John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
September 2008

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September 30 2008
After a four-month-long review, ad agency conglomerate WPP won the Wachovia account, days before Wachovia’s banking operations were bought by Citigroup, which has its own ad agencies. Here’s the story, from the New York Times via the International Herald-Tribune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So the winning ad agency got the privilege of immediately losing what was originally sold as a $150 million account (it got smaller month by month as the financial crisis unfolded, and would have continued to shrink had it survived). Lovely. And the agencies that lost the review are out whatever they put into the pitch effort. Everybody lost. This is why ad agencies hate agency reviews. 

Except, perhaps, for the marketing people on the client side, who, thanks to this four-month-long shmooze-fest, boosted their contact lists with high-level ad people. Those added industry connections could come in handy if there are layoffs. But the biggest winner, was the company that managed the review. Yes, there are entire companies that specialize in conducting ad agency reviews. That firm laughed all the way to the bank, and is still laughing now, assuming the checks cleared.
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September 29 2008
There’s a new report out from Harris Interactive Research that points up some important differences between people shopping on consumer brand websites and people shopping on price comparison websites. Here’s a great summary, from Netimperative (London, UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Mind you, the study covered 250,000 European Internet users; American Internet users (and their results) might be different. Still, I think some broad strokes would hold true on both sides of the pond. For instance, that price comparison site audiences tend to be older and male, while consumer brand sites tend to be younger and more female. And, that consumer brand site users might be more receptive to online advertising, viral marketing, and other forms of online creative.

Cool stuff! The actual report doesn’t seem to be available yet as a PDF, but if it becomes available, I’ll post a link.
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September 27 2008
There are apparently a lot of hotels all over the world carrying the “Bristol Hotel” brand name. And most are unrelated. Here’s a fun little weekend feature about the stories behind the various Bristol Hotels, from the Wall Street Journal:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think it’s fun to hear the stories behind the brands, even if most are apocryphal. Most seem related to the 8th Earl of Bristol, who in the late 18th century undertook a world tour in lavish style, or one of the various cities named Bristol. But my favorite branding story belongs to the Hotel Bristol in Steamboat Springs, which was named after the builder and former police chief, one Everett Bristol.
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September 26 2008
The new Fall TV shows are out, but the web is taking some of the wind out of the networks’ sails. Here’s the story, from Reuters via Yahoo! News (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Some of the shows I watch fairly regularly are available only online. But, in other cases, I opt for the web version of a broadcast program.

For instance, yesterday, my wife wanted to watch the premiere of Grey’s Anatomy, on at the same time we both wanted to watch the premiere of The Office. So, she watched Grey’s when it was broadcast (I sat in the other room reading Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, a best-seller from the Victorian era), and we picked up The Office the next day via Hulu.

But here’s the big thing about this minor event. When the television was tuned to whatever network broadcast Grey’s, there was only one viewer – and multiple sponsors. When the computer was tuned to The Office, there were two viewers – and a single sponsor. This is a huge change in program viewing habits, and if it hasn’t already developed into a trend, it will – for networks, program creators, viewers, and advertisers.
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September 25 2008
This is a great summary of how smaller retailers can get the jump on larger competitors, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

As you’d expect, the focus is on CRM (customer relationship management). And, there’s not much help here for the small retailer targeting anyone but the wealthier shopper. Still, executionally, the strategy lends itself to the old stand-bys of retail advertising, direct mail and telemarketing. Yes, the Internet has revolutionized business, but there’s something about a letter or a phone call that’s more personal, if also more intrusive since you can’t easily hit the delete button.

I think direct mail is probably one of the most underutilized media in retail advertising. And combining that with a loyalty program that rewards high-value customers should be almost automatic. The key question about the list is, were physical addresses collected, or just email addresses?
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September 24 2008
Tighter marketing budgets may lead to a slowdown in online ad growth. Here’s the story, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Responding to an overall economic slowdown by slashing the marketing budget is an historical prescription for decreased market share and a hobbled recovery. Still, that’s the operational reality for organizations that allocate budgets as a percentage of sales, for instance, or that base their budgets on matching ROI to predicted returns.

The focus on metrics is nothing new; the ability to parse numbers has increased dramatically in recent years. If anything, online advertising and marketing are more trackable than traditional media, and at a lower cost. I think the point of misunderstanding is that advertisers think that their online marketing is their online presence. It’s not, and that’s where social media fits in. A company’s online marketing will inevitably be perceived as such by browsers and searchers, as evidenced by the rapid and gleeful outing of ham-fisted corporate attempts at buzz marketing. Recommendations from peers and social groups and forum participants, on the other hand, are likely to be perceived as truth, or at least a version of it.
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September 23 2008
More doom and gloom about the effect the economy may have on the upcoming retail holiday shopping season. It’s a tough advertising sell, to be sure. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

Despite a recession, job losses, increasing foreclosures, tighter credit, a melt-down on Wall Street, and a shopping season five days shorter than last year’s, I found it fascinating that the retail analysts were united in predicting an increase in sales over the same period last year. Yes, they were bemoaning numbers that ranged from 1.5% to 3%, but those are positive numbers. It’s as if it’s completely unthinkable that perhaps this year, consumers may opt to consume less and that the consumer economy can actually contract as well as expand.

This whole thing reveals what I would consider an underlying fallacy: that growth is inevitable.

Now, I am not a retail analyst. I am not an economist. I’m an advertising copywriter, but because I’m an advertising copywriter I’m also a highly tuned-in consumer.

Honestly, now. Would spending a little less over the holidays make them any less meaningful? American consumers have been given the gift of a free pass from consumerism, a You No Longer Have To Keep Up With Anyone card. The question is, will they play it? Or will the old habits overcome even the latest economic thunderbolts?
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September 22 2008
This is cool: intelligent point-of-sale displays that change to fit the customer, the time of day, the particular purchase, and even available inventory. Here’s the story, from BusinessWeek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I found two especially interesting things in this article, beyond the creative use of technology to deliver a tailor-made promotional message right where and when it can make the biggest difference.

First was the statistic that 70% of purchase decisions are made in-store. Granted, I don’t see where that number came from, but it makes sense given my own shopping experience. One characteristic shared by value-focused and extravagant shoppers alike, is the likelihood of opportunistic buying. In my opinion, POP has long been the missing link in advertising and branding campaigns, and if a whiz-bang digital approach makes creatives pay attention to how ad campaigns play out in the aisles, that’s all the better for the ad industry and the advertiser.

The second thing that captured my interest, was the comment that the retail business is consolidating, with big chain stores – like Walmart – attracting increasing numbers of shoppers. It demonstrates just what difficult and confusing times we are living in just now, when two articles can appear on sequential days, one pointing to retail fragmentation and the other pointing to retail consolidation.
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September 21 2008
A rare Sunday entry to mark this article, from my hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, about how newspapers (including the U-T) are fighting for their lives in a changing media environment:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This article makes some important points. One is that this decline in newspaper power has been going on since the advent of network radio in the 1920s, so it’s hardly a new development. The Internet has hastened the decline, to be sure, but it by no means precipitated it. Media and audiences have been fragmenting for a century or longer.

Another important point, is the incredible 25% operating profit margin that was once made by newspapers back when the barriers to entry were high and the audiences were consolidated.

A third key point, is that retailing has changed, reflecting a changed consumer. Where before, one might very well find almost everything one needed at a single department store, now specialty shops abound, each catering to a targeted audience. In a way, it’s a return to the town main street concept, with the hat shop, the men’s clothier, the women’s clothing store, the shoe store, all occupying separate but connected spaces. And this is going on even as some highly successful retailers, like Walmart, are fighting their way back to the one-stop general store concept, combining clothing, groceries, household goods, and hardware all in one place. Despite that, the whole idea of mass media for retail advertisers became, for many stores, an outdated model.

The article misses TV programming sites like Hulu and Fancast – between those sites and the European media websites that offer streaming video and downloadable programming, I can’t remember the last time I watched regular television. And the article also overlooks the latest cuts in newspaper coverage, including the U-T’s recently announced closure of its Washington, D.C. bureau (which, only two years ago, was part of the team that won the paper’s only Pulitzer Prize).

A few days ago, on September 15, I mentioned a newspaper group in the UK that used multiple hyperlocal news websites to fuel a 45% increase in readership. So that’s one way to embrace the fragments of what used to be a single readership audience. It will be interesting to see what develops!
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September 19 2008
Rumor-mongering, information trading, word-of-mouth, or buzz marketing? Here’s an interesting look at the inner workings of a would-be financial rumor campaign, a hoax, that resulted in real money changing hands, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

All the elements of a buzz marketing campaign are here, from the peer-to-peer environment, to the unaccountability of the originator, to the suspension of disbelief caused by (faked) authenticity.

One key difference, though, between this version of buzz and the Internet form, is the relative traceability of corporate originators. Remember that New Yorker cartoon that had one dog saying to another “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog?” That’s changed. (Remember the natural foods grocery chain CEO who got busted for anonymously dissing a competitor’s stock in a business forum?) Now, on the Internet, everybody knows you’re a seller. The only questions are, what are you selling and how is it relevant?
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September 17 2008
The current economic meltdown has many American consumers feeling sheepishly relieved. Here’s the story, from U.S. News and World Report via MSN Money:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key clip:

Consumers were “so glutted on everything that they had acquired and all the time that was robbed from them . . . that they almost saw this (downturn) as a great opportunity to stop,” says Faith Popcorn, the chief executive of her eponymous consultancy. In a recent survey, she found that 90% of respondents said they were considering options for “the simpler life,” and 84% said they were inclined to buy “less stuff.

So, this has the makings of a positive trend that could lead to a better place.

By the way, many boomers have always had a low-impact lifestyle, so this isn’t a generational issue. The issue is one of priorities: for some of us, living within our means and limiting our intake of mass marketing and our consumption of consumer goods wasn’t so much of a "choice" as a way of life. I’ve been this way since, well, since I was a Boy Scout and old enough to recognize the impact my own consumption had on the environment and the world at large.

Here’s a side note. The Dell laptop I ordered back on the 12th arrived moments ago. I’ve owned many laptops, and this is the first one I’ve ever bought new – and it’s refurbished. Why refurbished? Well, the price was right, there’s no doubt about it. But the real underlying motivator was my deep-seated reluctance to cause anything new to be built on my behalf. This was built already; all it was consuming was space in a warehouse. I didn’t like that it had to be shipped from Tennessee to California, but I’d already scoured Craigslist with no success.

UPDATE: I just opened the box, and was delighted at the lack of packing materials. It reminded me that that’s another good reason to buy scratch & dent and refurbished items: less packaging.
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September 15 2008
A newspaper group in the UK is attracting online readers through hyperlocal websites, and now has more web properties than printed papers. Here’s the story, from MediaWeek (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Of note, are audited traffic figures showing a 45% increase in online readership, compared to an overall decline in newspaper readership. This may be the way for newspapers to thrive, by transitioning from a traditional media model to a still-traditional but online media model. With increased ability to track traffic and even individuals through the site, these websites are only going to grow more valuable over time.
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September 12 2008
A reality check on yesterday’s look at luxury buyers shows that retail sales were down last month. Here’s the story, from Bloomberg:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is the reality against which advertising needs to work: the rebate money is gone, gas is down but still pricey, groceries are up, health care is way up, and uncertainty about jobs and mortgages are way, way up. Two key challenges arise. First, transitioning products and services from the “optional” category into the “mandatory” category. Second, differentiating based on value, whether real or perceived.

And, actually, perceived value is far more important then real value, for if real value remains unperceived, then, in the eyes of the consumer, it doesn’t exist. Communicating the value proposition and doing it in a way that adds value, by breaking through the clutter, connecting with the consumer, and imparting a sense of urgency – that’s where creative compounds the effectiveness of an advertising effort.

On a personal note, I did my bit to revive the economy just this morning: I bought a new laptop online. It was a reluctant purchase, made only because my old one finally died.
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September 11 2008
And now for a look at how the other half lives. Buyers of luxury goods are scaling back, just a bit. Here’s the story, from MarketWatch via Fox Business News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The thing to keep in mind, especially if one is in this market group or close to it (as a lot of senior advertising people may be), is that this is not the real world. These are niche consumers, but not representative ones from the vast majority of the buying public.

Another thing to note is that traditionally, the high end of the marketplace has been fairly resistant to economic downturns. I think the true high-end consumer isn’t as affected as the aspirational high-end consumer, who represents the bulk of the market. And that group is overextended, overindulged, and overdue for a wake-up call.
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September 10 2008
PC brand Hewlett Packard is making a major push into the design industry with its new TV/webcast reality series that features creative competitions (using, of course, HP products). Here’s the story, from The New York Times:
Advertising copywriter blog link

First, this is cool because it’s an example of a brand developing content, rather than piggy-backing onto existing content. The industry is finally catching up to the 1930s, and “Rinsoville” has officially risen. Rinsoville, by the way, was part of a tongue-in-cheek chapter title in James Thurber’s superb study of the radio serial, “Soapland,” in The Beast in Me and Other Animals. I’ve urged reading it before (see March 13 2003, more than five years ago), and I’ll do so again. Why? Because the creative cycle is repeating, making an historical study one sure-fire way to leap ahead of the competition. Not necessarily by copying what was done, but by beating it.

The second reason this is cool, is that it’s a head-on attack on Mac territory, and it’s been implemented so well and so differently that even a veteran advertising commentator like Stuart Elliott missed who’s really being targeted. Will it work? I don’t think so. In the design world, the Mac is so entrenched that it’s doubtful any significant inroads can be made because, on a practical level, no one would want to manage the transition. Even a brand-new designer setting up shop will need absolutely transparent Mac compatibility in order to send and receive files with no conversion issues.
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September 9 2008
As automakers scale back their advertising, foodmakers are ramping up. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via Manufacturing.Net, part of Advantage Business Media (Rockaway, NJ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The need to protect the brand through an economic downturn is universal, and I think brands that pull in their horns now will fail to follow the economy in recovery. History supports the notion, anyway.

However, for foodmakers, particularly those heavily invested in packaged goods brands, the need to convert customers in the aisles is an ongoing challenge, and advertising isn’t a one-step solution. Advertising can build a brand preference, but shoppers can and do switch allegiances once they get to the store based on, among other things, in-store promotions, coupons, and POP displays. It’s hard to think of a 1“ x 3“ shelf talker as being the key element in protecting or building market share, but it is, and that’s also where most major advertisers – and advertising initiatives – fail: in the aisles.
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September 8 2008
Football season has started, and with it the NFL promotional tie-ins. Here’s a quick look at who’s playing, from CRM Daily (Woodland Hills, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the healthy food connection is strong, and I especially like the idea of getting pro football players out into the community schools to promote activity and healthy eating choices to children.

Some tie-ins don’t feel like they’re as solid. The Samsung effort, I don’t know, maybe it just doesn’t look so great on paper, condensed to two short paragraphs. But it seems to me that there’s gotta be another key element here to drive desire and traffic besides football.
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September 4 2008
Retailers are showing weak sales for the back-to-school shopping season. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t think this is a situation in which advertising can help. And here’s why: I think the key competitor for most of the discount clothing retailers, like Kohl’s and J.C. Penney, isn’t the likes of Walmart or Costco. It’s the local, unadvertised thrift shop, where lightly used chic fashions can be had for pennies on the dollar.

Want proof? Check out this feature dated back when we were celebrating Labor Day, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Key figure: Salvation Army thrift stores (which have always struck me as pricey, but there you go) reported profits – that’s profits, not merely sales – rose a whopping 64%. Which makes sense because thrift shops don’t have to add paid staff to handle a larger volume of customers or sales; they can simply add more volunteers.

The question, as the economy tightens, is whether the supply of inventory to thrift shops will slow down as people hold onto things longer. And if so, how that change in consumer behavior will affect things like fashion and design and advertising trends going forward.
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September 2 2008
I avoid posting personal notes on the Ad Blog, but the unusually long silence merits an explanation. First, we took the kids to Disneyland last week, one last magical time together before the reality of school hits. Second, and probably not related, I am recovering from pneumonia. But, rest assured, I will be back.
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Backwards in time to August 2008

My experience as a copywriter.

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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise
The economy (and what to do about it)
The Tightwad Marketing project
When you should consider hiring a freelance copywriter
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Phone and fax: (619) 465-6100

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

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