John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November 2008

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November 29 2008
I read this over breakfast and just had to share it. At first, I thought it was a great, concise look at how the web continues to transform marketing, from The Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

But parts of it started to bug me, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the same old stuff regurgitated with the latest buzzwords.

First, I do not think the web is moving marketers from seeking customer loyalty to merely seeking customer attention, nor do I think such a move is wise. That’s an old tactic, and the information power has shifted so far to the consumer that you can’t get away with ceaselessly seeking out new conversions, at least not for very long. To follow this path is to create more noise, and brands that go out of their way to inject more noise into their customer relationships will find themselves, ironically, losing customers over their marketing.

It will continue to be more cost-effective to cultivate more sales out of existing customers, and the web-based relationship marketing tools we have at our disposal are truly transformational. We can now engage each customer individually in a meaningful, relevant dialog, and do it on a massive scale. That is cool.

Second, although I agree that microniches are increasing in importance to consumers and marketers alike, I don’t see any microniche sites mentioned. I see, instead, the biggest of the big pop-networking sites targeting blacks, people seeking self-improvement, and moms (where the authors may have meant CafeMom, not “MomsCafe”). Saying a site for moms is a niche site is like saying Parenting is a niche magazine. Yeah, it’s a niche. But it’s not a microniche.

Microniches exist online because they can’t be served by traditional published media. They are to be found in the far reaches of the web, if you can find them if you’re not yourself in the microniche. In other words, they’re not just communities of moms, they’re communities of moms who are cops, or moms who are sex workers, or moms who are writers. And even those are kind of big for microniches, so take it a level deeper: Hispanic moms who are cops, disabled moms who are sex workers, moms who are writers of fiction. Obviously, there’s a certain depth at which a microniche crosses the line from relevant to irrelevant, at least from the perspective of marketing ROI, but it’s way, way deeper than a standard demographic breakdown.

Third, I think the reason there have been so few memorable advertising catch-phrases developed recently has less to do with the fragmented media environment, although that has complicated things, and more to do with the fragmented attention span of marketing departments. Several strong lines have joined the common vernacular in the past 20 years (think Got Milk? or Just Do It) from companies with the strength of will to persist in the face of evanescent trends.

Fourth, I think that the assumption that consumers will shop stores and buy online is relying on a model that fails to take into account the influence and power of online communities. The opposite could easily be the case, and is in fact supported by the study mentioned in my post yesterday: that younger consumers are doing their research online and then going to the store to close the deal.

At any rate, while I wholeheartedly agree with the authors’ premise, I was hoping for fresh ammunition. It may be that the uncertainty principle applies, and that this transformation is just too big to be studied while it is underway, at least not with anything but by-guess-and-by-golly. Something to ponder, as you develop your next ad campaign.
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November 28 2008
It’s Black Friday, traditionally the day when retailers moved into the black after essentially operating at a loss for the past 11 months and now a day of dramatic sales events. Coming up next: Cyber Monday, the net-equivalent. This story, from Seeking Alpha, compares and contrasts the two sales events:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s no surprise that younger people are less affected by the economic downturn. After all, they’re at a different financial stage in their lives; the real estate meltdown was a boon to many Gen-Yers, as was the stock market meltdown when you consider their time horizon to retirement. All these events that older generations are wringing their hands over, those are buying opportunities if you’re 22 or 26, something long forgotten, apparently, bu those who write these articles.

Anyway, I was fascinated by the study results as they related to retail brands. Walmart is strong across all age groups, but weakest among the Boomers. No surprise, given that the Boomers elevated and democratized and even evangelized conspicuous consumption over mere value-for-money. Target is strong among the Gen-Yers, then falls 10 points with each preceding generation. Well, just look at Target’s hip, fashion-forward advertising and you know they’re not targeting the 70-somethings.

The second chart, about improving customer service, really shows the generational differences. The Gen-Y and Gen X crowd wants more people available for checkouts, and don’t care about how well-trained or knowledgeable the sales staff is. This is, after all, the group most-likely to thoroughly research its purchases online before even stepping into a store. The Boomers and the WWII generations want the faster checkout too, a little less ardently perhaps, with a more-knowledgeable sales staff as well. And, as for friendliness? There, the split went sideways, with the youngest and oldest generations desiring a friendlier shopping experience.
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November 26 2008
Remember when the Super Bowl advertising slots were 85% sold? Well, two months and one  economic meltdown later, only two more slots have been filled. Here’s the story, from from Crain's (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think some major advertisers are waiting for the discounts to kick in. One the one hand, $3 million for 30 seconds is a chunk of money. It would be a dumb purchase if, by buying the Super Bowl, your ad campaign couldn’t be supported with other media placements at a high enough level to achieve effective reach and frequency. $3 million almost anywhere else buys a lot more.

On the other hand, the Super Bowl is probably the last major one-off media event left, one which you can count on a broad cross-section of America watching. Not only that, but as an advertising platform, it’s well proven. Heck, entire websites have sprung up all about Super Bowl ads. So it’s a media buy that delivers a lot of ancillary placements.
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November 25 2008
Here’s another look at celebrity endorsement deals, this one largely positive, from from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

David Beckham, like Tiger Woods, has a huge brand of his own. So it’s hard to tell who’s endorsing or sponsoring whom. In this case, Motorola used the Beckham brand to gain traction in places where the Motorola brand lacked equity. So, while the equity was borrowed, it paid dividends in growth. That’s the right way to use borrowed interest.
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November 24 2008
The trade press is abuzz about GM severing its sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods as a cost-cutting measure. But was it worth it anyway? Here’s a good article about celebrity endorsement deals, borrowed equity, and relevance, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, I totally agree that borrowed equity is borrowed equity. I think it’s always better to build equity than to borrow it, a belief that seems to be proven equally valid whether we’re talking about financing or advertising.

However, in this specific case, it could have been Tiger Woods who wanted out. After all, even with injuries curtailing his golf career, it’s arguable that Tiger Woods’ brand has more credibility and value and resonance than GM’s right now. Strategically, GM may be pulling out just one campaign short of creating a good bridge from where they were to where they need to be.
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November 23 2008
Here’s a story about Black Friday and predicted holiday spending from my hometown newspaper, the beleaguered San Diego Union-Tribine (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What dreary news for a Sunday morning. Still, it’s hopeful that someone sees potential pent-up consumer demand for more stuff. From where I sit, I sorta don’t, although I also haven’t seen a massive consumer spending slow-down over the past two months either. People seem to be out in great numbers, gambling at at the local Indian casinos, enjoying affordable restaurant meals, and shopping the sales. Even the grocery stores have been crowded in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
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November 21 2008
Everything old is new again, again. As the economy tailspins, and the 1970s replay, it might be time for a revival of the TV variety show! Here’s the story, from Reuters via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, the variety show was a remake of the vaudeville show, which was itself a remix of the touring band of minstrels and players. The format goes all the way back to primitive people sitting around a fire, amusing themselves with tales of greatness and ribaldry.

On the possible return of the variety format, one expert said, “People, if they're old enough to remember anything, will consider it old fashioned. However, the only people who remember it are old-fashioned themselves, in their mid-forties or older. The format may well be fresh and interesting and completely appropriate to the clip-based viewing habits of younger generations. Come on, look at Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. It’s still manic, still fresh, would still flirt with danger even on a cable network.

The thing is, the younger generation already has its own variety show. It’s called YouTube, and Hulu, and Fancast, and all the network program sites that allow viewers to select clips for viewing. Consider this: far more people watched Tina Fey’s impression of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin online, than on TV. That was a huge mainstream media milestone. The variety show is still with us, only now, online, the viewer is in control of the show. To put a variety show on TV, with its linear programming format, would be a step backwards. The better option, would be to launch an online variety channel.
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November 20 2008
Black Friday is still a week away, and analysts are already wondering if retailers have shot their wad, shot their foot, or have any shot at all. Here’s a grim look ahead, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

The other thing is, I don’t see any pent-up demand for anything. There are no breakout toys (for kids or grown-ups), no must-have devices. I think the lack of demand today can be traced to sheer consumption saturation over the past decade or so. We’ve gorged ourselves so thoroughly that there’s nothing we need. A cool cell phone? Got one. A flat-panel TV? Got one. A late-model car with satellite radio, navigation, and all the gadgets? Got that too. The early adopters already adopted and are now making do with their previous-generation products while latecomers to the market are hesitating to make the leap at all, waiting for prices to come down even further.

So while retailers and advertisers are focused on Black Friday, consumers have different motivations that have them looking longer. If the deals aren’t perceived to be good enough, consumers might very well hand out a weak Black Friday in order to shake down the retailers even more.
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November 19 2008
TiVo and Domino’s Pizza are partnering to make it easy to order a pizza without stirring from the couch. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As technologies and media converge, the TV remote is becoming the mouse of 2009 instead of vice versa. It shouldn’t be too difficult to enable on-screen payment, so all that will remain is to shove the pizza through the mail slot.

It’s notable that the medium has a self-limited environment, which seems to be the trend. That is, unlike old-school ad forms – flights of TV commercials, telephone directories, even magazines and newspapers – to be effective an interactive menu of purchase choices must present fewer choices rather than more. That means each interactive ad is surrounded by less clutter. It’s counterintuitive but increasingly true: multi-tasking by, say, ordering a pizza through an interactive screen while watching television programming, is affected by less noise than the usual communication channels, where viewer attention may be divided into eighths and sixteenths and hundredths.
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November 18 2008
In this economy, even e-commerce is not immune to a decline in holiday sales. Here’s a brief report from the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this bodes very well for niche online retailers and bricks-and-mortar stores with a strong online presence.

Look: the customer experience with Amazon is not what it was. The online mall concept worked in the boom times, but now with multiple “stores” carrying the same items, each with its own shipping policy, the result is confusion. Often it’s easier to look for discounts and deals specific to each retailer or for each product. In its own way, Amazon reinvented an outdated retail model.

And then there’s eBay, which is more fractured than Amazon even as it attempts to clone Amazon by becoming a support system for, yup, more online retailers.

Overlooked in this, are local online classifieds like Craigslist, which continue to connect products and services with buyers at a fraction of the expense of the commercial retail channels. In addition, as shipping costs rise and more online retailers are forced to offer free shipping deals, eating away at their margins, localized channels with face-to-face transactions look more and more like the winning play.

The great thing is, a small niche retailer can achieve that focus with its own web presence and local promotions. It no longer needs to partner with Amazon or anyone else because reach no longer translates directly into profitable sales.
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November 17 2008
As the tough economy takes hold, more advertisers are turning to value as the key to making sales. Here’s the story, from the Chicago Tribune (IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Once again we have another indication of hope that consumers remain ready and willing to consume if the value proposition is strong enough. That value proposition, by the way, could be qualitative rather than quantitative. In other words, “longer-lasting” or “better for the environment” rather than the old “more stuff for less money” approach.

The problem I have with all this talk, is that it’s coming from the wrong side of the sales counter. This is, so far, not something that consumers are overwhelmingly asking for with their pocketbooks, but something that advertisers are putting out there in the hope that it works, supported by customer surveys that seem to back the approach. It’s still classic push strategy.

That’s not to say it won’t work. Cultural forecasters and trendspotters have a good track record for being spot-on, and it’s high time for a cultural mind-shift anyway. However, when Walmart gains sales and market share at the direct expense of other retailers, I get the sense that it’s not all about quality. Sometimes, $5 is all you can afford to spend on a half-dozen pairs of socks, and this may be one of those times to more of the people.

I get the feeling that advertising professionals are reluctant to admit that an awful lot of it might just be about price, because that negates so many cherished beliefs about the value of creative. I hold those beliefs too. However, I can also feel the pain of a shopper making a choice between socks for one child and underwear for another, and quite possibly no big toy for either this Christmas.

Come on, folks. There is anger out there, and pain. A genuine sense of economic betrayal. The emotion is out there, and yet, where’s the passion in the advertising?

Like Leo Burnett said, “if you can’t turn yourself into a consumer, you probably shouldn’t be in the advertising business at all.” I think too many advertising creatives who cut their teeth during boom years are grasping at positioning studies to distance themselves from consumers, rather than becoming one with them and developing creative based on street-level, gut feelings.
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November 16 2008: a review of the AlphaSmart Neo
This is my fourth AlphaSmart. I own an AlphaSmart 2000, which my kids still use, and I’ve managed to kill two AlphaSmart 3000s through sheer abuse*. These simple, rugged word processors are indispensable, but not entirely indestructible.

Almost immediately after the death of my last AlphaSmart 3000, I bought an AlphaSmart Neo from Renaissance Learning, Inc. I ordered it on November 10, 2008 and received it on November 14. I paid $225.60 including sales tax, shipping and handling, and a $20 discount through NaNoWriMo (valid until November 30). If you’d rather have a free “$20 value” carrying case than the discount, order through Reader’s Digest or Writer’s Digest (I don’t know when those deals expire).

Here’s what I think of my new AlphaSmart Neo.
The Neo’s keyboard is much better than the AlphaSmart 3000 – clickier and crisper. The display is sharper too. I am very nearsighted and wear trifocals; even so, I usually have my AlphaSmart Neo set to the “medium” font for a five-line text display – one line more than the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000. The bigger display and proportional fonts are a vast improvement in readability. Even the “small” font, which provides a six-line display, is perfectly readable even with my poor eyesight if the light is good. My only complaint is that the vertical line cursor is less visible to me than the old block cursor.

When I installed the AlphaSmart Manager 2 software on my computer, a warning popped up about AlphaSmart Manager 2 not having been compatibility tested with Windows XP. I clicked “continue” and it installed and ran fine. The manager software works great when my computer is connected directly to the AlphaSmart, but when I connect the AlphaSmart through my third-party USB hub, the manager software can’t find it even though the computer can still receive text streams.**

There are some operational differences between the AlphaSmart Neo and the AlphaSmart 3000. For instance, passwords on the Neo are applied to each file instead of the whole machine. On the positive side, you can apply different passwords to each file. On the negative side, because the machine itself is unprotected, it’s possible to transfer text from the last-opened file to a computer without entering a password, even from a cold connection. This flaw seems intermittent, however. At any rate, the new password protection system is both more-intrusive and less-secure than the older system.

If you had an AlphaSmart 3000 with Writer’s Tools installed, then you already had a thesaurus, word counter, and advanced search and editing capabilities; those functions are built into the AlphaSmart Neo. You even access most of them the same way. One small but welcome improvement on the Neo is the addition of a dedicated “delete” key that deletes forward. I’m still getting used to that; muscle memory has me continuing to press <shift> backspace.

The battery cover reveals all three batteries, so you don’t have to shake out that last AA like you did with the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000. It’s secured with a setscrew.

The AlphaSmart Neo is as thick as the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000 along the display side, but thinner under the keyboard. It’s about a quarter-pound lighter. However, the batteries in the AlphaSmart Neo are located so the whole unit is weighted backwards, toward the LCD. That makes it more precarious when balancing it on your knees or in your lap. Also, there are only two rubber feet on the AlphaSmart Neo compared to four on the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000.

The Neo’s printer and computer connections are both USB ports, but use opposite ends of a standard USB cable. There’s also an A/C adapter plug-in and an IR port (IR connectivity was optional on the AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000). The A/C adapter is not included with the standard version, but 3 Duracell AA batteries are.

You could take apart an AlphaSmart 2000 and 3000 with a Swiss Army knife Phillips-head screwdriver; to dismantle an AlphaSmart Neo you need a small TORX driver. Torx heads let you apply more twisting force without stripping out the head.

My brand-new AlphaSmart Neo came with AlphaWord Plus version 3.2 and system 3.7. There is also an AlphaSmart Neo 2, which can add more classroom management capabilities for the educational market. Parts of the Renaissance Learning website show Neos with markings that say “Neo 1,” but there’s nothing to indicate that a Neo 1 is anything but a Neo.

In all, the AlphaSmart Neo is a significant upgrade to the AlphaSmart 3000, with a better keyboard feel, vastly superior display, twice the document memory, plus Writer’s Tools and IR connectivity built-in. Those advantages justify the cost over a used AlphaSmart 3000, commonly available on eBay for well under $100 shipped. If you go the used AlphaSmart 3000 route, try to find a late-model one with AlphaWord version 1.6 (the version number displays upon power-up) and the Writer’s Tools software upgrade (it was optional but essential, transforming an educational device into a highly efficient writing tool).

* UPDATE 22 November 2008: I just took apart my two dead AlphaSmart 3000s and swapped the keyboard and display sections to create one working machine and recover three or four current files to boot. Both sections were very easy to remove and replace, just work methodically and look for tiny plastic locking systems. The display module connection snaps right in (and out), and the keyboard’s two ribbon connectors were robust enough to withstand even my indelicate handling as I worked to slip them into their tiny slots and lock them into place.

** UPDATE 02 February 2009: AlphaSmart Manager 2 works flawlessly with my new Windows Vista machine, and treats my old third-party hub like an AlphaHub. Odd things: with, the italics command (the opening and closing underscore) translates as an underline.
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November 14 2008
This recession may be partly driven by a growing consumer sentiment against consumption. Here’s an interesting article, connecting the death of the suburban mall with the rise of the thrift store and simpler living, from Newsweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Conspicuous consumption is out, and ethical frugality is in. (In other words, I wasn’t cheap, I was ahead of the curve.) The mall rat generation has grown up to rebel against the malls that nurtured it. That was only to be expected.

This, too, is a cycle. But frankly, I was surprised that conspicuous consumption lasted as long as it did (as the article points out, the entire 20th century), given the rise of alternative ethos in almost every decade. Still, most “green” consumer behavior remains just a variety of conspicuous consumption. (“Look at me, I’m environmentally conscious because I bought a Toyota Prius!” Or, why walk when you can make a statement?) The good news is, the trend that was spotted by the redoubtable Faith Popcorn (see the Ad Blog entry for September 17 2008) is gaining traction and mindshare. Cool!

However, if the recession’s silver lining lies in a broad rejection of fundamental consumerism, where does that leave us as creators of advertising? We’re going to have to work harder for the sale, that’s for sure. One possible outcome: the return of the long-copy ad for ordinary consumer goods.
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November 13 2008
So, just how do spammers make money? I’ve always assumed, with no particular validation, that they must be engaged in a profitable enterprise. But I never quite understood how until now, thanks to my friend and partner Blaise from BrainShine, who sent me this BBC News report from earlier this week, about a study in which researchers hijacked a portion of a massive global spam network and became spammers themselves:
Advertising copywriter blog link

While $7,000 a day is a far cry from untold wealth, especially if that’s the gross income and one must then ship product (assuming that the retail angle isn’t a scam), it ain’t exactly a poke with a stick either. I mean, it’s a bit over $2.5 million a year. Also, as Blaise points out, many of these spammers may be based out of places like Russia and Romania, where that’s a fabulous fortune.As for me, I’m cynical enough to believe that the captured credit card information might be worth quite a bit too.

Anyway, that’s not a bad result considering an average response rate of one per 12.5 million emails, or 0.000008%. Like every salesman says, sales is a numbers game. Crank out something 12.5 million times, and you too can make a sale.

Lest you think that’s beyond the pale or respectable advertising practitioners, what do you suppose is the average sales conversion rate on a TV spot on the Super Bowl? Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by some 97.5 million viewers. Do you suppose anyone bought an Audi R8 off that TV buy? (Actually, Audi would have needed to sell nearly eight R8s to equal the spammer’s conversion rate.) No? Lots of mumbling about branding, image, and so on. Ahem. Ayup.

That might have flown in February 2008, when the economy was strong. But now, maybe not so much.
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November 12 2008
At last, a retail study forecasts a decline in holiday sales. Here’s the story, from the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So Deloitte predicts a fall of 7% in holiday spending this year, compared to a rise of 7% last year. It’s about time the analysts caught up with the consumers.

It’s also important to realize that market share can be taken and taken away, so the competition is, if anything, far stiffer than it is in the usual festive, free-spending years. Although most retailers are turning to aggressive pricing as the primary weapon, the in-store experience is going to count for a lot of incremental sales (and yes, incremental sales will still be there to be had, for those retailers savvy enough to grab them). Once you have the foot traffic, the key marketing tools are signage, cross-promotion, and staff training. Otherwise, your customers will walk in for the price leaders, and walk straight back out.
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November 11 2008
The economy has some companies reconsidering the expense of advertising on the Super Bowl. Here’s the story, from The Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s worth noting that some companies are as concerned with their internal audiences as their external ones. After all, $3 million could pay several salaries, fill a gap in employee benefits, or fund one or two operational upgrades.

The Super Bowl, though, remains one of the last old-school, mass media, shared experience communication channels. That alone might make the price tag worth it. Also, there’s the flip side of that coin: the high price, combined with a shrinking economy, practically ensures a certain exclusivity on game day. That, too, could be important, especially if the mere presence of your ad in the Super Bowl sends the right message of stability and confidence. It’s like Marshall McLuhan said: the medium is the massage.
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November 10 2008
This entry marks the first time I’ve ever linked to a page that’s selling something. The product is the AlphaSmart Neo, a handy concepting and writing tool. Here’s the link to a discounted price through NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month event, which, until November 30, knocks $20 off the $219 regular price:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Note that you still have to pay shipping, handling, and sales tax, and sales tax is charged on the shipping and handling portion. But still, it got the price quite close to what I saw for used units, and this way I know I’m getting the latest, most-stable software.

The reason I’m sharing this, is that I ordered one today. It will be my fourth AlphaSmart. I am the only person I know of, or have heard of, who has gone through so many AlphaSmarts.

I have used them for years as digital notepads for concepts and copy. They are basically keyboards with their own memory and a built-in text viewscreen. They are incredibly useful tools, so useful that they are subjected to tremendous abuse at my hands.

My first was an AlphaSmart 2000, which was acquired as school surplus and used for quite some time before I bought a brand-new AlphaSmart 3000 and handed down the old one to my kids (which they still have and use). That AlphaSmart 3000 died in the line of duty in an oil spill, never mind how, but these things happen. My third one was a used AlphaSmart 3000 I bought on eBay. It died, again in the line of duty, this last weekend, on a Cub Scout camping trip, when an unexpected rainstorm soaked through the bag it was in.

Hence the shopping for a new AlphaSmart, the discovery of the time-limited discount on the Neo, and the thought of sharing it with you.
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November 9 2008
It’s not often you see “YouTube” conjoined with “latecomer,” but that’s the situation as it relates to professionally produced, commercial television programming and movies. Now YouTube is belatedly fighting back against the likes of Hulu and Fancast. Here’s the story, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So now YouTube will feature full-length MGM movies. Big deal. Ooo, ooo, and some older TV shows like Star Trek  and Beverly Hills 90210. Ayup. The original series of Star Trek has been available online for, I don’t know, at least a year. It was on Hulu when Hulu started up, and then transported over to Fancast Beta. Yup, I just checked, and as of today, Fancast has Star Trek and Beverly Hills 90210 available.

So either this means that those shows will be hosted through YouTube instead of whatever server Fancast is accessing, or YouTube will find itself in direct competition with Fancast and Hulu, with the program owner getting the rewards no matter which website serves up the show. Even the ad mix could be different.

I think it’s too late; the world has moved on. YouTube is amateur hour and a collection of out-of-the-mainstream (or niche) programming, with a hefty dose of commercials and would-be virals. If I want to catch up on The Office or 30 Rock, I hit Hulu, so I won’t have to wade through a bunch of clips, montages, minisodes, and parodies to find what I want. And I suspect that’s how most consumers are going to continue behaving, unless something a lot more game-changing happens over at YouTube. And a deal with MGM is neither game-changing nor “re-invention.”
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November 7 2008
Embattled retailers are finding that “cyberspace” rhymes with “saving grace,” as their web-based stores outperform their bricks-and-mortar brethren with room to grow. Here’s the story, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is also the arena in which niche retailers can get the twist on their larger competitors, by focusing on differentiating and delivering the value their customers seek.

So, get set for two price and product wars, one on-site and another one entirely online, since the two channels attract different customers and require different tactics. Ideally, the two approaches should be integrated on a branding level at least. However, having a single overarching strategic vision for both online and offline retail channels may be a luxury few retailers can afford as they press to maximize sales from both in an ever-shorter timeframe.
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November 6 2008
Some branded packaged goods are seeing sales slide as consumers sample – and stick with – store brands. Here’s the story, from the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article is really good, and I have just a few comments. First, I think this demonstrates the long-term strategic wisdom of competing with yourself. After all, you can’t time the market. And if Proctor & Gamble didn’t have its value-positioned Gain laundry detergent, its Tide customers would have gone somewhere else entirely. So at least P&G is salvaging sales.

The other interesting trend, is that while shoppers are choosing larger packages of laundry detergent for economic reasons (fewer trips to the store and lower per-load cost, for instance) they are tending to choose smaller packages of toilet paper, also for economic reasons (too much month at the end of the money). I’m not sure what to do with this, but it’s an interesting point.

Oddly, the article didn’t mention coupons, which can bring the price point of branded items down to the cost of store brands or lower what with double- and triple-coupon deals offered by some grocery store chains. I think coupons and loyalty programs are going to be significant factors in maintaining market share for major packaged goods brands.
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November 5 2008
I was watching some post-election analysis on my local news station, and an expert on something was being interviewed. He was asked who the big winner was in the election, and he replied, “advertising. Here’s a look at how one side practically abandoned the ground war to the other, from the Miami Herald (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

So, basically, the more-heavily advertised product won the market share. As much as we’d like to believe that our political beliefs are not influenced by anything as base as advertising, the fact is, that’s kinda the way it’s supposed to work. Once you get away from a true free market of ideas, and get into a free market of competing brands, it’s hard to overcome an advertising deficiency. As the analyst said (and I’m paraphrasing here), if the better-advertised candidate didn’t win, given the ratio of spending, there’d be an awful lot of misery among media people (among whom he counted himself and the interviewers) and advertisers alike.

Some people (the author of this particular article, for instance) suggest that a win for one side was inevitable, regardless of spending. I disagree. Look at how close the popular votes really were in some market areas – er, states – and realize that that could easily have tipped the other way. For better or for worse, advertising made a difference.

That’s a good thing for those of us who make a living in advertising. Maybe a little less so for everyone else who has to put up with it.
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November 4 2008
For marketers, every day is Election Day, as we scrap for consumer votes and dollars. Here’s a look at how some brands are using that reliable old political advertising tool, the negative ad, from The New York Times (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, comparative advertising and negative advertising are two separate approaches. Although there are many executions in which the tactics intersect, it’s by no means a safe assumption that one equals the other. In fact, the most effective comparative ads gain credibility through apparent impartiality, the old reveal-a minor-weakness-to-promote-a-major-strength trick.

Underlying all this, though, is the fact that as the economy contracts it’s increasingly important to take market share from competitors. You’re really targeting first-time customers rather than brand loyalists on either side, and what you want to achieve is to drive the trial rate up. Although that results in a quick sales bump, sales will just as quickly fall if the product doesn’t satisfy your customer’s needs. Sustainable growth needs to be based on a sustainable message.
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November 3 2008
First a housing bubble, and now a branding bubble? Here’s a look at a newly released book that’s admirable if only for how quickly it was able to capitalize on the word “bubble,” from the Los Angeles Times (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, it’s like I’ve said so often and as recently as last week: the problem was that brands diluted themselves in an effort to seize ever more market share in what was short-sightedly seen as an ever-expanding market. Now that things aren’t so rosy, those brand owners find that they squandered one of their most valuable corporate assets on relatively meaningless market share in relatively meaningless market segments.

The problem, too, with assessing the so-called value of a brand, is that you can pretty much adjust your formula or your metrics or both to produce any result you want. So people trusted more than 50% of the brands studied in 1993 and only 25% in recent years. Were those the same brands? Different ones? And in what categories? Some of today’s powerhouse brands, like Google and eBay and Craigslist, for instance, didn’t even exist in 1993.

I think consumer perceptions towards brands as a whole aren’t changing that much. What’s changing, because they’re always changing and it’s silly to study them in a vacuum, are people’s perceptions of specific brands. That’s partly because of, well, the vagaries of commerce. But it’s also because marketing idiots gurus so often sold the concept of “re-branding” – changing what a brand stood for – as a solution to a sales problem that would have been better addressed by doing less glamorous stuff like focusing on customer service and following up on existing leads. The result was usually an expensively gussied-up spiral downward in sales, mindshare, and public esteem.

The cause of the hit so many brands are taking today wasn’t a brand bubble; it was an ignorance of basic branding discipline by marketing practitioners who were in it for their own short-term gains, which was a whole other kind of bubble.
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Backwards in time to October 2008

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Advertising strategy and other lies
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How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
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Long John Silver on writing ads
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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Phone and fax: (619) 465-6100

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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