John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November 2007

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November 30 2007
Having ruined holiday gift-giving for a number of its members, Facebook is scrambling to undo “Beacon,” its much-vaunted social advertising feature launched with great fanfare earlier this month. Here’s the story, from the Washington Post (DC) via the front page of my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Uh-huh. This was such an old-school, dunderheaded mistake it would be funny if it showed up on The Office. For it to be implemented, and indeed apparently spearheaded, by one of the founding fathers of the social networking world just shows how inept even the “experts” can be when they try to bolt a commercial element onto a social network. And it’s not like no one predicted it. Scroll back to November 7, when I said:

I don’t know if it’s possible to merge the concerns of advertisers with the concerns of such a diverse community. It’s not like marketing to a brand community; it’s more like, well, old-school mass advertising.

The comparison holds up, as shown by this key snippet:

“Pushing your message out to people is no longer good enough,” [Facebook founder] Zuckerberg told about 200 advertising-industry executives, many already in New York for the ad:tech conference. “You have to get your message out to the conversations.”

Problem is, those are both push strategies. He’s still talking about getting your message out to the conversations, as if it’s something you can force on people.

So, basically, this is a failure of the Marketing 101 kind. You’re either executing an Advertising 2.0 strategy, which is based on pull, or you’re not. You can’t combine the two in a single channel; it doesn’t work to push a viral any more than it works to push a conversation.

Oddly enough, it’s the old-school ad rule that works: Rosser Reeves’ attract, intrigue, persuade. Facebook’s Beacon isn’t about attracting its own audience, it’s about using an audience that’s already there. The only intrigue is voyeurism. And there is no persuasive element, unless you think that all web-friends want to own the same stuff, a concept that’s at least 10 years behind the curve.

For more of my rants on Facebook’s foray into monetizing its membership through ad revenue, scroll down to the Ad Blog entries for November14, 8, and 7.
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November 29 2007
These things run in herds. Yet another tourism campaign is slammed, as the Scottish government spends six months and  £125,000 – more than $250,000 – on “Welcome to Scotland.” Yes, that’s the slogan, and here’s the story, from the Evening Times (Glasgow):
Advertising copywriter blog link

On the face of it, that’s right down there with “Shine,” Florida’s new tourism slogan.

However, I have not seen how “Shine” or “Welcome to Scotland” are executed. Maybe the design saves them, indeed lifts them from the prosaic to the powerful. After all, there’s nothing spectacular about Nike’s “Just Do It,” although come to think of it, that at least conveys an attitude.

Here are some other slogans for UK cities and regions, most of which are derided by locals, from The Independent (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some of these have an inviting attitude, and with some imagination could be quite appealing, but it’s funny how dead most slogans are when set in plain text. Perhaps the only way to judge a slogan is in context. On the other hand, if slogans are largely meaningless when stripped of context, then what’s the point, other than graphic blandishment?

I think slogans are very rarely necessary.
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November 28 2007
Two days ago, I talked about the New Mexico tourism campaign. Today, here’s the story of a new ad campaign for Florida, from the Tallahassee Democrat (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the big idea: “Shine.” Uh huh. That sounds like something that would make it through a “multi-cultural committee,” because it doesn’t mean anything, except perhaps to an opposition group that apparently wants to revitalize it as an ethnic slur in order to further a sociopolitical agenda.

This is why it’s hard to do good work promoting tourism, no matter how wonderful the product. The stakes are so high, and there are so many voices to be heard, and so many needs to to satisfy, that you end up doing “Shine” and calling it a day.

Which is a pity, because smart branding and marketing could actually do some good.
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November 27 2007
The New Yuppies are coming, and they are ambitious, socially conscious, fiscally conservative technophiles. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Perhaps this is higher on my radar screen because I’m currently reading a book called BOBOs in Paradise, by David Brooks (2000, Simon & Shuster, NY), about the rise of “Bourgeois Bohemians.” The book is a bit dated, having been published way back in that Big Year everyone called Y2K. Still, it’s a milestone of sorts, a social study of the early stages of the integration of commerce and counterculture.

This is important, because this is the current mainstream American pop culture.
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November 26 2007
New Mexico is advertising itself using aliens. (Get it? New Mexico > Roswell > aliens?) And, as could be expected, some folks are complaining. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via (Topeka, KS):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, I’ve seen these ads. As the article says, San Diego is one of the target markets for New Mexico tourism. In fact, I recall that an associate sent me a link to the campaign website several months ago. I watched a bunch of spots online – I remember that two or three were good, but the rest seemed like filler. It was pretty engaging, but I must say that even though I admired the work, I never went back to the site, or even thought of it, until this article made the memory pop back up.

And, as a consumer, I travel. With a family.

That said, though, I don’t think the answer is to “soften up” the aliens. It’s the contrast between their fearsome appearances and prosaic conversations that’s the key to the whole thing.

Critics say that more of New Mexico’s natural assets should be featured in the ads. Well, here’s the problem: such retail-type advertising would be perceived by consumers as part of any other southwestern state tourism campaign offering similar assets. You end up adding to the message weight for Arizona, Colorado, or Utah rather than building a separate identity.

And it’s no good saying our red rocks and indigenous culture are better than their red rocks and indigenous culture – on TV, no one can tell the difference. The one thing New Mexico has got, that Arizona, Colorado, and Utah can’t lay claim to, is aliens. Strategically, it’s the right hook. If there’s a tactical error, it could be in thinking that it takes a whole year for people to get the concept before you can leverage the aliens into more specifically targeted retail-like messages. Or not, given that I don’t know the media buy and $2.9 million just isn’t a lot to promote an entire state.
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November 25 2007
Another one from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) – hey, it’s Sunday – this time about online customer reviews and how they’re influencing hotel industry marketing:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a key snip: The online stakes are high for the hotel industry, particularly for smaller, independent hotels that tend to benefit more than the big brand names from exposure on travel-review sites.

In other words, the web is an equalizer, allowing small regional brands to compete with large international brands, based on the quality of the customer experience. Online review sites provide a platform for third-party validation (or invalidation) of the brand vision, regardless of the external marketing budget.

Suddenly, internal brand marketing is every bit as important as external brand marketing. It’s essential that all employees have a share in the brand and its successful execution, otherwise the brand will stumble at the final touchpoint.
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November 24 2007
From my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) comes this pick-up from the New York Times News Service about the silently successful repositioning of Western Union:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Western Union? Yup, the old, bankrupted telegram company is now a major international brand and potent economic force, and that interesting development has happened right under the noses of most western marketing analysts.

First, in biz-speak, Western Union found an under-served niche on which to focus its core competencies. Then, it developed service lines and access points tailored for each community within the niche. Finally, it did massive marketing within each community, in the community’s own language, including pervasive guerilla branding and face-to-face outreach programs.

Some call Western Union’s premium-level pricing predatory. Others argue that delivering otherwise unavailable levels of service to its target market incurs costs that must be covered within the pricing structure. Some say its business model is “aiding and abetting illegal immigration” for commercial gain. Others argue that, in today’s global economy, enabling the efficient transfer of work-based earnings is supporting a basic human right.

No matter how you look at it, though, it’s an incredible story of brand revival.
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November 23 2007
It looks like this Black Friday is off to a fairly strong start for U.S. retailers, despite high fuel prices, worries about Chinese-made goods, the lack of a hot gift in any category, and my own doubts about the credibility of door-buster deals. Here are two articles, the first from Reuters via The Guardian (UK), and the second from The Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

Macy’s seems to be on a big media push this season, now that the store has returned to the basic of retail advertising (coupons, one-day sales, deep promotional discounts, and the like). However, I think Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren has the right take on the real significance of doing well on Black Friday (from the Reuters article): “If you do well on Black Friday, it’s a good indication that you’ve got the right items and the right marketing to attract the customer for the rest of the season,”

In other words, it’s not just about the sale day; it’s about the merchandise mix, the marketing message, and whether you’re reaching and resonating with your customers.

Still, customer frustration over limited supplies on promotional deals is definitely a factor. My big unanswered question is, at what point does “if you don’t get there early, don’t bother going” become shortened in the consumer’s mind to “don’t bother going?” For most shoppers, that point is not yet in sight.
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November 22 2007
Websites that offer previews of Black Friday ads and circulars have become key marketing resources for retailers. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some retailers have long embraced such websites. Others have come to embrace them, especially the regional retailers who benefit from the Black Friday sites’ nationwide appeal. And still others, like Wal-Mart, are trying – perhaps inadvertently – to have it both ways, threatening with their legal department while thanking through their marketing department.

The big question for the day is: how well will these “door-buster” promotional discounts work?

I think they will work if they aren’t perceived as another form of bait-and-switch. Like I said on November 3: This tactic could backlash, badly, if consumers decide that their chances of securing a deal are too small to bother with. And if that happens, even the buzz will be negative.
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November 21 2007
The BBC looked at small- to mid-sized businesses throughout Britain, and found that only about half had a web presence. Here’s the story:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s worth noting that the one featured business that did jump online with both feet, a small-town company specializing in vermicomposting kits, is also now the most successful.

However, there’s more to building a successful business online than just putting up a cool website, and that’s the other side of the coin. As the IT expert from the Federation of Small Businesses points out, you have to have a strategy to drive traffic to your website. Otherwise, he says, “it’s like taking a bunch of brochures, putting them in a cupboard and then wondering why sales aren’t going up.”

I think a lot of businesses make the mistake of building their websites in cupboards.
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November 20 2007
A moment of silence (and a surreptitious squeeze) for Dick Wilson, who played Mr. Whipple. Here’s the story, from the Ottawa Citizen (Canada):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Mr. Whipple appeared in more than 500 commercials from 1964 to 1985 with a one-shot resurrection in 1999. It’s no coincidence that he’s one of the most-recognized brand spokespeople in the history of advertising. Sure, the premise was sublimely absurd, the characterization pitch-perfect, and the interactive element irresistible (in fact, I recall some discussion about whether Charmin used softer cardboard cores to make the rolls more squeezable). But it was the consistency of brand messaging across four decades that made it work. You can’t create a Mr. Whipple overnight.
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November 19 2007
In-store television networks are on the rise. Here’s the story, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This proves the point I’ve made over and over: don’t join the network, be the network. Now these in-store media companies are able to deliver an audience at the tipping point, right there within view of the cash register. It’s smart marketing. More important, it’s smart strategy to have developed and nurtured these networks. The ad revenues could be the saving grace for retailers in a down year.

Key snip:

Research from Premier Retail Network, the San Francisco firm that provides television programming for Wal-Mart, shows that that in-store TV marketing generates 56% average recall versus only 21% for regular TV spots.
I think the critical factor is environmental appropriateness. While one expects a certain level of media bombardment in, say, Wal-Mart, one expects the opposite in a bookstore. Developing customized content for the retail channel is all well and good, unless the audience wants no content there in the first place. Then, you have a strategic problem.
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November 16 2007
German advertisers are starting to steer away from using English-language slogans and taglines. This is a reflection of many factors, including the decline of American cultural power, the rise of a warily blossoming German national pride, and, perhaps, a return to a more literal conceptual approach to marketing in response to tougher economic times. Here’s the story, from Deutsche Welle (Germany):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snip:

Inga Wermuth, founder of and owner of the Hamburg-based advertising agency Satelliten Media Design, said in the past, using English was an easy way to sex up a product – and that an element of linguistic confusion was all part of the strategy.

“Some brands consciously play with this lack of understanding,” she said. “The exoticism of a foreign language makes a product seem complex and innovative.

Ad man Sebastian Turner from the Scholz & Friends agency, one of the top creative addresses in Germany, agreed that obfuscation is key.

“When the point is to convey a certain feeling, then precision, function and clarity become secondary,” he said. “Agencies will then simply use words that best convey this emotion.

I think this is a cycle, like any other marketing trend. The mystique of using a foreign language has one kind of appeal. Linguistic clarity has another kind of appeal. I think it’s worth noting that German retailer C&A changed its slogan from a vaguely aspirational English-language phrase (“Fashion for Living”) to a hard-hitting, retail phrase (Preise Gut, Alles Gut, meaning “The Price Is Right, Everything Is Right”). That change can already be seen in slogans for a number of American retailers.

I think there’s probably a correlation: when consumer confidence drops, the importance of advertiser clarity rises.

However, that doesn’t mean you can compete on price alone. If one thing has been learned from the past, it’s that making an emotional connection is what separates the commoditized brand from the communitized brand; that is, building a brand that’s supported by a community of active customers whose loyalty is maintained by something other than saving money.
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November 15 2007
Can a catchy tune be broken down by a mathematical model and, if so, can a mathematical model be used to build them? Here’s a great exploration of the neuroscience of music, from the always fascinating Quest section of my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I find this interesting because it supports the concept of using a jingle as audio branding that persists on a viral level. Key quote, from Aniruddh Patel from The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla: “Music ties into memory systems in ways that language alone does not. ... Music powerfully articulates emotions – triumph, despair, happiness, angst – and emotion is central to forming strong, long-term memories.

Emotion is also central to creating good advertising.

I think we’re just beginning to understand interactivity at the level of brain activity. So far, the marketing research into interactivity is focused on clicks and other tangible actions, but neuroscience is way ahead of that.

Now, I don’t think this tells us anything we don’t already know and use on an intuitive level to create ads. But it does validate the approach.
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November 14 2007
The case against Facebook’s “social advertising” (scroll down to my Ad Blog entries for November 7 and 8) is getting stronger as a law professor argues that associating users with advertising lies outside the users’ “scope of consent.” Here’s the opinion piece, from (Eagan, MN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This field is wide open, and law is still playing catch-up with the real world. So it comes down to intent. And, Facebook’s intent here is to monetize its users, with no compensation made to those users. That breaks the unwritten contract between a social networking group and its members, and that’s what’s going to bring the house of cards down. The attorneys will hang around to pick up the pieces, set things in stone, and divvy the spoils, but the real world (and the virtual social networking world) will have moved on by then.

Anyway, I still think the smarter move for any brand is to build your own branded social network, and not piggyback onto someone else’s.
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November 13 2007
Back to my old hobby-horse: advertising targeting children. This little piece, about teaching kids to think critically about media messages, is something every parent should read. It comes from this week’s issue of the National Catholic Reporter (Kansas City, MO):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Absolutely every child needs this discussion at absolutely every media touchpoint until it becomes an automatic internal monologue. My own parenting experience is that pre-literate children can learn that pictures on packages do not accurately represent the contents of those packages, and can even revel in their mastery of the situation.

But you have to start early.
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November 12 2007
It’s the Veteran’s Day holiday, so things may be a bit slow. That’s why I found this link, sent to me by my frequent collaborator Blaise, to be absolutely irresistible:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Be sure to watch the whole infomercial (which goes on and on in a pitch-perfect parody of the real things).

It’s obviously a viral, created by a web design firm out of Utah. Now, they may be talking to themselves with it, because this whole Make My Logo Bigger concept will resonate much more strongly with other designers than clients. On the other hand, the clients it attracts will be more enlightened, hipper, and probably more fun to work with. And, it also works to attract good employees.

Anyway, I thought it was cool, and worth pointing out.
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November 9 2007
So the web-based drama series quarterlife has a buzz everywhere but in its core audience. Here’s a look, from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Too bad. It’s a good premise, but what was needed here wasn’t a traditional television scriptwriter, it was an advertising copywriter. Here’s a quote from the creative brains behind the project:

“I don't know how to create real emotion in less than an hour – I know how to do it in two hours, I know how to do it in an hour – I don't know how to do it in a half-hour, and I really don’t know how to do it in eight minutes.”

Um, I know how to create emotion in 30 seconds. Any good advertising copywriter knows how.

A copywriter would also have started with more research, and would have uncovered some of the underlying flaws if he or she hadn’t already nailed them in the brief. For instance, the main character dissing her friends in an vlog? Not gonna happen in real life, not believable in an ad ... or in a minisode series.

Anyway, it’s a nice concept, but so far it’s nothing but an expensively produced, poorly executed Lonelygirl15.
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November 8 2007
Another perspective on Facebook’s foray into targeted advertising, from Business Week via Yahoo! Finance (UK and Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The author brings up some really street-smart points, including the likelihood that users lied when setting up their profiles. I think that data mining is just one facet of the resource here. Beyond privacy considerations, an over-reliance on statistical analysis is dangerous because could lead marketers to lose sight of the main goal, which is to get closer to real potential customers. That’s doubly so if the data pool is monkeywrenched by the data providers themselves.
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November 7 2007
Advertising on Facebook gets more targeted. Or is that more intrusive? Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t know if it’s possible to merge the concerns of advertisers with the concerns of such a diverse community. It’s not like marketing to a brand community; it’s more like, well, old-school mass advertising.

The comparison holds up, as shown by this key snippet:

“Pushing your message out to people is no longer good enough,” [Facebook founder] Zuckerberg told about 200 advertising-industry executives, many already in New York for the ad:tech conference. “You have to get your message out to the conversations.”

Problem is, those are both push strategies. He’s still talking about getting your message out to the conversations, as if it’s something you can force on people. The truth is both more complicated and more lucrative to those who get it. Because the goal isn’t to “get” someone to talk about you; it’s to invite a dialog between two people as a disinterested third party. Sort of like match-making.

And that is why brand communities will ultimately have more value to brands than egregiously over-populated communities like Facebook or MySpace.

My recommendation, should anyone care to take it: don’t spend a dime on Facebook or MySpace advertising. Instead, take that same budget and invest it in building your own brand community. And that’s not something you can simply bolt on; you first have to have a brand that’s worthy of community support.

Which, in turn, is why there will be no shortage of companies eager to try to short-cut the process by leaping headlong into pre-existing communities, which may or may not (and I’d bet not) serve their goals.
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November 6 2007
I like guerilla marketing stories like this one, about a Mexican restaurant that found a quirky twist on political posters. Here’s the story, from the York Daily Record (York, PA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I also like the rock-paper-scissors promotion. These things may come off as whimsical, but they’re smart branding as well as proven traffic-builders. Cool stuff!

The only thing I’d have added to the pseudo-political signage, is a website URL so people to whom the brand is new can learn more and find the nearest restaurant location.

Next, I have an obit notice for Thomas Dawes, the man who wrote the “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” advertising jingle for Alka-Seltzer, from the Los Angeles Times (CA) via (MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here was a creative life well-lived. As a rock musician, he toured with Simon & Garfunkle, had a few Top-40 hits, and opened for the Beatles on their final tour. He wrote jingles for 7-Up, L’Eggs, American Airlines, and Alka-Selzer. He was married for 29 years, to a fellow jingle writer, with whom he wrote a musical that ran off-Broadway for two years. It’s kind of inspiring.
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November 5 2007
Tesco, the giant UK-based supermarket, is coming to southern California in the form of “Fresh & Easy.” Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

My interest is personal as well as commercial, because a Fresh & Easy is opening about a mile away, taking over a defunct Ralph’s. It’s not a tiny store, as supermarkets go, despite what the article says, and certainly not 75% smaller than other supermarkets as we understand percentages on this side of the pond. It is, perhaps, 75% of the size of other supermarkets, or what we would term 25% smaller.

Anyway, while percentages may not translate, the key is whether the Tesco Express business model does. The model, which blends convenience store and grocery store attributes, sounds like a super 7-11. If it works, I expect that the real target for Tesco, down the road, is Wal-Mart. And with the Dollar weak against both the Euro and the Pound, things could get very interesting indeed when sourcing products from other countries.
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November 3 2007
Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s story about retailers using heavy promotional discounts to lure shoppers in anticipation of a relatively downbeat holiday shopping season, again from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the deeply discounted sale items at Wal-Mart stayed in stock for a couple hours. While some retailers might regard the short-term boost in traffic as a marketing success, I see a medium-term problem developing.

See, the problem with such tightly limited “door-buster” deals, is that they leave deeply unsatisfied the many shoppers who don’t get them. It’s like bait-and-switch – not by intent, certainly, but the same feeling is left in the hearts and minds of the Don’t Gets (who, by definition, outnumber the Gets by a wide margin).

This tactic could backlash, badly, if consumers decide that their chances of securing a deal are too small to bother with. Buzz could easily start running against the stores, rather than for them. So the delicate balance of pricing and inventory as key elements of retail marketing remains, well, delicate.
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November 2 2007
Retailers are already looking ahead to a gloomy holiday season. Here’s the story, from the front page of my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Housing is down, consumer confidence is down, gas prices are up, shoppers are trimming their gift-giving budgets, and stores are already marking down prices. What I don’t understand, given the reality and relative predictability of economic cycles, is why the entire retail industry is howling over a projected 4% sales increase. This seems to be part of the same mentality that made homeowners believe that their equity could move only in one direction: up. So, as in real estate, it looks like a buyer’s market for those with money to spend. And, advertising is bound to get heavily promotional.

However, I predict that the retailers that survive this downturn will be those with the strongest brands, not those with the deepest discounts. I say this because so many consumer brands – Mattel and Fisher-Price to name two – have lost a lot of their credibility over the last several months. I think the choice of whom to buy from will rise in importance relative to what to buy.
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November 1 2007
Here’s an interview with Alex Bogusky, chief creative officer of hot ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, from Fast Company via WIStv (Columbia, SC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

You can’t say this shop doesn’t take risks and court controversy. Sometimes it works really really well. Other times it leads to a pratfall of near-epic proportions. Gotta love it.

Here, though, is the key to their creative success. When asked where their best ideas come from, here’s what Bogusky has to say:

I wish I knew. We tend not to trust too much in the “aha!” moments. Trust in the process and just keep churning it. It’s not very glamorous like it might be in a movie about advertising. It’s much more like mining. You’ve got lots of people doing their work, others culling through that work tying to find the gems. There’s a lot of just dirt and a few gems.

I think that’s the key problem with a lot of advertising creative: laziness. Copywriters and art directors trust “instinct” instead of the process, so they gravitate toward solutions that emerge early on.
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Backwards in time to October 2007

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