ARE YOU STUCK ON YOUR BRAND?
And if you were paying attention on or after September 25, you've seen the video.
It's ridiculous. Those of us who appreciate the value of brands and trademarks and intellectual property rights have been having a good laugh.
And judging from the near 400,000 views at YouTube over the last week, it seems there are a few of us.
The video is called simply, "Don't Say Velcro."
It features an ostensible cast of lawyers for Velcro explaining why you should not be using the registered trademark name "Velcro" for describing just any hook & loop fastener--and they're doing it with a big, goofy rock anthem that recalls "We Are The World."
HAVING TROUBLE RECALLING "WE ARE THE WORLD?"
It was the 1985 charity single for African famine relief.
Recorded by a vast supergroup of musical stars, it was a big, swelling rock song dreamed up by Harry Belafonte, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones, and featured almost anyone you can name.
It became famous for a note pinned to the entrance of the studio: "Please check your egos at the door."
And now, 30+ years later, Velcro is borrowing the conceit of the rock super anthem as an awareness tool to get you to stop saying "Velcro" every time you encounter a hook & loop fastener.
BECAUSE IT DILUTES THE POWER OF THEIR TRADEMARK
The patent for Velcro-brand fasteners expired many years ago, so there are plenty of other hook & loop fasteners out there.
Why does this matter to Velcro?
Every time the trade name "Velcro" is used to describe some other brand, it increases the risk of Velcro Companies losing its trademark--and that would be catastrophic.
Did you know the generic word "aspirin" used to be a trademark?
IT WAS A HUGE MONEYMAKER FOR THE GERMAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY, BAYER
But because the name fell into rampant use by other companies around the world, and Bayer didn't defend it sufficiently, they lost their trademark.
It means they lost the exclusive right to market their own creation under its brand name.
Bayer also trademarked the name, "Heroin," which was marketed as a morphine substitute lacking morphine's addictive side effects, but that's another story.
As is Bayer losing the heroin trademark in 1919 in the wake of World War I under the Treaty Of Versailles.
As we often do here in the weekly screed, we digress.
Because you, like us, appreciate ridiculous trivia.
So, back to the ridiculousness of this Velcro video.
THE ABSURD, ANTHEMIC POWER OF THE VIDEO IS CAPTIVATING
The over-the-top craziness of this band of lawyers is impressive.
As is the production value--and the sensibility that created all this.
As part of the song goes:
And we know that this is confusing,
because Velcro Brand is who we are.
But if you call it call 'velcro'...
we're gonna lose that circled 'R'.
This is called 'hook and loop,'
This part's a hook, this part's a loop.
You call it 'velcro,' but we're begging you,
This is (bleep)-ing 'hook and loop.'
And yes, the "bleeping" is part of the video, the word they bleep is never heard, and you know exactly what the word is.
And Velcro Companies claims to be doing this on behalf of all brand names that struggle to protect their trademark, like Rollerblade-branded inline skates, Xerox-branded photocopiers and Band-Aid-branded bandages.
BUT HOW DID THIS CRAZINESS HAPPEN, AND WHAT CAN WE GET FROM IT?
This is a perfect storm of cooperation, sensibility, creativity, and an overarching plan.
The video was created by a North Carolina digital agency called Walk West.
In the making-of video (yes, there really is one), a Walk West Creative Consultant named Penn Holderness says, "Velcro Companies came to us with this educational brand campaign. We had a blast just looking at their creative brief and we said, so what if we just really kind of turned this into a ridiculous 1980s 'We Are The World' style benefit but for something that really is a first world problem?"
OK, it started creative. But how did the actual lawyers feel about it?
In the video, Velcro Companies' Legal Consultant Alexandra DeNeve says, "When they came back with this concept it was, for me, it was just like 'Eureka!' That's it."
Mr. Holderness goes on to say, "Once we met them and saw not only how approachable, friendly, [and] real they were and they were bold and they wanted to...take some chances... Velcro Companies has a really good, close-knit relationship between marketing and legal. And you kind of needed that."
I queried a friend and business associate who happens to be a certifiable smart person. She's also a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She says of the Velcro effort, "It's so uncool it's cool! And that's a pretty massive triumph for an IP issue. I also like it that these lawyers come across as endearingly human in all their geekiness, especially the guy who points out hooks and loops."
BELYING THE CRAZINESS IS RELEVANCE AND COOPERATION
In all the years I have been doing this, lawyers are often referred to as the Advertising Prevention Department.
Here's the thing about lawyers: If you can talk to them before you start working, if you can make friends with them and understand where the lines are, you really can go to the edge.
Lawyers can be friends of creative work if you bring them in early.
And at the risk of coming off as a cockeyed sexist piglet, I'm going to note that the lawyer quoted earlier is a woman.
Many screeds ago, we discussed a hedge fund manager we know who likes investing in companies with female CFOs.
He says the female CFOs often have a better outlook, that their approach to the job and the company is more holistic and not just about the balance sheet.
Maybe that extends to female lawyers. I queried our friend and business associate on this. She replies, "Interesting and complicated question. I think it's generally true. I also think that because of the gender-related pressure (and racial, for that matter) that any such tendencies tend to get suppressed in larger firms. Which is a real shame. But there's tremendous unspoken pressure (against the backdrop of "we love diversity!") to be just like the power people, who are mostly WASPy men... and so it goes."
Speaking as a WASPy man, this latter challenge is disappointing. But again, I digress.
CARRYING THE CONCEIT THROUGH TO OTHER TOUCHPOINTS
One of the problems with stunts like this video is often, they aren't carried through to the rest of the advertiser's touch points.
Velcro Companies has thought this through.
Now, using the trade name "Google" as a verb us another trademark problem. Nonetheless...
If you go Google the phrase "Don't say velcro," there's a link to their website, with the video right there in the banner, under the headline, "We ®VELCRO® Brand."
Beneath that, there's the headline, "Never a Noun. Never a Verb. Always on Brand."
The copy says, "We know. You don't mean to be a serial verber, but we decided to clear a few things up about using the VELCRO® trademark correctly--because we're lawyers and that's what we do. When you use "velcro" as a noun or a verb (e.g., velcro shoes), you diminish the importance of our brand and us lawyers would lose our *insert unfastening sound.*"
AND, YOU'RE INVITED TO JOIN THE CAUSE
Another headline reads, "Take a Stand with our VELCRO® Brand."
"It's not about doing it for us, it's about doing the right thing. Successful brands around the world need your support to help protect trademark guidelines. Pledge to end the era of broken trademark laws."
And you can opt-in for an email list.
And oh, just by the way, you also have the opportunity to find out all about the various Velcro products and how they improve your life.
And yes, they're even down to the minutiae of hash-tagging #dontsayvelcro. And tweets from fans are embedded in the "Don't Say Velcro" page.
BUT CAN THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND REALLY DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Maybe not as enormously production intensive.
But it's entirely possible to start a movement, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise.
Online videos can be produced fairly inexpensively. Big expensive production value often isn't a requirement--but being thoughtful and consistent is.
In an age of WYSIWIG, drag & drop web development platforms, a dedicated website for the movement can be created very quickly and inexpensively. But again: thoughtfulness and consistency.
Using Facebook to promote the message can be done fairly cheaply. With the right material, people will pay attention. (Presently, a video for one of our clients has reached 2,000 people, almost 25% of whom have watched it more than once, 70% of viewers are staying all the way through it, and almost all of them are watching it with the sound on. The media cost? 50 bucks.)
Conflict is engaging. Humor with a core of truth is engaging. Letting people in on the joke and letting them play is engaging.
But like anything else, it needs to be done thoughtfully and with planning. And with consistency.
And it needs to inspire the core customer to feel the right thing. Never just a joke for its own sake. Like, "This is bleeping hook and loop," always, always, the right thing.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
A Story Of A Mountain, A Molehill, And Big Money Stakes…(or David Vs Goliath In The Battle Of The Trademark)
A VICIOUS BATTLE HAS JUST ENDED IN PARK CITY, UTAH
Things in our little resort town have been weird.
Not that things haven't always been weird.
There's a reason Salt Lake City locals long ago dubbed the town "Park Silly."
But there has been nothing silly about the goings on with the gigantic Vail Resorts.
And it stands as a stark reminder to the small business owner.
You do not want to screw around with big corporations or city hall.
BEFORE WE GET TO THE DAVID VS. GOLIATH NATURE OF THIS BATTLE...
....a little backstory.
Vail is a ski-resort megalith of a company.
The faithful reader will recall that we've sung their praises here in the screed.
Among other things, Vail is responsible for changing the face of ski resort marketing in what is a potent lesson for the small-business marketer.
A couple of years ago, Vail descended upon our little town to much fanfare.
First, they began running Canyons Resort, a sprawling ski area here on the Wastach Back.
Next, they made a bid for the town's storied Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR).
AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES WERE ABSURD
Basically, Powdr Corporation (which owned PCMR), forgot to pay their rent.
Most of PCMR's skiable terrain was leased from another company for $155,000 a year with an option to renew at that rate for 20 years.
If that 155K figure sounds like the equivalent of the loose change you or I might find under our sofa cushions, you're right.
That was one hell of a sweetheart deal. The kind you'd like to protect, right?
Well, a whole other batch of silliness ensued.
Among other things, once they realized they'd missed their lease payment, Powdr Corp tried to make good by backdating their check.
When called out, they looked around wide-eyed, feigning surprise, and said, "Who, me?"
It was all very messy and involved lawsuits, but ultimately Vail (now running Canyons) was able to swoop in and take over PCMR.
And then, they combined both resorts.
THEY CREATED THE BIGGEST SKI RESORT IN THE NATION--MWAH-HA-HA-HA!
And certainly, this has entailed a lot of change.
Any time a big corporation gets involved in something, it usually means change.
And as you know, people hate change.
Especially in a dinky little mountain town.
We'll sidestep all that for the moment.
Except for one thing.
Yes, there has been a trademark battle afoot in little Park City, Utah.
Understand, Vail Resorts is huge. They operate more than a dozen ski resorts globally, with more than a billion dollars in annual revenue.
Vail has almost twice as many employees as Park City has residents--and a slew of them are probably lawyers.
Which is where the battle begins.
Vail Resorts was cast as the Goliath in an attempt to trademark the name, "Park City."
Understandably, this resulted in a hue and cry from Park City, the David in this showdown.
The residents of this little Park City--most notably the small-business owners--were haired off.
"HOW CAN YOU TRADEMARK A NAME THAT'S IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN?!"
Every business that had "Park City" in its name was afraid for its very existence.
Letters to the editor were sent in volume.
Petitions were circulated signed--often with muddy paw prints. (This is a town that loves its dogs.)
The former longtime mayor, who fronts a popular local band and is something of a celebrity, stumped against the trademark application.
The USPTO was flooded with dozens of protests against the application.
AND THROUGH IT ALL, VAIL KEPT TRYING TO BE "REASONABLE"
Vail flacks kept saying the company had no intention of preventing local businesses from using the name "Park City."
That this was all about protecting their brand as a ski resort.
Which, of course, was called as BS by everyone in town.
If you own a trademark, you are obliged to protect it.
And that means going after anyone who is infringing upon your trademark.
As in, anyone who uses "Park City" in the name of their business--especially if it's skiing related.
As soon as the USPTO granted that trademark, the cease & desist letters would begin flying like snowflakes in a January blizzard.
FROM PARK CITY POWDER CATS TO PARK CITY PSYCHIC, BUSINESS OWNERS WOULD BE SLAPPED BY VAIL LEFT & RIGHT
It's the nature of the beast.
It doesn't matter what Vail's PR people say they won't do.
They still have to do it.
It's what trademark protection is all about.
There's a lawyer in New Orleans who owns a bowling alley that features live music.
That lawyer also owns the trademark for Rock & Bowl.
There are bowling alleys all over the U.S. that have received cease & desist letters for using the name, "Rock & Bowl."
A lot of people think that this lawyer is a douchebag.
And he may be. But it doesn't change the fact that he owns the trademark. That means he's obligated by the law to protect that trademark and send those C&Ds.
IF YOU DON'T DEFEND YOUR REGISTERED TRADEMARK, IT BECOMES WORTHLESS
Understandably, the protests locally against Vail were vocal and visible.
The icing on the cake was the big hillside outside of town.
There's a gigantic white "PC" carved into the hillside. It's visible for miles.
Some enterprising soul went up to the top of the hillside and applied a "TM" bug to the letters.
It was enormously popular with the local media.
It was all over the newspapers, TV and social media.
There was also a rally outside city hall, with hundreds of protesters carrying signs decrying Vail as a bully.
GUESS WHAT HAPPENED...
After months of fighting this PR battle, can you guess who finally backed down?
Vail Resorts finally threw in the towel.
Over the weekend, they withdrew the trademark application.
It's been big news here in town.
People are very happy.
Here's the one thing a lot of folks don't know.
The trademark application was never filed by Vail in the first place.
Nope. It was filed by longtime local business Powdr Corp.
It's reported that Vail inherited it as part of PCMR's assets.
That's not to say that Vail wouldn't have made such a filing anyway. They've done as much elsewhere.
There are stories about how Vail filed to trademark "Breckenridge," and nobody caught on. Then, the second the trademark was approved, every business in town violating the trademark received a C&D.
But that's not the real lesson for the small business owner.
The real lesson is that you can't take trademarks lightly.
Trademarks are highly valuable, and they can cost you dearly.
But they can also certainly be handled profitably and agreeably with all parties.
WE'VE TOLD SUCH STORIES RIGHT HERE
The Spangler Candy Company is huge.
Yet they and a little Utah startup were able to come to a no-cash agreement over the use of Spangler's trademark for Pop Art Snacks.
There's a multi-billion-dollar international company that is named under an agreement with a dinky little restaurant on a mountain road outside Denver: Hard Rock Café.
Small businesses and big companies can get along with regard to trademarks.
But that doesn't change the fact that trademarks are like any other property.
They are worth big money.
Treat them accordingly.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.