John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
October 2015

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October 28 2015
I’m taking a MOOC on Shakespeare, and the focus play this week is Henry V, a timely coincidence because a few days ago marked the 600th anniversary of the English victory at Agincourt. Here’s the text of the play, from Open Source Shakespeare:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s biggest war plays. And bringing an international war, complete with massive battles on foreign soil, to life on a little wooden stage is an immense challenge.

So Shakespeare kicks off the play with copy: a spoken prologue that sets the scene, much as the text crawl did in Star Wars. But Shakespeare’s prologue does something at once more honest and less expected. It explicitly asks for the audience’s help in extending the shorthand of stagecraft beyond the theater walls. It tasks the audience’s “imaginary forces” to create the image of an army where a few men stand, and to conjure from a small stage a vast battlefield. “For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,” it says.

Shakespeare uses words, and words alone, to activate the theater of the mind. And he does so in an actual theater. So each viewer’s audiovisual experience is multiplied by his or her own imagination. This is a brilliant way to achieve total audience engagement, with both hands.

I think it’d be cool to use that idea in an ad campaign for, say, a travel or tourism or food client. After all, it’s always a good idea to steal from a genius.
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October 26 2015
Fresh & Easy joins Haggen on the list of retail grocery brands that foundered this year. Here’s my photographic tribute to them and their layoffs of thousands of workers:

Fresh & Easy launched in late 2007 with great fanfare as the U.S. expansion of UK-based grocery giant Tesco. It burned through over $1.6 billion as it opened more than 200 stores across the nation, with ambitions to open 200 more.

Unfortunately, its European convenience grocer concept didn’t catch on with American grocery shoppers, who were used to name brands, manufacturer coupons, checkout clerks, and choosing their own individual fruits and vegetables. A smaller roll-out may have helped iron out some of the cultural missteps. But the chief problem was a complete and continual failure to persuade consumers of the brand’s unique value proposition. However, Tesco was in pedal-to-the-metal mode, and kept building stores and awaiting customers.

Now, me, I liked Fresh & Easy. I appreciated the concept, based on the European model of frequent shopping for a day or two’s worth of meal ingredients. But there were too few like me around. By mid-2013, Tesco had had enough. They sold the whole shebang to Yucaipa Companies, an L.A.-based holding company.

Unfortunately, the marketing failure persisted, aggravated by price increases and high employee turnover. A meager rewards program failed to counter the price increases or attract loyalty.

Effective last Friday, all Fresh & Easy locations are shutting down. I was in my local store Friday morning, and the shelves, still nearly fully stocked, were a mass of 10, 20, and 30% off cards. By this morning, the shelves had become nearly bare.

Fresh & Easy and Haggen are in a way mirror images. Fresh & Easy had a genuinely innovative approach that it failed to communicate or make attractive to customers, and was further injured by executional missteps. In the end, it was run by investment analysts and bean counters who failed to grasp the importance of outbound communication. Haggen, run by long-time grocers, failed primarily on execution: a titanic financial overreach in acquiring the stores and a traditional approach to grocery retailing that offered nothing new or better, all exacerbated by a disastrous pricing mistake on opening that cost the chain thousands of customers who never returned.

Fresh & Easy and Haggen are also similar in that both failed to be relevant brands. I’m sure they each had a brand strategy. But, whatever it was, it lacked focus or defensible turf or sufficient money to fulfill itself (see Advertising Strategy and Other Lies). In any case, the brand message missed the consumer. No one knew what either stood for, and that’s a fundamental marketing mistake.

I’m not saying advertising alone could have saved Fresh & Easy or Haggen. But smarter advertising would certainly have given them a fighting chance, and, in the case of Fresh & Easy, might have made the difference between life and death for the brand.
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October 23 2015
The MOOC I’m taking on “Shakespeare and His World” continues to be a more-fun diversion than blogging about advertising. I’ve said elsewhere that I’d rather write ads than write about them, and apparently I’d also rather write about Shakespeare. This week the focus play is the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s the play’s text, from Open Source Shakespeare:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This MOOC focuses on how the plays reflect real life in Shakespeare’s time. A major sub-plot in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the casting, rehearsal, and staging of an amateur play. These events give Shakespeare, himself a professional actor and playwright, a rich opportunity to comment on the creative process.

The play-within-a-play is “The Most Lamentable Comedy and Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisby.” It is staged by the town tradesmen, in honor of a ducal wedding. It has been argued that its presentation within A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Shakespeare’s own parody of Romeo and Juliet. As they rehearse, the tradesmen revise the script, adding prologues and soliloquies to make clear that the story unfolding is an act and is not happening for real, and that they are themselves and not their characters, especially in the case of the poor fellow playing a lion. They even find it essential to add two characters: moonlight and a wall.

I think Shakespeare is poking fun at people’s tendency to over-complicate creative. It’s easy to get bogged down in minutiae, from the potentially valuable (consumer insight) to the counterproductive (reviewers compelled to provide input to justify being asked). But it’s also easy to get derailed by speculative assumptions. Suddenly, the path of least resistance is to create minutiae by explaining everything, and having a man dress up as a wall seems a perfect solution to a vexing problem.

I was reminded of a classic article titled “Nine Ways to Improve an Ad – to Death” by creative advertising legends Fred Manley and Hal Riney (Western Advertising, March 1963). It was written more than 50 years ago, and nearly 350 years after A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Together, the two works show that the problems facing creatives who want to do good work haven’t changed. Groups innately favor the obvious explained, the aggregate accommodated, and the unlikely prevented. The result is advertising creative that plunges past the lowest common denominator to reach the lowest possible denominator. And a new marketing farce opens.
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October 16 2015
I’ve been taking a MOOC on “Shakespeare and His World,” which is a welcome diversion from the world of advertising. Yet, I always find connections.

This week’s focus play, for instance, was The Merry Wives of Windsor. And, as an advertising copywriter with some experience in direct marketing, I was struck by how and why the main character’s attempted seduction of the titular wives – his attempt to gain market share, as it were – fails. Here’s the play’s text, from Open Source Shakespeare:
Advertising copywriter blog link

For those unfamiliar with the story, derelict lothario Sir John Falstaff and his scruffy entourage descend on the suburban town of Windsor, where he sets out to seduce not just one but two respectably married middle-class women, partly for fun but mostly to replenish his empty purse. He starts by sending them love letters. The two women’s horror turns to amusement when they compare love notes and find them to be identical except for their names. They decide to punish the errant knight by luring him into situations in which he is humiliated. He is sent out with their dirty laundry to be dumped in the river and dressed as a witch, in which guise he is beaten by one of the husbands. In the end, Falstaff’s plot is revealed and mocked before the whole town, and there are lots of comedically happy endings.

So Falstaff, despite the benefits of desirable rank and immediate brand awareness, fails spectacularly because he breaks a cardinal rule in advertising: always start where the market is. That rule applies to physical space – media – in which regard Falstaff follows it (nothing wrong with direct mail). But it also applies to psychological space – messaging – and that’s where Falstaff errs. Like many marketers, Falstaff launches his campaign completely out of the blue, with premature claims of relevance and attachment. He disregards the actual state of affairs between himself and the members of his target audience. By ignoring that reality, he builds his campaign on a succession of ignorant interpretations of responses, leading him to invest himself deeper and deeper in events beyond his control.

In short, he fails because he starts his marketing pitch in the middle, instead of at the beginning.

Sadly, we’ve seen this story with many highly publicized, well-funded, wildly innovative start-ups and spin-offs. In Shakespeare’s fictionalized world, it’s all in the name of comedy and all is forgiven in the end.

But the real world is a harsher judge of the ad campaign that fails to start its marketing message in a space where people already are.
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October 9 2015
I’m taking a MOOC (massively open online course) on “Shakespeare and His World,” through the University of Warwick via the FutureLearn project. You can find out about MOOCs (and what I believe to be a big part of the future of education, and therefore of marketing and sales) here at FutureLearn:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In this first week, the class is looking at Shakespeare’s upbringing and development as a writer. One of the things I found interesting was that, for the most part, writing didn’t pay. But one way to make it pay, was through patronage, or sponsorship. Yes, advertising, in a way.

It worked like this. An aspiring writer would publish something: a treatise, a poem, something serious. And, he’d dedicate it to some wealthy noble in the area, typically with deep gratitude and high praise for the aristocrat’s family, learning, and taste. The writer would do this hoping to get some money in return, perhaps even a regular stipend or official household position. So that dedication was, essentially, a speculative pitch.

For the patron, of course, this was all about the publicity. He’d get to associate his name with a pop star, establishing his credibility as an arbiter of culture. Did it work? Well, a few otherwise relatively overlookable peers from four centuries ago are relatively well-known today largely due to their patronage of Shakespeare and their financial support for the production or publication of his works. Four centuries of brand recognition among key influencers within a niche is outstanding ROI by any measure.

The other way to make a living as a writer was to start a theater and become a shareholder in the business of producing the plays one wrote and performed. Then, as long as the plays themselves were popular, you were in the money.

And Shakespeare, being a 16th-century media hustler, did both.
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October 2 2015
I haven’t posted a blog entry in a while. Hey, life happens. But I’m kind of inspired to start up again, because of an online course I’ve started called “Shakespeare and His World.” It may seem completely tangental, but I’ve looked over the course syllabus and I’m already seeing the potential for connections to the world we live in today. Like us, Shakespeare had sponsors to satisfy, audiences to attract, and tickets to sell. And, 400 years later, he’s still attracting audiences and filling seats. That’s an amazing piece of sales-focused branding right there.

Now that I may be blogging again, I have to comment on the rising trend among blogs for undated posts. Without a date, you can’t tell how recent a post is, or when the last update was, or even whether a blog is updated regularly.

I considered starting to do the same thing. It sure would hide the gaps. But upon consideration, I decided against it: I’m going to continue dating my posts.

See, a blog entry is supposed to be fresh content. And if it’s not, readers may need to know when it’s from to tell if it’s relevant to their needs. I went looking for a fix for a minor problem after upgrading to Windows 10, and undated blog and forum posts became a significant source of frustration because they masqueraded, even in search results, as recent content.

Besides which, most of the stuff I blog about is pretty much evergreen. Fundamental copywriting and marketing chops, for instance, and the case for relevant advertising. The actual process of building a brand over time remains the same, even as new tools become available. Case studies usually have timeless elements to them. On the other hand, a topic like social media is somewhat mixed. Some best practices don’t change, but others are evolving rapidly.

I may have become irregular in posting blog entries, because real life happens. But I’m honest about it.
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Backwards in time to May/June/July 2015 (Yeah, I took a break there.)

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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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