Friday after Thanksgiving is when many retailers finally make a profit, hence go into the black after operating for most of the year in the red.
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November 22, 2006
As viral and other forms of non-traditional, under-the-radar marketing join the mainstream, a pattern of discipline is emerging. Here’s a good review of where things stand now, from Media Week (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the ability to track results is one of the greatest things to come out of new media; it raises the accountability bar for all media, and in many cases supports the value of outstanding creative.

The ending quote from Jason Brownlee, research director at media consultancy and research agency Other Lines of Enquiry, sums things up perfectly:

“Word of mouth is not good at changing ingrained prejudices, but it can be good for getting people to try something or where there are few preconceptions,” he says. “It can provide valuable reassurance when you don't understand the terrain.”

Maybe word-of-mouth is less persuasive in the face of an existing preference. However, existing preferences can switch from positive to neutral, or even negative, at the drop of a hat. So the name of the game, as with other media, comes down to good old reach and frequency.
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November 21, 2006
Here’s a story about the flip side of the department store renaissance (see November 18), specifically fashion retailer Old Navy’s struggle to become relevant again, from Brandweek (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the shops can be turned around, but I have my doubts about the brand. See, Old Navy was the brand and the shop and the label. It still is, although I don’t think it’s particularly strong any more. But, the instant you bring in other branded labels, you dilute the brand in favor of becoming the channel.

Mind you, this might be exactly the right way to increase profitability. A palette of labels offers more tactical flexibility than a single house brand, with the possibility of less overhead. On the other hand, there’s a difference between running a major department store chain and running a specialty chain, so execution will no doubt differ even if the new head carries over strategy.

Anyway, from a brand stewardship perspective, this changes the challenge. Suddenly, you can’t just be the label, you have to be the destination. And that takes you beyond mere fashion. The “Basement” concept, with its in-store music shop and cafe, is right on target. But then, the tactical problem becomes one of square footage.

Maybe the answer is to become big. We’ve lost enough department store brands over the years that maybe, just maybe, there’s room for an energetic newcomer offering unique products and a fresh shopping experience. The question then becomes whether or not the charming quirkiness of the brand can be maintained.
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November 20, 2006
Here’s more commentary about British regulatory agency Ofcom’s ban on junk food advertising targeting kids, plus other goodies, from The Independent (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This takes off from Friday the 17th, and the 14th before that (and dozens of other entries before those).

I think this commentary is spot on. Advertisers will migrate to the web; parents will continue to let their kids watch unhealthy amounts of television, videogames, and online entertainment; and kids will continue eating junk food because their parents will continue to buy it. The only ones really hurt, are the children, whose needs are not being addressed here, and the makers and broadcasters of children’s programming, who now lack the funding to continue innovating.

The brief case study contrasting how Mentos and Coke handled the Mentos + Diet Coke explosions on YouTube is well worth reading too, as is the final piece about the interactive Lynx ad.
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November 19, 2006
Here’s another weekend story, this one about marketing to women, from the Columbia News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I talked about the 1955 Dodge LaFemme and cars aimed at women on December 10 2005. And now, half a century later, marketers for the most part have the same old idea about creating products for women: “make it pink.”

I don’t know. On the one hand, I find it repulsive that this approach actually seems to work. On the other hand, I think some of the popularity might be credited to Pink Camp, the Leather Barbie crowd. You know: pink RAZRs and iPods, Hello Kitty, and black Scions or Dodge Hemis.
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November 18, 2006
I have a soft spot for retail-oriented stories, because stores are where the brand meets the customer and the money changes hands. Here’s one for the weekend, from the New York Times News Service via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a marketing comeback if ever there was one, and I mean marketing in the strictest, fullest sense of the term. Is it real? After all, the timing of this story so close to “Black Friday,” the first major shopping day after Thanksgiving, is a little suspect. On the other hand, I have been noticing a lot more department store shopping bags at the mall lately.

Key interesting quote:

“The great advantage the department store has is the ability to quickly move from one brand to another to keep itself fresh,” said Stephen Sadove, chief executive of Saks, whose sales have improved sharply over the last three months on the strength of designer brands like Tahari, Theory and Juicy Couture.

“The specialty store does not have that luxury,” he said.

In other words, the critical advantage is one of mass. The name of the game is to assemble multiple niche appeals under one roof, an approach that seems to be succeeding in retail, and in media.
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November 17, 2006
A proposed British ban on junk food advertising targeting children has a largely uninvestigated side effect: drastically reducing funding available for children’s programming. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is a carryover from my entry on the 14th, and also a preview of the future, should the pressure groups have their way.

While I oppose television programming aimed at children as a matter of principle, I’m also a realist. And the reality is that the same set of parents who allow their kids to watch children’s TV will let them watch programming aimed at older children and adults if children’s shows become unavailable. Limiting their options won’t dramatically affect their choice, which is what I think needs to be addressed. This issue begins and ends, not with advertising, but with parenting.
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November 16, 2006
The new James Bond movie is extending the franchise with a parade of exclusive branding and product placement deals. Here’s the story, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

As for me, I’m with the ASU journalism and mass communication professor who said:

“... when there’s incredible clutter like that, ultimately no product is being served.”

Look: people know that 007 is a fiction. So, while appearing to be used by a fictional character can lend an undeniable cachet, it’s also recognized and processed as fictitious. We know – or think we know – that a product in real life can’t live up to its screen performance particularly when it’s given star billing. In other words, the more context-critical the product is, and the more it’s featured, the less credibility transfers to the real world.

Product placement at this level gives you an emotional connection, perhaps, but without the foundation of truth that is essential in advertising.
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November 15, 2006
I like stories like this. From the New York Times comes this story of a Pennsylvania radio station owner who has thrived by making smart, contrarian moves:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Look at some of the things he did. When other stations played highbrow music no one knew, he was the first station in his area to play familiar songs. When other stations went off the air at midnight, he broadcast 24 hours a day. When other stations cut their advertising budgets, he increased his by a million dollars, and advertised on TV. He funded in-house research projects on key target audiences. In short, he focused on his listeners. The result: a top-rated, highly profitable station.

Key quote:

On radio, your ear gets a customized version of that commercial. ... You conjure up your own image.

Radio is truly the theater of the mind. It is interactive on a level that television, a basically passive medium, can’t match. I think the biggest threat to radio is online marketing, in which entire virtual worlds can be created and populated to suit the individual. But on radio, that all happens automatically and effortlessly, through the concept and copy. For many advertisers, that’s a huge, neglected, advantage.
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November 14, 2006
Food marketers have agreed to new standards for advertising aimed at kids. Here’s the story, from TV Week (Los Angeles, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The new code calls for at least half of the ads to promote healthy lifestyles and food choices. Also, reduced product placement in children’s programming and limits on the use of licensed characters to promote non-complying products.

This is the least that could be done, and there are huge loopholes. For instance, as long as the product advertising is in compliance with the new directive, there’s no limit on the use of licensed characters. And compliance itself has a huge loophole: the whole “healthy lifestyle” dodge. A healthy lifestyle could be promoted by context alone, just by showing kids running around outdoors. It could even be argued, and no doubt will be, that certain licensed characters also promote healthy lifestyles. Power Rangers, for instance, whose athletic combat moves are emulated on playgrounds across the country, could well be viewed as models for active, rigorous martial arts training.

The whole code seems both toothless and pointless.

And here comes my monthly rant on advertising aimed at children (looks like my last ones were October 2 and 3). It’s obvious that no one wants to tackle the real cause of all this obesity and misery: parents who don’t model healthy choices themselves, and who desire lifestyles so far beyond the means of a single income that their kids are raised by day care centers, children’s programming, and videogames.

Advertising is an influence, to be sure. That’s how commerce works, folks. But, in the course of a day, a week, a year, parents should be bigger influences. If your kids see more advertising than parenting, well then, there’s your problem. It’s not the ads. It’s you.
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November 13, 2006
Okay now, this is great. This CEO of a small appliance brand in Orem, Utah claims to have heard of YouTube just ten days ago. And now, he and his company’s blender are internet celebrities and sales are rising as a result of a series of YouTube videos. Here’s the story, from the Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City, UT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well now, the folksy thing may be a bit of an act. Just a bit. The domain related to the campaign looks to have been purchased mid-October with an update a few days ago (probably when the site went live), so some intelligent planning went into this campaign even though they moved fast. And the whole thing hangs together better than a lot of campaigns with bigger budgets do – which is why it works.

A few observations:

First, you’ll notice that all the videos are a bit over a minute long. The :60 used to be the standard on TV, perhaps with good reason. If you edited these down to :30, they’d lose the continuous, locked-down camera feel that gives them their credibility.

Second, from a media perspective, this is proof that if you can produce a TV commercial, you can broadcast a TV commercial.

Third, from a creative standpoint, the key here was the concept. Not the copywriting. Not the direction. Certainly not the production. The concept. And the concept itself was a simple, straightforward, product-focused demonstration.

Remember those Timex commercials, in which a wristwatch was strapped to things like the propeller of an outboard motor? If you do, consider that those commercials haven’t run for maybe 40 years – that’s how memorable a credible, dramatic demonstration can be.

Is your product or service superior? If so, can you demonstrate it? Then, can you dramatize it?
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November 10, 2006
Right there on the front page of my hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), comes this story from the New York Times News Service about advertisers creating their own entertainment vehicles:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This smacks of someone’s PR efforts. For one thing, it’s hardly a “new approach” – it’s a revival of a very old one. And, to the extent that this current iteration is new, it’s already several years old (nearly as old as this blog, in fact,: there are entries going back three years to December 4 2003 and March 13 2003). I looked at the Bud TV online entertainment network back on September 8 2006, and found nothing but a email harvester. I suspect Anheuser-Busch will launch into a more competitive environment than they think, by the time they get going. Still, if they can execute properly, there’s no doubt the opportunity to connect is there.

The question is, how long will advertisers foot the bill for advertising agencies and creative professionals to create content to reach ever smaller audiences? Come on, a million viewers is nothing to advertisers of this size, particularly when ROI is unquantifiable by the very nature of the content.

There is, of course, a proven, more-economical model: have the viewers themselves provide the content. The problem then becomes how to shepherd the brand. Without a strong community, something few brands have, entropy takes over and things descend into brand chaos.

The answer, I think, lies in taking advantage of all the advertising tools. Find a targeted medium, whether it’s online or off, and support it with a relevant ad (yes, an ad) that connects with real people to attract, intrigue, and persuade. If you have to create the vehicle, create the vehicle. Then, retain customers through ongoing, relevant contacts (and this is where having your own marketing vehicle becomes very cost-effective indeed).

As good as it is to create a network of potential customers, I say a network of actual customers is better.
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November 9, 2006
Holiday advertising looks to be focused on humor rather than hard-sell. Here’s the story, from the New York Times News Service via The Detroit News (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, it’s too early in the retail season to make such sweeping generalizations. Second, of the brands mentioned, only one is a retailer. Third, although there’s nothing wrong with the strategy, I think some of these ad concepts fail on execution to close the loop.

The problem is, if the sales curve doesn’t go up, advertisers will get scared and jump to the wrong conclusion: that a creative approach somehow doesn’t work. It works, if you let it. But, it has to deliver a complete message, and it has to end with an open door – not a “brought to you by” but a “come on in.”

If you want to drive sales, ads must end, not with a conclusion, but with an invitation.
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November 8, 2006
It’s premature to say that television or the internet will be the death of print. Just look at this brief case study of an Asian skin care company that increased its brand recall by putting its media dollars entirely into print, from AsiaMedia at UCLA (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

A few caveats. First, this was just a two-week test. Yes, $420,000 was spent in just two weeks, which, if sustained, would translate into a annual media budget of nearly $11 million. And, the “test” was done in partnership with the print media organization, which absolutely had a vested interest in making this media experiment succeed. In other words, there’s no telling what the media value was, really, even after ordinary ROP pick-ups.

However, it does illustrate very well the idea that it’s better to dominate one medium than to disappear into two or three. With increasingly fragmented audiences and media, trying to have a “presence” across all channels is a recipe for failure. Creative focus will always win.
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November 7, 2006
Happy Election Day! I’ll be happy when the pre-recorded spam phone calls from Arnold, Bill, Hillary, and others comes to an end, even though it’s peculiarly satisfying to hang up on them. For most advertisers, though, every day is election day: customers either elect to remain customers, or they exercise their right to take their business elsewhere. Here’s a look at how banks (and other companies) can take steps to increase customer loyalty, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key takeaways:

That first one is the big one; without dialog, there’s no opportunity to learn what the customer wants, which means no opportunity to provide the desired service, which means plenty of opportunity for competitors to steal or seduce your customers away.

That doesn’t mean a company has to go all “interactive” to achieve customer dialog (although the tools are there, why not use them?). All effective advertising is fundamentally interactive. Fifty years ago, copywriter Shirley Polykoff said “copy is a direct conversation with the consumer.” Conversation, you see, not lecture, not instruction, not interruption (interruption being the province of the ad concept).

Too many ads screech and preach. And too few open the door to a dialog, which is the only way to begin building a relationship.

Relevant Bonus. “Why Satisfied Customers Defect,” a PDF article reprint from the Harvard Business Journal, which I discovered via Harry Joiner’s (another regularly worthy read, by the way). Yes, the article is from 1995, but the main thing that’s changed is the tools for cultivating strong customer relationships have improved, rendering excuses even less excusable.
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November 6, 2006
Welcome back, 1979! American auto manufacturers are sitting on huge inventories of unsold vehicles, and I mean unsold to the dealers. Thousands of newly minted vehicles are just parked in back lots, deteriorating and depreciating. And this is a big problem. Here’s the story, from Reuters via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now here’s a relevant long quote from another source. See if you can guess it:

In the summer of 1979, when Chrysler first approached the government for help, the sales bank contained eighty thousand vehicles. At one point the number reached as high as a hundred thousand units, representing about $600 million in finished inventory. At a time when our cash was dwindling anyway and interest rates were high, the costs of carrying this inventory were astronomical. But even worse, the cars were just sitting there in the great outdoors and slowly deteriorating.

Building cars had become a gigantic guessing game. It had nothing to do with a customer ordering what he wanted ... Instead, it was some guy in the zone office saying “I’ll put power steering on this one and automatic transmission on that one. I’ll make a thousand blues and a thousand greens.” If a customer wanted red, too bad!

Something had to be done about all those cars, so at the end of every month the zone offices used to “move the iron” by running a fire sale.... And dealers got used to it. They soon learned that if they waited until the last week of the month, somebody from the zone office would call and try to package ten cars for a special price. One way or another, the dealers could always get something off the regular wholesale price. At Ford, we had run occasional fire sales when inventories got too large. But here it was a way of life.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, the dealers became dependent on those sales.... I knew Chrysler would never be profitable unless we got rid of this system – permanently....

It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually the dealers took up the slack and we finally cleaned up the sales bank. It was incredibly difficult. Dealer inventories were already large, and interest rates were high. But the dealers did what was necessary, and within a couple years we were finally running our plants to firm dealer orders.

Yes, it’s Lee Iacocca, in Iacocca: An Autobiography (with William Novak, 1984, Bantam Books), in a chapter titled “Aboard a Sinking Ship.” Today, even the numbers are similar: a hundred thousand unsold Chrysler vehicles. So what happened?

The boom-boom late-nineties and early-aughts happened, along with a merger that should have led to growth and instead led to the demise of a brand (Plymouth) and a series of short-term turnaround plans.

You can fiddle almost all the numbers except inventory, and actually you can fiddle those too but it’s easier to uncover. That’s why, when I talk to a new client, some of my early questions concern inventory and inventory management.

Why should a freelance copywriter bother digging into a client’s business process management? Because, see, it becomes my problem if the marketing strategy hasn’t taken into account an existing bank of goods. An aggressive advertising campaign aimed at growing market share might be utterly ineffective at clearing out old inventory, and when old inventory sits, it costs. It’s basic marketing triage: first, you stop what’s killing you now. Then, once things are stable, you start looking for ways to improve the health of the business.

The good news, though, is that there are now media channels that let you cost-effectively engage consumers one-on-one. In that way, it is most definitely not 1979.
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November 3, 2006
What’s the difference between buzz and word-of-mouth? Authenticity. Here’s a look at some of the movie industry’s buzz-building failures and word-of-mouth successes, from the Baltimore Sun (MD):
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are important lessons here, whether one is marketing a movie or mouthwash. First, the product has to live up to the buzz, or it dies a quick and ignoble death. I’m reminded of the old axiom, “nothing kills a bad product as fast as good advertising.”

Second, word-of-mouth creates buzz. But buzz, especially industrially inseminated buzz, does not necessarily create word-of-mouth.

Third, the quickest, surest path to creating word-of-mouth has nothing to do with advertising and everything to do with delivering a great product or service. Like all good advertising concepts, you have to start by telling the truth.
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November 2, 2006
Here’s another look at ads that use a modern stereotype of large black women, from The Detroit News (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Caricature, as I discussed here back on August 1, is one of the short-cuts used when a copywriter and art director have to trim the story to fit 30, 15, or even 10 seconds or less. The trade-off, though, is that the personality can overshadow the product.

Two and a half years ago, the face du jour was racially ambiguous (see my Ad Blog entry for January 6 2004). Or gay (March 10 2004). Or both, ambiguity being itself ambiguous. Now, we’re entering a time when things are more, um, black and white.

I think this foretells a coming shift in creative strategy. Accountability will be in. Results tracking will be in. Clarity in communication will be in.

Not that they were ever out.
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November 1, 2006
What’s so great about new media, with all the buzz about user-created content, alternative media channels, and even alternative realities? Well, this article pretty much sums up the opportunities and excitement. It’s from The Economic Times (India), via agencyfaqs! (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One fallacy, though, is this idea that television viewers didn’t screen out commercials in the Good Old Days. They did, in fact, by leaving the room, changing the channel, or simply tuning out. So, to say that it’s a disaster for traditional television advertising that some 60% of the spots are skipped fails to take into account the behavioral side of the medium. I think the numbers we have today are far more accurate representations of viewing behavior than was available in decades past.

Yet, there’s no doubt that the media environment has changed. In the Good Old Days, people gathered around a television set might be half reading, or half-conversing, or half-making out. Now, they could easily be doing all those things and then some, the flickering blue light of the television screen providing both a central reference and a general ambience.

Still, do advertising creatives have it better now? Oh, absolutely yes.
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Backwards in time to October 2006

My experience as a copywriter.

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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