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If anyone wants a lesson on how to protect your trademarked brand, just watch the NFL legal team in action.  This article by Timothy Carney from the Washington Examiner caught my attention. It details how the NFL won a legal battle before it really began over an Indiana man with some foresight and a dream to make some money selling T-shirts. Roy Fox had watched how NBA Coach Pat Riley made some extra cash by trademarking the term “Three-Peat” when the Lakers were on that multi-year championship run.  Either the NBA lawyers are a little more laid back or they cut Riley some slack because he is part of the NBA family (and likely went through licensed NBA merchandise vendors).

Jim Harbaugh, coach of SF, is taking on his brother John Harbaugh, coach of Baltimore in the game affectionately, but controversially known, as the Harbowl.

Jim Harbaugh, coach of SF, is taking on his brother John Harbaugh, coach of Baltimore in the game affectionately, but controversially known, as the Harbowl.

Carney relates Fox’s vision of a SuperBowl (whoops, I mean “Big Game”) between the San Francisco 49ers coached by Jim Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens coached by his brother John Harbaugh, hence he applied to trademark the terms Harbowl and Harbaughbowl through USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office) over a year ago, approval coming last February. Fox envisioned making a small killing off the rights to T-shirts, caps, and fangear.

This week, radio host football fan Bill Bennett, in anticipation of Hilary Clinton’s appearance before the Senate hearing on Benghazi, predicted strategy perfectly, “If you’re not playing offense, you’re playing defense.” Hilary did not disappoint. The lawyers who represent NFL brand interests understand this and did not waste any time or energy, going on offense even before the marquis match-up  between Harbaugh Bros. became a reality. Carney’s article details how they headed off Fox’s plans before they really got off the ground.

My initial reaction was Shakespearean (“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”). Then, it was small business sympathy driven (big corporations running roughshod over little entrepreneur with a great idea).  Then, I put my branding hat on. The NFL has a lot invested in its myriad of league and team brands. It makes them a ton of money all season long, and then all over again in the off-season. When gear is sold, they go through an elaborate process of licensing vendors and monitoring the quality of merchandise sold with the NFL brandnames attached.

The NFL did not own or conceive of trademarking Harbowl or HarbaughBowl; however, these marks are obviously related to the NFL product on the field and future products to be sold off the field. They had no control over how Mr. Fox would proceed in his business ventures. If he sold shoddy merchandise, it would reflect badly on the NFL.  As for the Harbaughs and their personal brands, I think they are both a little more focused on the outcome of next Sunday’s game to be concerned with this peripheral controversy right now.

According to Carney, Fox did not have a business or legal background, so when NFL attorneys came at him like the Ravens defensive line, he wisely saw his career as a fangear entrepreneur ending badly and painfully. He worked with the NFL to relinquish his rights to the Harbowl and Harbaughbowl trademarks (not clear if the NFL subsequently picked them up). Think it should have ended with some form of compensation by the NFL to Fox, but hard to say that is wrong from the outside from reading a single news account.

As an Eagles fan, sorry that Andy Reid never got an SB ring before he left town, but cautiously optimistic that Chip Kelly will usher in a new era of winning football in Philadelphia, I will leave you with a local take on next week’s “Big Game” from a young lady who goes by the great brand of PhilaDehlia. She is evidently an expert prognosticator for SB Nation (9 out of 10 playoff picks) and she will tell you why the Baltimore Ravens are her predicted winner since the E-A-G-L-E-S’s are not participating this year.

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I think ICANN, I think ICANN. Will gTLDs be the little brand engine that could?

I think ICANN, I think ICANN. Will gTLDs be the little brand engine that could?

Better be prepared to pony up to upgrade your brand online.  The Internet is going to be adding some new naming rights and it’s going to cost you big time to brand under the new structure. What am I talking about? Securing and mapping out your own gTLD, of course.

ROFLMAO, I have come to realize the absurdity of  more alphabet soup from an Internet institution called ICANN (AKA Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) — how’s that rolling off the tongue for you?  Think we may have fallen down a rabbit hole here.

In case you’ve been seeing the mysterious acronym gTLD a lot of late, it stands for generic Top Level Domain. Huh? How can something generic be a Top Level Domain? Isn’t generic the antithesis of branded? Confused? Well, there is a year for ICANN to sort it all out for you. The only certain things right now are that it’s going to cost you mucho dinero to play in this arena, ICANN is publishing a guidebook to help you navigate the process, and it is even part of the conversation for this week’s sale/purchase of MySpace.

Here are my thoughts on this convoluted subject:

  • If you think you may want or need a generic Top Level Domain, start reading everything you can on the subject. There is no shortage of information out there on  tGLDs. Like here. And here. And here.
  • Monitor which brands and communities have already begun the process. There are some big names and big ideas already moving into this.
  • Budget for it. The application alone will set you back $185,000. Annual renewals will run $25,000. This isn’t going to be a GoDaddy .com domain renewal.
  • Act soon, because ICANN will be taking applications within a  very short window: January 12, 2012, to April 12, 2012. The train is already leaving the station.
  • Question whether this is a worthwhile investment. Already, for most b2b marketers, it looks like it will be hard to justify. For most consumer marketers and online community builders, it may be too hard to resist.
  • Recognize that this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all in branding. Right now, we are in “Under Construction” territory. There may be significant opportunities that can be leveraged out of this. Or it could become the online equivalent of vanity license plates.
  • Consider a tGLD within the context of your current brands and domains and how people get to your web site through search and links strategies, and especially via mobile devices. In a social media world, many people get to pages of interest by clicking a single text link (sometimes for a domain that has been shortened using technology such as

Branding and marketing isn’t getting easier. It also isn’t getting less important. Too early to say whether tGLDs will be making marketers GLAD or just costing them a lot of GELD.

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52 posts in 52 weeks makes for a minor milestone (or a good excuse for a game of 52-card pickup).  But we’re proud to report that has reached the one-year mark.  In honor of the occasion, here are a few varied mini-stories of interest. Some even have something to do with marketing.

Even in the Wright Brothers era, advertising was helping to build business ventures.

Even in the Wright Brothers era, advertising was helping to build business ventures.

Advertising has long been the wind beneath business’s wings.

Spending President’s Day weekend in DC was refreshing for a lot of reasons. One was seeing this Wright Brothers era display from the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. A long time before Burma Shave ever hit the highways, the medium of outdoor advertising was practiced in some pretty creative ways on some remarkable canvases.

Two other reasons were the guided tour of the Capitol (the building itself gives you goosebumps, the prelude film is magnificent, first-rate audio headsets for all, and our tour guide was a polished gem eager to share information, as well as a very energetic senior who is living proof that retirement is overrated) and a cabdriver from Ghana who was this week’s embodiment of the American Dream. He has been driving a DC cab for five years to put himself through Howard University. He is currently studying five hours a day to take the CPA exam.

Back to earth courtesy of the current Congress.

This story from the Washington Post will tell you all you need to know about what happens when the second oldest profession takes on the oldest profession. Upon first seeing the headline about Harry Reid challenging prostitution, which is currently legalized in his home state of Nevada, I was perplexed. The explanations and the instant poll here are revealing of motives and politics (prostitution) as usual.

Softer side, my a@#.

Nothing agitates agencies more than having to do spec work to win business. Unless it is being told by the prospect that they will own your ideas even if you aren’t named agency of record and you won’t be compensated for them. According to Advertising Age, that is what Sears is doing in its current search and why many shops are fighting mad and turning down the opportunity. Interesting business model. I suggest shoplifters come armed with a copy of this story to discuss with Sears store security and ask why they aren’t entitled to something valuable for nothing as well.

Coupled with this news about Wal-Mart and you begin to wonder if there are any intelligent, common sense-oriented adults left in retail management. Two key takeaways from the Wal-Mart story: “Wal-Mart still is suffering a hangover from its overly aggressive effort last year to broaden its base of customers to include more affluent shoppers” AND “Wal-Mart this year has opted to return its marketing and its merchandise to a focus on its roots: low prices on everyday items.” Sam Walton must be spinning in his grave like a gyroscope.

The difference between PR and news.

A LinkedIn group I belong to has had a spirited discussion going this week on “pay for play” PR placements, and whether as a book author has suggested, it is the future model for public relations.  I don’t see it that way, but then a friend independently sent me this link, which amusingly approaches PR from the other direction — from the consumers of news side. Journalism vs. Churnalism. Are editors getting ever lazier and running press releases verbatim? Now, you can test the story you’re reading via this cheeky site. I am convinced we are all being put through a digital blender these days, for better and for worse. And for constant change and status quo challenges. It’s been an interesting first year of agency blogging. Looking forward to many more.

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Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

Audi's Terrific New "Luxury Prison" Campaign is This Year's SuperBowl Champ

The hype over SuperBowl commercials gets bigger every year. That’s because the number of advertisers willing to pony up $3 million per 30-second spot has mushroomed. That’s excluding creative strategy, development, and production costs. If you have a celebrity endorser, the price tag goes even higher. Obviously, this is a competition only the biggest brands can compete in. The real value is in the opportunity to cut through the clutter with some truly memorable messaging and brand positioning.

Ironically, with the advent of YouTube and social media, the buzz generation machine was in full swing the last few weeks. The vast majority of the spots, or teaser versions of those spots, are up on YouTube and sites like this and this and this. The best place to take the temperature of hot, hotter, hottest spots, however, is Mashable, which has compiled Twitter results on the ads generating the most advance interest. Advertisers and agencies have caught on to the formula that Hollywood uses, releasing various versions of movie trailers and stills, especially among “fan boys,” to build excitement to a fever pitch when big budget blockbusters hit the theaters.

Even with this unprecedented opportunity to win fans in advance of the big game, some brands still don’t get it.  The posted clips are long-form making of the spot promos (Mercedes) or celebrity behind-the-scenes documentaries (Faith Hill for Teleflora).  And amazingly, Coca-Cola has told Mashable to take down their video because of copyright issues (it’s free publicity, folks!).  David Meerman Scott’s book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” recounts a similar tone-deafness to new media opportunities when the soda giant ignored opportunities to leverage the viral video phenomenon created by dropping Mentos candies into open liter bottles of Diet Coke (the ultimate junior high science fair experiment).

According to Mashable’s Twitter tracking results, Volkswagen has won the SuperBowl advertising fan poll with an entertaining spot of a young Darth Vader wannabee trying to marshal the “Force” by interacting with a variety of things around his household. Its popularity is earned and it will definitely be a water cooler favorite on Monday morning.

The real winner, though, came in second in those Twitter results. It is an audacious new campaign for Audi that is so creatively and strategically original that the car company deserves to reap huge rewards in new car sales in the months ahead.  Previously, if pressed, I couldn’t name you a single Audi commercial, marketing theme, or slogan. For a luxury brand, their advertising has been unmemorable as wallpaper. Not any more.

The change started in recent weeks with a spot that was a narrated voiceover takeoff on the children’s bedtime classic, “Good Night, Moon.” That spot began to redefine luxury and set the stage for something totally unexpected that came next.

The new campaign for Audi is a parody of  the landmark 1978 documentary “Scared Straight,” in which lifers from Rahway Prison spoke to juvenile offenders to paint an unflinching unforgettable portrayal of hard times they can expect from the penal system if they don’t turn their young lives around immediately. Not exactly material for selling luxury cars, right?

That’s the beauty of the new “Startled Smart” spots and extended YouTube videos that are set in a “luxury prison” where old money convicts are enlisted to talk sense into a group of Generation X drivers who think they understand status and how to spend their inherited wealth. The segments are so new, unexpected, and hilarious that you can’t wait to replay them. The real strategic brilliance is that Audi’s creative team has found a way to entertain baby boomers who remember the rawness of the Rahway inmates, as well as Generation X who are down with spending less to get luxury and to sharing these spots via social media.

Following on the first spot’s heels is a second that adds yet another rich layer. It is devoted to the quelling of riots at this luxury prison. The answer is none other than smooth jazz elevator music sax man, Kenny G, having tremendous fun at his own expense.

Audi has managed to turn the luxury category on its head with unexpected, truly inspired humor. In the process, it will make a much bigger name for itself, with all those SuperBowl eyeballs. It deserves to win the big game ad contest hands down over all those beer and snack food retreads devoted to all too familiar themes.

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Everyone’s an art director. That’s a lesson Gap Inc. just learned the social media way in rolling out a new corporate logo via its Facebook page. If Gap was expecting everyone to just click the Like button, they received a rude surprise.
If you’re just catching up with the story, here is the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on it, already updated since the initial posting. Gap proudly introduced a new logo, then quickly rescinded it, following an avalanche of negative comments on Facebook and elsewhere.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Ring out the old new. Bring in the new. Bring back the old.

Lots to talk about here. Our agency has branding and corporate identity conversations all the time with clients. Introducing a new or updated logo is always a dicey proposition. First, it is very expensive to replace all those stationery items, signs, packaging, product labels, vehicle wraps, sales literature, trade show exhibits, coffee mugs, videos, web content, Powerpoints, not to mention emotional attachments that customers and employees have with the old logo. Typically, it is not a minor undertaking for an established brand. We tend to not recommend such changes unless there is an acquisition or merger that dictates it, a problem in the marketplace that is hurting the brand, or another really compelling reason to reinvent the brand.
From the outside, none of those reasons seem to apply to Gap’s new logo. However, all of us are on the outside and not privy to what led to management’s decision to explore a new look and to the discussions that took place between Gap and its professional design agency. The key word here is professional, because once the new logo entered the realm of social media, everybody and his brother weighed in. Some of those having fun were other graphic designers, some were upset customers, but most of those stomping on the new mark were casual observers at the scene of the accident. The new logo is not ugly, but the reaction to it sure was.
I can empathize with the new Gap logo team, because we once explored a range of new product faceplate designs for a client, two were chosen, then those two were set up in the company’s lunchroom to be voted on by everyone from the President to the cafeteria staff. Good creative is not a democratic process. Design by committee usually ends in a Dilbert cartoon. Yikes!
What this really smacks of is a repeat of the New Coke introduction. Consumer reaction was swift and terrible. Old Coke made an instant reappearance. New Coke was poured down the drain. Is the new Gap logo an improvement over the old? That’s an entirely subjective question especially when most people see no good reason to change the old. Sometimes well-crafted market research points the way before change is undertaken so painful mistakes can be averted before they reach the marketplace.
If there is anything that customers want to change at nearly every retailer, it isn’t the logo. I suspect it is the customer service experience and finding ways to dramatically improve it.

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Preference Central

Preference Central has a great solution for targeted ad control.

I try to avoid webinars for online marketing products and services, because too many fall into the categories of broad pie-in-the-sky over-promising or arcane technical details that only Internet technologists or media strategists can get vaguely excited about. However, I made an exception this week with PreferenceCentral, and I’m glad I did.
I learned something encouraging — that someone is trying to get out in front of the consumer privacy or privacy controls debate and that someone is PreferenceCentral. What’s more, PreferenceCentral has developed a terrific solution for targeted ads, which balances the needs of consumers, advertisers, and ad creators, customizers, and deliverers (agencies, media companies, behavioral data folks, etc.). The solution also takes into account the input of interested parties at the Federal Trade Commission (the recipients of consumer complaints over privacy issues) and industry marketing associations whose members include CMOs at the big national brands. This is the way the marketplace is supposed to work, although it doesn’t as often as it should. The alternative is often government regulation that is full of intended (punitive) and unintended (a whole bunch of unexpected and unfortunate) consequences.

Privacy concerns are huge for consumers and brands.

Privacy concerns are huge for consumers and brands.

The back-story behind all this is the use of browser cookies to collect information on the kind of web sites each of us visits on a daily basis (our ongoing interests and our immediate needs, also known as our current and future purchases of products and services). That data is increasingly mined, collected, analyzed, refined, and used to send targeted ads of interest to each of us, especially when we are regularly visiting e-commerce sites (close to a purchase). The obvious privacy concerns of this are being voiced by many consumers, and within this larger group are the “I hate all advertising” elements that further muddy the waters. Most everyone recognizes the role that advertising places in commerce, but you can’t discount the ways that technology is changing and challenging all of us in how we create and deliver effective and respectful ad messaging.
The PreferenceCentral solution is to add an icon to every targeted ad that enables consumers to learn who is sending this ad specifically targeted to them, then providing the recipient with sensible controls to take action from there. Most consumers will recognize that the advertiser is a reputable business and will select preferences on the kinds of products they are interested in receiving targeted ads about. They can also select other ways to receive information (web site feeds, e-newsletters, direct mail, etc.). Control in the hands of consumers who up to this point haven’t felt like they had any. As for the people who don’t like the concept of targeted ads at all, they will be able to opt out completely from receiving future targeted ads from this company.

Ad Choice Icon opens Preference Central's preferences control.

Ad Choice Icon opens Preference Central's preferences control.

Of course, this only affects the targeted ads a company is using and not the general media ad choices in the marketplace. For instance, just because you opt out of targeted ads from Microsoft doesn’t mean you won’t see a Microsoft banner when reading the tech section of the Wall Street Journal. And even now, without PreferenceCentral’s solution, consumers already have the less sensitive control that they need to opt out (their own browser preferences and “empty cookies” command).
I encourage you to visit the PreferenceCentral web site to learn more about how their Solomon-like, technology-agnostic approach works for both consumers and brands. Currently, the alternative tool is the only one to be found in the government toolbox and that’s a hammer.

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