I had the great fortune to attend the recent FUSE conference held in Chicago for design and branding professionals, and see Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock speak.

spurlock My friend on the left is Kitty Hart from Capsule, who blogged about FUSE in the post entitled “Day 3: A Morning of Design Heroes.” My friend and colleague Steve Baird also blogged about the conference. Morgan Spurlock’s presentation was as amazing, as you would expect. I will merely focus on one of the areas in which he enlightened us.

When the iconic brand GE approached Mr. Spurlock, asking him to promote their brand by showing their “cool” MRIs, he said NO! Instead, he convinced GE to sponsor an important issue, and thereby connect its brand with an emotional topic. What a success!

It was hard to hold back the tears when he showed the GE-funded Focus Forward video clip entitled “Fire With Fire,” which shows a six-year old girl’s battle with terminal cancer. The GE logo was bookended — being shown at both the beginning and the end of the clip.

SPOILER BELOW! I highly recommend watching the clip before reading more of this blog post.

The Reader’s Digest version (for those of you who did not watch the video clip) is that the doctors in Philadelphia tried an innovative new treatment of injecting modified HIV cells into the girl’s blood. This modification kept the cells from infecting her with HIV, and at the same time these cells violently attacked her tumors. Remarkably, a girl with no chance of recovery was CURED!

I do not know about you, but this clip made me want to buy a GE light bulb. This video clip shows the power of emotion (and Morgan Spurlock’s genius). Indeed, this vignette even made me think that GE may have even had a hand in her recovery, through providing products or medical devices.

Marketing genius!

–Dan Kelly, Attorney

Meet my trusty GE Electronic Digital FM/AM Clock Radio, Model No. 7-4624:

I don’t know if I can pinpoint it exactly, but this puppy has been with me for somewhere along the lines of twenty-eight years. It has been with me through junior high, high school, college, teaching, law school, lawyerdom, marriage, and the births of two children. A few weeks ago, it just stopped working. I went to work one morning, it was on my dresser faithfully displaying the time, and when I returned in the evening, no signs of life. No lights, no sounds, nothing.

OK, so this is a silly clock radio, but I think that I would be hard pressed to find another piece of personal property that has been with me this long. Its demise has led me to thinking: is twenty-eight years a long service life these days for a small appliance, or should I expect more? I am sure that there are much older clock radios and alarm clocks still working faithfully, and some younger models that long ago gave up the ghost.

I have frequently commented that when it comes to material goods, most of us live in a disposable society. We buy things, use them, they break, we discard them, and if we still have a need, replace them. I have also frequently repeated the trite but true phrase that you generally get what you pay for. Among competing goods, price is often a proxy for quality, or at least durability.

As readers will know, trademarks are repositories of goodwill, and they are also repositories of ill will. Of all the things that trademark law treats, it does not and, to my knowledge has never attempted to, measure or quantify goodwill. Measuring goodwill is, in many respects, the province of each individual consumer and the marketplace in general. We have some legal safety nets, such as products liability laws, laws prohibiting fraud, and the like, but assuming a company’s goods and services are above these floors, we, as consumers, can either take what is on offer or vote with our feet.

So this radio, for which my parents probably paid about ten bucks in the 80’s, has given twenty-eight years of service. It should be no surprise that it fared much better than the truly disposable Twins Countdown Timer. But did it die young? I’m inclined to think that twenty-eight years is a pretty good service life for an electronic clock radio, but I fear that my standards are low, that we live in an era of inflated goodwill. What about all of the older clock radios still faithfully chugging away? The spring-wound double-bell alarm clocks from long ago that are still faithfully ticking? Must products give a lifetime of service to be good? Do I reward GE with the purchase of a replacement clock radio based on this performance? Where does one buy heirloom quality clock radios? I don’t know the answers. I’m just asking the questions.

by Anthony Shore, Operative Words

There was a time when a simple, honest name was good enough.

Venerable brands like General Electric, Kentucky Fried Chicken, National Biscuit Company and International Business Machines didn’t hide their business name behind metaphors or fuzzy ideas. Each name was a hammer. It delivered one message with brute, blunt force. And it was good…for a while.‚Ä®‚Ä®

Eventually those companies established a path followed by countless others. They cut short their names to cut free of their restrictions, trading names too burdened with meaning for ones that were utterly meaningless: GE, KFC, Nabisco, IBM.

The trend in naming since has been away from the harsh, direct light of descriptive names and towards the shaded canopy of evocative and arbitrary ones. The change is partly motivated by necessity, as descriptive names are difficult or impossible to protect as trademarks.

But it’s not just the law: It’s a good idea. Descriptive names are similar to other descriptive names so they aren’t differentiated and thus don’t get noticed (not without a ton of money).‚Ä®‚Ä®

Today, the vast majority of brand names are not descriptive at all.

And I think people are getting tired of it.

The pendulum is swinging back, towards names — and marketing in general — that’s honest and bullshit-free. Maybe even humble.

Living in San Francisco, I’ve sought examples of words in commerce that speak the unvarnished truth. I’ve documented some of these sightings with my cell phone camera. Several relate to food because I am a gastropod.‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®

This tidy kiosk is a perfect setting for a brand called Batter. It’s a name that’s immediate, short, and to the point with nothing artificial added. It suggests their baked goods are as pure and simple.

Continue Reading Truth is Stronger Than Fiction