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

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October 30 2009
Cadillac, spurred by what GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz calls “inane” advertising, invited automotive writers to a sport sedan smackdown on a closed track starring the high performance Cadillac CTS-V. Here’s the story, from MSN Autos:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I’d agree that if there’s a disconnect between a product’s advertising and its capabilities, that’s inane, regardless of product or category.

However, this challenge coulda shoulda been so much more than a one-off publicity stunt and press event. It should have been supported with a comprehensive marketing campaign, including a larger and deeper social media component and tighter integration with offline and traditional advertising. What might have been strategically transformational for the brand was, as-executed, a one-off, see-ya-next-year stunt.

It was a good idea, but someone needed the vision and the budget to execute strategically as well as tactically, globally as well as locally. Once again, GM missed getting all of an opportunity, and this one hurts even more because GM made it.
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October 27 2009
Geocities, one of the pioneer online communities, has been shut down by its owner, Yahoo. Here’s the story, from WebProNews:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This move echoes CompuServe’s move earlier this year to shut down its OurWorld hosting service. See, for all the big talk about building online communities, what the internet really comes down to these days is pure real estate (to continue to article’s metaphor). It’s about market share of marketable properties, and if building so-called communities with social amenities helps sell those properties, well then that’s the obvious position to take. But web developers have as little interest in developing and nurturing communities, and bearing all the associated costs, as real estate developers have.

I think it’s all but inevitable that the current crop of online communities – social networking sites – will have the same lifecycle. And, if anything, the lifespans will be shorter.
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October 26 2009
A recent report in the UK reports that Twitter and other social networking sites cost businesses billions a year in lost productivity. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yeah, well first it was personal email, then it was eBay, now it’s social networking sites. This too shall pass (and, in the case of Twitter, I think it already has).

At any rate, there has certainly been a behavioral shift, although it’s not quite the one studied. Here’s a chilling snip, tossed into the article at the very end, as if an afterthought:
“A third of workers admitted they had seen sensitive information posted on social networks. However, 84% said they felt it should be up to them what they posted online.”

One would think that increased social connectedness would tend to raise standards of ethical behavior. Unfortunately, that’s not to be the case, and I think that that’s because most online social networks have evolved – or, devolved – to the point of being mere broadcast media for the loudest voices. The communication flows only in one direction, and the platform has ceased to be about conversation and has become about conversion. It may be time to stop calling such sites social media, and start calling them what they are: personal media.
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October 24 2009
Ha! I was right all along, and now even the maker of “Baby Einstein” videos is all but admitting that its products are not educational, and offering refunds. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This was a case of marketing that, at a minimum, over-reached the bounds of reality, combined with lazy parenting. Now it seems the parents have a modicum of financial recourse. But what about those poor kids, who lost irreplaceable hours of playing with dirt, sticks, and rocks to watching this stuff?

The truly subversive thing is that Baby Einstein and other so-called educational programming (including Sesame Street, by the way) do an excellent job of training. But what they train kids for, is a life of consumerism, reliance on mass media for fulfillment, and the passive reception of branding. Hey, I’m repeating myself; just look back in the Ad Blog a full two years, to October 23 2007.

Believe me, with two school-age kids, who were raised as free-range as suburbia allows, we see the consequences practically every day. Electronic media is convenient and addictive, but the social cost is enormous.
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October 13 2009
This is just a puff piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA) about a local social media marketing company and a small horror movie, but it’s a cool little case study nonetheless:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s unique about this case, is that it discloses results, at least in a broad sense. It doesn’t show ROI directly, but it does indicate the amount of what I call action volume (in this case, people requesting the movie locally) at a minimum of 1,000,000 actions (although it doesn’t say whether that number includes or excludes multiple submissions), and it also has a nice big number with which to demonstrate results (a cool $7.9 million in ticket sales last weekend alone). In all, a compelling case for the potential effectiveness of social media marketing.
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October 12 2009
Just a quickie today, to share this great audio slide show from BBC News Magazine about the evolution of cigarette advertising:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Marlboro Man, like the Hathaway Man, has to be one of the all-time great iconic characters in advertising. Despite the source, the BBC, many of the older ads highlighted ran in the U.S. One notable thing about this short review of tobacco advertising, is the prevalence of out-and-out lies. The nearest thing we can find to that in recent history, is probably the financial advertising of the 90s.
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October 9 2009
General Motors has sold the Hummer brand, lock, stock, and what’s left of its brand equity, to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery, a Chinese heavy equipment manufacturer. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The deal needs government approval from both the U.S. and China in order to be finalized, but it’s highly probable. Chinese authorities publicly wonder if Tengzhong has the ability to run a consumer vehicle brand. Personally I’d argue that it’s the best fit for the brand and a return to its roots. Remember, it was South Bend-based AM General, a maker of buses, commercial and military vehicles, and heavy equipment, that created the product and successfully marketed it within its niche. It wasn’t until GM acquired the brand and took it mass market that the wheels fell off.

Hummer was always a niche vehicle; the mistake was thinking that its pop culture appeal was a precursor to greater growth. It wasn’t, and it isn’t, and it won’t be.

The way to run Hummer as a brand, is to run it as a heavy equipment brand and to heck with the consumer market. Consumers will follow when the whim strikes, and when that happens it’s all gravy. Actually, that’s also how I think GM should handle GMC within its current stable, but there you go.

Of course, this approach has been tried before. International Harvester in the 1950s and 1960s anyone? (I always loved the International Travelall, and as for the Scout, well, Anything Else Is Just A Car.)
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October 8 2009
Economists worldwide have proclaimed the recession over. But so far, that has not translated into consumer spending. Nonetheless, the outlook for the holiday season is cautiously optimistic. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Mind you, that headline trumpeting “retailers’ sales beat expectations” must be interpreted with an eye on the numbers: not as deep into negative territory as had been predicted, but still largely negative.

Discounters are still outperforming luxury chains, basic goods are still outselling fashion and nondiscretionary items, and store brands are picking up market share. And, with unemployment higher this year than last, it’ll be a while before consumer confidence will recapture its former swagger.

All this could shift, of course, with a couple hot items for the holidays.
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October 7 2009
Behavioral targeting of ads has long been defended (by myself as well) as providing consumers with a more-relevant service experience. Now it seems that may not be true. Here’s a story (the first one, by the way, I came across courtesy my iPod Touch Ad-ology app) about how consumers really feel about behavioral targeting, from eMarketer (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Two hot, immediate trends emerge: privacy and control.

I found it interesting that most people didn’t even want to receive news or discounts based on their interests, let alone advertising. Wow, not even discounts. That throws a statistically significant monkey wrench into the very concept of pushed-out mobile marketing. Maybe people don’t want it after all.

Which, come to think of it, makes a lot of sense. For instance, one of my interests is camping. But that doesn’t mean I want camping-related information and news and discounts all the time. I want it only when I want it, and I want it targeted to where I am, or where I’m going, or what I need. This is how the web and web users have evolved here in the real world. Consumers are more-active searchers armed with better tools than ever before; when they desire discounts or targeted news coverage they seek it out in the moment rather than wait for it to be served to them.

Unfortunately, the whole new-media/interruptive/content-delivery model that most online advertisers work to is based on an obsolete old-media belief in a passive receiver sitting at the end of the funnel. That just isn’t the case any more, if ever it truly was.
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October 6 2009
Apple is suing the resurrected Woolworths (Australia) over its logo, a stylized W that looks vaguely like some sort of fruit or vegetable. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Apple argues that Woolies may start selling branded electronics that would compete with Apple products. This from a company that signed an agreement with Apple Records, the Beatle’s label, to not go into the music business, and then proceeded to (oops!) dominate it with iTunes and the iPod. (No, no, Apple says, iTunes is just a distribution network and the iPod is just a player. Which holds water as long as one remains technically focused and utterly ignores the social and behavioral implications of technology. But there you go.) So the argument itself strikes me as being a case of the pot calling the kettle black, or potentially black anyway.

Also, I think it’s unrealistic that a Woolworths-branded music player or iPod accessory, even if there were to be such things, would compete with Apple-branded products at their price points; neither do I think that Apple would want to sell $7.98 music players or $1 accessories.

But mostly, I just don’t see that the logos are that similar. Let’s explore this in text form. One is a reversed silhouette of a stylized apple with a bite out of it, topped by a single leaf. The other is a green, dimensional rendering of a stylized letter form topped by a single crescent. The two marks sure don’t sound anything alike. But do they look alike? They’re both sort of roundy, with a cleft on the bottom and a thingy on the top, but no, I don’t think they look alike, or even very much alike. But that’s just the opinion of a copywriter; it’s probable that any of my art director friends could happily and convincingly argue either side of this case.

The big test, though, is whether it would confuse consumers. I think that’s highly unlikely.

What I do think is going on, is that Apple has to defend its trademark and over-reaching is far better than under-reaching when it comes to defending your turf. If Apple (the record label) had understood that, this particular iteration of this conflict wouldn’t even be happening.
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October 5 2009
Bank of America is “re-launching” the Merrill Lynch brand and bull logo. Here’s the story, from Reuters, via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The brand has been gone since January, eliminated when BofA acquired Merrill Lynch during the dark days of finance. Now that things are looking up, it makes sense to resurrect the brand. So far, so good.

Now, BofA and Merrill Lynch have extremely competent and well-compensated advertising and branding advisors working on their account. So, hey, my comments are just a worms-eye view from my front-line foxhole as a working copywriter. But I think spending a lot of money on a splashy brand re-launch is an Immensely Bad Idea.

What with all the turmoil, I seriously doubt that most casual investors even remember that Merrill Lynch was gone. Bringing that fact to their attention oppositely, by saying  “we’re back,” accomplishes nothing more than talking big to the industry, while reminding consumers of the corporate arrogance that led to their losses. This looks like yet another giant brand eagerly planning yet another giant brand circle jerk. Self gratifying, perhaps, but not a responsible strategic recommendation when there is still real pain in the marketplace. (Which begs the question as to whether such an approach ever was a responsible strategic recommendation, and I’d have to argue that, no, it never was.)

Of course, the brand strategy must address the trade. But the more-efficient way to do that is by generating buzz. Believe me, just the fact that this is a major financial organization that is hiring and ramping up operations is going to get positive attention. A low-key but highly targeted social media campaign is the way to go.

One last thing: I just have to call BS on that newfangled title of “wealth management” replacing the tarnished “financial advisor.” If the money had been competently and ethically managed in the first place, there’d be more wealth to go around. Less of it in the pockets of the managers, perhaps, but more of it for the folks in the trenches, who, by the way, were the ones who earned it in the first place.
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October 2 2009
This is so whacked out it sounds like a Monty Python sketch (or at least that bit of Fry & Laurie where Hugh Laurie is pitching marketing concepts for heroin and cocaine to a straight-faced Stephen Fry). I’ll tell it straight. Luxury pen maker Montblanc is commemorating the life of Mahatma Gandhi by releasing a $25,000 limited-edition pen. Ayup. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

You just know this made sense nestled into the safety of a conference room. Yeah, it taps into the uber-wealthy’s desire to make a statement against consumption. But they can’t just use a Bic Stic, no they want credit for it, see, they want lesser lights to recognize their higher social consciousness. See, it’s ironic. Like those pricey designer shopping totes. Yeah, that’s it.

I have a better idea. Send me 25 grand, and I’ll send you a pen, guaranteed recycled because I found it on the street. Then I’ll donate the $25,000, less shipping costs for the pen so about $24,999, to Doctors Without Borders. No, better idea: you send the whole $25K to Doctors Without Borders, send me proof (a copy of a receipt perhaps), and I’ll send you a random pen (remember, it’s guaranteed recycled and re-used), along with a personally hand-lettered scrap of re-purposed paper saying “(YOUR NAME HERE) paid $25,000 for this pen.” You’ll actually one-up those poor, unimaginative Montblanc buyers. Not only will you get a conspicuous sign (hand-lettered! recycled!) of your financial ability to consume material goods at a prodigious rate, but you’ll also get the smug self-satisfaction of striking a blow against consumption for realio, plus putting your money toward doing some actual good in the world. Ooo, ooo, and you’ll be participating in a global piece of performance art; an experience which is, in itself, priceless.

Takers? Anyone? Ayup.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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