John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
October, 2004

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October 29, 2004
For Friday, here’s an Elvis-related, advertising-related story, and you just know that’s a good combination, from the Wall Street Journal via the Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ) and
Advertising copywriter blog link

I did not know that UK companies don’t have to pay to use digitally altered images of dead celebrities. Here in the U.S., a person’s image, altered or not, remains their own (or their corporate trustees) long after they’re gone. Digital Elvises could be the vanguard of a whole zombie-like movement of dead U.S. celebrities in European advertising, a shift from using live celebrities off the B-list a la Lost in Translation, and cheaper too. Who’s next? Marilyn? Frank? What the heck, Marilyn and Frank?
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October 28, 2004
Increased advertising and marketing costs are part of the profit problem at Creative Technology. Here’s the story, from Yahoo! Finance (Singapore):
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Despite the headline, which puts the blame on a poorly performing corporate investment portfolio, let’s break it down. (And, by the way, the BBC News headline writer got it right: “Advertising costs hurt Creative.”)

Creative Technology is an established maker of sound cards for PCs, but is looking to its new line of MP3 players for growth.

Revenue rose some 31%, to $210 million, on MP3 player sales growth of nearly 100%. That side of the equation looks pretty good.

Yet, profits for the same period are down some 84%, to $4.8 million. And, ongoing operating expenses are up 15%, to some $59.8 million, mostly due to higher marketing costs including the company’s first ever consumer advertising campaign in Asia.

The company’s solution: bet the farm on having a great holiday season, by investing in new advertising campaigns in the U.S. and Europe and increasing inventory to nearly $250 million (although 42% of that inventory is in raw materials).

Okay, got the picture? Revenue is up. Sales are up. Operating costs are up. Inventory is way up. Profits are down. Selling ever-increasing numbers of widgets at ever-decreasing margins is a cash flow death spiral. The solution, to me, has to include increasing margins on sales and reducing depreciating inventory. Advertising just can’t do it all.

Add some market perspective to that picture. Over at Creative Technology’s biggest competitor, Apple, iPod sales are responsible for more than half the profit growth, and Apple profits have more than doubled, to about $106 million on sales of $2.4 billion. Yet, the holiday season may produce very mixed results: consumer electronics giant Sony has already warned on lowered profit expectations for the holidays (see my entry for September 17).

Now ask yourself: How much is the Apple brand going to be worth to sales during gift-giving season? My prediction: A lot. Perhaps even the cream of the market, whether that market is up or down. See, branding is a powerful tool, even in the down and dirty trenches of retail.
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October 27, 2004
Advertising agencies discover blogs, but don’t quite know yet what to do with them. Here’s the article, from the New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have some qualified insight here, since my own Ad Blog has been going continuously since February of 2003, making it older than most of the blogs mentioned in the article.

The hard questions are good ones to ask: how does a blog reach a relevant audience to achieve a measurable business objective? Things get considerably more complicated in a publicly traded company, which must be careful about what constitutes corporate communication. This is why blogs are not appropriate for many organizations regardless of how hot the trend is.

And, as for this Ad Blog, it remains an intensely personal enterprise, with my commentary available only to those who actively seek it out. That’s how I like it. And, how I make sure it continues to meet my own business objectives.
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October 26, 2004
This morning, I was interviewed by Mindy Charski, a writer for Adweek, about the state of freelancing for local advertising agencies. I tried to explain that San Diego’s economy is somewhat less volatile than that of other regions, despite having absorbed one big hit (defense) in the early 90s and, being a tourist town, a hard glancing blow in the months following 9-11. I don’t think I did a very good job of it, and probably sounded like a blissful idiot. But, here’s some local validation, from my hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’m a copywriter, not an economist, but it seems to me that San Diego has some cyclical exposure, primarily tourism (tied in to, among other things, fuel and service costs) and the cost of housing. Despite that, things are going pretty well.

And, yes, I think the cost of housing represents cyclical exposure for freelancers. If the housing bubble bursts, I believe that entrepreneurial enterprises and small businesses, which are often funded by home equity loans and lines of credit, will start going downhill. Which means the business for San Diego freelancers might swing toward larger accounts consolidated at a handful of mid-sized to large ad agencies.

If that happens, remember, I said it first. If it doesn’t, well, like I said, I’m a copywriter, not an economist.
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October 25, 2004
Google is testing graphical brand ads on its hugely popular AdSense network. Here’s the story, from DM News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

You’ve got to hand it to Google: it sure knows how to slice and dice the market into hefty profits. Here, Google has developed an advertising product to meet an apparently built-in demand for branding.

However, graphical ad units are not branding. They are graphical ad units. Period.

There is nothing intrinsically brand-oriented about a graphical ad, just as there is nothing intrinsically direct-response-oriented about a text ad. The key either way, is relevance, which happens to be a Google strength. (Indeed, relevance could even be Google’s brand.)

“Relevant” is a better word for marketing communications than “targeted” or “focused,” because it includes the idea of a consumer benefit. And, relevance is branding, whether you’re talking about search or any other consumer behavior. So, there’s nothing new in a search engine serving up results that deliver branding. Targeting is targeting; it’s the message that makes the difference.

What’s new, is that Google has added a single trick to an existing service, and created a new source of income through repositioning. And, that marketing people, who should know better, are falling for it. It will be, no doubt, a huge success.
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October 22, 2004
Here’s some refreshingly straight talk about rebranding, from (Portland, ME):
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I’ve been saying it for years: companies don’t build brands. Advertising agencies don’t build brands. Branding consultants don’t build brands. Who builds brands? Customers.
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October 21, 2004
The Milk Moustache campaign is 10 years old today. Here’s the press release, courtesy Alta Vista and Business Wire:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Normally, I’d say such self-promotional public pats-on-the-back are needlessly self-congratulatory. But, in this case, kudos are in order, as much to the account service people (who have kept the client on track for ten years) and client-side marketing people (who have had the guts to stick with a non-retail concept long enough for it to become an icon) as to the creative teams (who have kept the campaign continuously fresh).

Buried in the release is a notable statistic to mull over. The ad campaign’s goal was to increase milk consumption among teenagers (did you know that?). This goal has only been achieved in the past few years, many years into the campaign, making the decision to stand by it four or five years ago even more courageous.

You could say this proves how long it takes to change consumer behavior (and insist it might have taken longer with a less-iconic campaign). Or, you could say this proves that image-oriented branding campaigns take a long time to affect retail sales (and insist that the “right” campaign for the brief would have been more ground-level retail-oriented).

Anyway, a lot of advertisers aspire to become icons. But few have the stick-to-it-iveness to make it.
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October 20, 2004
Direct mail advertising is making a comeback in Europe, uniting everyone from conservative politicians to dominatrices. Here’s the article, from BBC News Magazine (UK):
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Although the strengths of direct mail include the ability to target and personalize the message and the offer, few advertisers use that power to full advantage. For instance, the extent of the personalization in the McDonald’s mailer, sent to some 17 million households, is likely limited to the recipient’s name on the mailing label.

However, other strengths of direct mail include the ability to deliver a complex message in its entirety and the ability to put an object in the customer’s hands that he or she will perceive as valuable, and these are what McDonald’s is banking on with its 24-page booklet. The object here isn’t to sell salads. It’s to reposition the brand.
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October 19, 2004
This seems to be the theme of the month: cities trying to attract businesses through advertising. Here’s an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer (PA), about that city’s efforts:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Empathy test for copywriters: you’re a CEO. Which is more-likely to get your attention: (a) $2.3 billion in grants and loans for your company or (b) the headline “Ready, Set, Succeed”?

Yeah, I thought so. You can’t market to business like you market to tourists. To be fair, the article doesn’t get into the marketing part of the program, choosing instead to focus on the snazzy new ads, the most-visible component to the average reader. And hey, maybe the $60 million allotted to the ad campaign is part of that local economic development.

But, I think there’s a marketing opportunity being missed here. U.S. patriotism is at an all-time high. It’s an election year. Philadelphia is the birthplace of this nation as a democratic republic. Isn’t there something more substantive here than people in pajamas?
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October 18, 2004
This rather lengthy analysis, from Media Week (UK), basically boils down to the idea that bad creative is a misfired media strategy:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It also points out the blindingly obvious: that media planners and creatives should work together, combining great creative with great market penetration to achieve great ROI for their advertising campaigns. Trouble is, while the obvious is easy to see, it’s equally easy to overlook.
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October 15, 2004
An application for an internship in a Montreal ad agency leads to a real-life bomb scare. Here’s the story, from CBC Online News, (Toronto, Ontario):
Advertising copywriter blog link

One hopes this young man wasn’t aspiring to be an copywriter, but perhaps he was. Fact is, a lot of attention-getting concepts are fun to think about, but dumb to execute. This is a perfect example of a marketing concept that should never have made it off the legal pad.

What? A pad of paper? Yep, pen and paper are still the perfect tools for capturing vast quantities of conceptual spewing, then exposing the unexpurgated results to a critical eye. These are important steps in the creative process, but they’re frequently overlooked or rushed through.
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October 14, 2004
More proof that advertising slogans aren’t branding because they aren’t remembered. Here’s the article from from Business Week:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Whether you call them slogans, taglines, or catchphrases, most of them fail the most-basic tests of ad copy: is it engaging, is it relevant, is it memorable, and is it believable? I took the little quiz and correctly matched brands to taglines, a highly questionable achievement that apparently puts me in the top 1% of those surveyed. Woo hoo! But then, I’m a copywriter. This could be viewed as further proof that the only people who pay attention to slogans, are people in the industry. Consumers don’t care, because we haven’t given them a good reason to.

Look at the table of taglines at the end of the article, and see how many of them are interchangeable, even across industries. And, see how many major brands scored 10% or less in recall, a list that includes Budweiser, Coke, Sears, Miller, and Chrysler. Yet, no one could claim that Coke lacks a brand. See, slogans don’t make a difference. To consumers, anyway. Slogans can be highly effective at unifying and motivating an internal audience. But, no one’s measuring that.
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October 13, 2004
After almost 50 years, McDonald’s in Europe is walking away from its iconic Golden Arches logo. And everyone, everyone, thinks they’re nuts. Here’s an article from the British tabloid, the Daily Mirror (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

For McDonald’s, the need to reposition is clear. The need to rebrand, however, is non-existent. McDonald’s built its brand on product, which makes it an easy mistake for marketing managers to confuse the brand with the product. But, a mistake it is, and a big one. The one thing McDonald’s can’t abandon, given the size, speed, and smarts of the competition, is its brand. Until they successfully reposition, their brand is all they’ve got.

The article wraps up with capsule descriptions of four other high-profile rebranding exercises that ended in costly failure.
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October 12, 2004
Prescription drug advertising aimed at consumers is under review, not by the FDA but by the medical community and consumer groups. Here’s the article, from the New York Times News Service via my hometown San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, as an advertising copywriter, I think the simplified disclosures the FDA is considering will be both more readable and more widely read. And, again as a copywriter with some experience in the category, I have concerns about pharmaceutical advertising that is designed to increase demand.

However, perhaps the key issue has little to do with advertising, and more to do with health plans and prescription benefits. After all, why should someone pay full-price for an effective over-the-counter remedy, when they can get an equally effective prescription drug for the cost of their co-pay? For many people, the choice is based, not on advertising, but on affordability.
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October 11, 2004
At the beginning of this month, I mentioned how one small city is trying to attract a corporate relocation by giving away an office building. Attracting business is an issue that affects all levels of government, and sometimes the tool used is advertising. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as governor of California, is featured on good-natured billboards in other states. And, at least two state governors have responded with billboards of their own in California. Here’s the article, from the Associated Press via my hometown paper, the San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The relatively small budgets assigned to the task – the Nevada Development Authority, for instance, is spending $650,000 – belie its importance. After all, a corporate relocation means long-term employment, tax revenue, and ancillary service and vendor benefits which can all be lumped under the common heading of “growth.” So, for all the appearances of friendly rivalry, this is interstate war.

As an experienced advertising copywriter, and as a California-based small business, my main issue with the Schwarzenegger billboard is one of believability. We can use our governor’s considerable star power to attract attention. But, has enough happened since his election to support the claim that “California wants your business?” I think not. Even if you think it has, has it been publicized enough to lay the groundwork for changing out-of-state perceptions? Again, I think not. If an ad isn’t believable, it won’t be persuasive. And, if it’s not persuasive, it won’t be effective.

The desired effect, is for CEOs to see the billboard and think: “hey, if I’m going to relocate or open a new office, maybe I should at least consider California.” Unfortunately, I think most CEOs will see the billboard and think: “hey, there’s Arnold.” That’s a waste of a good advertising opportunity.
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October 8, 2004
Retailers just had one of their weakest quarters in recent memory. Sales are down. What does that mean for advertising? Here’s an article, from my hometown San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, projecting weak holiday sales results:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Teens and upscale consumers are still spending money; one wonders if that will last. The fact is, retail is a highly volatile sector. And that’s the challenge of creating retail advertising: ultimately, so many factors go into making sales, including powerful external factors (the economy, for instance), that it’s hard to achieve real accountability for the ads.

In the old days, one would say that with weak sales across the entire sector, the main goal should be market share. In other words, given a shrinking pie, grab the biggest piece. But now, re-branding has become the preferred solution, in a desperate attempt to get some cash flow, any cash flow, from any market segment. (Quick! Let’s move upscale! Quick! Let’s go after the youth market!)

As a result, increasing numbers of retailers will lose brand equity as well as sales. And that’s my prediction, not as an economic expert but as a copywriter.
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October 6, 2004
The U.S. presidential elections are less than a month away, and election advertising is running hot and heavy. And, some of the ads are spoofs capitalizing on the temporary  public interest in politics. Here’s an article, straight from the nation’s capitol, in the Washington Times (DC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Comic relief and leveraging existing public interest (what I’d call borrowed interest) is one thing. Getting lost in the election hype clutter is another. It’s a tough challenge, both to tie into and stand out against a background of party politics, candidates, spinmeisters, and press coverage. The last thing an advertiser wants to do, is be mistaken for the background noise; the next-worst outcome is to be mistaken for a serious political message. In most cases, the media and art direction make the difference clear even if the concept doesn’t. But, it’s still borrowed interest.
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October 5, 2004
Las Vegas is using video segments to entertain and inform travelers waiting in line to go through the security checkpoints at McCarran International Airport. The videos feature Las Vegas comedians, singers, and performers in humorous vignettes. Here’s the article, from the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s heartwarming to see that a public agency, entrusted with a serious topic like security, is savvy enough to use communication techniques that ensure people will pay attention to its messages. Smart thinking, smart implementation.

The more I read this article, though, the thing that astonishes me is that this approach was implemented at all, let alone smartly. There were three public agencies involved, from three different jurisdictions: the federal Transportation Security Administration, the Clark County Aviation Department, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Plus the ad agency and a host of show owners. If that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s also a touch of apparent nepotism: the head of the advertising agency that produced the videos is married to the deputy director of the county aviation department.  In short, this project could have died in a dismal quagmire of cross-departmental, multi-agency buck-passing and mud-slinging. But, instead, it looks like everyone did the right thing. Wow!
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October 4, 2004
Here’s an article about extending the Virgin brand, but it’s really about tweaking and polishing the image of Richard Branson to suit the U.S. market, from Fast Company:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yeah, it’s a puff piece. But, like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Branson makes for entertaining reading for a Monday. And, there’s good, street-savvy stuff buried in there too, like the fact that even Virgin’s line extension disasters have supported the brand.
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October 1, 2004
Branding a region is one thing, and selling a region is another. The city of Hoopeston, Illinois, used small-space advertising in the Wall Street Journal to sell itself to businesses, offering a free five-story building to any company that would occupy it and employ about 600 locals. Here’s the article, from the Quad City Times (Davenport, IA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The article focuses on the advertising itself as the novelty; in fact, it was the offer of a free building that drew the response. As for cultivating the development and growth of local business, well, in an ideal world that’s the way to grow. But, here in the real world, corporate offices are increasingly transient and all companies, home-grown and otherwise, are likely to move – or vanish completely. One hopes, however, that city officials in Hoopeston don’t have to give away a building every time they need to attract business.
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Backwards in time to September 2004

My experience as a copywriter.

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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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