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

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April 30 2007
A brief look at the buying habits of the affluent, from Brandweek:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It turns out that the difference between the rich and you and me, as Ernest Hemingway may have said, is that they have more money. However, any socioeconomic group will divide into buyers driven by passion and buyers driven by logic. Those are broad categories.

Anyway, when looking at demographic information as it relates to creating advertising, I’ve always believed that spending levels are more important than income levels. Spending indicates the value a person places on a category of goods or services; income merely indicates, and none too reliably at that, the socioeconomic level at which a person may live.
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April 28 2007
A working weekend entry because I saw this article, about people selling ad space on their cars for gas money, in my morning San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

I don’t know how effective this is, and apparently neither do many of the advertisers. I suspect that most people who see a car with a couple magnetic door signs on it will assume that the car belongs to a real estate agent or contractor. And, if they do realize they’re looking at an ad, the likelihood of irrelevance is high.

Let’s look at the specific case in the article. For the advertiser, a truck bed accessory manufacturer, the match with the pickup truck owner seems perfect. Except for one thing: the truck may or may not be equipped with the product. If the advertiser is bundling the product with the door ad and the gas card, that makes sense. Otherwise, a good deal of authenticity is lost, which means credibility is lost.

Now let’s look at the other side, and here it gets really weird. The pickup truck owner is a mobile notary and real estate sign installer. So, first point: why isn’t he advertising his own businesses on the side of his truck? Second, if he’s expensing his vehicle, which he’s probably entitled to do, then the gas card counts as income and the whole deal is a wash. (On consideration, and I don’t know what the tax folks make of this, it seems to me that the person getting the gas card is receiving financial consideration for services rendered, so it may count as income regardless.)  

This is one of those media opportunities that seem savvy at first, but may end up collapsing from its own weight.
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April 27 2007
Toyota recently passed General Motors as the world’s largest automaker. Here’s an article that shows how much they’re doing right, in this case with Scion’s branding and ongoing marketing, from BusinessWeek Online via Yahoo! News (Asia):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, Scion enjoys the freedom of being a niche brand. But note how Toyota is using Scion as a marketing lab, fine-tuning the tactical details of executing a targeted strategy. As a result, its marketing efforts have an authenticity that just doesn’t come through when, say, Chevrolet tries to go viral.

The crowning irony is that GM did all of this first, with its Saturn division. The funky personality. The owner’s groups. The unique selling environment. The events. The peer-to-peer marketing. The whole brand experience. GM should have learned from the exercise, but instead tried to turn Saturn into a mainstream brand. And that, in part, is why GM is now #2.
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April 26 2007
Today I have a follow-up to my April 19 entry about the trend toward going green. Here’s a story about the challenges green marketers face, from
Advertising copywriter blog link

I am a moderately hardcore environmentalist with credentials that go back more than 30 years (and back then I was real hardcore). And this is the hard truth: consumerism is innately not green.

Buying a new hybrid car, for instance, when your old one still meets your needs is false environmentalism. The environmental impact of manufacturing that car (to say nothing of the lifetime effect of battery disposal) could easily outweigh the environmental impact of keeping an older car in good repair and using it for several more years. Globally, unless the old car is melted down for scrap, the result is one more car on the planet.

See, it’s recycle, reuse, reduce. Not replace. So there’s an inherent disconnect in trying to consume one’s way to a low-impact life by churning durable goods.
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April 25 2007
A tip o’ the keyboard to my long-time ad partner Blaise for this story, about audio spotlight technology, from The Boston Globe (MA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

This is cool. The device creates a tightly focused beam of sound that can be used to narrowcast audio.

Like any tool, it can be used or misused. I’d hate to have an endless barrage of messages whispering into my ear as I walk down a supermarket aisle. But, I like the more utilitarian commercial uses, like being able to evaluate ringtones or sample music without disturbing others. And, as part of trade show or convention technology, it could go a long way toward muffling the dull roar of the typical exhibit hall. Actually, of all the possible uses, I’d have to say I find advertising the least intriguing: a cool trick the first time, bothersome the second time, and ignored the third time.
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April 24 2007
NASCAR successfully reaches out to women in a low-key but highly effective repositioning of stock car racing. Here’s the story, from the Associated Press via (NC):
Advertising copywriter blog link

The NASCAR fan base is now 60% male and 40% female, with some 30 million female fans in the U.S., 10 million of whom became fans in the last five years. But, although this may be a recent development, the effort has been going for years through driver associations, special events, the extension of merchandising into fashion, and even romance novels.

It’s refreshing to see a business organization reaching out to women by offering authentic connections instead of painting something pink and calling it a day.
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April 23 2007
The Millward Brown Optimor 2007 BRANDZ Top 100 report, which ranks global brands by value, is now available as a 27-page PDF (3.6 MB) on their website:
Advertising copywriter blog link

This report is the result of interviews with 1 million consumers in 40 countries about 40,000 brands, blended with financial and category data. It is absolutely essential reading. It’s not long, and is tightly written.

Key trends include convergence of technologies (e.g.: Google and other service companies expanding their offerings under their core brand), the rise of the East, and the increasing importance of social responsibility in corporate branding.

You also can see the success of the fast food industry’s damage control efforts, with some brands touting healthier menu choices and others staking out the anti-PC turf.

Key quote:

Brands are often the most valuable [intangible] asset, accounting for approximately one third of the value of the Fortune 500 today. (p. 25)

What I find interesting, is the increase in the valuation of luxury brands. Although one could argue that the primary value of a luxury brand is the brand itself, the growth is noteworthy given what’s happening with the U.S. economy. So, as in other industries, more makers of luxury goods are looking past the U.S., to Eastern Europe and Asia, for growth.

Anyway, like I said, this is essential reading for anyone interested in branding – which includes anyone interested in business at all.
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April 22 2007
A British designer is ordered to pay an American photographer for plagiarism. Here’s the story from The Australian (hence the Monday date):
Advertising copywriter blog link

When talking about art, design, and advertising, at what point does inspiration and interpretation become imitation? In this case, a line – or a gray area – was crossed, and the stylistic copying must have been especially blatant to have won in court.

On the other hand, the original photographer took his inspiration from marks on contact sheets common to all photographers; in other words, his signature style was itself derived from an everyday industrial practice.

The designer has appealed the verdict, and it will be interesting to see how this all comes out.
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April 20 2007
Social networking sites are beginning to bar the gates. MySpace, for instance, is blocking widgets and web links that run advertising from which it doesn’t benefit. Here’s the story, from Adweek via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

It may be that social networking sites are simply not sustainable once (a) a certain level of mass is achieved or (b) the suits get involved.

I don’t think anyone would begrudge a company the freedom to profit from its efforts. But, in the case of a social networking site, the users are the ones generating content. And that should include, not preclude, other content providers, including third-party advertisers, if growth is to continue.
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April 19 2007
Going green is a hot trend in branding, and a recent study illuminates the best ways to reach consumers with an environmental message. Here’s the summary from Emap Advertising, via (UK):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Despite the number of celebrities lending their names and efforts to green causes, their endorsements carry little weight with consumers, at least in Europe. Instead, the most-trusted voices are scientists and academics, followed by television news and charities.

More than half the consumers surveyed said that an environmental message in advertising gets their attention, nearly half said it made them think more positively about the advertiser, and more than a third said it would affect their buying habits. The opportunity, for savvy advertisers, is big.

By the way, the study delivers something of a smackdown to new media isolationists (you know, those self-proclaimed gurus who advocate new media to the exclusion of traditional media). Here’s the relevant snip:

The research also illustrates that brands need to adopt different communication techniques to motivate different audiences. For example, although the younger generation (16 to 24 year-olds) are heavy web users, only 6.4% think the medium is the best way for companies to communicate their environmental activities. Instead, 43% think companies should highlight their environmental activities through their advertising. Women’s preferred way to hear about them is on packaging (41%), whereas men respond less favorably to this method (33%).

So two of the most-preferred ways to reach consumers are advertising and packaging. How quaint. Or not.

Like I said yesterday, advertising is not about the medium. It’s about the audience.
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April 18 2007
Dated tomorrow, because it already is in Australia, comes this story about new media advocate Joseph Jaffe, from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Well, here again is someone making a career out of stating what should be obvious. Audiences are fragmenting. Media are fragmenting. Message channels within the fragmented media are fragmenting. Thing is, this is not a problem for advertising, it’s a solution. We no longer have to be content with so-called mass audiences, narrowing the focus through creative execution. Now the media buy itself can be micro-targeted, with creativity extending up and down the entire process. As an aside, I think the biggest opportunities for creative thinkers in advertising right now lie in media, but that’s another story.

Here’s a quote from Jaffe:

“My definition of advertising is trying to sell stuff to people who don’t want to be sold to, using methods that applied 50 years ago and no longer are relevant.”

I call that a pretty convenient definition of advertising for someone espousing the “eradication of advertising:” to specify a dated, irrelevant methodology appealing with limited success to a resistant audience. Yeah, that kind of advertising dies all the time. There’s no need to eradicate it; it’s already gone.

My definition of advertising worked 50 years ago, and still works today: performance art, with ROI.

See, all these flavor-of-the-month new media gurus get confused because, being experts in media, they think the medium is everything. It isn’t. The audience is everything, and you can distill that down to a single person, in a single moment. You touch that person, you move that person, that’s performance art. You do it with a commercial intent, that’s advertising.
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April 17 2007
It could be the end of the road for web radio in the U.S., thanks to a court decision upholding large and partly retroactive increases in royalty fees due artists and labels. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

I have mixed feelings about this. As a creative professional, I think it’s important – and essential to the growth of any creative industry – to ensure fair and adequate compensation to those actually doing the creating. On the other hand, as a consumer and business professional, I think it’s just as important and essential to continued growth that digital rights management be simple and transparent. To hammer webcasters seems short-sighted, especially since the web is global and enforcement ability ends at the nation’s borders. The effect might be to put U.S.-based new media channels out of business to no positive end. The growth opportunities and ad dollars will simply consolidate or drift overseas.

And some of us will just keep listening to BBC Radio 1, watching Working Lunch and Tagesschau, and enjoying programs from German TV station WDR, just as we have done for years.
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April 16 2007
I discussed branding localities on April 4, saying it was the theme of the week. It might be the theme of the month. Here’s the sad story of a regional branding effort that just plain ran out of money, from the Vallejo Times-Herald (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Actually, this might not be such a bad thing. To really help build the area’s brand, it might be a better investment to focus on addressing some of the issues creating the negative image, instead of glossing over it with a high-falutin’ branding campaign. Particularly if money is tight. On the other hand, attracting business and tourism dollars is ongoing work. You can’t just market during the good times.

One line, though, merits comment: the one saying that a city’s brand can capitalize on its past, its present or its future.

That’s not totally true; a brand can’t capitalize on a future that isn’t already a part of its image. In other words, it can capitalize on its future as long as that future is embedded in its past. Branding techniques work best when they reaffirm an underlying belief; they work less well at changing perceptions.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: to be effective, branding should be an affirmation, not an aspiration.
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April 15 2007
Another case of bad timing in advertising, this time a troubled New Zealand TV channel re-branding while simultaneously laying off 160 staffers. Here’s the story, dated tomorrow because it already is there, from The New Zealand Herald (Auckland, NZ):
Advertising copywriter blog link

If re-branding was part of the growth strategy, then the investment in a new logo was just that: an investment. As the spokesperson points out, there’s no advantage to doing nothing while market share declines. And, as for the timing, it’s likely the reduction in overhead went hand-in-hand with the expansion of marketing.

On the other hand, $300,000 put into media instead of a new logo might have done more to raise the channel’s profile through sheer reach and frequency. And, if re-branding was a key strategic decision, then why is the new brand so incomprehensible to marketers and consumers alike? That’s a big, big tactical error. And, for a media company to handle its own media affairs so ham-handedly as to allow the conjoining of local lay-offs with off-shore marketing expenditures is just plain dumb.

Troubled companies? Sometimes there’s a reason they’re in trouble. And it ain’t the advertising.
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April 13 2007
Happy Friday the 13th! Today I have an article about hospital advertising, from In Business Las Vegas (NV):
Advertising copywriter blog link

In this article, University Medical Center, a financially strapped public hospital, successfully defends its four-page newspaper advertorial announcing a new facility.

Key relevant quote:

A citizens’ task force several years ago determined that UMC needed to advertise more, not less, to bring in more insured patients.

Even the taxpayers agree that it’s important to the community for the public hospital to remain competitive and attract insured patients, who defray the cost of treating uninsured patients, and that advertising is essential to achieving that goal. So the issue here, was one of timing. Hey, it’s never a good time to have a CEO ousted in a cloud of accusations. But you just can’t stop marketing because of it, especially if you’re a public institution.
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April 12 2007
How much information about the target market is too much? And, does it matter if the target market is doctors? Here’s a story from the Associated Press via Yahoo! News about states introducing legislation banning data mining by pharmaceutical companies and their marketing agencies:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Heck, pharmaceutical advertising is already so regulated that it’s hard to differentiate one drug ad from another. As desirable as obfuscation might be in political advertising, it’s rarely the objective of product advertising. But then, American politicians, with their unique license to deceive in advertising Constitutionally protected, can hardly be called fair arbiters of real-world marketing.

There are legitimate concerns here. But to address them properly would take more than restricting the ability of pharmaceutical researchers, developers, and manufacturers to engage in target marketing. It would take a forklift overhaul of the pharmaceutical development and healthcare systems, a task well beyond the scope of my own meager mind.

Until then, it seems to me that efficient communication between all parties involved should be considered a positive good. Even if some of the communication falls into the category of sales and marketing.
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April 11 2007
Some movie tie-ins are better than others. Here’s an article from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA), about Sea World, a San Diego brand, making (ahem) waves with the upcoming release of “Surf’s Up,” an animated mockumentary about penguins and surfing:
Advertising copywriter blog link

So penguins are hot (see my Ad Blog entry on January 11 2007 for more on that trend), and Sea World is jumping on the bandwagon. I wonder if that’s why the “Penguin Encounter” exhibit was closed the last few times we went to Sea World. I hope they don’t muck up the exhibit with commercialism.

Still, Sea World and penguins make for a pretty tight movie tie-in. As the article points out, commercial success for the tied-in brand is hardly assured, even if the movie is a blockbuster. I think that’s doubly true if the brand isn’t so much tied-in as tied-on (like the Verizon Wireless/“Lord of the Rings” thing, or many of the James Bond product placement deals).

If penguins will get people to go to Sea World, then that could have been marketed independent from this or any movie. Still, as a local, I hope it works. I hope it attracts tourists from all over the world, and pumps additional millions into our local economy. Go, penguins!
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April 10 2007
I’ve always said that advertising is the ultimate performance art. And nowhere is that connection more overt, than in the marketing of fashion. Here’s the story of a Fifth Avenue retail store and a luxury product brand that understand the relationship, from The New York Sun (NY):
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, luxury brands don’t just differentiate, they also alienate. That’s part of the mystique, and it’s a freedom that only niche brands can afford. You turn one small segment of the population on by turning all the others off. It’s not just a strategy, but also a tactical execution right down to the tiniest operational details.

This is the level of detailed implementation necessary to build mass-market brands, too. Unfortunately, most rely on sheer volume rather than on creating participatory brand experiences.
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April 9 2007
Here’s a piece from RedOrbit (TX) proposing that marketers must become “conversation architects” to keep up with the new, empowered consumer:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Thing is, the article has it wrong from the get-go. Consumers were never passive consumers of advertising messages, goods, and services. Fifty years ago, copywriter Shirley Polykoff said that advertising copy was nothing more or less than “a direct conversation with the consumer.” That was true fifty years before she said it, and it’s still true fifty years after.

Polykoff, by the way, was the copywriter who created Does she ... or doesn’t she? for Clairol haircoloring back in (get this) 1955. She was also one of the first female copywriters to work at a major ad agency, Foote, Cone, & Belding, where she rose to executive vice president/creative director. In 1973, at the age of 65, she opened her own shop. In 1980, she was inducted into the AAF’s Hall of Fame.

So, was she (... or wasn’t she) ahead of her time?

No. All these self-proclaimed new media marketing gurus are behind their time, and slowly rediscovering what good advertising copywriters have known for a century or longer.

That’s what happens when you focus on technology instead of people. Advertising is, first and foremost, a people business.
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April 6 2007
How much is a brand name worth? How about $600 million? Here’s the story about Sears securitizing three its most-popular brand names, from Reuters via Yahoo! News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

Mind you, that $1.8 billion deal wasn’t for the Sears brand name; it was for Die Hard, Craftsman, and Kenmore. With everyone focusing on corporate branding as a strategy, this deal validates the importance – and value – of solid branding at the product level.
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April 5 2007
The DaimlerChrysler merger of 1998 is looking more and more like it’s heading for a split-up. Here’s the story, from BBC News:
Advertising copywriter blog link

The key question for marketers, is what damage will the brand incur during the break-up? It sounds like Daimler-Benz will emerge stronger, despite some serious design and quality mis-steps of late, which means the Chrysler brand may very well absorb the punishment for Daimler as well as itself. Not fair, but that’s the way things work in real life.

If brand positioning were the only issue, I’d say one probable solution would be to maintain Dodge as the mass-market brand, move Chrysler dramatically upscale (possibly by eliminating the Chrysler name entirely as a marque and going with Imperial), and resurrect Plymouth or (maybe edgier and less burdened) DeSoto as a youth/lifestyle brand to compete with the likes of Scion.

But, brand positioning will be the least of the problems the new owners will face.
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April 4 2007
I guess city branding is the theme of the week. Here’s a story about the effort to brand Pensacola, Florida, from the Pensacola News Journal (FL):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Wrapping ordinary copy research into a mystical, multi-visit “process” complete with psychologically inspired “exercises” to get local participation was a stroke of highly profitable genius for the marketing consultant. Because the resulting slogan, while really very ordinary, is backed by lots and lots of “data” and face time, plus, if you manage your discovery process well, the locals might write the tagline for you.

I still think there’s a fundamental problem when you rely heavily upon the local community to brand itself. If the city’s brand is to have any meaningful ROI in attracting new business and tourism, you have to get beyond the internal audience. Yes, local buy-in is critically important, but the outside perspective is even more important. Otherwise, you end up with a self-congratulatory slogan that represents nothing more than the city talking to itself.

I’ve talked about branding cities, states, and nations dozens of times in the past, but never compiled a table to make them easy to find. So, here’s a fairly exhaustive list of my previous Ad Blog entries on the topic: March 19 2003; April 1 2003; September 29 2003; October 2 and 8 2003; December 2 2003; January 7, 9, 15, and 26 2004; April 9 2004; June 2 and 29 2004; August 2, 30 and 31 2004; September 3, 15 and 23 2004; October 1, 11 and 19 2004; December 14 2004; January 6 and 14 2005; May 12, 15 and 30 2005; September 5, 13 and 30 2005; October 6 2005; November 2 and 9 2005; January 24 2006; March 16 2006; April 19 and 27 2006; June 15 2006; July 4, 5 and 10 2006; October 6, 9 and 10 2006; and yesterday, April 3 2007.
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April 3 2007
The city of Gulfport, Mississippi has a good slogan, according to some impartial experts. So, why is it failing to attract revenue from tourists and businesses? Here’s a look at the importance of tactical implementation in branding, from The Sun Herald (Biloxi, MI) via (TX):
Advertising copywriter blog link

Yes, the city of Gulfport has done a lousy job of marketing itself despite a highly regarded slogan. But, buried in the article, lies the real problem:

John Kelly, Gulfport’s chief administrative officer who is on the committee reviewing potential new logos and taglines, said the city wants one of the best brands in the country and the job could cost less than $8,000.

$8,000 to effectively and reliably launch or sustain a brand nationwide is a joke. And the real joke, is that I or any other competent brand-builder might actually be able to pull it off for something near that price, but the non-mainstream tactics required would never survive the committee review.
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April 2 2007
What happens when social networks get too big for their own good? Here’s a casual look at the quality degradation that comes with growth, from my hometown San Diego Union-Tribune (CA):
Advertising copywriter blog link

See, marketers and riff-raff discover sites like Craigslist (and YouTube and MySpace and fill-in-the-gap) simultaneously. In many cases, the marketers are the riff-raff.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been active in online communities over the past decade or so. A bit of historical perspective: more than ten years ago, I was an active participant in what was, at the time, one of the largest online communities and social networks. At first, everyone called them bulletin boards, a carryover from the old BBS services, but the term that emerged was forums. And, even back then, there was a commonly acknowledged lifecycle to forum participants and forum life, an accelerated version of what happens in many real cities and towns. A certain, finite mass is necessary to be self-sustaining. Additional mass beyond that causes either splintering or deterioration.

Now, because the web has expanded, this lifecycle occurs on a much larger scale. But it’s nothing new. So, what should savvy marketers make of this?

The brand is the social network, and vice versa. The thing to do, is not to join, but to create.
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Backwards in time to March 2007

My experience as a copywriter.

Main page | Advertising portfolio | Brochure portfolio | Consumer goods | Eco-friendly products | Food services | Healthcare | Hospitality & tourism | Internet | Manufacturing | Packaged goods | Real estate & construction | Retail & restaurants | Service | Technology

Answers to frequently asked questions.

Why should you hire me as your advertising copywriter? | FAQ

Advertising & marketing advice.

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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Me, me, me.

Awards & honors | Curriculum vitae | Services

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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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