John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter

www.kuraoka.com
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
September, 2006

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September 29, 2006
Lyle’s Golden Syrup is about to be named the oldest British brand by the Guinness Book of Records. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

What I find interesting, is that a nation with as long a history as Great Britain can only muster as its oldest a brand that dates from 1885. Here in the U.S. (and in my own medicine cabinet), we can point to T.N. Dickinson’s witch hazel, which claims to date from the early 1800s, and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco, which dates from 1822. Canadian beer brand Molson goes back even further, to 1786, nearly a century prior to Tate & Lyle’s creation. And, U.S. brand Baker’s chocolate started life in 1765, predating the U.S. itself. There are doubtless others.

I’m not sure what this proves, unless maybe it’s that the New World ushered in new marketing methods as well. That’s actually an interesting point: in a largely illiterate nation, tucked away in the wilds and populated by people speaking a variety of languages, branding became an essential business survival skill. It’s a lead we’ve maintained, with U.S. brands dominating most lists of the top ten global brands.
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September 28, 2006
Just as things heat up in the world of delivering content (and advertising) over mobile phones, sports network ESPN shuts down its cell phone service after less than a year of operation. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via MSNBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote:

ESPNs decision marks the retreat of one of the highest-profile and most-heavily marketed efforts to create whats known as an MVNO, short for mobile virtual network operator.

This seems to be the topic of the month (September 27, 14, 8, August 29). Despite heavy advertising, only a handful of sports fans found it worthwhile to pony up a subscription fee to get game scores and other sports-related content through their cell phones.

Key takeaway: it’s just as bad to be on the market too early as too late. The first-mover advantage may be more a figment of post-operative analysis than a real-time, real-world edge anyway. For two more examples, see my Ad Blog entries for March 10 2005 and September 14 2004.

Still, it was worth trying, although in retrospect it points to a softer launch as being perhaps the wiser strategy, the better to conserve capital for a longer run that could adapt more easily to marketplace feedback. Innovation is a tough business, and to pull the plug after only a year makes it seem like the whole endeavor was conceived on riding a wave instead of creating it.
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September 27, 2006
More and more companies are rolling out promotions and advertising aimed at mobile device users. Here’s a look, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key takeaway: it ain’t the creative, it’s the control and the content.

Control, in that consumers opt in and can easily ignore or delete incoming marketing messages.

Content, in that most of these programs focus on delivering pricing alerts, discounts, real-time information, or entertainment.

As recently as January 16, I had my doubts that cell phone advertising would be used responsibly enough to break through the noise. But it looks like advertisers and marketers really did learn their lesson from email, and realize that it’s in their own self-interest to treat customers well.

Hey, good customer service as the breakthrough creative element. What a concept.
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September 26, 2006
Get ready for the battle of the b(r)ands. Music powerhouse Universal has combined with advertising powerhouse WPP to create a company dedicated to licensing existing music to commercials. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If the music and advertising communities were really all about “innovation and imagination,” as the chief executive of the newly minted company says, wouldn’t it be more innovative and imaginative to create new music for ads instead of counting on borrowed interest? Yes, it would. And, I daresay it would also be more effective for clients long-term.

But no, this enterprise is about quick bucks, with equal emphasis on quick and bucks. The convenience of a single point of contact will, no doubt, enhance the range of licensed music that gets exposed to potential advertisers.

However, no matter how easy or economical it is, licensing a song is an advertising expense. Creating an audio branding icon through the development of a unique jingle is an advertising investment.
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September 25, 2006
Self-referential, quasi-spoof advertising is hot, according to this article from Adweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The social feedback loop has accelerated to the point where the second phase of an ad campaign can safely refer to the first phase, if the first phase has enough impact. Two campaigns are explored, the VW “Safe Happens” campaign (discussed here May 1 and 2 2006) and the HeadOn campaign (which I had pegged as the first phase of something larger on August 22 2006). And, despite wide differences in budget and production quality, both use the self-referential element as a way to reach out to the audience. So, they’re not talking to themselves as much as the followers in this trend will.

And I really, really like the concept of the “Oprah Moment,” which is also a great name for that sudden, breakout flash of credibility and straight-talk within advertising.
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September 22, 2006
Cash-strapped Ford has ponied up $6 million to acquire the Rover brand name from corporate owner BMW. Why? Mostly to protect its own interests in its Land Rover and Range Rover products. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Perhaps Rover on its own isn’t a global enough brand to warrant revival. But, in its homeland, it’s a valuable property to own, both for defensive purposes (protecting the existing 4x4 models) and as a way to attack, say, BMW or Mercedes.

There is a long list of American automotive marques that could be revived. Indeed, some dead brands may be more positively viewed than current brands, at least among automotive enthusiasts, if only because there’s no recent negative experience. DeSoto. Hudson. Studebaker. Packard. Most of these car brands have been gone for 50 years or longer. Then, there’s recently departed Plymouth and Oldsmobile.

Below that lies a tier of brands that, despite having an echo of brand equity, would probably have a harder time coming back. Nash. Rambler. Kaiser. Willys. Maybe LaSalle belongs here, or in the category above.

And then there’s the one brand that can never return, even though it’s perhaps the most famous of all the dead car marques: Edsel.
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September 21, 2006
Here are five steps to be creative, from the folks at the BBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The “creative blueprint” PDF (about 1 MB) is worth downloading. Although it’s workshop-y (with get-to-know-you exercises and the like), and it’s aimed at kids, it’s still a good guide to the creative process. There’s probably little here that you don’t do automatically when confronted with a project, but sometimes getting another view of the process can help plug gaps in one’s own thinking. You could even print it out and keep it on file to jump-start your own concepting exercises; that’s what I did.

And, the BBC Blast website is worth poking around too.
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September 20, 2006
A Virginia Commonwealth University AdCenter class assignment to make the professor’s dog “famous” went, well, as you’d expect. Here’s the story, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Basically, someone made a MySpace blog entry asserting that he (or she) was going to kill the dog online. Boom, instant dog fame. Along with protests, police investigation, global furor, and a blemish on the reputation of what is still one of the best ad schools in the nation.

This is today’s version of a very old joke. I remember a storyboard parody (for apples, I think) that began in the Garden of Eden and devolved – with “input” from The Client – to a single frame with a V.O. saying “buy our apples or we’ll shoot this dog.” There was also a 1970s National Lampoon magazine cover along the same lines; I don’t know which came first. Neither of these, however, stirred up the hornet’s nest on such a grand scale; a testament to the power still waiting to be tapped online.
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September 19, 2006
More about the malaise in viral marketing, even as more advertisers jump onto the bandwagon, this time from The New York Times via the International Herald Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It appears that certain concepts just aren’t sustainable, and what’s become traditional viral marketing may be one of them. There could only ever be one Lonelygirl15. Just as there could be only one Subservient Chicken, one Blair Witch Project, one “We’re #2, we try harder” campaign, and so on. Everything that comes along after, modeled on what went before, only reinforces the first effort; as imitations spawn and swarm, the impact – and the returns – diminish.

I still have a larger problem with a teaser campaign that functions by deceiving the audience. Although you certainly can’t bore people into a purchase, you also can’t cheat them into one, at least not more than once. One more argument that viral teasers are not a sustainable marketing model.
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September 18, 2006
Has viral marketing gotten too big (and too obvious) for its own good? This article, from Fortune magazine via CNNMoney.com, looks at the question:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing about a viral model, is that constant exposure drives the targets to either develop immunity or die. For advertisers, these two outcomes are identical: if people become immune to the marketing side of the viral marketing channel, as many already have done, its the same thing as the audience dying off. Pretty soon, the only people left on YouTube will be desperately creative 40-somethings trying to market to 20-somethings who simply aren’t there. Occasionally a viral or two will catch fire, and articles will appear announcing the revival of viral. Viral Marketing 2.0.

Thing is, good ads have always been effective. Now there’s another distribution channel, one controlled (for now) largely by consumers. That’s cool. It’s also not limited by time or location, and that’s cool too. But the same rules of engagement apply.
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September 17, 2006
A Sunday quickie to look at the importance of trademark protection for even the smallest brands, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I would go further, and say that the smaller your company, the more important it is to protect your brand and its associated trademarks. Otherwise, a larger company can acquire or co-opt your trademark, not through legal channels, but through sheer weight of public usage.

Also, the smaller you are the more important it is to have a positively memorable trademark, one that really stands out while also saying something uniquely good about your company, product, or service. A good brand mark is seldom as simple as a clever name.
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September 15, 2006
What makes a great brand character? A story. This is something of a continuation from my September 13th entry, but talking about actual product mascots and critters, from Fortune Small Business via CNNMoney.com:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote:

... effective brand characters can’t simply mirror the consumer.... People “connect emotionally with characters whose struggles are familiar to them, not with characters who superficially look or act like them,” says Altschul. A look at long-reigning beloved characters proves his point: Tony the Tiger has an oversized ego, the Maytag repairman is a lonely perfectionist, and Sonny from Cocoa Puffs teeters on the brink of insanity.

You can safely replace the word “character” with “brand” through the above. And, like a story or a character, a brand must have an inherent conflict to have emotional staying power.
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September 14, 2006
A comprehensive look at opt-in mobile phone advertising, from Adweek via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This strategy provides mobile-access content that is actively sought by consumers, rather than merely pushing messages out. The key factor in the success of this approach is the value that’s being offered, whether in the form of entertainment, information, or retail discounting. Which is, at bottom, true of any form of advertising.
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September 13, 2006
A popular teen blog-opera on YouTube is revealed to be a hoax. But to what end remains to be seen. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Canada.com (Toronto, ON):
Advertising copywriter blog link

A gripping storyline held viewers. But, now that the play is revealed, things better move quickly or viewers will move on to new stuff. In fact, this is already feeling like yesterday’s buzz. To launch a teaser with a slow follow-up squanders the brand.

Yes, brand. If there’s an emotional connection, there’s a brand. And stories have been used to build brands for thousands of years, using the technology of the day. A thousand years ago, it was the oral tradition of storytelling. A hundred years ago, it was radio soaps. Today, it’s the internet.

What’s your brand story, and how are you communicating it? And, just as important, who’s listening?
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September 12, 2006
As branding becomes an increasingly important differentiator, companies are seeking to own colors. Here’s the story, from The Age (Melbourne, Australia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Color, particularly as a combination of signature colors, is a distinctive part of visual branding. However, it’s awfully hard to own a single color, or even a common combination. In the world of retail, for instance, the red-white combination is used by Target, Office Depot, Staples, CompUSA, and several others. Red and white is hardly unique, and the color combination is only one part of the brand.

Which brings me to the fact that visual branding as a whole is only one part of the brand. Branding isn’t a set of colors, or a logo, or even a copy tone. It’s an emotional connection that goes beyond advertising or graphic design. Which, in their own way, is what some of the judges in these cases seem to be saying.

I think the effort (and money) used to defend a color in court would be a better branding investment if it were put toward improving the customer experience.
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September 11, 2006
More about using youth-oriented social networks, including FaceBook and MySpace, for advertising, from Yahoo! Finance (UK/Ireland):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Just a while ago, the only way for traditional brands to reach this market was to create a sub-branded or even a rogue URL. Now, any company or organization can set up a youth-focused website through existing social networks, tapping into a ready-made audience.

What does this mean? It means there will be more and more companies piling onto the bandwagon, which is already heading downhill fast. It means the signal-to-noise ratio on social networking sites will decrease. It means the younger audience will begin to abandon the channel, as indeed the age numbers already reveal.

However, it’s still a very savvy play, given relatively low cost and potential rewards in capturing a slice of the market that might otherwise be inaccessible. The next step, though, as always, is content. It’s not enough for a company to have a MySpace site; that no longer automatically makes you hip. You have to deliver something worthwhile, either through content or offers. And that is the key stumbling block for most corporate advertisers.
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September 8, 2006
Anheuser-Busch is preparing an online entertainment “network,” with launch scheduled for next February. Here’s the very puffy press piece, from Bloomberg News via the Northwest Herald (IL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

When you go to the site itself, there’s nothing there but a weakly age-screened registration form.

It’s a great idea. But, by February 2007, the environment will have changed. Among other things, there will be more online channels to choose from. A-B’s offering will need to be twice as good to capture half the traffic and mindshare.

A pre-emptive PR strike to gather registrants and email addresses is one thing. But you know the company is feeling the pressure when they do it five months out. And, I think the potential audience is cynical enough to know it too.

Speaking of online entertainment, I’m happy to report that the BBC’s Working Lunch financial show is available again to viewers outside the UK. It’s a pleasant and educational way to spend a half hour (one hour on Fridays), as is WDR’s Der Grosse Finanz-Check, which is a German TV show featuring financial makeovers for couples, families, and even a business. Even if you don’t understand the language (I don’t), you can feel the raw emotions. And, television as a medium is less about words and more about feeling anyway. German network WDR’s webmedia site has already replaced the television on several evenings in my house.

So, another online network offering entertainment programs? Join the queue.
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September 7, 2006
Maybe it’s because I just wrapped up a naming/branding project for a hitherto unnamed company and its products, but this article stood out. It’s about the importance of naming, from the Arizona Business Gazette (AZ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

While going the agency route can cost $20,000 and up, the do-it-yourself route cost the small chocolatier many months. Perhaps opening a retail shop is in some ways less time-sensitive than launching a product into a highly competitive arena, but consider that a few thousand dollars invested in a branding-savvy freelancer (ahem) could have gotten her business launched several months sooner.
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September 6, 2006
Popular cartoon characters are licensing their names and images to brand ... fresh fruits and vegetables! Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Major players include Disney, Warner Bros., and Nickelodeon. Preliminary results look good, with this year’s fruits branded with Disney characters outselling last year’s unbranded fruit at the same price point. Of course, an increase in health awareness is helping fuel that growth too, as is a consumer backlash against junk foods and sugary snacks aimed at children.

The last two paragraphs of the story make it clear that the objective here is less about selling fruit or making money from licensing fees, and more about polishing up the images of the cartoon characters. So, what’s getting branded here? The apple? Or the cartoon character on the apple? In this case, it’s both.
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September 5, 2006
Creativity takes many forms. In this article in Manufacturing.net (Rockaway, NJ), a leading vacuum cleaner manufacturer points out the importance of good industrial design:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key quote: “Design isn’t the thing that sells you the product, says Dyson. It is the product.”

That’s also true of advertising design. When done right, ad design is inextricably linked to the concept, which in turn is inextricably linked to the product. To the viewer, the ad is the product, and the brand, and the experience of the product. That’s what makes advertising so powerfully persuasive, and while strategically that persuasion begins with the selling idea, tactically – that is, out in the field – that persuasion begins when someone looks at the ad.

Tactical success starts with design.
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September 4, 2006
The Catholic Church is marketing the Pope. Really. We’re talking Official Pope-branded merchandise, including hats, beer (!), china, bottled Holy water, pens, and erasers. Here’s the story, from Der Spiegel (Hamburg, Germany):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a copywriter, I think a Pope-branded eraser would be cool. (Art director: “That headline stinks.” Me, rubbing the offending line from my pad: “I am cleansed!”)

Unofficial souvenirs have always been around, of course. However, giving Church approval to papal-oriented merchandise seems at worst disrespectful of the office and at best inconsistent with the teachings. Yes, the profits are going toward funding the Pope’s visit to Bavaria. But what’s next, the selling of indulgences? (Uh-oh, calling all Lutherans!)

If this be avarice, the Vatican has learned it well. It is aggressively protecting its brand, combining broad legal authority with local moral pressure to keep unofficial papal merchandise off the shelves.

On the other hand, the consumer at least gets a nifty knick-knack for his or her alms-giving. Perhaps a call to Father Guido Sarducci would be appropriate.
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September 1, 2006
Advertising on blogs and online forums has been a hot trend. But a new study by Jupiter Research shows that consumers may not trust those formats. Here’s the story, from Brandweek via Mediaweek.com (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key stat quote:

Only 21 percent of consumers trust product information within such social media when mulling a product purchase. Consumers are twice as likely to trust information on a corporate Web site or on a professional review site such as Edmunds.com, the research found.
In other words, people can tell the difference between entertainment and  information, and adjust their perceptions accordingly. What a revolutionary concept.

The interesting thing, is that both corporate websites and review sites are trusted by less than half of consumers (21 x 2 = 42%). It apparently doesn’t matter whether product information comes from inside or outside a company, less than half the people trust it. Corporate website copy is probably viewed as having a bias, a fair assessment. And authors of reviews are also viewed as having biases, whether grudges or other agenda, also a fair assessment.

I long ago stopped reading reviews of products, except as entertainment; when I take editorial or user reviews into consideration at all, it’s en masse, as a rough trend indicator, and at that only if there are enough of them to be significant. I am apparently not alone.

There’s a larger issue here: the fact that online media seems to be less trusted than other media. Again, a fair assessment given the decreasing signal-to-noise ratio out there. However, and prefacing this with the fact that an online presence is mandatory for most businesses, it begs the question: how much advertising in such a medium a worthwhile investment?
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Backwards in time to August 2006


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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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