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

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October 31 2007
A quick follow-up to my entry on October 24 about Applebee’s rebranding. I said at the time that there must be something more to the story, but I had overlooked a key point. The Applebee’s chain has been sold to IHOP. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via the Globe Gazette (Mason City, IA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The new owner’s plans include stripping the hard assets (or, dumping the hard liabilities) like company-owned stores and real estate, and (wait for it) rebranding! Or, rather, “to successfully restructure and re-energize the Applebee’s brand,” as Julia Stewart, CEO of IHOP, says. Uh huh.

So the whole thing was an exercise in highly profitable futility, a way for marketing managers and branding agencies to boost their portfolios before the sale, a classic pump-and-dump. Rats!
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October 30 2007
With all the marketing aimed at children, it’s hard to raise a brand-free kid, or at least to raise a kid aware of branding as a potentially negative influence. Here’s an article, from The Tyee (B.C., Canada) that gets it right:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Parents are starting to realize the truth of what I’ve said for 20 years or so, long before I had kids of my own: that branding is branding, and Sesame Street is a half-hour infomercial.

Branding is an incredibly powerful drug because, done right, it taps into primal emotions. As adults, we’re maybe not so much in touch with those, or we can recognize them on an intellectual level and perhaps compartmentalize them, but a child can’t. Primal emotions are their whole world. And if you fill that space with advertising and branding, they will respond.

Like most of these parents, my wife and I have not gone so far as to raise brand-free kids. Cultural literacy on the playground requires some awareness of popular characters. But we have an ongoing dialog about advertising and marketing and the miniscule amount of programming (good word, that) that they’re allowed to watch. And that’s what makes the difference: they know that they’re being sold to, and their egos are strong enough to brush it aside.

For my other rants on advertising and marketing aimed at kids, scroll down to October 23 and 18 (which has a list of entries going back over four years).
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October 29 2007
As more brands mutate into content providers and media companies, old-line media companies are struggling with changing rules. And here’s a column that suggests they’re also missing opportunities, from Editor & Publisher (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Brand owners may have street cred. But they don’t necessarily have real credibility. Visitors to an online brand community know that they’re visiting an area of commercial intent. So, while they may be looking for information, connections, or cool stuff to do, they aren’t necessarily looking for truth or even competitive analysis.

Real-world credibility is another slight but significant edge that traditional media has, in making the transition into an online universe.
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October 27 2007
The San Diego Fires are just about under control, and now our local tourism industry is scrambling to get traction again.  Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The plan is sound, pulling the existing campaign and fast-tracking a new short-term campaign to address concerns and show that San Diego is ready to receive visitors. Tomorrow’s televised football game from Qualcomm Stadium is no small part of that effort. I hope the air will be clean, the skies clear, and the Chargers strong after a week-long layoff from practice.
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October 26 2007
Apple may have successfully squashed consumer-generated product modifications, but it has long embraced consumer-generated creative in other areas. Here’s an article from the New York Times about Apple’s latest iTouch commercial, based on the work of a college student from the UK:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I looked at the spot on YouTube. It successfully integrates existing brand elements with a cool song. So it works as campaign filler, works very well indeed. But it’s not exactly breaking new ground for the brand or the product.

Of course, if something works, don’t fix it. And, these days, one of the key roles of ad agencies as brand stewards, is seeking work just like this. Why? Because Apple will ultimately get more bounce out of the act of picking up a consumer-generated ad, than from the ad itself.

Also, I’m intrigued by the timing of all this. After a recent software “upgrade” turned user-unlocked iPhones into paperweights, Apple needed to tap into and energize its consumer base. How better than to take a customer’s ad and roll it out big-time, with horns blowing and flags waving?

Yes, I know it’s a cool concept. It’s a good ad, too. But this, as with almost everything Apple does, is also smart marketing.
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October 25 2007
The San Diego fires seem to have knocked out my email server and it’s been bouncing emails. So here, until things return to normal, is my back-up email address:

See, this is why I have back-ups. Back-ups for data, which most people have. (And, yes, I’ve been backing up daily these past few days, just in case I have to grab a flash drive and run.) And, back-ups for systems, especially critical communication systems.
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October 24 2007
Restaurant chain Applebee’s is trying to rebrand itself to capture a new generation of casual diners. Ayup. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this new effort comes off as curmudgeonly whinging instead of hip repositioning. And rebranding should mean more than a new logo, uniform, interior decor, and advertising, but that seems to be as far as it goes. That’s not nearly enough. Applebee’s is not going to become the key player in “togetherization” (their made-up word) without some core changes in what it offers as a third place. And what makes a third place work isn’t food or appearances or messaging or technology; it’s a sense of belonging.

I don’t know if Applebee’s management or its spiffy new ad agency understands the way social bonding works, which would be a massive shortcoming in developing a marketing campaign that hinges on creating a unique sense of community. And to kick it off by “chastising” potential customers through traditional TV commercials? Oh, that misses the mark on so many levels (creative and media, to name two).

There had better be more to this effort than the article talks about, or Applebee’s can kiss its market share goodbye.
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October 23 2007
A quick update to yesterday’s entry, about the San Diego Union-Tribune Fire Blog. It has moved to a third-party blogging host, which is more stable and able to handle traffic. Here’s the link for the latest information about the San Diego (CA) fires:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now, back to work! And, back to my favorite rant, about advertising and marketing aimed at children (scroll down to October 18 for a list). A recent study of 1,000 families found that infants who regularly watched Baby Einstein videos and their ilk recognized substantially fewer words than infants who did not watch such videos. Here’s the story, from the Washington Post (DC) via The Buffalo News (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes! I’ve said this for years, and now at last have validation!

The Disney organization, which owns the Baby Einstein brand, is trying to spin in two directions. First, by refuting the study based on a volume of empirical testimonials. Second, by insisting that they never claimed the videos were educational. Uh huh. Which is it?

It’s snake oil, that’s what it is. If you’re involved in raising your child, such videos might have a properly limited place in the family “curriculum,” although I don’t believe that any video stimulation is appropriate for such young children. If you’re using video as a babysitter, as, sadly, many do, then there is just no way it can be healthy.

Right now, the San Diego fires have closed the elementary school my own two boys attend, and they’re pretty much trapped indoors due to smoke in the air. And my wife and I did pick up some kid’s programming from the library. Okay, so what have my kids done so far today?

They’ve read, played cards (or, scattered them, anyway), and written two “books.” They knocked off the week’s homework from school. They’ve drawn a half-dozen mazes, built towers out of blocks, and played Yahtzee and Life. They disappeared into their rooms to have long “meetings” about “secret projects.” They cleaned their rooms, sort of, and immediately messed them up again with other projects.

That’s not to say that a video or time on the computer won’t be offered at some point this week if their school remains closed. But they’re definitely not just sitting and watching TV all day, and that’s the main thing.
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October 22 2007
Fires are raging out of control all around San Diego. Here’s a link to my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) and its fire blog:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Now, here’s where this is relevant to advertising, and it’s a tiny spot of humorous relief. Up to just about an hour ago, this fire blog page had a rotating banner ad at the top. One of the advertisers was Lennar Homes, promoting a big sale on homes in Rancho Bernardo and Escondido. Uh-oh.

As for me and my family, we’ve got fires to the north and fires to the southeast. If I suddenly disappear for a couple days, it could be that the power’s out, the phone lines are down, or we’ve been evacuated.
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October 19 2007
Ahh, here’s the antidote to yesterday’s rant, about advertising that targets children. Schools in South Carolina are running a contest for student-created television commercials aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles to kids. Cool! Here’s the story, from The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think this is a terrific idea. I think anything that involves the kids in the message is likely to be more successful than something that just delivers a message to the kids. And, although successful advertising is fundamentally interactive, it’s a lot more interactive to create it than to watch it.

I think I’ll be checking in, if I can, to see what’s being posted!

Oh, and a quick follow-up to my October 3 entry about Cavemen, the half-hour sitcom based on the GEICO commercial characters. I watched it again this week, with my wife. I thought it had improved a bit. She said it was “cute.”

It still didn’t hold together as well as good half-hour shows do, and the satire remained broad and predictable. And both of us were bothered by having L.A.-area stock shots and set pieces stand in for San Diego. Come on. We have beachfront condos, we have the Gaslamp District, we have Del Mar, we have a convicted congressman, we have a loose-cannon city attorney who could out-caveman all three of those guys, and we have an incredibly awkward relationship with migrant workers. There’s a lot of potential being left on the table here.
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October 18 2007
Hey, I haven’t ridden my advertising-targeting-children hobby horse since June 1. Time for me to saddle up again, especially now that the tide is turning my way. Here’s a relevant article, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

OK, my own five- and seven-year-olds are in the 10% of kids who don’t get two hours of screen time daily. They’re too busy with soccer and homework and reading and games and playing out back to watch TV or play videogames.

And the reason they don’t watch a lot of TV or play computer games? Because they almost never see their parents doing either. They see us writing. They see us reading. They see us using computers as work tools. They see us cooking and walking and cleaning and playing. But television and mass-media consumption just aren’t a part of the household universe.

That’s not to say that they’re culturally illiterate. They know the names of popular licensed characters. They even own a few branded toys, mostly acquired through birthday parties. But you know what? First, it would be pretty sad to raise a seven-year-old who doesn’t know who Spiderman is. Second, that Transformer toy works pretty well with Lego bricks, dinosaurs, and sticks, especially once the kids re-create it as a pile of component parts.

There is no difference between the marketing machine that is the Transformers or the Care Bears or Hannah Montana, and the marketing machine that is Sesame Street. They are equally intent upon building mindshare among kids, which makes them equally evil.

But the answer isn’t the introduction of new regulations on advertising. The answer is active parenting. Here’s a prime example of where the child development experts get it wrong:

“[Children under 8] tend to accept ad claims as being truthful,” explained Dale Kunkel, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona and the main author of the Report of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children. “They process it as legitimate information. They can’t understand the motives and persuasive intent.”

Baloney. That may be true in households where television is a constant, unmonitored companion. But our own experience as parents is that kids are perfectly able to discern a pitch from content, if the parents teach them how. Here’s what I wrote nearly four years ago, on November 13 2003:

When he was 2-1/2 years old, my older son knew that there were no strawberries in a Cheerios box, even though the photo on the package clearly showed several. For a while, it was a running joke. “Is there a spoon in the box?” I’d ask him, pointing it out on the package. “Nooo!” he’d reply with a gleeful smile. “Is there a bowl in the box?” “Nooo!” “Hmmm. You suppose there are ... strawberries in the box?” “Nooo!” We’d repeat variations on this joke over and over, with the delight in repetition known only to toddlers, with many, many packages around the house or in the stores.

You teach children about advertising and marketing messages by active parenting
. Pretty much the same way you teach children just about everything else.

For more of my thoughts on advertising targeting children, see my Ad Blog entries for March 19 2007, February 28 2007, January 15 and 31 2007, December 19 2006, November 14, 17 and 20 2006, October 2, 3 and 27 2006, June 11 and 12 2006, April 4 2006, January 20 2006, November 22 and 30 2005, October 20 2005, June 27 2005, April 14 and 27 2005, March 16 17 and 24 2005, February 17 and 28 2005, December 22 2004, November 15 and 16 2004, June 5 and 7 2004, December 5 2003, November 21 2003, May 6 2003, and April 16 2003.

But, from an advertising perspective, there are two separate but connected errors. First, these so-called experts don’t give kids enough credit. Second, they don’t give parents enough blame.
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October 17 2007
Niche alert! It looks like a small-ish ad agency is getting some major name-brand clients by focusing on the previously under-served area of in-house marketing. Here’s the story, from The Daily Record (Jacksonville, FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Rich Davis, the agency president, says: “Company boards always want employees to buy-in, but they usually try to attain that through traditional meetings or by e-mailing a PowerPoint presentation. People don’t respond (to that). Today it requires the same level of sophistication used to get the attention of external customers or clients.

On the one hand, he’s preachin’ to the choir here.

On the other hand, I hadn’t considered pursuing internal marketing communication projects beyond existing client relationships. That shift in thinking opens up a second approach to new business development. Hmmm. I sense opportunity there.

As copywriting legend Bernice Fitz-Gibbon said, “Creativity often consists of merely turning up what is already there.”
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October 16 2007
This is a great article/editorial by David Williams about branding, from CRM Today (Athens, Greece):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I especially like where he says: “Research shows that although companies spend 80% of their resources on influencing Perception, it is Recollection that creates the highest customer loyalty. Probably because it aligns so neatly with what I’ve long held, that brands should be confirmations, not aspirations.

I also like the focus on the customer experience and the breakdown of brand types into three categories: operationally brilliant (process driven), customer intimate (relationship-driven), and product leader (product-driven). That last bit really puts its finger on three key deliverables that are often at odds with each other because of limited resources.

There’s a lot of good stuff here!
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October 15 2007
Movie theater advertisers are seeking ways to be more engaging and less intrusive. Here’s a review of some of the latest concepts, from USA Today:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The human joystick thing sounds like fun, although it’s also tempting for some people to play the spoiler. Also, I can’t help but feel that the audience participation element, at least with the Volvo execution, is bolted-on rather than built-in. Waving to guide a car is not exactly relevant. It’d be better suited for a client that could use, say, a jumbo jet on the tarmac, with a marketing message embedded in the concept.

The long-form video is nothing more than a sponsored skit, harking back to the days of radio and probably before that. But the extending of the lobby display concept to include interactive elements is cool, as is the use of the popcorn bags as distribution vehicles for sample dental floss picks and coupons.

As an advertising creative, all this is kind of cool. But as a movie-goer, I have to wonder how much all this is ruining the movie experience. Movie theater advertisers must remember: digital projectors and home entertainment systems are getting cheaper. Once the home movie experience beats the theater movie experience, there goes the market.
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October 12 2007
This is a fun story for the weekend, about a San Diego man who has hand-built an 11-foot-tall, 300-pound fiberglass Sasquatch and similarly scaled Yeti for use as roadside advertising sign-holders. Here’s the article, from the North County edition of my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, as advertising gimmicks, they’re certainly eye-catching. My primary concern, is that the units would be relatively easy to steal or, in the case of the ads being deemed illegal billboards, confiscated.

I think their best application might be as on-site attention-getters. While inflatable figures are even bigger and more visible, they lack the detailing that would make a person pat its attractively rounded buttocks.

See, it’s not just outdoor; it’s interactive outdoor. And that’s the thing that might just make it effective.
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October 11 2007
More than half of all online searches are done through Google, according to a new global study by web analytics firm comScore. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, that’s just over half the story. The other half, or nearly half, is that other search engines are both viable and emerging. For example, Chinese search engine Baidu and Korean search engine NHN bracketed Microsoft’s MSN search, despite (or because of) a relatively late start.

It’s one thing to talk about the web being a global medium; it’s another thing entirely to be in it. I would not be at all surprised to see media fragmentation hit search over the next few years, resulting in the rise of niche engines. And, of course, all of them will be hankering after a shot at the top dog.
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October 10 2007
Virgin Mobile USA is being sued over Virgin Mobile Australia’s use of a Flickr photo of a Texas teenager at a car wash on a billboard in Adelaide. Got all that? Here’s the story, from E-Commerce Times (Encino, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s the important thing for advertising creatives. The photo was offered for use under a Creative Commons license that specifically allowed commercial use as long as the photographer was credited. The photographer was, indeed, credited. But, that license didn’t cover the people in the photo, who hadn’t signed any sort of release at all. 

This is something to consider as more designers and production people turn to royalty-free image sources like iStockphoto and Flickr. In most cases, even though the photographer may release the result of his or her photographic talent under a Creative Commons license, that license doesn’t cover people, locations, or branded objects in the photo.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But for now, it kind of makes paying for a rights-managed image (or paying a photographer to create an image) the easier way out, legally speaking.
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October 9 2007
Here’s a great snapshot of internet radio station Pandora, and, indeed, where that entire medium is right now, is right now, from via 14 WFIE (Evansville, IN):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The digital royalty issue will be settled, and I really can’t see a project like Pandora shutting down, although similar events have happened in the past.

No, my interest here is personal. See, I introduced my wife to Pandora last year or the year before. I’d already been playing with it for several months by then, creating a few “stations” that I liked. But I’m not a listen-to-music-while-I-work sort of a writer. Although I thought the site was cool, and turned several friends onto it, I was never a particularly heavy user myself.

My wife, on the other hand, likes to listen to music while she works. So now she’s the big Pandora user in the house, streaming music almost all day sometimes. She can’t imagine life without Pandora. I mentioned the other day that MP3 players are getting super cheap, and her comment was something along the lines of: “who needs an iPod when there’s Pandora?”

So, two points. First, there are early adopters and there are heavy users, and those two groups may not be the same. Second, the real iPod killer is here, and it’s the iPhone. Apple has found a way to hedge its bet on music royalties. If Pandora and its ilk get slapped down, then the iPhone still has a host of useful applications and it was never marketed as a music player anyway. If Pandora and its ilk survive, then Apple is already positioned for mobile internet radio. Brilliant!
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October 8 2007
Promotional web-based micro-episodes have gone mainstream. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via The Orange County Register (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I mentioned Sony’s Minisode Network on June 29, and it has grown a bit since then. But this is different.

I’m not sure whether this kind of promotion should be tagged as a minisode or a megaspot. Because, unlike the Sony TV effort, the whole background is different; rather than tapping into an existing base of familiarity, these new short-form programs are trying to build familiarity. I think it’s worth calling attention to the fact that these minisodes are longer than most TV commercials. It’s hard to tell a compelling story in 30 seconds.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen the all-too-frequent result, particularly with movie trailers: you end up with a short-form version that exceeds the wallop value of the full-length version.
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October 5 2007
Thanks to my good friend and frequent partner Blaise for this time-sink! It’s, a terrific collection of recent and fairly recent ads and commercials from all over the globe, a project associated with Jupitermedia (Darien, CT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is fun. I spent an hour here before coming up for air and realizing that I just had to bookmark it. And share it.
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October 4 2007
Today I have a story of branding, de-branding, and re-branding: or, how Daimler will disassociate itself with Chrysler while simultaneously supporting its stable of brands. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The outcry over the reduction of the Benz name is justified historically and emotionally, old Karl Benz being one of the world’s first automakers, and certainly the world’s first commercially successful one.

However, I think Daimler struck the right balance in the end: keep Benz’s name at the product brand level (as in Mercedes-Benz), while using Daimler at the corporate level. That helps isolate them from each other, which may be particularly useful  in markets like the U.S., where the Daimler name doesn’t count for much other than a botched corporate merger.
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October 3 2007
I watched Cavemen last night on ABC. That’s the half-hour sit-com based on the cavemen characters in a GEICO television commercial. I have no link, just my own opinion.

I thought it was ... okay. Not great. But I’ve seen worse. I thought the “Norskbild” parody of Ikea had promise; it was a smart and smarmy send-up that went beyond the trite fish-out-of-water sight gags that were a constant theme. I thought the snippet of dialog on the squash court, about oddball analogies as common expressions, was fresh. But the ethnic-minority-living-in-a-white-man’s-world stuff has been done many times before, and better, particularly by Norman Lear in the 1970s. The premise could have played out subversively snarky, but instead the script went for broad, stale gags.

GEICO, meanwhile, was conspicuous in its absence, perhaps because a reminder of the cavemen commercial would only serve to reveal the weakness of the sitcom. I thought it was notable that one of the better uses of one of the cavemen characters, was in a network promo for the next show in the line-up. These guys are ideal for the 15-second or 30-second gag because, after all, that’s what they were made for.

I hope it gets better. I really, really do. I’d like to see a successful sitcom spin out of a TV commercial. But it’s also possible that one running joke is as good as it can get.
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October 2 2007
I have two for you today. The first is an article about customer relationship management, but it could just as easily be about branding. It comes from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I really love the approach here, working backwards to deliver the result. I think too many branding and rebranding exercises fail because the brand owner fails to acknowledge where the brand already is, choosing instead to offer a lofty vision instead of facing the earthy reality. As a result, there’s a disconnect right from the get-go.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: branding should be confirmational, not aspirational. It should confirm what people already know, not set an imaginary mark somewhere other than where the brand currently lives.

That means the customer experience is a huge, core piece of the brand. And this article talks about how to manage that experience in a way that supports and grows the brand. Great stuff!

Next up, I have this quickie, from USA Today via the News-Leader (Springfield, MO), about cool new technologies available for print advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

A resurgence of spectacular print ads would be nice, and as technology advances, there are more opportunities to use that technology to reach out and grab attention in relevant ways.

One quote, though, got me thinking. It was on the sidebar, where Philip Sawyer, director of GfK Starch Advertising Research, “warns that there is one rule: The ads can’t be disruptive for readers. They have to be able to play – or not – as they choose.”

A non-disruptive ad? It’s worth pointing out that a traditional print ad can get away with being far more disruptive in its environment than a similarly placed multi-sensory ad. And the key to combining disruption with interaction, lies in the concept. Like Sawyer says at the end of the article, everything depends on the quality and relevance of the creative execution.
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October 1 2007
This is weird. A company bought Campbell’s soup business in the UK and Ireland, but not the brand, which means that it now must change the iconic soup can labels. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The newly re-branded soups will have to move fast to capture and train customers, or they’ll lose shelf space. It seems odd for a packaged goods company to buy its rival, take on all the associated liabilities – the manufacturing, the distribution commitments, and so on – and leave behind one of the biggest corporate assets.

On the other hand, what the buyer got was a pretty strong regional portfolio of brands, so maybe it felt that the Campbell’s brand was not essential. And, Campbell’s shed some “underperforming” business units for a nice chunk of change, while retaining control of their flagship brand for future forays into the same market.

So it’s weird, but maybe a win-win for all parties.
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Backwards in time to September 2007

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
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