John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
Ad Blog: news and views about advertising, branding, marketing, and copywriting
September 2012

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September 28 2012
Is blogging – and social media engagement, for that matter – an exercise in futility? Here’s an interesting piece exploring the rapid decay of recent information online, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Historians make a big deal of the written language, as if it enables the essence of a culture to be put into a time capsule for future generations to study. It doesn’t, of course – cultural history as all things past being written by those who have the power to write or to have things written – but it’s as close as one can get to a window into another time.

In the rubble of Pompeii, a city shaken apart, blasted by superheated gases, and scoured by boiling ash, there survive examples of political billboards. Actual records of human interaction – letters, accounts, minutes, music – were irretrievably lost. But, like cockroaches, advertising survived.

But that was outdoor, quite literally carved in stone. On the web, the written word is more evanescent than ever before in its history. Given the morass of dubious online information, some might argue that that’s a good thing. Social historians and marketers might want to archive social media marketing campaigns, but do those really represent our culture? (Yeah, maybe they do.) But they’re still not quite a conversation.

Real brand-to-consumer conversations are one-on-one and private. They take place in a person’s heart and mind, under the radar, but are no less real for being mostly subconscious and largely imagined. Such conversations leave no trace but for an indelible mark on the brand.

If you want to study the value of social media engagement, you have to look beyond merely recording the content contained in the medium and the links beyond. That’s just information. The real power of social media, as with all forms of advertising, lies in persuasion.
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September 26 2012
I’ve been a freelance advertising copywriter for over two decades. So, when I saw this article from Fast Company about freelancing, I just had to comment:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It looks like the journalist spoke only to freelance designers and art directors. They have somewhat different needs than freelance writers, even if we live within the same circle.

Most of my thoughts on being a freelance copywriter are in an article entitled “What’s it like being a freelance copywriter?”

It struck me that many of the freelancers interviewed seem to be running their operations as outsourced employees instead of as businesses. They’re not consistently marketing; they’re not branding themselves beyond the one-on-one level; they’re reacting to situations instead of creating them.

Of course, I’m a freelance copywriter – I can operate in a visual atmosphere that would make an art director run screaming for the hills. What’s on my walls? Taped-up concepts on scraps of paper. With the exception of a blue upholstered Herman Miller chair (bought used on Craigslist), my office furnishings haven’t been upgraded in 20 years, nor have they needed to be. My deliverable is a text file, so I don't need the hottest computer to work on; that said, my current devices, from my smartphone to my tablet to my PCs, can still pretty much hold their own against the latest stuff, at least to the extent that I use them as work tools.

As far as idea generation, four ideas in the morning and four in the afternoon might work for visual concepts, if they’re each unique. In contrast, as a copywriter, I generate hundreds of potential bits of copy, sometimes exploring dozens of variations on a single theme, to develop headlines. However, I like the idea of doing a morning and afternoon set of visual concepting in addition to the headline work – I think I’ll use that. Morning ideas are different from afternoon ideas.

In a larger sense, though, in today’s economy, everyone is a freelancer. Whether you’re employer-employed or self-employed, it pays to be entrepreneurial within your workspace. Not because the economy is down or up or sideways, but because today’s technological tools (to get back to that theme) give everyone everywhere the ability to collaborate across borders, time zones, and disciplines. That’s exciting, no matter what you do or where you do it.

What a great time to be in advertising!
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September 24 2012
European cheap-chic clothing brand H&M got in trouble for its swimwear ads that featured scantily clad, idealistically beautiful women in suggestive poses. But not for that. Here’s the story, from NBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The Swedish advertising regulators found, quite sensibly, that a stylized “eye-catcher model” was “expected” in swimwear advertising. No, the problem was the model’s deep tan. And those complaints, the ones about the model’s “sunburn,” were the ones that were upheld.

I would have thought Sweden was more ethnically diverse these days than that.

To my eye, and not being a follower of glamour models, Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana looks naturally dark-skinned. Yeah, with a lot of retouching and make-up and artfully applied oil mist, but still naturally olive-skinned.

I guess this is how people can discriminate against people of color: accuse their very skin color of social irresponsibility on the grounds that dark skin, when equated with beauty, advocates an unsafe lifestyle.
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September 19 2012
Jewel’s new children’s song for Wal-Mart, timed to support her release of a new children’s album sold exclusively through Wal-Mart, was released on YouTube. It was instantly and almost universally derided. Here’s the story, from Today on NBC:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Never mind the sellout aspect; she’s an artist supporting the retailer carrying her latest work. That part’s almost a non-issue.

The problem is, the song is almost unlistenably bad, dragging on for several embarrassing minutes longer than it should (and I stuck with it to the bitter end). Worse, the contents of the song could’ve made for one or two pretty good 30-second radio spots. Throwing the whole interminable thing up on YouTube was simultaneously a bad move and a missed opportunity.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of John Sullivan’s closing lyrics from Only Fools and Horses, a British comedy about a couple of dodgy market traders. Start your drum machine:

We’ve got some half priced cracked ice
And miles and miles of carpet tiles
TVs, Deep Freeze, and David Bowie LPs
Pool games, gold chains, wosnames
And at a push
Some Trevor Francis tracksuits
From a mush in Shepherds Bush Bush Bush Bush
Bush Bush Bush Bush ...

No income tax, no VAT
No money back, no guarantee
Black or white, rich or broke
We’ll cut prices at a stroke

God bless Hooky Street
Viva Hooky Street
Long live Hooky Street
C’est magnifique Hooky Street
Magnifique Hooky Street

Doesn’t that sound like like a cheaper, funner place to buy than the Wal-Mart of Jewel’s kid’s song? Plus, it has benefit statements, a huge backbeat, and it’s shorter. That’s how to write ’em.
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September 18 2012
Here’s a look at the convergence of TV and online advertising, from Business Insider:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I think it’s usually a mistake to re-use TV advertising creative online, and vice versa. I call it deception by appearances: because TV and online both use glowing screens for message delivery, advertisers think they can be treated the same. They can’t. They use different delivery systems, to different audience sets, with different media expectations.

Although increased engagement on TV is coming, it’s still neither as interactive or as tightly targeted an experience as online can – and should – deliver. At the same time, with the rise of bigger screens, cheaper home theater audio, and 3D, TV can offer a much more immersive audiovisual experience, especially since online media consumption is increasingly likely to be on a mobile device. (Say what you will about your tablet, but a 10” screen is small even by 1950 standards.)

Integration isn’t duplication. Cross-screen brand integration isn’t as simple as reusing creative, any more than you’d reuse print creative for broadcast. There needs to be an overarching strategic vision that maximizes the potential of each channel of communication to resonate with each individual consumer. Because, in the end, real brand integration doesn’t happen at the corporate level; it happens within the consumer.
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September 17 2012
Something of a follow-up to last week’s Ad Blog entry about Lenovo’s latest attempt to build its brand, comes this report on the state of global brand-building in China, from Knowledge@Wharton:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Although Lenovo may have bought a product brand, it didn’t buy a corporate one. Haier unsuccessfully tried to buy the Maytag brand. In contrast, though, Chinese beer maker Tsingtao has made inroads on its own, selling at restaurants first to gain customers and then rolling out to retail stores.

I thought this line from Wharton marketing professor David Reibstein bore repeating, because a lot of companies of all nationalities just don’t get it: “Brands are built first by offering consumers a consistent product experience ... Only secondarily does advertising build the brand.” Amen!

Chinese companies will learn quickly; I think it’s a mistake to plan on any of this taking more than a couple years. Yeah, I was wrong about the timeline on Lenovo, but the pace of branding is accelerating. There are branding tools available today that simply didn’t exist in 2005.
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September 13 2012
To sell its devices in its native China, Lenovo is using marketing imported from the U.S. Here’s the story, from CNN Money and Fortune:
Advertising copywriter blog link

But capturing its domestic market is just another phase in Lenovo’s planned march to the forefront of personal technology brands. And there is certainly room for it; Nokia is fumbling, Dell is stumbling, HP is pulling back to its core business, and even Apple’s latest release is merely mostly competitive.

Back on October 2 2005, I predicted that within 18 months Lenovo would be the #2 player in the U.S. personal computer market. That didn’t happen, but a lot of other things did. In a nutshell, Chinese companies made several forays into the Western marketplace, in most cases gaining nothing more than a beachhead before struggling to gain ground against entrenched competition. A short list of relevant Ad Blog entries (scroll down to the right dates): May 19 2005, April 15 2005, July 21 2005, February 24 2006, August 4 2006, December 14 2007, May 26 2008, and June 13 2012.

I still think Lenovo is the sleeping giant in personal technology, and as such has a real shot at being the breakout Chinese brand that goes global. Haier, the mega-conglomerate currently putting its major effort here into household appliances, is another potential winner.

What’s interesting in this East-West branding discussion, is how quickly Korean brands worked their way into the mainstream: Hyundai, Kia, Samsung, Acer, the list goes on. Korea became the new Japan. And that’s an interesting development in national branding given that Japan would like to be the new Japan.
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September 12 2012
The owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune has expanded his media empire. Here’s the story, from, fittingly, the U-T (CA) itself:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The owner of the Union-Tribune is developer and arch-conservative local boy Doug Manchester. I was the copywriter, on a freelance basis, for the ad agency that opened the Manchester Grand Hyatt on San Diego Bay. At the time, it was the most-successful opening of any property in the Hyatt franchise worldwide. I also wrote the creative for the F&B side, the resort side, promotions, several on-site retailers, and the opening of the second tower. I was in meetings with Manchester on only a few occasions, but I got the strong impression of a shrewd, aggressive businessman inside an avuncular exterior.

There are a couple things going on here that are important, because they affect – or reflect – the media landscape.

First, at a time when others are abandoning newspapers, a proven money-maker not only buys in, but increases his holdings. As with property development, two keys to media success are location and margins. Right now, he can scoop up these media properties relatively cheaply. Then, he’s sitting on a revenue stream from advertising – and the more media outlets he controls in a given metropolitan area, the better his position. And, he’s sitting on content ownership, which can be monetized around the globe.

Second, this is another example of media consolidation. Not just because he’ll own several newspapers, but because he’ll use those brands to expand into other media channels like apps and U-T TV. That’s a smart move, especially since he’ll be able to harness existing advertisers, relationships, and content. Like I say, own the channel.

(As a sidebar, a long time ago I seriously considered, with a partner, buying a local magazine. But we couldn’t make the numbers work out even after negotiations, so we passed. The magazine disappeared shortly after that, and has not resurfaced in any form.)

Whether this particular foray by this particular owner works out in this market at this time, and I wouldn’t bet against it, I do believe that it’s a harbinger of media developments to come.
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September 11 2012
About half of all eBay auctions, says this study, result in a higher price than the “Buy It Now” price. The study goes on to explain why that’s so. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Years ago, before kids and other responsibilities, I used to have a lot of fun buying and selling photo equipment on eBay. It allowed me to buy three or four samples of the same lens, for instance, test them, keep the best one, and flip the rest. (Yes, I was enough of a photography geek to do that.)

But the real sport of it was in the flipping. I immediately learned that, with my experience as an advertising copywriter, I could flat-out write rings around other sellers. That made all the difference in the ending price – enough so that my goal became to make enough profit to cover the cost of the item I kept. I ended up with a lot of essentially free gear that way.

The endowment effect was part of the copy, of course, creating the impression of ownership in prospective bidders. Also, I made full use of the competitive aspect of the auction environment, starting auctions at a penny or a dollar with no reserve. When people threw in derisory bids, eBay would automatically become my proxy contact manager, emailing bidders when they were outbid and encouraging another bid. This was prior to the “watch list” feature, and I found it invaluable.

One important factor not mentioned in the article, is credibility. My copy was written from the perspective of a photo geek, not a dealer, which gave my auction listings an edge. Also, my feedback rating helped. And, I posted item photos, hosting images on my own web space, long before photo hosting services made item photos a common practice.

The same fundamentals of persuasion apply to any ad copy, regardless of medium of channel. I’ve always said advertising copywriters who want to hone their skills need look no further than eBay as the perfect practice ground.

One critically important fact, though, is that no one “overpays” at auctions. Valuation is relative and personal. It’s possible to be excited into over-valuing something for perfectly valid reasons, but at that point the buyer is paying what he or she believes an item is worth. Just like any other purchaser of premium-priced goods.
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September 7 2012
Here’s a story from my neck of the woods. Local sunglasses brand Spy had its billboard along PCH in Encinitas banned by the outdoor company. The report, though, comes from Los Angeles, in the Huffington Post:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, San Diego is a conservative town even if Encinitas is perhaps less so. And the local media companies for the most part represent the political spectrum from from center-right to far right. What’s notable, is that apparently no one actually complained about the billboard. The media company took action on its own.

As for the “free speech” argument, though, journalists frequently get this one wrong. Commercial advertising is not, nor has it ever been, protected communication. The only constitutionally protected advertising, is political advertising – which is why the truth standard there is so low. The fact is, we hold our used car dealers to a higher advertising standard than our legislators.

Finally, as for the creative itself, it’s OK. The point was to get talked about, and it did, although probably less for being up than for being taken down. Too bad there wasn’t more-effective social media outreach for the tear-down event, which appears sparsely attended.
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September 5 2012
Here’s a fascinating snapshot of today’s Chinese consumer, from CampaignAsia-Pacific (HK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

China’s wealth as a consumer market is just beginning to be tapped, and it’s already a huge industry driver in categories from clothing to cars. The picture that emerges is that of an uber-consumer society, focused on big brands but with minimal brand loyalty in pursuit of higher status. Sounds like the 1990s, doesn’t it? Or, for that matter, America in the post-war 1950s.

I wonder if that will produce oddball brand extensions as it did here, with mixed success.

But the Chinese consumer is not the Western consumer, or even quite the Westernized consumer. Chinese households may have more inter-generational merging of tastes and purchasing power than we typically see. There’s a higher level of web-enabled connectedness, particularly among young mothers. And, deeply entrenched fresh food markets and superstores bracket the typical Western brick-and-mortar shopping experience.

It all adds up to a vibrant, rapidly changing consumer marketplace. To have that, in a time of vibrant, rapidly changing communication tools, could launch a whole new era in advertising. My advice to any eager young advertising creatives: go East, and rock the world!
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September 4 2012
Cities looking to spend their way out of these economic doldrums often look to sloganeering – ahem, brand development – as part of the path to prosperity. Here’s the story of one such city, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, from the Lee’s Summit Journal (MO):
Advertising copywriter blog link

It’s admirable that these civic leaders are voting to put a quarter of a million dollars into a concerted branding effort this year. I need clients like that. Likewise, doing pre- and post-campaign testing is smart, and basing the tests on measurements of community pride as reflected in hypothetical advocacy is probably the best way to prove whether or not the emotional needle moved.

That said, it seems like there’s an awfully long line of brand development agencies, consultants, and politicians producing a parade of trite slogans, most gathering dust. I have the feeling, though, that if something, anything at all, had been stuck with, the city would be a lot further along in its branding efforts.
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September 3 2012
In honor of Labor Day, here’s a look at two highly visible products of the American workforce, the GM and Chrysler brands, from Ad Age:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The problem with the comparison, is that it’s not an even match-up, stacking the middle-American Chevrolet against a selection of brands and models cherry-picked from throughout the Chrysler line-up (Chysler 200 anyone? Anyone at all?). Also, I think the premise is false. Although automotive experts may rate both company's products as competitive, the reality is that there’s a huge emotional gap between them.

That said, the difference isn’t just the advertising; the deeper emotional connection is baked right into the product designs. Look at the smallest cars with the biggest markets right now, all of GM vs all of Chrysler, and you’re comparing the newly launched, competent-but-ordinary Chevrolet Sonic with the older-but-still-spunky Fiat 500. While the Chevy may be the better vehicle by several metrics, especially for the price; the Fiat is the one with the brand image, the one that sparks desire.

It’s similar to the Android vs Apple vs. Windows battle raging in the smartphone OS market. No matter what new capabilities the larger players bring to the game, Apple will likely remain the brand people actually want to buy, not because of the advertising (recent missteps there have only proved that point) but because of the perfectly branded design.
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Backwards in time to August 2012

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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
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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 ART of repurposing marketing copy (Or, why you shouldn’t use brochure copy as web content)
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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