John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
November 2010

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November 29 2010
Happy Cyber Monday, the sale day invented just five years ago by online retailers to compete with Black Friday. Making the news even happier, is that Cyber Monday looks to be off to a strong start. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Online sales were running 15% ahead of last year’s numbers, and that was before the peak evening online shopping hours. The article says that online shopping represents less than 10% of total holiday spending. That ratio appears to be holding steady, with Black Friday in-store sales totaling about $10.69 billion, according to ShopperTrak. But that could change, and fast!
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November 28 2010
Well, if you look just at online sales, my Black Friday prediction looks like it was about as wrong as it could be, which is great news for the economy (and advertisers). Here’s a press release with some solid figures from online sales alone, from Yahoo! Finance:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A 9% gain in online sales is tremendous. Of course, these are early numbers and only measure online shoppers, so a chunk of that 9% simply represents a rising trend in online shopping. It remains to be seen if these online sales, which ran all last week, will end up cannibalizing in-store sales.

Still, for most retailers, a sale is a sale.

One interesting thing should be pointed out regarding the Black Friday websites. The largest year-to-year increase in traffic was posted by, with a 478% increase over last year’s traffic. That increase put it squarely in the pack with more-established websites. I wonder how much of that rise could be credited to Google’s own search suggestions? Go ahead and try it – if you search for “black friday,” one of Google’s top suggested searches is still “black friday 2010.” That was some savvy domain name picking!.
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November 27 2010
A weekend quickie to point out this article, showing early Black Friday retail sales results. Sales were up, but not by much, just as I’d thought. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Instead of a predicted 3% rise, early figures show just a tenth of that: an 0.3% increase. Two major adverse factors included early discounting (ayup) and online shopping. Also, foot traffic was up 2.2% according to this study by ShopperTrak, which means more shoppers spent less, which indicates that they were highly promotional-deal-driven.

The problem with online shopping, from a retailer standpoint, is that there are fewer conversion opportunities. Online shopping is still linear; it’s hard to browse by meandering around. The result is a much less-immersive experience and a much more-transactional experience, which limits the opportunities for both branding and additional sales.

Achieving that immersion will be the next step in online retailing.
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November 24 2010
The day after Thanksgiving is now popularly termed “Black Friday,” named for the day retailers turn a profit for the year. It has become a massive sales event, and whether or not retailers turn a profit is out of the picture. Here’s a look at Black Friday 2010, from MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

With all the pre-game noise, Black Friday is almost bound to be anticlimactic. Also, as many have pointed out, a lot of so-called Black Friday deals have been active since Monday, and many others will be available online.

Still, the National Retail Federation is predicting a 3% increase in Black Friday shoppers over last year. The open question is whether that increase in foot traffic - if it happens - will translate into 3% more sales and 3% more profit (two very different things).

What do you want? More foot traffic? More sales? More profit? You can achieve all three. Or, you can target one or two. But you need a tactical plan that extends all the way down to the sales floor (virtual or otherwise), with effective signage and point-of-purchase marketing and sales force training. If you promote only the one-off discounts, that’s what you’ll reap: discounted, one-off customers.

Retailers need to stop looking at sales events as just sales events, and start looking at them as conversion opportunities.
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November 23 2010
How do you get consumers to pay for something they readily get for free? That was the challenge the bottled water industry faced and overcame. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The answer was simple: branding. Build a powerful brand, and you can profitably sell a commodity product to millions of educated, upscale consumers.

Some energy suppliers attempted the same pitch: socially conscious, green electricity at a premium price. The problem was too few opted in to make the business financially sustainable. Those green energy suppliers faced two major obstacles. First, the greener - and simpler - choice is to reduce consumption (see my entry on November 10 for more on this angle). Second, there’s no conspicuousness to the consumption. Switching from one source of electricity to another is socially invisible, and that’s not a good way to get consumer buy-in.

Social visibility is why bottled water succeeded. It’s also why the Toyota Prius succeeded and the Honda Civic Hybrid did not. See, it also works in the middle of the market. Indeed, social visibility is branding, because a brand without social standing simply isn’t a brand at all.

So, the next time someone asks what branding has to do with sales (and I was asked just this month), bottled water is a perfect demonstration of the sales power of branding.
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November 22 2010
This article from BBC News Magazine begins with the premise that clear language doesn’t enhance business profitability. But I think it rather ends up proving the point that it does:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Profitability is but one metric, and a highly variable one at that. It reveals little about the depth of the customer relationship, a major factor in predicting whether or not a brand is sustainable.

As an egregious generality, Apple’s customers are almost irrationally loyal fans who willingly pay a premium price; Microsoft’s customers, like those of most banks, are users of varying degrees of inertia who purchase grudgingly. The key difference is that Apple carries its branding through every conceivable touchpoint, including those unseen by typical users. That includes language, but also goes beyond it.

The business outcome is that Microsoft and banks must fight to hold, let alone gain, customers; Apple, meanwhile,  has an entrenched customer base that eagerly awaits every new announcement. The same could be said for, say, Google, a fairly lucrative company.

Some companies succeed because of their marketing. Other succeed in spite of it. If Apple’s marcomm contained the same level of jargon and bland obfuscation as Microsoft’s, it may well have died years ago.
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November 19 2010
The future of advertising looks pretty much like advertising, says ad agency owner Derek Walker in Advertising Age (NY). Here’s his opinion piece:
Advertising copywriter blog link

There are a lot of so-called revolutionary ideas in advertising right now, all heavily promoted by self-proclaimed gurus. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve downloaded the webcasts, attended the webinars and workshops, bought the books, and have everything but the t-shirts. And, as a result, I have to agree with Walker. The emperor may not be naked, but his new clothes look very much like his old ones.

Inbound marketing is just the new name for a “pull” campaign. (Remember push and pull, from Marketing 101?) Social media marketing is a permutation of what used to be called relationship marketing, which before that used to be called sales. “Like” and “fan” buttons are nothing more (and rapidly becoming considerably less) than old-fashioned brand preference. And interactivity? I’ve said it countless times, but it bears repeating: Effective advertising has always been fundamentally interactive.

David Ogilvy, in Ogilvy on Advertising, said that the only new thing in his lifetime was television. Today, the Internet has been the big new thing, possibly bigger than television, although its historical impact has yet to be determined. Make no mistake, I count myself lucky to be in the ad industry during these years of rapid innovation and evolution. But, the Internet has only changed the process, by providing more channels, more-direct channels, and faster feedback cycles. The Internet is a tool, a medium, a channel. It is not a game-changer.

It has not changed the objectives of advertising and marketing: to build brands and sell stuff.

To paraphrase Rosser Reeves: “What do you want from me? A top-ranked Twitter feed and massive Facebook presence? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?”

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November 18 2010
The birth of the catchphrase “Don’t touch my junk,” from the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s a home-grown phenomenon, a pithy paraphrase of a caught-on-video comment uttered at our own Lindbergh Field by Oceanside resident John Tyner. Notable: it’s not a direct quote: it’s a rewrite. See, even viral pop needs a copywriter or editor to make the line sing.

In a global sense, the humor underlying the line could indicate that the mid-term political anger is dissipating, or transforming into a sort of head-shaking amazement at extremists of all stripe. If that’s a trend, it’ll shake out in ad content fairly quickly.
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November 16 2010
British luxury goods brand Burberry is back on the up, thanks to a slight but tangible recovery in the category and a renewed focus on the brand. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The short video interview with Angela Ahrendts, Burberry CEO, is worth watching. In it, Ahrendts points out that what differentiates Burberry is its British-ness, from the design to the manufacture. It’s the same niche that Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Rolls-Royce exploited in the luxury car market, except that during its tenure corporate parent Ford bobbled Jag and Aston Martin by using possibly technically superior, but fundamentally less eccentric, pulls from the global Ford parts bin.

There’s that global branding thing again, demonstrating that you can have a global brand that’s still very much tethered to a national (or even regional) identity.
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November 15 2010
The blogging revolution hit Asia, followed quickly by the development of blogs as advertising media channels and a host of other online businesses. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Cool snip:

(Entrepreneur Cheo Ming Shen) says that in business “ultimately, a lot of the ideas are always adaptations ... you can’t just copy and paste.” Much of the process is ‘tweak it as you go along.’

Cheo continues:

Understanding your local market is key, particularly when it comes to advertising. “If you think that you’re going to put a fixed mould and you’re just going to apply it on to a particular country, I think you’re in for a rude shock,” he says.

That’s a key obstacle to truly global branding: the reality that people in each local market have their own perceptions of value that underpin individual relationships with the brand. Although the goal may be to do global branding on a local level and localized branding on a global level, achieving both of those objectives requires rather more plasticity of mind than is present in most corporate marketing departments.

On likening starting a business to going into battle, I am more than a little reminded of my own Napoleon’s Advice to Entrepreneurs series.
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November 10 2010
Consumer “green fatigue” is allegedly causing a slump among eco-positioned marketers. Here’s the story, from Advertising Age (NY) via
Advertising copywriter blog link

American consumers don’t really want sustainability; they want the option to purchase, at low cost, the appearance of sustainability. Likewise, companies and advertisers don’t really want sustainability either; they want the market share that the appearance of sustainability offers. For both sides, it’s more about labels than actions. That’s why so-called green marketing was always something of a fraud, admittedly more for some consumers and companies than others.

I keep saying it: you can’t consume your way to sustainability. It may be the only metric to build a business case upon, but the fact remains that tracking the purchase of consumables is a fundamentally contrary way to crunch numbers related to sustainable behavior. One key obstacle to accurate measurement, is that the people most-likely to buy and use eco-products are also the people with the information and desire to ultimately decide to do without or make their own. For example, there’s very little that any cleanser does, green or otherwise, that can’t be closely duplicated by some combination of vinegar, baking soda, borax, and tap water.

As for the “deep green” market, that may be unreachable, an unfathomable concept to marketers. Deep greenies are Un-consumers. They’re not in the market for hybrid cars: they walk or ride second-hand bikes. They’re not in the market for green shampoos, soaps, and detergents: they don’t use the category. They’re not in the market for sustainable food products: they grow their own or trade with a local CSA program. They’re not in the market for organic cotton: they buy their clothes from the Salvation Army thrift store.

Until we shift from being a nation of consumers back to being a nation of producers and creators, sustainability ain’t nothin’ but an empty buzzword.
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November 9 2010
Luxury brands are adding value to their formula by demonstrating differentiating elements in design, workmanship, and personalities. Here’s the story, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, luxury brand products were never really about the products after all, even if many offered incremental benefits over their down-market cousins. (In other words, most of the benefits to having a car, for instance, accrue to you the moment you have any fully functional car, beyond which the benefits of a Bentley Continental GT over a Ford Fiesta are relatively minor.)

Making stars of the artisans, though, could backfire should enough of them use their talents and newly discovered media presence to launch out on their own. On the other hand, that’s how fashion labels spawn.
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November 8 2010
American shopping habits are changing with the economic times. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Press-Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In 2006, just four years ago, the average mall shopper visited five stores. Now that number is down to three. Time spent shopping online is also down, although it’s hard to tell how much of that factoid is a survey artifact caused by the spread of broadband, faster access times, and standardized checkout processes. But there’s no doubt that shopping has gone from being a recreational activity to being a competitive one, with value-for-dollar the goal. Or, to apply a primitive, albeit very human hunter-gatherer analogy, shopping used to be gathering; now it’s hunting.

That means a couple things for retail advertising campaigns, including those intended to help drive retail sales results for brands and goods. First, it’s becoming increasingly important to bracket the customer. You have to give him or her a specific, relevant, desirable incentive to shop, or there will be no visit. Then, you have to deliver ample guidance and messaging on-site, or there will be no add-on sales.

Second, the importance of point-of-purchase marketing is on the rise, or should be. Not passive, pre-recessionary strategy POP that says “this is what’s here;” that’s marketing to the gatherer mindset. What’s needed now is POP aimed at the hunter mindset: interactive displays that say – or, better, continue to say – “this is why you need this right now.”

To me, concepting and writing POP has always been like doing a billboard, only with a hypertargeted audience and a trackable conversion rate. It’s the ultimate in customer engagement – ultimate in every sense of the word. And maybe POP will at last get its share of creative focus, at least from those brands and advertisers savvy enough to actively engage at every touchpoint.
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November 7 2010
This is a great article from BBC News about the process of creativity, whether you want to call the end result discovery, innovation, or creation itself:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The power of the “slow hunch” is why copywriters and art directors spend so much time distracting themselves with seemingly aimless activities, like playing games, chatting about vacations, and, um, blogging. Because, see, it works.

Even Carrier’s “eureka moment” was based on months of work trying lots of other ways to develop a solution. The fog was always there. Carrier had surely seen it before. But his mind wasn’t prepared to put it to use until after he’d worked the problem.

Creativity, like any other pursuit, takes hard work.
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November 4 2010
Convenience store brand 7-Eleven and its Slurpee soft frozen drink got a huge bump late yesterday from president Obama, who made a joke about having a “Slurpee Summit” with Republicans to discuss ways to move forward after the mid-term elections. Here’s the story, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, this is how it’s supposed to be done. An offhand comment by a major public figure and super-fast action by a corporate marketing department and its agencies. Within hours, the campaign was in full swing, which means there was considerable after-hours coordination at the corporate level.

What’s surprising, though, is 7-Eleven’s willingness to base an entire brand strategy around the concept of “bringing people together.” It’s surprising because it represents a tremendous commitment to a host of characteristics that only emerged in the last few hours, but also because the company realized it had discovered – or been handed – a concept with legs.

What’s notable, is that 7-Eleven isn’t using just social media to get the message out – it’s using traditional advertising, including print ads. Again, that indicates corporate backing that goes beyond merely tweeting and posting.

Whether this marks a new beginning for the Slurpee brand, or just a point on its usual cycle, time alone can tell. But it’s very cool to watch a marketing case study unfold in real-time.
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November 3 2010
My Wall Street Journal today carried this feature article about social media cum geolocation phenomenon Foursquare:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yeah, well, it’s all fun and games until someone takes it seriously enough to cheat the system. Unfortunately, those stakes get higher as advertisers and marketers pile on the perks associated with becoming “mayor” of branded locations.

Whether Foursquare collapses under its own marketing payload depends a great deal on how relevant that payload remains. Already, studies repeatedly indicate that customers don’t necessarily like the brands they “like” on Facebook, at least by the traditional definition of liking – they’re in it for the discounts. Despite the term, preference must still be earned, and that’s the part a lot of social media marketers forget. That’s also where a channel like Foursquare has an edge: checking in requires at least an in-person visit. That provides at least an exposure to the brand experience and a good shot at conversion into a purchase behavior. But, the brand experience must be pervasive and even invasive, something that’s a lot easier to do with a restaurant (where aromas and sounds, in addition to visual appeals can urge a connection) than a business office.
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November 2 2010
Richard Branson answers questions about building a business and branding in this very short piece, from Entrepreneur via MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The cool thing is how Virgin managed to create individual personas for its various service lines, from music recordings to financial services, without diluting its core brand. I think this is a fundamental value that often gets lost when trying to brand across multiple lines or to multiple targets. With Virgin, there wasn’t so much a brand tone as a brand character. Like a real person, that character was often irreverent and shocking, but could also be serious and direct. Either way, the message resonated because the character itself was well integrated and convincing.
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November 1 2010
Social microblogging site Twitter will start injecting ads into users’ feeds. Here’s the story, from Advertising Age.:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The rather unfortunate thing is that this will likely succeed as an advertising channel even as it breaks down the very foundation upon which the channel is built, until so much damage is done that everyone just abandons the hulk. Because Twitter is so very responsive, though, it will likely teeter on the brink long enough for a few people to make a lot of money.

This proves, for the umpteenth time, what I’ve always said: brands must own their own channels. Own your channel, you own your destiny. Use someone else’s channel, and you end up with increased noise and ads for competing products and services diminishing your brand. You’re not a relationship, you’re just another advertiser.

I will say it plainly: if your brand doesn’t exist outside of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, then you don’t really have a brand. Or, a sustainable business model.
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Backwards in time to October 2010

My experience as a copywriter.

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The ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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