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

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September 30, 2004
Ad fraud leads to a guilty plea and prison time for a former head of creative services right here in my hometown. Here’s the story, from the Union-Tribune (San Diego, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Oh, you just know you’re a major market when ad fraud leads to prison time.

Thing is, she was nailed on charges that, by underdelivering media, she and others inflated agency earnings and stock valuation. So, apparently, lying to stockholders is worse than lying to clients, at least as far as the law is concerned. Of course, that’s because it’s so much easier to quantify and prove. Sigh. Stuff like this just makes the whole industry look bad.
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September 29, 2004
This article seems merely to be about ad budget allocation, but it also covers advertising creative and branding. Here it is, from Business Week via Yahoo News Asia:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote:

Here’s a simple question. Would a company be better off running one great ad for three years, or three mediocre ads for one year each? To a pro, the answer is obvious. Not only is the great ad the right choice, those mediocre ones should never be seen at all. Yet, that latter strategy is the one followed by many advertisers. Advertising is meant to attract customers, yet so much of it does the opposite. One reason: Too much time and money goes into running advertising, not enough into developing it.

The article also points out one reason for this situation: that most businesses do their planning by the calendar, in regular, 12-month cycles. So, despite the fact that branding is a continual process, most companies attempt to build their brands in year-to-year fits and starts.
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September 28, 2004
Saturday’s entry talked about car marketing, but not car advertising. Today’s article, from Business Week, talks about car ads and the proliferation of instantly forgettable slogans:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some marketing experts say that changing slogans causes confusion among consumers and may even be perceived as a negative (wishy-washy, flip-flopping) characteristic. Equal but opposing marketing experts say that changing market challenges and opportunities demand adaptive strategic messages, reflected in new slogans.

What all of this back-and-forth misses, is that sloganeering ain’t branding. Look at Toyota, currently on its third slogan in the past six years. Toyota’s brand, and it’s a formidable one, has nothing to do with its advertising and everything to do with delivering value to consumers over the long haul. Yes! Manufacturing efficiencies are marketing when they result in improved deliverables and a decisive consumer experience! If this is a revelation, it shouldn’t be.

Admittedly, slogans do have a place in the marketing world: verbalizing an emotional rallying point for an audience (which may be internal, external, or both). But branding, real branding, is so much more than sloganeering. And that’s a point that shouldn’t be missed.
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September 27, 2004
Nike is one of the today’s premier executors of powerful, effective branding. Here’s an article about those ubiquitous (and unbranded) yellow bracelets, from the Statesman Journal (Salem, OR):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This isn’t a blueprint for doing unbranded charitable work that turns into a massive branding success, unless one can duplicate the wildfire-like phenomenon of those little yellow bracelets. Sure, you can dissect the whole project, from the product (eye-catching yellow bracelets debossed with Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” motto), to the pricing (cheap, $1), to the initial distribution (Nike retail stores), to the timing (immediately after Armstrong’s sixth Tour de France win), to the feel-good benefit hook (supporting cancer research) and the purity of the corporate motives (celebrating a great athlete and a great accomplishment). But, after that, the whole shebang has to connect with consumers in a way that catches fire. Not unlike a successful ad campaign.
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September 25, 2004
A doubly rare Saturday double entry from an unusual source: my local paper’s automotive section. First up, is this article about Pontiac’s massive car giveaway on “Oprah Winfrey,” from the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The behind-the-scenes look at some of the internal opposition to the promotion makes for interesting weekend reading. I think they were wrong to push the thing through. Giving away 276 new cars was a huge idea, and perhaps a good one, but not for that car. Even assuming that the promotion delivered a “publicity punch” equal to the $7 million worth of ads that had to be cancelled to pay for it (which could very well be true if the ads were weak enough), the punch is neither sustained nor sustainable. It might have been good publicity, but it was bad marketing, delivered to the wrong market. In short, an expensive misfire.

Also from the U-T Wheels section, is this article about the increasing size of brand badges on cars:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Badges may have gotten bigger and more carefully designed, but they haven’t been integrated nearly as thoughtfully. The result, too often, is a massive, tacked-on badge. It’s sort of like mediocre (or resigned) art direction: if you can’t give an ad a unique look, make the logo bigger and call it “branding.” Oh yeah, that’ll work.
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September 24, 2004
This is a good, street-savvy interview with the chief marketing officer of American Express, in the Hollywood Reporter:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What I like about the thoughts he expresses, is that they go beyond advertising, in any form, and get into brand-building through positive customer experiences. See, more marketing people are realizing that companies and ad agencies don’t build brands; consumers do.
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September 23, 2004
The beauty of tourism advertising, is that you get to turn a place on the map into a place in the heart. Too often, though, politics and the need to teach entire committees about basic advertising procedure make things turn ugly. Here’s an article from the Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), about the development of an ad campaign for Moab, Utah, that ended this month with the ad agency’s resignation:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The quotes from city council-members point up their obliviousness, and the hopelessness of the task facing the ad agency. Excited about seeing the creative process? Heck, probably they couldn’t resist elbowing their way into the creative process. Divisive, progress-paralyzing battles as part of a normal process? Only when politics – which, by the way, can be governmental or corporate – are involved. A need for consensus? Only when no one has the knowledge or authority to move forward.
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September 22, 2004
Here’s a good article focusing on retail branding, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

The retailer names may be unfamiliar to U.S. readers, but for Marks & Spencer you can read “Sears” and for Tesco you can sorta-kinda read “Target” (which didn’t start as a grocery chain). The key challenges and opportunities are similar. What I like about the article, is that it discusses brand-building issues beyond advertising. Such as researching consumer values, developing relevant products, making it (or having it made) well, pricing it fairly, and distributing it intelligently.
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September 21, 2004
A whole passel of stories from my hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. First up, is this front-page story (picked up from the New York Times News Service) about CBS News admitting that it can’t prove the veracity of key information used in one of its lead news stories:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Seems the only people telling the truth in the media these days, are the advertisers. That’s partly because commercial speech enjoys less Constitutional protection, but it’s looking more and more like it’s also because today’s consumer-oriented advertising industry has a higher ethical standard than today’s ratings-oriented journalism industry (and journalism is an industry).

In a related story, the nature of First Amendment protection for commercial speech is constantly being refined (story picked up by the U-T from the Associated Press):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Most advertising isn’t protected by the First Amendment, at least not fully, and it’s hard to think of a less sympathetic advertiser than a tobacco company. But, the risk here is that image advertising as a whole might end up vulnerable to legal challenges.

To end on a high note, here’s a homegrown story about branding one of San Diego’s major universities, USD:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s advertising. It’s marketing. It’s branding. And, it’s good. There’s ad news for you. Making the branding effort even more noteworthy: there is no accompanying new logo. Hey, it’s nice to see someone getting it right.
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September 20, 2004
Some things I mention just to archive them. For instance, this press release (courtesy P.R. Newswire), from retail giant Sears, touting its new advertising and branding campaign featuring Ty Pennington:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, press releases such as these, carried on free distribution wires, are often filled with weasel copy every bit as questionable as it is optimistic. However, making a connection between a spokesperson’s “engaging style” and a new merchandising approach in various retail departments seems a stretch even by those standards. And, oh yes, there’s a spiffy new logo to go along with the new efforts. Ooo. That’ll help.
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September 19, 2004
A quick Sunday entry to note this article about sporting event promotions, from my hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Even for 1974, having a ten-cent beer night just sounds like a bad idea. As promotions go, it successfully attracted a crowd. It was the social aspect of the promotion that was grossly irresponsible, and led to the problems. Which doesn’t really explain mob action at the the “disco sucks” promotion.
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September 17, 2004
In reference to the September 14 entry, more proof that Gateway may be correct in cutting its losses by pulling out of the home electronics market. Here’s an article, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

When a consumer electronics heavyweight like Sony issues warnings on forthcoming Christmas season profits, that is one huge signal that this so-called economic recovery ... ain’t. Then again, maybe there is a Santa Claus.
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September 16, 2004
Before you write off print as a casualty of the self-proclaimed digital revolution, look at this fast-growing medium: custom-published corporate magazines. Here’s the article, from the Stamford Advocate (CT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the print version of branded entertainment. I remember recent precursors, such as eBay Magazine and Technique (which was published by Paper Direct, a maker of pre-printed papers), but the idea goes way back.

I have, in my collection, the March, June, and September issues of Ford Times from 1960. Contents included road trips, profiles of interesting destinations, automotive tips, news, recipes, and, almost incidentally, car previews (“North, south, east, and west, it’s THE FALCON STATION WAGON”). Even today, nearly 45 years after they were published, these magazines are impossible to leaf through without stopping to read. Most articles are signed by various writers including Art Linkletter (“Disneyland - A Child’s Garden of Fantasy”). It’s high-quality content, delivered in an engaging way.

So the concept isn’t new, but the implementation is, along with a host of other techniques to track reader involvement and interaction. Have I mentioned lately that it’s a great time to be a copywriter?
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September 15, 2004
Here’s an article about branding Idaho, from the Associated Press via The Times-News (Twin Falls, ID):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This seems to be a marketing trend these days, branding locations. Not that that’s in itself a bad thing (think of all the work for copywriters, after all, in coming up with these wondrous slogans). However, I wonder if some of this indicates that the overblown, fatuous branding con-game has reached saturation point in private industry, and the only place to find new marks clients is within the public sector.

As a taxpayer and advertising creative, what do you think? Does your community need a brand platform and logo? Or more teachers and road workers? What makes this choice a non-binary thing, is that the proper implementation of one option often leads to the other.
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September 14, 2004
I am back in San Diego! And, from my hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, is this article showing that sometimes, brand extension, even with first-mover status leveraged by a strong brand and aggressive pricing, does nothing at all:
Advertising copywriter blog link

From a branding perspective, the Gateway brand, while strong in its niche, was not strong enough in the consumer goods market. I get to claim some “I told ya so” rights, although those rights are shared with about a thousand other advertising people (including most of my own associates).

See, this is a good example showing what happens when a brand is built almost by accident. The same combination of (largely) external factors can’t be duplicated, but the people involved persist in thinking they’ve learned how to build a brand. Two years, millions of dollars in equity and thousands of lost jobs later, it is clear that they don’t. Pulling the plug, as painful as it is, is the right move. The open question is this: does Gateway still have a brand in what used to be its niche? If so, what is it?
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September 6, 2004
Well, it is time to say goodbye to Germany and the lovely city of Mülheim where my family has been staying for the past six weeks. (To see what we were up to, visit my family’s Mülheim webpages.) So, what with packing up and cleaning the flat, the next update will be from San Diego, some time next week. Auf Wiedersehen!
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September 3, 2004
If a brand image is well-established, is it limiting to use that image to sell the brand’s signature product? How about if the brand image belongs to a nation? Here’s an interesting article about the marketing challenges facing the Scotch whisky industry, from The Herald (Glasgow):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The problem isn’t in the past. It’s not even in the present, at least from a branding perspective. It’s that darn future: how to move the established brand forward, leveraging the traditional image to create a modern one without losing any momentum. It’s not rocket science; product brands do it all the time. However, when you’re talking about a national image, it requires political and industry leaders with an uncommon commitment toward a long-term evolutionary plan.
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September 2, 2004
Here’s a good article about a key missing ingredient in many company websites, from India Infoline:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Identifying principal executives is about more than providing information. It’s about creating trust, the first step in creating profitable customers. The websites of entrepreneurial enterprises tend to do this better than the websites of larger ones, possibly because the key people are more-accessible to the copywriters. Websites of publicly-held corporations tend to re-publish executive biographies from annual reports, which is at least something. So, the issue is primarily with privately owned, mid-sized to large companies.

The funny thing is that the India Infoline “About Us” page is riddled with the same vapid corporate weasel-speak criticized in the article (“created by a team of professionals,” “all our analysts have significant experience, which they share with each other,” “we as a team are continuously learning and are in sync with a rapidly changing environment,” and so on).

As for this website, I’d post my photo, but I’ve already exposed more of myself than any reasonable person should be asked to take.
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September 1, 2004
Just some fun reminiscences from Harry Webber, who was involved in creating some of the classic TV commercials of the 1970s, from a brief interview in the Charlotte Observer (NC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I must say, though, that I’m more optimistic about the future of the television commercial than he is. If, as Webber says, the television commercial is going the way of the dinosaur, then surely some will evolve into birds and fly into tomorrow. After all, those who create television commercials are not just sitting here awaiting extinction; we are actively developing the craft.

What might be going the way of the dinosaur, is creating television commercials the old-fashioned way, relying on frequency and huge audiences to drive the numbers up, or at least make the investment make sense. To me, smaller audiences mean tighter targeting and technologies like TiVo mean more viewer control. All of which creates a real opportunity for a relevant, intriguing commercial to slice right through the clutter, delivering its message with the active participation of the viewer. That’s powerful stuff for advertising.

The future of the television commercial looks great. As long as you evolve.
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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