John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
September 2007

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September 30 2007
Part of the Macy’s makeover was getting rid of its ubiquitous coupons. Now the retailer is finding that even the higher-end consumer loves a bargain, and may not go to a store if there isn’t a coupon involved. Here’s the story, from the New York Times News Service, via my Sunday paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As the department store chain moved upscale, it seemed like getting rid of coupons was a smart move. After all, coupons smack of discounting, plus they train customers to wait for them.

On the other hand, at least there’s a powerful trained response to them. See ad > clip coupon > shop. Heck, it’s even interactive from the get-go.

Macy’s problem was that nothing replaced the coupons as triggers. See ad > (x) > shop. The x was supposed to be better brands, higher-quality merchandise, and subtle discounts including loyalty promotions. It’s obvious now that those elements lacked trigger-power.

That’s food for thought to those who think branding alone is the answer.

Another interesting tidbit from the article: the first coupon was for Coca Cola, in 1894.
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September 28 2007
A media director ponders the disappearance of actual ads in advertising and marketing campaigns, in this article from agencyfaqs! (India):
Advertising copywriter blog link

What’s changed, I think, is the nature of “exposure.” In the old days, exposure largely implied exposure to a complete advertising message, not just a brand image or statement. Now, much of what gets counted as media exposure amounts to little more than brand billboards, meaningless without either an existing iconography or an ongoing traditional ad campaign as a reference point.

You can’t brand in a vacuum.
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September 27 2007
What businesses are most likely to be gone 10 years from now? Here’s a list of ten dying businesses, as judged and compiled by Entrepreneur magazine via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Hey, freelance copywriter isn’t on the list, and, notably, neither is advertising agency.

The ten businesses listed are record stores, camera film manufacturers, crop dusters, gay bars, newspapers, pay phones, used-book stores, piggy banks, telemarketing, and coin-operated arcades. I don’t know. The thing is, a retail location is just another distribution channel. So certain industries, like music sales, used-book sales, and to a limited extent the gay bars, have switched channels. They’re now online, where the biggest players can grow very big indeed thanks to the global reach of the web. The same thing is true of the newspaper industry: the core product wasn’t the physical paper, it was information (and advertising). Whether these businesses are dying or evolving seems very much dependent on which way one looks at them.

As for the arcades – and, to a limited extent the gay bars – I’d bet that they survive simply because people need a “third place,” a place to socialize. In fact, over ten years, I’d bet on a bit of a backlash against the insular, stay-at-home-and-connect-online attitude, and a rebirth of face-to-face socializing.

Piggy banks will not go away. As long as there are kids who need to learn math by putting pennies together to equal nickels, and dimes together to equal dollars, there will be piggy banks.

I’ll miss watching the dangerous ballet of the crop dusters. But I won’t miss the telemarketers, not one bit.
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September 26 2007
Here’s more about the threat to advertising agencies from Google, Microsoft, and other technology companies, from Adweek via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Ayup. I talked a bit about this last week, on September 19, and it seems that I am not alone in my assessment.

Thing is, the big danger here isn’t to ad agencies, although many will be sorely hurt. The real danger, is to advertisers and brand owners. Because, without someone actively nurturing and growing the brand, a task that requires a view beyond immediate click-throughs, even the strongest brand becomes merely something from which to borrow equity in order to make today’s numbers. That’s the kind of short-sighted thinking that can disembowel a company’s prospects for the future.
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September 25 2007
Does media fragmentation lead to media silliness? Check out the latest new media format: billboards along airport take-off and landing paths targeting airline passengers. Here’s the story about Ad-Air, from bradintelligence via (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, in the old days of air travel, this was a workable strategy. In fact, soft drink, tobacco, and razor companies often paid farmers for the use of strategically located barn roofs. But the situation has changed.

Although the consumer behaviorist in me says that it still could be thrilling to see a huge ad message from the air, the fact is, most commercial aircraft today have three-across seating at the windows. So, no matter how many people are aboard, the message can only reach 1/3 of them. To claim an exposure rate of 96% and 81%, particularly at an airport like Heathrow, is just ludicrous.

In fact, it was so nuts that I did a bit more research, and turned up the stat. The article has it wrong. Ad-Air is not claiming to reach those travelers (unless perhaps someone claimed so in an interview), it is simply stating that 96% of business travelers and 81% of leisure travelers fall into a high-income demographic. So actual reach remains debatable. Highly debatable.

Also, regulations and technologies have changed: aircraft are flying higher, rising or dropping quicker, and moving faster. A billboard that may once have been in view for nearly a minute, now flashes by in seconds.

Finally, the idea that there is no competition for the ads is just wrong. It’s departure or arrival time. Those minutes are packed. Business travelers are putting on their game faces and checking their agenda; leisure travelers are re-setting their watches and checking their guidebooks. People are remembering which overhead bin has their stuff in it, and quietly feeling for the bag under the seat with their foot. Yup, it’s not going anywhere. They’re either distributing or rounding up books, snacks, memoranda, toys. Passengers with kids are entertaining them and making sure they stay securely strapped in, while passengers with babies are rummaging for pacifiers and bottles to help their ears adjust. Nervous flyers have one wary eye on the emergency exits. Then there’s always glancing through the airline magazine and catalog. Heck, take-off and landing are the most-crowded minutes of the entire flight. The clutter is everywhere.

Now, far be it for a mere freelance copywriter from San Diego to disagree with a former managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi, someone who must have far more knowledge than I. But either there’s more to this than is being revealed here, or the emperor has no clothes.
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September 24 2007
Despite Carls Jr.’s remix of its “flat buns” tv commercial (see Ad Blog, September 10), eliminating anything remotely bawdy (and also most of the humor), people are still up in arms. Here are a few more local opinions, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the edited version, a neutered send-up of an already passé format, is boring. And that’s one thing advertising can never be.
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September 21 2007
Here’s a handy, if necessarily brief, biographical sketch showing why David Ogilvy sits in the pantheon of advertising legends, from Investor’s Business Daily via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

If you’ve read Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising, then this article s a good review of a few key principles. If you haven’t (and, honestly, you can’t be a serious student of the advertising craft without reading Ogilvy), then this should whet your appetite.
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September 20 2007
NBC is preparing to offer selected programming as free downloads, as it prepares for its post-iTunes life. Here’s the story, from via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Scroll down a bit, and you’ll see I talked about this back on September 1, in an entry about this very development and the rising importance of content creators controlling distribution channels. I think this will work well, and, as has been pointed out elsewhere, low-rated NBC has nothing to lose right now and everything to gain. And, their advertisers should be happy too, to be in a position where their messages can’t be subverted or sabotaged by outside contracts with a third party distribution network.

I’ve been a long-time fan of downloadable and live-stream programming from sources as diverse as the BBC and German TV station WDR. But those are subsidized efforts. What NBC Direct is bringing to the equation is profitability, or, at least, the potential for profitability. Would I pay $1.99 to watch the latest Working Lunch or an archived Wunderschönes NRW? Probably not. But would I sit through ads? Definitely. And that’s the key behavioral point that’ll tip things toward the NBC business model.

The field remains wide open for advertisers to develop their own channels, quickly, while there are still consolidated audience portals like iTunes and YouTube to help launch the effort.
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September 19 2007
Google is releasing a new ad format that will integrate dynamic, rich content. Here’s the story, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Buried in this puff piece is the dagger: “the ad format holds real promise based on what Google brings to the table: vast, relatively low-priced distribution through its AdSense network and a willingness to offer creation and serving for free.

Ad creation and serving for free! Brand stewardship goes out the window, but look at those click-through rates! See, it’s accountable, which pleases the bean-counters no end. Never mind that those same click-throughs are borrowing from brand equity and quite possibly not paying it back. In which case, there’s soon nothing left of the brand but a dessicated hulk, drained of its lifeblood. And the marketing vampires move onto the next big thing.

Advertising agencies had better start rolling out the tanks now, or there’s gonna be nothing left to fight over.
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September 18 2007
File this under lies, damn lies, and statistics: a recent study by an alcohol industry watchdog group purports to find that booze advertising on the radio is targeting kids. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press, via
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is counter-intuitive on the face of it. For one thing, the younger you are, the more-likely you are to be listening to tunes on your MP3 player, rather than anything so old-school as the radio. Also, the Arbitron numbers the group used seem to be gross numbers, counting everyone in the room, rather than active listenership. See, while kids may not “listen to the radio,” they are often in situations where they’re stuck with their parents’ choice of media and channel.

As an example, any time the radio is on in our family sedan, the gross exposure is 50% under the age of eight. In fact, the average listener age in our vehicle is under 25, unless I’m not in it in which case the average age could be as low as 17.6. Scandal! Three 17.6-year-olds, possibly exposed to advertising messages for alcoholic beverages! Or not.

Like I said yesterday, researchers must be careful never to confuse statistics with real people. Or, the real world.
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September 17 2007
Is too much research killing advertising? Here’s a column that says such a thing might be true, which one might disregard if it wasn’t from Stefan Stern of the Financial Times (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I like research as much as the next advertising creative, probably more. I believe in the value of getting close to both the salesperson and the customer. I’m excited by the micro-targeted media opportunities that allow the message, the medium, and the market to be matched in ways unheard-of just a a few years ago.

However, research is a tool, not a goal. And marketing researchers must be careful never to confuse statistics with real people.

Mr. Stern concludes: “ ... marketers could do with dropping the pseudo-science and concentrating on the basics: getting their customers’ attention.”

I think that doesn’t go far enough. Attention is just the first part of a three-part process that’s as old as Rosser Reeves and as current as the latest media theories: attract, intrigue, persuade. Now those are the basics of creating good advertising.
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September 16 2007
You could file this under “trend-watching.” Parents are now bringing their children to nightclubs and happy hours in addition to the local Starbucks (see the Ad Blog entry last week, on September 11). Here’s the story, from my local San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Kids at happy hours? And in discos with loud music, flashing lights, and the sight of their parents drinking alcohol? Oh, this is just a dandy development, the child-friendly adult establishment. Hey, might as well start building that vodka brand loyalty early, right?

In order for kids to be kids, they need parents who are grown-up enough to be parents, not some teen-wanna-be versions of adults. How much of their children’s childhood do these parents want to supplant with their own, adult playdates?

I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t have fun. As I’ve mentioned before, I am one. No, what I’m saying, is that some grown-up fun belongs behind closed doors, behind a veil that, far from taking away from childhood, enhances it with mystery and the very appropriate desire to grow up and take one’s place in a larger world.

This is one parenting trend that does a disservice to the kids and the parents.
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September 15 2007
A weekend entry to point out this story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about how Southwest Airlines is managing the recent controversy over its attempts to enforce a dress code for passengers:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Self-effacing humor, combined with a sincere apology, is exactly the right way for this particular brand to do damage-control. And, of course, the passenger herself is milking her five minutes of fame, which, in this day of YouTube and instant stardom makes things harder on companies even when they manage a customer complaint the right way.
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September 14 2007
And now, for a skip across the pond to the latest CoolBrands survey. Here are the results, as a PDF from Superbrands (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Unfortunately, the survey methodology throws ice water on the results; it wasn’t exactly a cold consumer survey, or even a cool one. A list of 5,500 brands was narrowed down to 1,169 by the CoolBrands council, a group of two dozen or so designers, artists, writers, editors, and other creative types. Then, 2,246 consumers voted online for brands that epitomized cool, but the scores were then weighted 70/30 in favor of the council.

So a bunch of creatives made up their own list of cool brands, then got support from the public – unless the public should be ill-advised enough to disagree, in which case their votes counted only 30% anyway. The top 500 brands, more or less, were then named “Qualifying CoolBrands.”

Essentially what we have here is the top half of a list carefully vetted by industry professionals lest an uncool brand be mistakenly thought of as cool by the unwashed masses.

So the list is not particularly surprising to anyone in the creative industry. The top ten were Aston Martin, iPod, YouTube, Bang & Olufsen, Google, Playstation, Apple, Agent Provocateur, Nintendo, and Virgin Atlantic. Ayup.

What I think? I think cool is relative. I think cool starts in micro-niches and grows outward. And, in most cases, by the time the general public (which, for the vast majority of micro-niches, includes those in the creative industry) picks up on a cool brand ... it ain’t.
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September 13 2007
A little hometown pride here: a San Diego company founded by an SDSU psychology professor is a pioneer in eye-tracking. Here’s the story, from the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This stuff is cool. It gives real-time feedback on what people are really looking at, and whether their brains are engaged. That’s very useful data in marketing, although it still leaves open the question of how that engagement is integrated into purchase or preference behaviors. For instance, to take the recent controversy over certain television commercials, I wonder if the monitors can distinguish between someone who’s interested and someone who’s appalled?

There are much, much more-noble uses of this technology than advertising. Making things better for airline pilots, air traffic controllers, baggage screeners, soldiers, cops, drivers, and just about anyone else is a higher priority than improving the data stream for advertising practitioners. Still, outside of government, advertisers are the ones with the money and the self-interest to push this research along. So it’s nice to think that we’re part of something bigger.
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September 12 2007
Sexuality in advertising aimed at teens and young adults seems to be the hot topic this week. Here’s more, this time about a Clearasil commercial, from ABC News and Good Morning America:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of course, if you’re watching Good Morning America, you’re probably not in the target market. So the vehement reaction comes as no surprise.

Personally, I think the print ad for the running shoe crosses the line, simply because there’s no sparkle of wit in it, just an irrelevant headline contrived to shock a reader into stopping. But then? A block of almost unreadable reversed copy. Heck, the product featured isn’t even a trail running shoe.

As for the Clearasil spots, I think they’re spot-on, especially with tying the product benefit to self-confidence. But, like the Carls Jr. spots (see my Ad Blog for September 10), they bring up a media issue. With all the micro-targeting that can be done today, there’s no particular reason that these spots had to be on mass-media broadcast television, particularly given the departure from the existing brand feel.

Well, maybe there is one good reason: these might not be over-the-line enough to get traction as virals.
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September 11 2007
Starbucks, the quintessential pub-replacement for the next generation of social drinkers, is pondering the challenge of how to handle the kids who are coming in, often with parents but increasingly by themselves. Here’s the story, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

As a marketing person, I appreciate the challenge. On the one hand, you want to offer some products for the convenience of customers who happen to be parents, especially when there’s obviously some money to be made doing it, but on the other hand you don’t want to appear as though you’re reaching out to the youth market. On an ethical note, I think it’s important that Starbucks is following the market, and cautiously too, like a once-stuck cat through a cactus garden.

As a parent of two kids (7 and 5), however, I think the problem isn’t entirely Starbucks’, even though the company will bear the full brunt of any criticism. I think the answer is simple: parents need to model the behaviors they want in their children. If you don’t want your kids to become addicts, don’t model addictive behavior.

The discussion could do with a little less talk about marketing, and a lot more talk about parenting.
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September 10 2007
Speaking of youth marketing, I saw this column in my local paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune (CA). In it, readers sound off about a recent Carls Jr. television commercial many deem offensive:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Okay, three things. First, most of the respondents freely acknowledge that they are outside of the target demo, and yet demand that advertisers cater to their own values. Like J.B. Priestley observed more than 70 years ago, the younger generation exists in a different world, something even so-called enlightened adults don’t understand today.

Second, a mass-marketer like, say, a fast food franchise, has more to lose than to gain by alienating most of the population if it doesn’t succeed at making brand loyalists out of its core target. And, to that last point, you may note that no 18- to 34-year-old males wrote in to say that they would prefer Carls Jr. because the ad resonated with them. Then again, it’s questionable whether such a person would be doing something so old-school as reading the newspaper, let along responding to something in it. There are other sources of news and entertainment out there. But I digress.

Third, the ferocity of the complaints points out the danger of using creative execution to carve niches in mass media. See, if this had been a viral video, it would have flown right under the noses of those grown-ups rather than getting those same noses out of joint. I think the savvier media solution would have been to have a toned down version for broadcast (which would still garner complaints, but from a smaller group of people) with an “uncut” version available for download on the web.
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September 7 2007
Are today’s kids different from yesterday’s kids? Here’s an interesting snip from a novel I read over the summer:

That was the trouble with both his children. There was obviously nothing bad about either of them; they compared very favourably with other people’s boys and girls; and he would have been quick to defend them; but nevertheless, they were growing up to be men and women he could not understand, just as if they were foreigners. And it was all very perplexing and vaguely saddening.

The truth was, of course, that Mr. Smeeth’s children were foreigners, not simply because they belonged to a younger generation but because they belonged to a younger generation that existed in a different world. Mr. Smeeth was perplexed because he applied to them standards they did not recognise. They were the product of a changing civilisation ... Their world was at once larger and shallower than that of their parents.

Is that last line a spot-on summary of the über-connected world of kids, teenagers, and young adults? Anyway, this was written by J.B. Priestley, in a book called Angel Pavement. In 1930. It’s a terrific read, by the way, if you can find a copy – it’s long out of print. It takes place in a dreary small office in the City of London, and everything in it, both inside the office and outside it, rings true today.

Technology changes. Media changes. Channels change. But people don’t.
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September 6 2007
Here’s a wonderful timesink for you (and remember, the time isn’t wasted if you’re researching cultural history). It’s a “theme park on the web” bringing you the Disneyland you remember from your childhood:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here you can find all those discontinued Disneyland park rides and attractions, along with great vintage photographs and documents. Pure fun! And, a tip o’ the blog to my friend and associate Blaise, for bringing this one to my attention.
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September 5 2007
This is cool. It’s a Fortune magazine interview with Jim Stengel, global marketing officer for P&G. Here it is, via
Advertising copywriter blog link

There is a ton of great stuff here, from the consumer focus to the reinvention story at Tide. I love his take on marketing so-called commodity products:

“We don’t accept that there are any commodity categories. We are growing Charmin and Bounty very well, and if there is any category that people could say is a commodity, it’s paper towels and tissues. We have developed tremendous equities, tremendous loyalties from our consumers. So, no, I think that is a cop-out. That is bad marketing and an excuse.

Marketing is the agent of change that transforms the everyday into the extraordinary.

Also notable, was his take on what consumers want:

“The biggest thing going on with U.S. consumers is that they want to trust something. ... People really do care what’s behind the brand, what’s behind the business.

See, this is why Mattel found itself in such big trouble so quickly.

The interview is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in branding, brand development, and marketing.
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September 4 2007
In the world of branding, Mattel went from star to crater in less than two months. Here’s the latest blow to Mattel’s brand image, yet another recall of Chinese-made toys, from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It was on July 26 that Mattel made news for its tight quality control procedures that helped it maintain its brand integrity while still benefiting from offshore labor and production. Just six days later, Mattel issued its first recall (see the Ad Blog entry for August 2), followed two weeks later by a second recall, and now a third.

Damage control has definitely been made tougher by the earlier claim to a higher level of quality control and procedural rigor. Suddenly, the company’s own PR is working against it.

Of course, the problems in China weren’t known when the PR blitz launched... or were they? If that were the case, and there’s no evidence yet reported that it is, then the whole brand-management issue goes out the window for larger issues of corporate responsibility.

Brand China, meanwhile, appears to be escaping the brouhaha relatively unscathed, perhaps because it’s just too big a beast to be tamed and Mattel has the name everyone already knows, an ideal, made-for-TV scapegoat. China’s moves, perhaps, are better worthy of study: they first aggressively placed the blame for one of the recalls on the American design team, a legitimate point. Then they went deep and quiet, launching the occasional spokesperson to say that they were working with American companies to move forward, thereby neatly diverting accountability for both the present and the future. It’s a positively Machiavellian scheme, and it’s working.
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September 3 2007
Well it’s Labor Day, and some in the ad industry seem to be celebrating by laboring under a delusion. Here’s an article from The New York Times (NY) about The Los Angeles Times introducing (or re-announcing) fragrance as an advertising option:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the great innovation is to bring to newspapers the same odoriferous intrusion that people already hate in magazines. That’s not forward-thinking, and it stinks on so many levels.

First, ignoring for a moment the intrusiveness of it, and even going so far as to see that intrusiveness as an attention-getting, interactive benefit, there’s nothing inherently new about scratch-and-sniff. Advertisers who wanted to create and run a scratch-and-sniff insert, could have done so.

Second, don’t bring relevance into this. Scratch-and-sniff may be about fun, or experiential learning, or sheer novelty, but it’s not about relevance.

Third, pass-around factor? Oh yeah, lots of people would just love to put their snouts down and inhale deeply right on the very spot other people have pawed and snuffed.

So it’s an old idea, spun in accordance with the latest industry buzzwords.
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September 1 2007
Happy Labor Day weekend! NBC and Apple fall out over pricing for content to be made available on Apple’s iTunes store. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I see this as a trend that’s likely to continue: content creators taking control over the distribution channel in order to realize a greater share of the profits. Think about it from the reverse side: if NBC can drive viewers to its own site for downloads and podcasts, then it retains full control of the content, the presentation environment, and the ad revenue. Likewise, major programming sponsors don’t have to worry about secondary deals through the distribution channel undermining their own advertising investments.

The same thing is also happening on YouTube, as Google expands its efforts to gain revenue from in-video advertising.

With bandwidth costs no longer an issue and the growth potential still enormous, look for more private-label media launches. This gets back to something that’s been a core tenet of mine since the early days of this media revolution: the key opportunity for brands is to own the channel.
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Backwards in time to August 2007

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