John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November 2009

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November 30 2009
Once again, how was Black Friday for retailers, advertisers, and consumers? The latest figures indicate that foot traffic was up, while per-customer totals were down a bit, culminating in a slight overall increase over last year. But the bigger story, is the significant growth in Cyber Monday shopping. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s interesting, is that many retailers saved their biggest discounts for today. That diminishes Black Friday, or at least turns many Black Friday sales into gravy instead of loss-leaders. Unless, of course, the discounts turn out to have totally flipped the profit picture upside-down.

I was part of the online Black Friday/Cyber Monday creep trend. I didn’t go to the shops at all, but I did buy quite a lot of stuff online on Wednesday, Thursday (yes, right after putting the turkey in the oven), and Friday. Like many people, most of what I bought was presents for my kids, but I also made some opportunistic purchases of long-overdue household items like a new duvet cover and a set of stainless steel mixing/storage bowls. Also like many people, I’m almost as happy about the discounts I think I received as I am about the items I bought; furthermore, the discount bits seem to live in a happier, more-accessible part of my memory than the actual prices I paid. That’s the power of a complete retail experience!
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November 28 2009
So, how was Black Friday for retailers and advertisers? Here’s a local look, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is very early and anecdotal. But the valuable part of this article are the interviews with actual shoppers around the county. Notable trends include more people paying with cash and a tendency to buy only sale-priced merchandise.

But those are just statistics. Read what people actually said in their own words. The tone is overwhelmingly optimistic, but it’s not just recession fatigue, it’s the fact that last year things were worse. This is a brittle optimism, a sunny outlook behind which lies a still-familiar, imminently palpable fear.
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November 24 2009
Yet another story written to pit consumers against retailers in a press-supplied “battle” for sales, this time from Time magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Like I said the other day, the retailers aren’t in a fight against consumers, they’re in a fight against (1) inertia and (2) creative gift-giving and (3) each other. The more of a consumer ally a retailer can be, the better that retailer will perform.

On the other hand, let’s look at what the consumers are saying (there’s a novel thought). According to the recent research quoted in the article, 60% of consumers surveyed said they plan to spend less on gifts, while more than half say they will buy less-expensive merchandise and give gifts to fewer people. You put it all together, and you get an awful lot of customers planning to spend less on fewer people at lower price points. This is, to borrow a phrase, not a crash but a correction, and a much-needed one given the bubble of materialism, to say nothing of nihilism.

I still think the holiday season will be good for retailers offering real value; remembering that value lies not just in price, but also in perceived worth, utility, and uniqueness. The perceived worth and uniqueness factors are why some luxury goods brands have seen a slight but significant uptick going into the holidays.
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November 22 2009
Two stories this weekend; I must be busy. Here’s a local look at holiday shoppers and retailer discounts, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t like the analogy that pits retailers against consumers for profits. The savvy retailer is part of a consumer solution, not the opposition party.

But, there’s a lot to get right this year, without much of a margin of error. Everything has to be forecast correctly, from merchandise and inventory to pricing and promotions. And it’ll be easy for the armchair analysts (like, oh, stockholders) to sit back after the holidays are over and point out where things went wrong. But right now, moving forward, the picture is by no means clear.

I think the holiday season will be reasonably good. I think recession fatigue will play an important role, but at the same time I think the credit crisis has made people more appropriately careful about spending. So, for retailers, a lot will hang on hitting the right note in advertising, to draw foot traffic, and enhancing the in-store experience, to ring up incremental sales.

A lot of the retail advertising that’s so carefully studied today was developed and run during the Great Depression. So, this could/should be a banner holiday season for advertising creativity and innovation.
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November 21 2009
The courtroom has become a new medium as advertisers jockey for legal positioning. Here’s the story, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this is a dubious practice. It diverts resources from real advertising efforts and, should the effort to publicize the legal fight be “successful,” confuses the consumer. Which is, pretty much, what the advertising author said, at the very end:

“They’re navel-gazing and they’re not thinking about what consumers want to hear — they’re just talking at conference tables about how to strike back or how their integrity has been affected,” said James P. Othmer, author of Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet” “They get caught up in each other’s messages.”

Ayup. Just a whole bunch of marketing people talking to each other again, only this time with assistance from the legal department.
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November 20 2009
Remember Second Life? Well, it’s still around, although not the hot property it used to be back in the day. Here’s a look at the state of Second Life today, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Second Life always was a cumbersome, graphics-heavy substitute for the various online forums. And, although many individual forums have thrived, attempts to either consolidate or spin off a bunch of fora into a larger alternative reality just didn’t work out – look at Yahoo’s Geocities (October 27) and CompuServe (July 7) for instance.

As a real-world retail outlet, it was doomed from the get-go by the speed and ease of shopping online anywhere else but Second Life. The only market for Second Life retailers was within Second Life itself, which created its own barriers to entry both for brands and would-be customers.
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November 19 2009
Hey, it’s buskvertising! Here’s the story of how some brands are working through street musicians, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Despite its apparent novelty, this is a tactic that goes back at least as far as medieval days, when traveling minstrels would incidentally tout snake oil remedies, and it probably has roots even older. It’s no surprise that advertisers are tapping into this medium and leeching its street credibility.

The rise of the Internet as an adjunct to traditional media is a more-recent old story. But its persistence lends fresh credence to the importance of creative work that connects and resonates emotionally. I looked up the Cadbury/Phil Collins thing on YouTube, and I’m not sure what the brief said about any kind of marketing message. However, in this case – as in other successfully subversive campaigns – the engagement is the message.
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November 18 2009
I have two stories for you today. The first is about the Super Bowl. It’s months away, but commercial time is selling fast. Here’s the story, from CNN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Advertising is often a leading economic indicator, and the fact that CBS’s Super Bowl advertising inventory is nearly 90% sold is a positive sign indeed, even if rates are down from last year’s (near-usurious) charges from NBC. As expected, most of the remaining open spots are in the second half of the game, where you theoretically risk losing viewers because of a blowout or a dull game. Personally, I don’t think that’s likely because these days, the commercials are as much a part of the event as the football game; in fact, as a social touchstone, they’re probably bigger.

This is a self-fulfilling situation, though. As long as Super Bowl advertising continues to be an event, it’ll grow in importance as an event. The instant the advertisers get lazy, the opportunity will vanish.

The next story today is about retailer J.C. Penney discontinuing its Big Book catalog. Here’s the story, from the Dallas Morning News (TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m not convinced this is a good move. Ditching the Big Book is certainly earth-friendly in many ways. That’s offset somewhat, though, by relying on shoppers to search and shop online, consuming non-renewable resources to generate electricity as well as adding more stress to a century-old electrical and telecommunications grid. (I may have just named the latest trend in greenwashing: the Not In My Carbon Footprint approach to corporate environmentalism.) It’s also poor marketing strategy: it opens the door to shoppers being lured away by competing retailers. The contest then boils down to price, and the customer relationship is commoditized.

And, as a parent of small children, I can assure you that kids can’t take the Internet to bed with them, to pore over under the covers by flashlight, the way they can with the latest printed Lego or Toys R Us catalogs. That’s another huge sales and branding opportunity, missed.
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November 17 2009
Everyone’s favorite automotive piñata, General Motors, got its house in order PDQ. Now the question is: can GM get foot traffic into its retail outlets in a post-Cash-for-Clunkers environment? Here’s a look at the challenge, from Bloomberg (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although reinvention has been good to GM lately, I hate to see it spin its wheels, so to speak, recreating effective marketing strategies. Remember, this company was a social networking pioneer in the days before web-based social media, with the whole Saturn community. Yes, it was a deliberate marketing and branding campaign, and the calculation showed. But, in the wild and on a one-on-one level, it was very effective. Killing off the Saturn brand probably makes sense given the spread of philosophical innovation in management and organization (bearing in mind, too, that it never was clear whether Saturn ever was profitable). However, if in excising Saturn, GM’s corporate memory is purged of the know-how to build a loyal customer community, then more is lost than a single product line.

As far as the advertising challenge, this whole situation is made for transformational creative. GM was knocked off its “world’s biggest car company” pedestal by Toyota (with just two lines, by the way, the larger of which has no particular brand identity to speak of). Emotionally, an awful lot of Americans – including many of those who reveled in GM’s fall – would love to see a knock-their-socks-off comeback. What better opportunity to come out swinging then in this window of opportunity to be the underdog?
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November 16 2009
I love stuff like this. It seems that a copywriter in New York, back in 1965, gave Jim Henson and the Muppets one of their first big breaks. Here’s the story, from the Chicago Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This was no TV commercial, despite the caption. The article author got it right: it’s a short film. Furthermore, it’s a B2B campaign. Granted, on viewing the film it seems a bit dated today, a little out of step with the pace of business. But it’s still charming. And, come on, “Rumple Wrinkle Shrinkel Stretchelstiltzkin” is a brilliant concept.
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November 14 2009
I saw this article, about interactive TV commercials, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, I think this is very cool. But let’s remember that all effective advertising is fundamentally interactive. Advertising is an interactive task. And, whether new technologies and integrations result in better data or deeper interaction with individual consumers, the ultimate metric is still going to be sales. That’s why I still gag on platitudes like “engagement with consumers leads to sales” in light of closely held sales and profit figures.

For the time being, though, and especially as we enter the holiday shopping season, I continue to be amazed at the volume of mass media advertising executed with no online component at all, not even a URL splashed across the screen.
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November 8 2009
A quick Sunday entry to point out the importance of paying attention to details – oh, like getting approval for using a celebrity’s image in a billboard campaign. Here’s the story, from the Sunday Star-Times (Marlborough, NZ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I find it impossible to believe that an advertising professional, even the most whacked-out creative person, would recommend using a celebrity without full knowledge that an approval would be required and recommending – strongly – that such approval be obtained. I smell a (successful) effort to generate buzz through local publicity, itself not a bad strategy.
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November 5 2009
Just a quickie today to point out this article from CRM Daily (Calabasas, CA), about the power of storytelling in building and maintaining customer relationships, social media, branding, and, well, just about everything:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Two tips that I especially like are to tell classic stories, and make your own metaphors. This is great stuff, presented tightly, and it applies across the board to every aspect of advertising and marketing.
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November 4 2009
I read two articles about direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising today, presenting completely opposite views. Here’s the first, from BusinessWeek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Side effects of consumer advertising include anxiety among potential customers, confusion in the marketplace, and reduced sales. Well, that’s one side of the story.

The other article was actually a short blurb in this month’s Consumer Reports, which, when I looked for it online, turned out to be a nearly verbatim snip from this article, also from Consumer Reports, dated back in mid-June:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, this is one of those cases where there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Among other things, it’s not revealed how much the manufacturer of Flomax spent on marketing to doctors and health care groups. It’s not revealed whether the generic drug’s sales went up during the same time period. And, it’s not revealed how many men originated seeking treatment based on either their own or their significant other’s exposure to marketing messages, no matter which drug was prescribed.

In other words, you can determine how much was spent, and how much was made. But, you can’t tell how many lives were saved by increased awareness of pharmaceutical alternatives to surgery, and that’s where the social value of pharmaceutical advertising is, whether it works by one business metric or fails by another.
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November 3 2009
Retailers may be ill-prepared for holiday shoppers. Not as in lacking adequate inventory or staff, but in having the wrong stuff and the wrong sales strategy. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, there’s a nice kick-off to the holiday season. It’s gonna be tough. Again.

All this, of course, is no news to the shoppers themselves, who have been struggling these days to keep their chin up if only to keep from drowning. On the one hand, I think they’re tired of bad news, bad times. On the other hand, I think they’re also tired of debt and the rampant consumerism that drove them into it.

I think people will still gladly buy stuff. But it has to be the right stuff, and that’s where companies like Apple nail it. Yes, they brought out a slew of new products, but they also increased storage capacities, added features, and lowered prices. What got overlooked amid all the hoopla, is the emergence of Apple as the high-value alternative among personal media players.

As far as the price-cutting, that may backfire but it also may draw foot traffic that builds profitable sales elsewhere in the store. This is where a mixed strategy of cutting prices on brand-name products while boosting the visibility of private labeled goods can make a big difference in the bottom line. However, executing this strategy is much easier for general retailers like Walmart or Target, than specialty stores like Toys R Us.
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November 2 2009
City slogans are always a tough sell, because the people who see them and hear them the most are also typically not who’s being targeted by the marketing campaign. Here’s the story about Reno and Sparks’ continuing struggle to find a brand, from the Reno Gazette-Journal (NV) via USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

And here’s advice they won’t get from any other branding consultant, because there’s no profit (for the consultant) in it: Just pick something and stick to it year after year, rain or shine, forever. It could be something new if it must. But even better would be to revisit the past and revive something old.

See, the mistake is trying to make the branding aspirational, in which you brand yourself the way you want to be instead of the way you are. While advertising is often aspirational, and positioning can be aspirational, branding must be affirmational. It must positively confirm the belief already held, a belief attained through things like, oh, advertising.

With a start-up or a new product, the challenge is different. The field is wide open and you want to be forward-thinking. But with a rebranding or repositioning assignment, the whole strategic discipline has to shift. It’s not so much about moving forward, as it is about finding – and tagging – the historical root from which to move forward.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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San Diego, California

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