The anticipation is building for this inaugural battle of the bands to raise money for a great cause:

“The Twin Cities advertising and communications industry lacks diversity. It’s a serious challenge. And it’s a problem that won’t be solved overnight. But there’s no reason we can’t have a little fun as we work to ensure our industry better reflects society as a whole.”

“The local marketing community will descend on First Avenue on December 6 for a friendly battle-of-the-bands competition that will raise scholarship money for diverse students seeking a career in the advertising and communications field. The scholarship fund is part of a new collaboration between the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts, CLAgency, its student-run agency, and The BrandLab.”

We look forward to spending time with our very creative friends in the Twin Cities advertising and communications community — thrilled to be the law firm sponsor of this incredible event, please join us at First Avenue Thursday December 6, from 5 – 11 PM ($20 tickets are available here).

OK, we won’t be singing the notes, strumming the guitars, pounding the keyboards, or blowing on any horns ourselves, but we’ll proudly beat the drum hard for this awesome competition and fundraiser event, as we sip on our signature cocktail for the evening, please come, see you soon:

For those interested in learning more about the valuable benefits of federal trademark registration and how to successfully navigate the registration process at the USPTO, it’s time to mark your calendars for an upcoming educational opportunity in Minneapolis on Tuesday February 16, 2016.

Here is the official brochure for the event, here is an online link for information on how to register for this event, and a listing of the talented panel of speakers for the day.

Attendees of this live Minnesota Continuing Legal Education full day seminar will learn how to overcome a wide variety of grounds for refusal, benefit from strategies and valuable tips for handling ex parte appeals and requests for reconsideration, understand how TTAB proceedings can help a brand owner’s registration efforts, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s recent B&B Hardware decision, and receive valuable insights from former USPTO Examining Attorneys.

As an added bonus over the lunch hour, attendees will learn how to develop a reputation for thought leadership using various social media tools, as I moderate an engaging discussion with these social media mavens: Aaron Keller of Capsule, Shayla Stern of Fast Horse, Seth Leventhal of Minnesota Litigator, and last, but certainly not least, Ron Coleman of Likelihood of Confusion.

We’re counting the days, and we hope to see you there . . . .

Imagine my surprise this morning, after having blogged just yesterday about rote airline instructions concerning the danger of electronic devices in Lacking Credibility, to see the cover story for USA Today read: "Many Fliers Refuse to Turn Off Electronic Gadgets."

Incidentally, not this Gadget, but that’s another story altogether.

Recall that yesterday, in writing about the importance of brand credibility in the airline industry, I was somewhat critical of the Christian Science Monitor’s platitudinous coverage of the subject:

"I’d like to see the evidence or at least something other than conclusory statements on the subject of signal interference. Without more substance or explanation, passenger skepticism is fueled, and credibility is out the window without a parachute."

USA Today to the rescue of the airline industry’s credibility on signal interference warnings:

"Gadget-dependent fliers are turning a deaf ear to flight attendants’ instructions to turn off their devices during takeoff and landing, despite decades of government warnings, a USA TODAY investigation shows."

"The investigation, which reviewed thousands of pages of technical documents and surveyed hundreds of frequent fliers, also confirm that the worry about electronics on planes is not baseless: The devices emit radio signals that can interfere with cockpit instruments and flight systems."

Now, imagine my further surprise that USA Today is the designated news source that is going to lead the charge to convince skeptical passengers that the in flight warnings are legit — being aware of the smart folks over at Fast Horse’s Idea Peep Show — who have raised more than a few questions about the level of credibility that USA Today brings to the table:

So, how likely is it that USA Today will turn the tide on the growing skepticism of air passengers?

I don’t know, but it seems like a good opportunity for a compelling PR campaign if the data really yields cause for concern.

But, here’s the first PR hurdle: If the concern is real and legitimate why do airlines leave to chance whether the hundreds of electronic devices on any given flight are actually turned off before they are put in someone’s purse, pocket, pouch, or otherwise temporarily stowed?

Sorry USA Today, I still prefer the idea of a creative airline marketer turning the electronics debate into a brand messaging opportunity — one that inspires credibility and consumer loyalty instead of simply sending passengers into another form of tailspin.

Our friend Jorg over at the Idea Peepshow wrote earlier this week about the importance of taking the time to think — how true.

It’s good to know that Jorg’s 1949 Ford tractor serves a greater purpose than simply helping him mow the grass at his country orchard; it provides a suitable place/vehicle to Just Think.

And, as Seth Godin has written before, The Space Matters.

Loyal DuetsBlog readers will recall from my previous post Finding Your Place for Making Big Ideas, a lot of good thinking for me has occurred in my 104 degree outdoor hot tub, particularly during a cold Minnesota winter.

Just so you know, the hot tub is all fired up and ready to go, just waiting for that first snow fall.

Where do you choose to just think?

John Reinan, Senior Director at Fast Horse, a Minneapolis marketing agency

I love “orphan” cars — the marques that have gone out of business. Most of them are barely remembered by Baby Boomers, much less anyone younger. Packard, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Willys – these and other automakers often were stylistically and technically more advanced than Detroit’s Big Three, but they just couldn’t match the economies of scale that Ford, Chrysler and General Motors enjoyed.

I saw a number of orphan vehicles at the annual classic car show at Lake Harriet over the Memorial Day weekend, and it got me thinking: Could someone resurrect these old brands and use them in a modern marketing program?

Looks like I’m not the first one to have that thought. In researching the issue, I discovered an interesting recent case from the TTAB. It seems that an entrepreneur had been floating some design concepts for a custom-built car, to be called the Rambler. The last Rambler was produced in 1969 by American Motors, later absorbed by Chrysler.

Chrysler objected to the use of its predecessor brand mark. And, in a decision somewhat mystifying to a layman, the TTAB agreed – even though it smacked down Chrysler on nearly every aspect of the case.

The board found that Chrysler had abandoned the Rambler mark for autos; had no plans to ever build another car by that name; didn’t sell parts or services using the name; and had not established rights in the mark relating to some replica models marketed by the Franklin Mint and others.

All Chrysler could show was that a third-party licensing agency had produced and marketed a few tchotchkes using the Rambler name: key rings, calendars, decals and assorted other items. But those tchotchkes saved Chrysler’s bacon.

The TTAB held that those items created a likelihood of confusion — that the buyer of a newly reborn Rambler automobile would ascribe a single source to the products.

Thus, even though the board specifically found that Chrysler had abandoned the Rambler mark for automobiles, its preservation of the mark in the form of third-party key rings was enough to prevent anyone else from using the mark in the arena in which Chrysler had abandoned it.

The likelihood of anyone successfully building and selling a custom car is pretty small, no matter whether they call it a Rambler or anything else. So I don’t see this decision as a horrible miscarriage of justice. Still, it does seem a shame that these old brand marks can be retained by companies that have let decades go by with no evidence that they give a damn about them.

The people who care most about Ramblers and Packards and Studebakers are the ones who have invested their own time, money and sweat in keeping alive the memories – and the physical manifestations – of these once-great marques.

Who’s got a better moral right to these brand marks: the people who killed them or the people who are keeping them alive?

—George Fiddler, Client Relationship Manager, Fast Horse Inc.

Last Saturday night I watched the entire 2011 Taco Bell Skills Challenge, an NBA All-Star competition that puts some of the league’s best point guards through an obstacle course of shooting, passing and dribbling. I somehow turned the tube off thinking about trends in modern crisis communication strategy.

How did this happen? I noticed that a couple of the participants in the basketball drill seemed to have a game plan in place intended to preserve energy, whereas others just appeared content on figuring out their strategy as they went. This then made me think more deeply about the proactive approach that the Taco Bell marketing team took to a disparate recent challenge. Strange connection, I know, but I also happened to be eating a burrito at the time and you know how pervasive the branding is at these sponsored events – it was hard not to think about tacos.  

The aforementioned other Taco Bell–related challenge is the strategy that had to be developed after a Montgomery, Alabama–based law firm filed a class action lawsuit against the fast food chain last month. If you’re not familiar with the lawsuit, here are the lead sentences in its Nature of the Action section:

“This is a consumer rights class action challenging Taco Bell’s practice of representing to consumers that the filling in many of its “beef” food items is “seasoned ground beef” or “seasoned beef,” when in fact a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef. Rather than beef, these food items are actually made with a substance known as “taco meat filling.””

I guess I didn’t notice it as much as it happened, but the approach that Taco Bell took was pretty bold. Rather than shying away from the claims or preparing a response strategy for if and when consumers come knocking, the company took the media–buying initiative and ran full-page ads proclaiming “Thank You For Suing Us."

It also made the lawsuit a focal point of its website with video responses from its CEO and links to the nutritional value of its products. Furthermore, it changed the copy in its paid–search advertising from "Taco Bell" to "Taco Bell Official Facts" about the beef lawsuit.

Surely Taco Bell’s legal folks were confident that the claims made against the brand weren’t legitimate. If the lawsuit was regarding an issue that wasn’t backed by USDA certification, then it’s doubtful the company would’ve brought the issue front and center like it did with its consumers, but it’s still fairly surprising that a major company would choose to bring more attention to a lawsuit, any lawsuit, regardless of how dubious the claims may be. Too many consumers will hear the words ‘lawsuit’ and ‘ingredients’ and make up their mind. It seems that the company realized there was potential for rampant consumer backlash and that it was best to put out the fire before much of one could get started. 

It’s been a month, but it seems like that decision was the right choice. The strategy exposed more people to the lawsuit, but the humor, confidence and transparency that the brand showed were consumer–friendly moves that might have saved an angry online outrage that can escalate in a drop of a dime (see: Kenneth Cole) from happening.

It’s interesting to imagine if this had happened with Taco Bell five years ago and if the brand would’ve taken the same approach before social media changed the communications landscape. Even if it’s out of the fear of consequence, the digital era might just be making brands become better listeners and more honest (see: Dominos). In part so I can finally get this pun out: what do you think the future holds for when someone has a beef with big businesses?

John Reinan, Senior Director at Fast Horse, a Minneapolis marketing agency

Let’s face it: Social media are taking over the world. And the biggest social medium of them all, Facebook, is well on the way to grabbing a premier piece of trademark turf.

Facebook has applied for a trademark on the word “face” when used in telecommunication services: “namely, providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages among computer users in the field of general interest and concerning social and entertainment subject matter.” (See the application here)

The application was first filed back in 2005, when you still had to have an e-mail address ending in .edu to join the site. Last month, a Notice of Allowance was issued, bringing Facebook one step closer to landing its mark.

The blogosphere has been a-twitter over this, fearing that Facebook will somehow be able to expunge the word “face” from every Internet site but its own. And to a non-lawyer, Facebook’s trademark application does seem very broad.

Transmission of messages among computer users in the field of general interest? Someone explain to me what kind of Internet-based communication would not be covered under that definition. Perhaps the bulletin board qualifier narrows it sufficiently.

However, I find it hard to believe that trademark laws would actually let a company appropriate a common English noun – not to mention a body part possessed by every human.

But try telling that to marketing blogger Frank Reed, who notes that Facebook also has gone after sites with the word “book” in their names, like Teachbook and Placebook.

Says Reed: “Be sure to enjoy what may be limited time using the words ‘face’ and ‘book’ without Facebook’s permission. Maybe one day the Facebook chip implanted in account holders will give a little electrical shock when they step out of line and say something that could be reminiscent of a normal conversation that was once part of the public domain.”

I’d love to hear what the trademark attorneys think. How far will Facebook be able to go?


—Andrew Miller, Intern, Fast Horse Inc.

In terms of name recognition, PING is to golf what Louisville Slugger is to baseball, so you’re right if you found it odd Apple would name its new music-based social network, of all things, Ping.

Apple is no stranger to trademark litigation after wrangling with Cisco (“iPhone”) and Fujitsu (“iPad”), but it reached what seems to be a mutually beneficial agreement with Karsten Manufacturing Corporation/PING Golf before product launch. Ping (the social network) hit one million users in its first 48 hours, despite generally poor reviews due to a confusing interface and lack of Facebook integration. Give it time – Ping will catch fire.

On Sept. 1, the day Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced Ping at the Apple Special Event, Karsten/PING issued this highly opportunistic press release:

This announcement involves two companies that were founded by visionaries who created products that greatly impacted their industries.  Karsten Solheim invented the PING® putter in his Redwood City, California garage and went on to revolutionize the golf equipment industry.   The groundbreaking first Apple® computer was developed in nearby Palo Alto in 1976.

‘We are pleased to enter into this agreement with Apple,’ said John Solheim, Chairman and CEO of Karsten Manufacturing Corporation and PING.  ‘Like PING, Apple carries a reputation for innovation and quality.  I have always had great respect for companies that have changed and improved the ways things are done and I continue to model PING along those lines.  Apple is a truly great example of this kind of enterprise.’

(As an avid golfer and Mac addict, I can’t help but fantasize a golf club-meets-mp3 player hybrid. It’s not as crazy as you might think.)

Give Solheim credit for not only entering agreement with Apple, but also seeing it as an opportunity to strengthen the PING brand. Often, trademark agreements are based on one of two concerns — avoiding consumer confusion or maintaining the integrity of a brand. In allowing Apple to use the “ping” name, PING actually improved its own brand.

PING is a privately held company, so there was no concern over investor fallout. Will it spike late-season golf sales? Maybe not. The point is golfers love new technology and innovation, and they’re willing to spend thousands to keep their golf bag stocked with the latest and greatest equipment. PING got paid to associate its name with one of the world’s most respected personal technology brands.

Talk about a tap-in.