What are the odds that the signature on the cover of Taylor Swift’s self-titled debut album from 2006 depicts her actual and personal signature (she would have been 17 at the time)?

Or, could it be that the highly marketed and consistent trademark signature is more about the branding and packaging of the artist and not actually her own handwriting or penmanship?

If the above signature is not actually penned by Taylor Swift what would that say about her brand, if anything? Would it make her brand any less authentic? Or does a vocal artist get a pass on handwriting, penmanship, and personal signatures, especially at the age of 17, and even thereafter, since it doesn’t affect the authenticity of the voice (remember Milli Vanilli?) (Classic YouTube video here).

Do you suppose TS fans have an expectation that the Taylor Swift signature trademark represents her actual, personal signature? If so, would their decision to purchase goods be affected if the signature was actually penned by another? Probably not, but if so, would that subject the trademark registration to cancellation on deceptiveness grounds? Or, on the other hand, do fans assume and expect the trademark signature to be part of the artist’s professional handling, more like they would view assistance from a make-up artist, hair stylist, and/or airbrushing expert?

Now, given all that, as a trademark type, how would you answer the apparently frequent question: "How can I get a Taylor Swift Autograph"?

As we learned with the recent criticism involving Sarah and Bristol Palin’s attorney (who failed to obtain the necessary written consents at the time of application), perhaps, the best bet might be to scour the USPTO database for Ms. Swift’s personal written consent to federally register the Taylor Swift name as a trademark, as TMEP 1206.04(a) reads:

Must Be Personally Signed. When a name, portrait, or signature in a mark identifies a particular living individual . . . the mark can be registered only with the written consent of the individual . . . . The consent must be a written consent to the registration of the identifying matter as a mark, and must be personally signed by the individual whose name or likeness appears in the mark.

Just don’t be surprised if it looks nothing like the signature appearing on her album/CD covers:

The highly marketed and consistently branded trademark signature is on the left and Ms. Swift’s personal signature, as submitted to the U.S. Trademark Office, on January 8, 2008, is on the right.

Linked here are some additional written consents with Taylor Swift’s personal signature as of May 11, 2009, October 5, 2010, and December 15, 2010. Not exactly a model of brand consistency. 

More to the point of consistency, or the lack thereof, our challenge to handwriting experts is below the jump, showing a collage of photos for sale on eBay, each claiming to be signed by "the" Taylor Swift:


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— Laura Gutierrez

Whether you believe in personal branding or not, there is some truth to the fact that how you portray yourself off- and on-line is extremely important. Call it “personal branding” or online reputation…whatever you want, as long as you monitor it and shape it in the way you’d like.

A major component

It is probably safe to assume that Channel 45 obtained permission to use Jennifer Aniston’s likeness and exploit her right of publicity in promoting viewership of syndicated Friends television programs. That’s a deal where everyone appears to win, Channel 45, viewers, advertisers, Aniston, and the other Friends cast members who share in the syndication royalties along with Ms. Aniston.

Tiger Woods drives by Allison.jpg

The impact of the Tiger Woods scandal in branding can be viewed from two different perspectives. The first perspective comes from the point of view of the companies that paid Woods to endorse their products. The second perspective is how the personal brand of Tiger Woods will be impacted as the smoke clears from this series of events.

Two professors in University of California-Davis’ Economics Department attempted to measure the impact from the first perspective. They claimed that shareholders in publicly traded companies that Woods endorsed lost $5-12 billion in the weeks that followed the car accident in Florida that set off the scandal. They undoubtedly have an interesting perspective, but there are limiting factors in their research. However, an undisputable fact of the Tiger Woods scandal is that it put a lot of brand management teams in a very delicate situation. Brand managers at firms where Woods served as an endorser had to consider how their brands would be perceived by their target consumers if they were to continue the relationship. It is not an enviable position. 

When a brand chooses to link arms with a celebrity endorser, it must consider which celebrities will be effective endorsers. It is essential to select celebrities that will positively contribute to revenue growth and profitability. I believe that a celebrity endorser is most effective when the target consumer perceives them as attractive or desirable in some fashion and the product is related to the expertise of the celebrity. For example, Michael Jordan was an effective endorser of both Nike and Gatorade because of his status as an elite athlete and the fact that both brands are related to athletic performance. Gisele Bundchen is an effective endorser for Dolce & Gabbana fragrances because scent is an important aspect of appearance and she is the embodiment of phenomenal appearance. She would be far less effective as a celebrity endorser for the Toyota Camry. With regards to Tiger Woods, he is most effective in endorsing Nike Golf products and any other golf related brands. His effect is diminished for brands like Gillette and AT&T.


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 Tiger Woods drives by Allison.jpg

Tiger Woods’ scandal proves once again that celebrity gossip mongering is a blood sport. The bigger the celebrity, the more the blood will flow. In Tiger’s case, he can open up a blood bank. Though it’s unlikely to reach the insanity that was unleashed when Michael Jackson died last summer, it will take the feeding frenzy to a new, all-time low, not because of his marital infidelity, but because of his immense stature as an iconic personality and global brand.

Our addiction to sycophantic enabling of celebrity bad behavior is beyond the pale. We reward and celebrate mediocrity. We give a moral equivalency and equal airtime to those knowingly doing the wrong thing. The discussion isn’t about right versus wrong anymore, but instead the takeaway is “don’t get caught!” Woods’ actions aren’t praise-worthy, but the punishment meted out in the court of public opinion of his private, personal situation is off the charts. Tiger’s poor job at managing the damage control process seems to be as big an affront to the public as what got him into this position.

His off-links activities are irrelevant to the golf world in the scheme of what he has done for the sport in the past 15 years. Let’s remember he plays golf and doesn’t hold elected public office. He didn’t impugn the integrity of his sport by betting or use performance enhancing drugs. Does Tiger Woods deserve to be vilified like O.J. Simpson, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Marv Albert, Pete Rose, Alex Rodriguez, and many others?


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We all would agree that “As Seen on TV” is one of the great brands of all time. The brilliant marketeers behind it recognized the extraordinary power of television – people believe as true what they see on TV.

Why that is I’m sure has been the subject of enumerable studies; after all it defines who we are as consumers and sets the stage for a marketplace where the phrase “targeted consumer” takes on real meaning. Between infomercials laden with celebrity endorsement, a tried and (sometimes) true tactic for moving people closer to their wallets coupled with compelling “just like my neighbor” testimonials, and home shopping networks with live celebrities and testimonials whose “it has to be true” quality rings true for millions of people, consumers are drawn to purchase like moths to a light.

The online world has taken this phenomenon and cranked it up a notch. The more modern version of “As Seen on TV”, its sister brand “As Seen on the Internet” – is an even more powerful lure. It is extraordinary how so many people believe that the “default” for the Internet is Truth, as if there were a mysterious group of censors and law enforcement officials who were reading everything found on the Internet to ensure that anything false or fraudulent automatically was removed. If only that were so.

Social networking has taken this propensity to believe anything electronically delivered to an even higher level. People tend to believe as true what others in their electronic neighborhoods say. This tends to be the case whatever the form of visual channel, from “expert” blogs in About.com, to the thousands of pseudo-news blogs, closed social environments like Facebook or MySpace, or in some form of IM (Include Twitter here). The stories of fraudulent promotion on Twitter already are legion. Add to this the hundreds, perhaps thousands of for-hire bloggers who will supply testimonials for a fee, and the potential for online, “As Seen on the Internet” consumer deception increases dramatically.

It was inevitable that at some point the FTC would have to step in. The Federal Trade Commission historically has taken consumer fraud seriously, but the massive amounts of online fraud, ranging from paid for false testimonials to the most severe forms of identity theft , have created a new vigor in that agency.

On December 1, 2009, new Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (the “Guides”), with heightened requirements for bloggers to disclose affiliations with sponsors of those endorsements, go into effect.  See FTC Press Release dated October 5, 2009, here.  The text of the Guides, 16 CFR Part 235, is available, here.  Although these Guides are advisory in nature and do not expand the scope of liability under Section 5, they are intended to provide guidance as to how the FTC would apply governing law to various fact patterns.


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