Brand Protection Strategies

by David Mitchel, Vice President of Marketing at Norton Mitchel Marketing

Branding is an intricate and complicated process. Every aspect of the marketing mix must be handled with care. Brand managers watch their brands in the same manner that most parents care for a newborn child. However, there is an element of marketing communications that brand management teams are unable to directly control: pop culture references about the brands in what appear to be non product placement contexts. These pop culture references can come from both old and new media. They are often found in music, and frequently occur in the hip hop genre. In recent years, brands have been prominent parts of popular YouTube videos. As social media evolves, it has the potential to present new threats for brands. With regard to pop culture references, it is a challenging minefield that brands must negotiate carefully in order to prevent them from detracting from marketing strategy.

In 2003, hip hop artist 50 Cent became a huge sensation with the album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”. One of the many hit songs from that album was “In Da Club”. Near the beginning of the song, the lyric “we gon’ sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday” appears. This is not the only time that the Bacardi brand has been mentioned in song lyrics, but it is certainly one of the more prominent references. In its advertising over the years, Bacardi has crafted an image of being a fun brand, as their ads often feature a party scene. This may have inspired 50 Cent to write the lyric in the way that he did. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bacardi featured a “Bacardi By Night” print advertising campaign. These ads clearly targeted individuals with serious jobs and emphasized that Bacardi was a part of their work-life balance.   Additionally, Bacardi has also used their long standing and rich history as a selling proposition in advertising. Bacardi’s association with fun and partying may have attracted the hip hop element, as extravagant partying is a common theme of hip hop imagery. However, this association is tenuous at best and does not appear to be widely perceived. Bacardi has strongly withstood unsolicited pop culture references and its well refined marketing communication messages have helped to ensure that they remain the world’s largest spirits brand.


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Frequently brand owners find themselves in the position of wanting or needing to explain the thinking behind their name, mark, and/or brand. Sometimes the explanations appear publicly on product packaging, websites, catalogs, brochures, advertising, and frequently in press releases, or perhaps in statements to reporters, especially when trademark litigation concerning the brand is involved. Such explanations about the brand’s

It’s not every day you get a chance to use that phrase in a headline. But, what may become known as the "The Cayman Kerfuffle", presents the perfect opportunity.

Would a reasonable person find these confusingly similar?

         

$51,000 Blue Cayman                                                      $30 Blue Cayman

Let’s see, one is a sleek, pricey, well-engineered, high

Earlier this month, I noted Accenture’s words in publicly ending its relationship with Tiger Woods, having announced around December 13, 2009, that it would "immediately transition" to a new ad campaign, and then compared those words to the company’s actions in continuing to run the Tiger Woods airport ads even three weeks after their termination announcement. Right

When brands and trademarks are at risk of being infringed, swift and immediate protective action is required, given the inherently reputational nature of the resulting damage. That is why the law typically presumes the necessary "irreparable damage" when issuing immediate injunctive relief, once a plaintiff is able to show, among other things, that it is likely to win its trademark infringement claim. Without "irreparable harm or damage" there can be no court’s injunction because the simple payment of money will right the wrong.

But, what about outside the context of trademark infringement and court ordered injunctions, in the world of contracts, for example, when a sponsor no longer wants to be associated with a celebrity endorser that has become damaging to the sponsor’s reputation? Is the same degree of immediacy required to erase all public signs of the relationship? Perhaps it depends on whether the damage rises to the level of irreparable damage or harm. If so, then perhaps no amount of money will be or should be spared to pull the ads immediately and stop the reputational bleeding.

One might ask how this dynamic has played out between Accenture and Tiger Woods.

After the New Year, and about three weeks after Accenture announced it had ended its relationship with Tiger Woods, I noticed a multitude of Accenture ads in three different airports (Minneapolis, Dallas, and Phoenix), all featuring guess who? Tiger.

My first thought was genuine surprise to see them, given it had been three weeks, and further given that Accenture was so promptly out of the gate as the first sponsor to publicly sever its ties with Tiger. Indeed, two weeks after Tiger’s reputational scandal broke in the news, Accenture announced Tiger "is no longer the right representative" for Accenture’s advertising, and it was reported the company would "immediately transition" to a new advertising campaign. Some experts even cautioned that Accenture’s Tiger billboards and airport advertising "need to be replaced quickly" for obvious reasons, as they now "damage" Accenture’s brand and reputation.

So, how damaging to the Accenture brand is the lingering association with Tiger and the smirks that seem to follow given the now rather awkward branding messages that Accenture had adopted as part of the Tiger relationship? If you read Accenture’s words from December 13, how quickly they were announced, and how others have praised Accenture for taking this swift and necessary action, the damage sounds quite serious, perhaps even irreparable, but isn’t talk cheap? Or at least, more inexpensive than actions? 

For example, I’m certain the cost of scrubbing a website and purging corporate headquarters of any sign that Accenture still knows "what it takes to be a tiger" is far less than the cost of purging all airports of any trace of the Accenture/Tiger endorsement arrangement. In any event, it would have been more than mildly interesting to be part of the dialogue that must have quantified the cost of implementing the directive for an "immediate" transition from Tiger, and the alternative quantifications of slower transition plans, and the one that the company eventually settled upon.

Do you agree that the greater the damage to Accenture, the more "immediate" the transition would have been, i.e., days, not weeks or months?


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The October/November issue of Brand Packaging magazine just hit the streets and I’m deeply honored to say that my piece entitled "A Trademark Touch: Strategies for Owning and Protecting Touchmarks" is this issue’s "cover story" (minus the skull and crossbones).

The digital version can be read here. I hope you find it

This sponsored banner ad is currently appearing in AdAge’s Daily News on-line newsletter:

How many boxes of tissue do you suppose this ad is responsible for selling?

If the answer is none, that is probably fine with Kimberly-Clark since the return on investment for this ad is measured quite differently, I’m sure, given how the