John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
September 2010

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September 30 2010
More and more brands are focusing their marketing efforts at women, including automakers. Here’s a story about how environmental concerns and gender awareness are reshaping the exhibits at the Paris Auto Show, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think the major change in the auto industry, is that companies now have substantive new stuff to tout in new technologies and solutions. Back when automakers simply re-skinned models year to year, appearances were everything. And draping eye candy over everything was a relevant message.

Nowadays, the message is about content, which requires a fundamentally deeper approach to demonstrate and promote, to both genders. I see it as less a decline in sexuality, and more as a rise in substantiation.
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September 29 2010
Fast food purveyor Chipotle, having burned through five ad agencies in four years, is going it alone. Here’s the story, from Ad Age:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The brand is now in the hands of the brand itself. That’s not always a bad thing. But, it also means that the brand will fly and flag subject to the best – and worst – of its internal resources and inclinations.

A prime example, actually, is that “Boo-rito” promotion. It cost $3.5 million in free product and it seems like there was no tracking of ROI, no attempt made to nudge the freebie-driven foot traffic toward becoming brand advocates. Also, perhaps because of a lack of traditional advertising, potential customers remain largely unaware of significant brand differentiators.

Well, that’s what happens when you rely exclusively on internal resources. Everyone has ideas, some of them are good, and none of them are accountable to profits or sales or even awareness. There’s no coordination, no one responding to a potentially good idea by saying “that’s cool, and here’s how we integrate that into inbound and outbound marketing campaigns.” Suddenly, you get tons of insiders pushing promotions and ad concepts, with no one advocating for the customer, let alone customer retention or growth.

An outside consultancy brings the same perspective as the customer into the marketing development and decision cycle, simply by being outside the company. That’s the value of nurturing relationships with strategic partners. Like advertising agencies and (ahem) senior-level freelancers.
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September 28 2010
Former ad agency copywriter Cathy Guisewite is ending her eponymous comic strip Cathy after nearly 34 years. Here’s the story, from The Salt Lake Tribune (UT):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Love it or hate it, Cathy quickly became the voice of several generations of young career women; a voice that sometimes said things people might have preferred to leave unspoken. The human insecurities, frailties, and neurotic behaviors – the inner demons of both genders – were on display. Somehow, the character Cathy irritated me in the same way as Mo in DTWOF, but since she was pretty much a solo act she bugged me more.

Regardless, it was quite an achievement. Cathy was not just a comic strip, it was a brand, with all the social relevance and connectedness the term implies.

Copywriter creates product. Copywriter markets product. Copywriter mines product for 34 years, builds a branded empire, and becomes rich. Hey, I like stories like that.
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September 27 2010
Just a Monday quickie to point out this Q&A with the chief marketing officer for Aflac, the supplemental insurance provider best known for its famous Aflac Duck, from Broadcasting & Cable (Los Angeles, CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a key snip talking about emerging media and the need for consistent messaging:

Marketers are quick to change. It’s tougher to stick with the same message and really tailor that message across all platforms. A lot of people try to come up with a different message for different platforms. We’re pretty much spot-on: Get the message right, and then put it in the right place at the right time.

See, this is how Aflac and its agency took a duck, a plain white duck, and in ten years turned it into a nationally recognized brand icon for a product that most consumers are not in the market for. In that same ten years, how many rebranding efforts have been made by other companies? How many annual reviews of advertising strategy? How many ad campaigns have been launched to great fanfare, only to fade within the year?

Sometimes creative brilliance consists of getting it right – or close to it – and then sticking with it long enough to make it work.
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September 20 2010
What would happen if you stuck 100 $1 bills all over a tree along a busy sidewalk? Think about it first, then watch this video, from StupidVideos via, that shows the results:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The two most-common reactions from passerby to a tree laden with $1 bills, free for the taking: (1) they didn’t notice, and (2) they noticed, but ignored it.

I have a couple comments. First, this is the environment advertising competes in: one in which even free cash waving at eye-level garners neither attention nor action. Second, I think that this is proof that context matters. If a few coins were scattered on the ground, people would pick them up; we expect to find odd bits of change on the ground. But a tree filled with dollar bills? It’s random – the money (read: message) is out of context.

That’s why, as delightfully subversive as certain off-the-grid advertising tactics are, I think more and more their messages are fail to achieve penetration because they’re out of context. It’s human nature. People respond to found money in places they expect to find it; people respond to advertising in places they expect to find it. It’s a necessary shortcut for survival in a media-driven, advertising-loaded world.

Which is why there will continue to be a place for traditional advertising in traditional media, even as new media become traditional media.
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September 17 2010
McDonald’s is a big corporate sponsor for major sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games. But the marketing goal for those sponsorships is neither greater brand awareness nor increased sales. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The reason for McDonald’s sponsorships, is McDonald’s franchisees. In other words, McDonald’s is targeting an internal audience through external marketing. Cool! Key points to communicate: community involvement and sheer corporate clout.

Despite claims to the contrary, that is a branding effort. Branding is as important to communicate internally as externally; perhaps more so, because without internal buy-in you can’t support the message through consumer experiences.
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September 15 2010
The big media news today is about Twitter rolling out a massive overhaul, one designed specifically around multimedia and advertisers. But in the hubbub there should be a moment of silence to honor the late James Hartzell, the copywriter who wrote what some consider to be the best automotive commercial ever. Here’s his obit, from the Detroit Free Press (MI):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. It went viral in 1974, when social media meant talk around the water cooler and spoofs on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Unlike the media situation today, you couldn't buy that kind of consumer take-up. You couldn’t push marketing content out to a Twitter or Facebook; your ad had to pull hearts and minds in on its own merit. And, in the recession years of the early 1970s, the Chevy commercial hit a deeply resonant note with its blend of bouncy optimism and national pride. Even the sequel, made 32 years later using chunks of the original, is a masterful piece of marketing.

Advertisers in today’s economy often attempt the national pride angle, but instead of a foundation of sunny optimism there’s an undercurrent of snarky anger. I think that’s the wrong creative approach.

Like most brilliant advertising copywriters, Hartzell labored pretty much in obscurity. His ads got the nation talking, but all the attention was on the advertisers, not on the ad creators. And this is how it should be. The only star in an ad campaign, should be the product.

So, while everyone else trumpets the arrival of yet another advertising medium, thank you for taking a moment to think about the loss of a superb creator of message.
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September 14 2010
Lego, the Danish manufacturer of toy bricks, has lost its fight to trademark its basic brick design, including the way the bricks interconnect. Here’s the story from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

On the one hand, offering legal protection to a particular design solution prevents others from using or improving it. On the other hand, denying that protection inhibits the development of innovative, apparently simple design solutions.

Of course, Lego has had a monopoly on interlocking building bricks for many decades now, and protecting that monopoly is hardly in the interests of enterprise.

At any rate, Lego’s real competitive edge right now is three-fold: the theme parks, the licensed themes such as Harry Potter and Star Wars, and the quality of the products. My 10- and 8-year-old kids can sniff out a Mega Bloks brick at ten paces, despite functional cross-compatibility with Lego bricks. What it boils down to is this: Mega Bloks has a product. But Lego has a brand.
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September 11 2010
A somewhat rare Saturday entry to point out this terrific Q&A with advertising great (and former copywriter) John Hegarty, from The Irish Times (Dublin, IRE):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Here’s a great snip, straight from the man himself:

“The best advertising uses the simple power of reduction,” he says. “It’s like what the French philosopher [Blaise] Pascal once said about a work: “If I had more time, this would have been shorter.” It’s not about putting the core idea across through the pages of a newspaper or on a TV advertisement – it’s about the idea opening up in people’s head. And it is about telling the truth – that’s the best ad you can ever have.”

Right on!
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September 2 2010
Crispin, Porter + Bogusky is trying to double the market share of baby carrots by giving them a hefty dose of junk food cool. Here’s a story from the Associated Press via
Advertising copywriter blog link

In typical CP+B fashion, the $25 million campaign involves a broad mix of traditional advertising, online, and social media. But the component I think is going to be most effective in repositioning baby carrots, is the smacky, crinkly, junk-food-esque packaging. Brilliant!
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September 1 2010
Despite all the hoopla surrounding digital convergence, the real exciting stuff sits, champing and twitching, at the intersection of digital media and real life. Here’s a story from the Wall Street Journal about one application in Japan that’s already up, running, and popular:
Advertising copywriter blog link

In a nutshell, the Nintendo DS videogame, called Love Plus+, provides a choice of three virtual girlfriends, complete with personalities, conversation, and time and effort demands. The object of the game is to earn enough boyfriend points to win an overnight date to Atami, a Japanese resort town. But here’s the beauty part: Atami is an actual seaside resort, about a two-hour drive from Tokyo, and actual places are featured in the game thanks to a close collaboration between the city and gamemaker Konami.

So, an avid Love Plus+ gamer can stay at the same hotel shown in the game, and tour – for real – the places in the game. The hotel maintains the illusion of a date by setting up the rooms for two people, and local shops offer products and services aimed at gamers and their “girlfriends.” One shop sells out of its special Love Plus+ decorated fish cakes every day, and a local restaurant owner says Love Plus+ gamers account for about 25% of his business. In all, the game is credited with revitalizing a resort town that had been languishing in economic doldrums for years.

The game’s reach has even extended to Apple: an iPhone app lets gamers take vacation photos with their virtual girlfriends.

Before you get all snarky about Japan, digital weirdness, and lonely men, consider this: This whole scenario is exactly the flip side of what I talked about on August 27. There, advertisers paid virtual money to gamers; here, gamers pay real money to marketers. Now which one seems seems silly and which one seems like a profitable marketing model?
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Backwards in time to August 2010

My experience as a copywriter.

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Advertising strategy and other lies
An advertising copywriter’s bookshelf: recommended books
Brands and branding: a white paper
Do you make these mistakes in advertising?
Free (yes, free) advertising copywriting resources
Four ad copy traps that ensnare even experienced copywriters
How to become an advertising copywriter
How to take your copywriting portfolio to the next level
How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter
How to write better ads
Long John Silver on writing ads
More career advice: what’s it like being an advertising copywriter?
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part I: starting the enterprise
Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part II: the entrepreneurial character
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
Advertising copywriting mentorship
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John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
6877 Barker Way
San Diego, California

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