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

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October 28 2010
Most rebranding efforts seem to fail (e.g.: the Gap), but a few succeed, though careful planning and meticulous implementation. Here’s a look at a few recent examples and what lay behind their results (good and bad), from the Financial Times (London):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hmm. This might be an appropriate time to point to my own thoughts on branding and rebranding. As a thesis, the examples are frankly dated now, but the fundamentals are 100% unchanged. One key question I posed still goes largely unanswered in most strategic plans for rebranding, namely: “What’s the ROI on a name change?”

Getting back to the article, here’s a snip that goes some way toward rooting out an answer to that question:

Rebrandings are also often enormously expensive. Paul Veness, director of Endpoint, a brand implementation company, says: “From our experience, the cost of [executing] a rebranding is 20 to 30 times the creative budget. It’s everything from signage to staff uniforms to the IT back end.”

In other words, to get it right, the follow-through is going to cost 20 to 30 times what it takes to initiate the rebranding effort. Assuming, of course, that rebranding was the right thing to do in the first place.

Most rebrandings are evolutionary and occur almost subconsciously. They’re driven by the market, not by the company. When Toyota launched its brand in the US, it became firmly associated with tinny, underpowered, cheap miniature cars barely a full step up from a go-cart. It didn’t claim reliability as a brand characteristic until it was just a broadly accepted truth. Honda’s brand was inextricably linked to its small motorbikes.

Other rebrandings are relatively sudden and internally driven. Like Datsun, a popular imported car brand, which changed its name to its international variant, Nissan. Granted, practically no one remembers Datsun now. But what were the savings in global efficiencies vs. the cost of the changeover? It probably balanced out some time ago, even more so as the auto industry evolved into a more global industry and new consumer markets like China have come on line.

That’s the long, long view that must be taken in a rebranding initiative. Results can’t be measured in quarter-to-quarter sales, or even year-to-year awareness; it’s only possible to evaluate results at the five-, ten-, or even twenty-year mark. And even those results can’t account for lost business opportunities in the first few years.

That buy-in ensures two things that are essential to a successful rebranding. First, absolute confidence that rebranding is the only way forward. Second, top-level commitment to staying the course.
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October 27 2010
Here I have a follow-up to my Ad Blog entry on October 25, about automaker Chevrolet and its new theme line “Chevy Runs Deep.” It’s a piece in which the creators defend the now much-derided line, in Autoblog:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Um, this is no “Got Milk?” That slogan raised the profile of a commodity item by mocking the very commodity-ness of it, while simultaneously implanting a shopping reminder on almost every other grocery cart. (Does anyone remember that the campaign pretty much began with grocery cart signage?) From there it rolled neatly into a cultural phenomenon through constant reinterpretation of the line and an ever-increasing media budget that finally included TV.

Anyway, I’ll expand on my comment from two days ago. If I were making the branding recommendation, I’d very likely urge returning to the theme of “An American Revolution.”  First, because Chevrolet finally has products that can justify the concept, something that could scarcely be said when it originally ran. Second, because the line invokes the past to conjure the future. It’s revolution. It’s innovation. It’s innately forward-moving. Third, because the time is perfect for it – regardless of your political beliefs, this is an unusual midterm election year, one in which both sides are fighting over two conflicting visions of revolution. The times finally caught up with the slogan, and if Chevrolet hit it hard there’s already ample momentum to it.

In contrast, “Chevy Runs Deep” seems to be the same sort of rose-colored, backward-looking, laurel-sitting noise that we’ve heard over and over from companies positioned as too big to fail. (Oops!)

The past is a wonderful place. But it’s over.
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October 26 2010
What do Dippin’ Dots, Silly Bandz, and have in common? They are all national brands. And they were all started by entrepreneurs. Here’s a great three-way Q&A, from USA Today via NewsFactor Network’s CRM Daily (Calabasas, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Read the whole thing, but on page four they talk about building a brand. They did it in very different ways, confounding brand gurus who essentially sell a packaged tactical product. advertised on the Super Bowl. Silly Bandz grew entirely through social media marketing. And Dippin’ Dots started with sampling, perhaps the original version of social media marketing. Different products. Different niches. Different targets. Different tactics.
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October 25 2010
Hey, Chevrolet has a new slogan/motto/theme/whatever. Ready? It’s “Chevy runs deep.” Ayup. Here’s the story, from the Detroit Free Press (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Whatever it is, it’s not a tagline, according to GM.

Why dump the theme “American Revolution” just as products came on line that actually supported the promise? (Think Volt, think Tahoe Hybrid or Traverse, heck, think Cruze.) That line had heritage and innovation built right in. Replacing it had to be nothing more than yet another case of internal marketing ADD.
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October 24 2010
I happened to be online today and saw this Q&A with John Scully, former Apple CEO, in which he talks about Apple’s emphasis on design as part of the user experience, Steve Jobs, and creating the Pepsi Generation. Here’s the interview, from Bloomberg Business Week via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key snips:

What makes Steve's methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do.

... Apple no longer builds any products. When I was there, people used to call Apple “a vertically integrated advertising agency,” which was not a compliment. Actually today, that’s what everybody is. That’s what [Hewlett-Packard] is, that’s what Apple is, and that’s what most companies are, because they outsource to EMS — electronics manufacturing services.

The Polaroid camera always existed, and the Macintosh always existed — it’s a matter of discovery.

We talked a lot about how perception leads reality and how if you are going to create a reality, you have to be able to create the perception. We did it with something called the Pepsi Generation. It was always focusing on the user of the drink, never the drink. ...Coke always focused on the drink. We focused on the person using it. ...This all happened when color television was first coming in. We were the first company to do lifestyle marketing. The first and the longest-running lifestyle campaign was — and still is — Pepsi.

There’s lots of cool stuff in here for a quick Sunday read!
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October 22 2010
The revenge of Comic Sans! This is something of a follow-up to my entry on October 20, about that most-reviled of typefaces. One of my criticisms was that it is hard to read. Well, a Princeton University study indicates that making copy hard to read may actually boost retention! Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, 28 paid volunteers were given fact sheets about three fictional aliens to memorize in 90 seconds. One group’s fact sheets were in 16-point Arial (itself a reviled typeface) in black. The other group’s fact sheets were 12-point Comic Sans or 12-point Bodoni MT, in a 75% gray. Testing revealed that those who studied the hard-to-read fact sheets recalled 14% more.

Then, 222 high school students across all subjects were given either the teacher’s usual study handouts, or the same content made harder to read by using, among other typefaces, Haettenschweiler and Comic Sans italics. The group receiving the harder-to-read materials consistently scored better on tests.

The effect may be a response to the perceived difficulty of a task. In other words, when something seems harder, we focus harder.

Here’s where we close the loop. In a classroom, there are a number of ways to make students focus harder. But in advertising, those ways are quite limited. Could compelling a reader or viewer to work just a bit harder at receiving a message make that message more internalized and memorable? Perhaps that’s why reverse type works, despite all of David Ogilvy’s injunctions against it on the basis of readability.

In fact, you could probably come up with a rough guide to deploying obstacles to communication. For instance, when features and benefits (or the connections between features and benefits) are novel or complicated, maybe that’s when to use typography to make the reader slow down; sort of the art director’s version of the copywriter using long words and dependent clauses. At the same time, as a copywriter I’ve always focused on clarity. Perhaps a little obfuscation and esotericism makes the whole thing more memorable.
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October 21 2010
Only 64 shopping days until Christmas! Some retailers are already breaking out holiday decorations to lure shoppers into spending now. Here’s the story, from the Detroit Free Press (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

On a personal note, I actually know someone who told me, some weeks ago, that her holiday shopping was already finished. I was impressed, but also made a mental note to check any food gifts from her for mold.

Also, I like to enjoy the season of Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday. The idea of setting aside time to be thankful for what one already has is a morally essential buffer against the rampant consumerism of the holidays. So, personally, I think it’s too early for Christmas decorations at the store.

At the same time, retailers are facing an economy that could get significantly worse over the next few months. It’s far better to have a sale in hand now, especially if you can set the price and manage the profit, than to wait and have to fight for scraps later. Also, there’s some hoped-for pre-conditioning going on, the fond hope that jingle bells and cinnamon pine will magically open wallets and levitate sales.

It could happen. It could also backfire dramatically, if inventory languishes on shelves as would-be customers wait for discounts.
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October 20 2010
If you thought Helvetica was a controversial typeface, consider Comic Sans. Here’s a look at its (few) supporters and (vastly more-numerable) detractors, from BBC News Magazine:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, one significant issue is that Comic Sans was developed at Microsoft, the natural enemy of Macs and their many users in the design community.

But, it’s also a face without a place. It’s too rigidly formed to be casual, too rounded to be formal. Its lack of clean-cut lines make it relatively hard to read, especially online. And it generally stands for little more than the user’s lack of design sense. Yet, it has become iconic simply because there are so many people who lack design sense.

Anyway, it’s nice to learn that Comic Sans has proven useful in teaching dyslexic children. That was the newsworthy bit: that Comic Sans has a place in the world after all.
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October 19 2010
The new Chevron ad campaign hasn’t even started, and already the parodies are flying. Here’s the story, from Forbes:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is what happens when advertising gets conciliatory: it’s immediately perceived as a sign of weakness. It would have been far better for Chevron to to have pulled a pre-spill BP and emphasize the positive, or a post-recall Toyota and blandly deny the negative.

This is also what happens when a social media strategy is wrongly applied to advertising tactics. Social media may be about collaboration and relationships and finding common ground. But advertising is about promoting the brand, selling the product, and crushing the competition. There are times and places where one augments the other; indeed, more and more, that should be the default mix. But to apply a conciliate-and-collaborate approach to advertising without an exquisitely planned engagement strategy is as wrong as deploying a hard-sell approach in social media. It just doesn’t work.
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October 18 2010
Mexican medical groups are starting to actively promote themselves across the border, seeking American patients and dollars. Here’s the story, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s called medical tourism, and the market potential is huge.

Three things make this an industry in transition, and therefore very interesting. First, and new technologies and treatments have become available, the benefit story has evolved from a straightforward "lower cost" message to a more-complex "higher value" message. Second, more stateside insurance companies are willing to pay for treatment across the border (after all, it saves them money too). Third, the U.S. medical establishment is temporarily in turmoil over the impending implementation of universal health care. Whatever you think of the health care proposals, the reality is that there will be lots of wrinkles to iron out over the next few years, making Mexican health care seem almost stable in comparison. At least you know – or think you know – what to expect.

That last element is the one that really opens the door to growth. But it’ll likely be a relatively short window, in terms of establishing a brand for medical tourism, maybe two to three years at the outside. Which means that, over the next year or so, we’ll get a branding case study in real time.
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October 15 2010
Today I have two separate looks at truth in political campaign advertising. The first is from the Associated Press, via Yahoo News. The second is from NPR. Both articles offer examples from both parties and action groups across the political spectrum:
Advertising copywriter blog link
Advertising copywriter blog link

The results of these examinations and others of their ilk are pretty dismal. No candidate’s advertising can claim to tell the whole truth, and the ads from support groups and organizations fare even worse. The ads are universally rife with errors of commission and omission.

Savvy advertisers have long followed David Ogilvy’s admonition that “the consumer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife,” and yet apparently effective political ads of all stripes treat voters exactly like morons.

This is what happens when advertising is protected by the First Amendment: we allow the right to lie. In the U.S., political advertising is protected speech, and therefore is held to no real standard of truth beyond avoiding that which could be actionable as outright slander or libel.

In other words, we demand more-complete truth from our cleansers and frozen fish sticks than we do from our elected leaders.

I vaguely remember a sci-fi show many, many years ago in which there was a televised political debate. As the debaters argued their points, a continuous scroll ran across the bottom of the screen that neutrally identified – in real-time and on-the-fly – unsupported claims, exaggerations, and errors in logic. At the time I thought the concept was condescending and intrusive. Now my thinking has changed. I think the concept would be condescending, intrusive, and ineffective.

That’s because I’ve come to believe that political advertising today isn’t about persuasion. It’s about rallying the faithful and creating buzz. In that way, it may be more like unregulated brand advertising than anything else.
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October 13 2010
Florist Interflora is suing UK-based retailer Marks & Spencer over its use of Google AdWords. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, Marks & Spencer (which is a department store like Sears or Target) paid for sponsored top-level search engine placement for its floral services any time someone searched for the brand name Interflora. Google was not named in the lawsuit – a lesson learned from fashion brand holdings company LVMH and its unsuccessful lawsuit against its own retailers. Instead, Interflora went after Marks & Spencer for unfair competition and trademark infringement.

While buying a competitor’s brand name in a Google AdWords campaign might seem like clever, interruptive marketing, I think it also reduces relevance, increases noise, and diminishes the user experience. Unless the message itself is tightly targeted, I think the downside is greater than the upside.

For its part, Google disclaims any responsibility for policing its AdWords program against the unauthorized use of trademarks. So the battle over intellectual property online rages on.
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October 12 2010
The Gap logo redesign debacle has been the unavoidable branding story of the week. Here, BBC News takes a look at some other design and redesign disasters:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, some people have already claimed the whole brouhaha was a set-up. The problem is, the vast majority of Gap customers didn’t care. The branding, marketing, and design communities got all excited (after all, this looked like a major consumer brand redesign), but that audience is, for the most part, no longer the Gap audience. If this tactic was an attempt to reactivate those potential markets of trend-setters by rattling their cages and provoking interactions with the brand, well, it could’ve been done much more engagingly.

Lost in the uproar, is the fact that Gap apparently had made substantive updates to its product line. So the new logo shouldacoulda marked the start of a brand reboot.

As a side note, I think this also illustrates the problem with soft launches. The Gap rolled out the new logo online only. Had the Gap hit the market with the new logo, hard, fast, and thoroughly, it would have been much better positioned to capitalize on whatever buzz was generated even while sticking to its guns. The soft launch overamplified a handful of voices, very few of which represented customers.

Personally, if I had been called in as a branding consultant, I’d have probably recommended sticking with the old logo, as dated as it is. I say “probably” because I don’t have access to the strategy or the data. If the goal was to refresh the brand to reflect the new product mix, I might have recommended a Google-like logo strategy, generating themed variations with new colors and type treatments (but not both in the same iteration, at least at first). The variations could lend themselves to reflecting actual product changes, including new colors, trimmer cuts, and new materials. See, that’s the marketing communication side of this thing, built right in, the way it should be.

I’d have invited known artists to interpret the logo, which could be sold or given away as T-shirts, tanks, and posters. I’d have integrated social media, including getting some snarky folks to grab a Twitter ID like wtfGAP, identifying it as an internal source, and using it to snipe at everything the company did that carried a hint of bland corporate-ness, free of internal retribution. And I haven’t even started on the ad campaign ...

All of which might sound good or bad; either way, it’s meaningless and probably wrong since I have no idea what the goal really was. Like most other critics, I am well and truly talking through my hat.

Which might have been, but wasn’t, bought at the Gap.
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October 11 2010
Graffiti artist Banksy created the opening sequence to an upcoming episode of “The Simpsons,” the long-running, irreverent animated sit-com. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The sequence takes on cheap labor, sweatshops, licensed character marketing, and global outsourcing; it does it hilariously and memorably; and it does it all in about the same  amount of time as a TV commercial takes.

The reason why has little to do with artistic genius, although there is that factor, as well as the value of the existing Simpsons brand in making the message palatable. No, the real reason why this title sequence communicates brilliantly where most ads fail, is that the title sequence has a clear point of view. It is advocating, and it is advocating with passion.

Advertising can be – should be – evangelical. The point is to make someone change his or her behavior, in either purchase preference, frequency, or some other metric. Well, changing behavior requires passion, not pablum.

Ads don’t have to look like this. But I think more of them should feel like it.
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October 10 2010
I don’t know if this is really cool or really weird. It’s probably both. A company is making physical robotic avatars that mimic body language to give a more human presence to videoconferencing. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The device currently only transmits eye contact and head movements, because it has no limbs.

It seems to me that by the time you stream the bandwidth to control this device, you might as well just live-stream a large-screen, high-res video image and use your own, actual body language to communicate. Also, you’re not really gaining the benefit of being in two places at once, any more than a telephone enables you to be two places at once. You’re still tethered to the connection.

A generic head for remote business meetings seems not particularly useful. But a programmable, interactive head that makes eye contact, facial expressions, and subtle head movements could be a very cool thing for point-of-purchase displays and ad kiosks, especially if it can be combined with some of the artificial intelligence technology Google is developing for its self-driving cars.
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October 8 2010
A new study by CNN indicates that the way for marketers to gain traction in social media, is to focus on the topics of “business,” “world,” and “technology,” because those topics were the most widely shared. Here’s the press release announcing the study, from CNN:
Advertising copywriter blog link

That doesn’t mean that a marketer must generate content about business, world, and technology topics; only that its marketing message should be attached to content focusing on those topics. A European tourism board advertised around news stories that were shared on social networking sites, and reported a 50% increase in aided recall and a 32% increase in brand favorability.

The dominant medium was made up of existing social networking sites, with 43% of news sharing going on in those channels. Another 30% was credited to email passalong. Of the types of content shared, the vast majority – 63% – were “ongoing stories,” such as features. Breaking news made up 19%, and “quirky or funny” content made up a mere 16%. So much for content sharing being a time-waster’s activity – content sharers tend to share what’s interesting, relevant, and useful. Oh, and they prefer content that makes them look smarter than you. Key snip:

In terms of theme, news recommendation is driven by content that is visually spectacular, stories about science and technology, human interest stories and money-related stories. The majority of stories being shared carry an underlying message of the “sharer” imparting knowledge.

There’s that blogging subtext for ya.

In the end, this is more of a media thing than a creative thing; there’s so much noise concentrated around those topics that it’s far easier for an advertiser to hook up from the outside than to generate content within the maelstrom. But, if the advertising adds its own element of smarts, then the content sharer gets a double boost. Not a bad tactic when integrating a social media component to an ad campaign.
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October 7 2010
While advertising creatives are dashing off clever tweets and blog entries maligning the new Gap logo, the people who make up Gap’s actual market are struggling to put food on the table. Two new studies by the Brookings Institution indicate the growth rate of suburban poverty now exceeds the growth rate of poverty in cities. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Poverty is the new middle class. Key snip: “Suburbs are now home to roughly one-third of the nation's poor.”

That’s something to think about when gainfully employed creating ads aimed at the Great American Middle Class. These people may still be buying, but they’re buying with ever-shrinking pennies or they’re buying on credit. Either way, they’re making tough choices, and when they choose your product, it has to deserve that faith all the way through its lifecycle, whether it’s a laptop or a bag of chips.

Yes, “value” is the position du jour, but that doesn’t mean every ad message has to scream “bargain.” A good example is Apple. It makes nicely engineered stuff that generally works pretty well from start to finish, and sells that stuff at a premium price. There are usually better technical solutions at better price points. But, in the end, the best ad for an Apple product is the Apple product you already have.

The jump story about midnight grocery runs from yesterday is worth reading too, for the insights that front-line retailers are having as they align themselves with changing economic realities. Smaller package sizes, for instance. Offering less for less. To continue the Apple example, look at the newly de-contented 6th-generation Nano. It lost a video camera, movie playback, a click wheel, and physical mass. But it retails for about $50 less than the previous Nano. Don’t think Apple doesn’t know which way the wind blows. And yet the ads say nothing about the new pricing.
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October 6 2010
Finally, it might start getting a little harder to greenwash products and services by promoting hyperbolically vague environmental benefits through ads or packaging. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Unfortunately, classifying the effects of product lifecycle on the environment is endlessly complex, because the planet itself is endlessly complex. There are few, perhaps no, finite ecosystems in nature. That’s why species diversity and habitat preservation are important, as much for what we know as what we don’t know. And it’s also why the ecologically commendable desire for for lighter, more fuel-efficient transportation is connected, through increased demand for structural aluminum, with the current environmental disaster in Hungary that sent 20-some-million cubic feet of highly alkaline alumina processing sludge oozing downriver toward the Danube. Yes, recycling helps, but reducing demand helps more, and that’s the opposite of consumerism.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: No matter what so-called green marketers claim, you can’t consume your way to a sustainable world.

CORRECTION: 10/07/10: I’ve learned that the Hungarian plant did not process alumina for aluminum production; the end products were used in things like industrial and electronic ceramics, composite materials, and polishes. The case against increasing consumption of products that require the use of this stuff, though, remains intact. Oh, and the sludge has reached the Danube and it has killed all the fish in one river. The currently estimated volume of contaminated sludge: about 35 million cubic feet.
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October 5 2010
Outdoor is getting exciting, with lots of digital innovations that bring personalization to out-of-home media. Here’s a look at some of the latest technologies and their uses, from Media Week (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some are elegantly simple ideas, like having a chip that integrates a viewer’s personal music with the advertiser’s visual. Others are more complex, multi-phase projects like the Mini Countryman launch, which merged a real-time out-of-home experience with YouTube.

Despite the technical flamboyance, I think it’s the latter concept that’s more traditionally grounded, in that the real-time engagement flows one way. You don’t quite achieve full interaction until later, online; likewise, if you’re engaging online, then you’re not quite engaging real-time with what you’re seeing. It’s a little more like broadcast. Cool broadcast, technologically amazing broadcast, highly localized broadcast, but still broadcast.

Then again, it’s that near-simultaneous flashing between the now, the future, and the past that makes it so intensely intriguing for all kinds of potential product and service categories. Travel, for instance, or events.

Cool stuff!
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October 4 2010
Here’s an article from Forbes in which Novell’s chief marketing officer looks at creativity’s value proposition:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The value of creativity is the same as the value of, say, intelligence. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be the one who gets things done. But, up to a point, more intelligence helps. Beyond that point, other factors come into play, such as personal and organizational abilities to connect that intelligence with relevant goals in order to motivate other people.

A highly creative individual will fail in an organization (or society) that isn’t equipped or structured to maximize the potential of creative results. That’s not a failure of creativity. It’s a failure to properly support creativity.

These are revolutionary times in which to create marketing and advertising. When I started in advertising, I often wondered what it was like to be in on the forefront of radio, or broadcast commercial television, or the “creative revolution” in advertising. Well, now I know!
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October 1 2010
This is something of a follow-up to my entry on August 18 about crowdsourcing creative work. Here’s a look at some results of crowdsourced creative (spoiler alert: they’re really bad), proudly submitted by users, from CBS’s
Advertising copywriter blog link

Um, where’s the strategy?

In both these cases, the creativity lay in crowdsourcing the work, not in the results themselves. But, great. You’ve engaged a handful of people by giving them a soapbox. And, as a result, you now own a handful of forgettable, off-strategy solutions that do more to dilute your brand than to enhance it.

I have seen creative contests work, and work well. But implementation is everything.
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Backwards in time to September 2010

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Advertising strategy and other lies
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Long John Silver on writing ads
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
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The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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