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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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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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , spot was rightly banned from this year's SuperBowl. spot was rightly banned from this year's SuperBowl.

The big game isn’t even here yet, but some businesses are already leveraging the attention that the SuperBowl brings. Two advertisers have already gotten the boot from Fox Sports for spots too controversial for prime time. I’m sure neither business ever expected their commercials to air and are all too happy to be basking in the resulting “news” attention from being banished to viral YouTube heaven.

Here is a link to the story behind banned commercial number one — an online store that sells “humorous” novelty items. It was launched by a supposed conservative comedian. His site is called The spot depicts bobblehead dolls of President Obama and Jesus, with the latter scowling at the former and the former mysteriously bobbling off a ledge into a glass of water.

HahahaNOT. This spot isn’t funny. It is just dumb. Last time I checked, Jesus never expressed hatred for anyone, even the moneychangers in the temple (they did piss him off, though). And while President Obama has a knack for pissing off conservatives, of which I count myself, this spot is not remotely humorous. It isn’t goofy. It is just lame.

I am not above a good “Jesus hates” joke, however, which is why when I saw this tee shirt in a window on South Street, I had to laugh and I had to snap a cellphone photo.

Some "Jesus hates" jokes are actually funny.

Some "Jesus hates" jokes are actually funny.

Not sure the exact reason for Fox’s decision, but they are entitled to make a decision based on their own broadcast standards. I am just glad this terrible idea for a web site and a political statement is not going to get any additional exposure during the SuperBowl.

Banned spot number two is troubling for a far different reason. Read all about it here. It is for a matchmaking (hooking up?) web site known as Its business model? Enabling those interested in extra-marital affairs to meet like-minded individuals. The site itself got a lot of negative publicity when it launched a few years ago. The fact that it is going strong enough to pay for a SuperBowl commercial is a sad sign of the times.

I remember seeing its founder interviewed on TV and explaining that his site is strictly business. He is filling a need and if he didn’t start, someone else would. Great, can we expect him to follow up soon with for those who want to hire an assassin anonymously? The most recent example of this muddled thinking was PA Governor Ed Rendell going medieval on Leslie Stahl during a 60 Minutes interview about the state forging ahead with casino gambling. The governor was enraged that Stahl and her team just didn’t get it that PA residents with gambling problems were going to gamble regardless of whether the state was making money off their vice or not. So, PA might as well make up some of their revenue shortfalls. Right? Wrong.

One way to start righting wrongs is to stop creating additional wrongs. We’re sluicing down some slippery slopes, folks. Hats off to Fox for refusing to be party to either sorry spectacle.

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