My post from a couple of days ago, commenting on Chick-fil-A’s EAT MOR CHIKIN slogan and the associated Cow Campaign and advertisements, neglected to discuss an issue — one so important — that I’m compelled to raise it now, as it appears to have disturbed my otherwise healthy cognitive system.

It has disturbed me as much as one of my amphibian-loving sons was disturbed by what I imagine is a local Geek Squad competitor in Minnesota called Tech-Toads, having the following logo:

As we drove by the new store-front signage, he remarked: "That makes no sense, that’s a frog, not a toad." I asked how he knew, but he was confident that "only frogs catch insects with their sticky tongues, not toads." Out loud I’m saying, "nice catch, son," because I’m thinking inside "what do I know," but later I’m looking for answers online (and good blog-fodder).

As it turns out, toads actually do "catch food with their long skinny tongues," sorry son. Perhaps it was the color of the amphibian that threw him? Come to think of it, I don’t believe I’ve seen a toad with such a vibrant green color before either. Or, perhaps it was the absence of dry, leathery skin?

Whatever the reason, the incongruity I saw in the name, logo, and underlying business wasn’t related to leathery skin, sticky tongues, or color, it was based on my association of the word "toad" as seriously lacking in speed, which is a quality and feature cleverly made fun of in the world of computer services and internet access (thanks, Comcast), at least when speed just isn’t there.

But I digress, back to the cows. The cause of my disturbed cognitive system concerning the Chick-fil-A cows has been: Aren’t they supposed to be protesting Holstein dairy cows?

In other words, the kind of cows that have udders that are milked for milk, not beef?

And, if so, why should these cows be obsessing over how much chicken is eaten by the public, as compared to beef? It isn’t their problem, no self-interest to preserve here, I’m thinking.

To make matters worse, my suspicions of incongruity and growing conspiracy, were only fueled by the fact that every Chick-fil-A cow I could find online had a placard or something else obstructing any visual confirmation of what glands should be present in that general anatomical vicinity, if my Holstein suspicion was correct:

Yet once again, my hopes of documenting another example of incongruity in advertising was dashed, as soon as I learned that apparently there is a market for Holstein beef after all.

In the end, my obsessive quest for exposing a conspiracy and identifying evidence of another incongruity in advertising, naming, or visual identity, may have been flawed from the start, as so eloquently explained by John Furgurson of BrandInsightBlog, only weeks ago:

"Incongruity in advertising is a mismatch between an element in the ad (product, brand, endorser, music, word, photo, etc.) and an exiting frame of reference.
Academic research on the subject has shown that ‘incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system’…
That’s precisely what advertising people are going for; a disturbance in your thinking that causes you to pause, consider or reflect on the brand.
‘Empirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with incongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity, and may even respond positively to the incongruity.’
On the other hand, ads, tweets, presentations and websites that contain nothing new or different will not be processed at all."

Perhaps just a hint of false incongruity is the best of both worlds for a marketer. In the end, it can be defended as not actually being incongruous, for those that care, but up until the very end of that debate, there can be a lot of discussion and reflection, or at least self-debate, as this longer-than-anticipated blog post alone as demonstrated.

So, where do you stand on intentionally "disturbing cognitive systems" and the broader strategic issue of using incongruity in advertising, naming, and visual identity?

by James Mahoney, Creative director/writer at Razor’s Edge Communications

What does a 42-year-old military offensive have to do with branding and social media? Quite a bit, as it happens. Consider four seemingly unrelated situations:

First, clothing purveyor Gap experienced an alleged misadventure recently when it unveiled a "new logo" on its website, only to reinstate the old logo a week later in the face of withering online vilification.

Second, Tropicana experienced a real misadventure when the company jettisoned its venerable and valuable "straw in an orange" for a new look and identity. That disastrous move was reversed in the face of actual withering response: a precipitous sales drop that validated the hue and cry.

Third, a few years ago, The Wall Street Journal revamped its look and feel. As change like this always does, this generated initial resistance in the readership, who had to recalibrate their familiarity with the paper. But the change was durable and the transition period short. Since then, the WSJ has continued to successfully tinker with the design and content.

Fourth, history students, and those of us old enough, will be familiar with the 1968 Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War. For others, here’s a brief description: At a critical moment in that war, the North Vietnamese launched simultaneous attacks across South Vietnam during the normal New Year’s armistice. While the offensive was a resounding and crippling military defeat for North Vietnam*, it was perceived as a convincing victory for them by the American public, whose only points of reference were frightening scenes of bloody combat in near-realtime on our living room TVs, and commentary in the media.

So, what’s the connection? All four were abrupt events that dislocated a status quo. All four involved branding and media, social and otherwise. Two were successful; two weren’t.

Continue Reading Gap, Tropicana, The Wall Street Journal, and the 1968 Tet Offensive

Barry Wise, Co-founder of KnowEm.com

Recently Gap rolled out a new logo (at least on their website – no word yet as to whether the same logo will be used in stores), and already a twitter account impersonating the logo itself is out there – @GapLogo. This is obviously not an official company account, but simply someone who wants to state their opinions and have some fun with the new Gap logo. This is a clear case of trademarked logo infringement — someone has decided to use a brand’s protected image for their own purposes on a social network. What prompted the fake account was apparently an attempt by the Gap to crowdsource ideas for their new logo on Facebook, which has resulted in hundreds of unhappy fans.

Everyone probably remembers the fake @BPglobalPR Twitter account which was created to make fun of BP’s handling of the gulf oil spill. A lot of people questioned the reasons why Twitter allowed them to continue to impersonate a major brand and corporation, but did you take a look at the logo they used? They took BP’s actual trademarked sunburst logo, photoshopped it black and white and added a few oil drips for good measure. Aside from actively impersonating the company’s PR team, they blatantly infringed on the trademarked image.

Twitter does have a Trademark Violation Policy, which states

Using a company or business name, logo, or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark policy violation.

They do assert they will suspend or release an account in violation, but they appear to be either very slow or very reluctant to take any action on this policy.

This kind of logo impersonation raises the question, what kind of protection do brand and trademark owners have on social networks? If large companies like BP and Gap can be so easily impersonated and have their logos misused with no repercussions, what chance do you think your trademarked brand or logo will have in social media?

–Susan Perera, Attorney

Well, it appears that yesterday’s guest blogger, Andrew Miller, and I are on the same wavelength as I also prepared some thoughts on the new iTunes Ping social networking platform. I guess such is the case in the world of social media where current events can be discussed ad nauseam in a matter of minutes.

Apple’s current hot topic is the release of iTunes 10 which encompassed multiple trademark surprises.  The most noticeable change can be seen on your desktop if you have upgraded your iTunes software.

You may have noticed the iTunes logo has changed from:                             To:

                

If you didn’t watch the lengthy keynote presentation, Steve Jobs announced that the decision to ditch the old CD logo was made due to the fact that iTunes sales are on pace to surpass CD sales within the next year. Already, there has been quite a bit of criticism regarding the new logo, discussed in depth in Clinton Duncan’s post at Brand New.

The second trademark surprise was the addition of iTunes new social networking platform, which has been named Ping. Surely it was only a matter of time before Apple tried to take a bite out of the social network market but – Ping? 

Is anyone else surprised with the name choice? Ping is a well-known computer function for testing a connection between two computers.  And, even if you’re not a computer whiz you may be familiar with “ping” from Blackberry Messenger, which has a “ping” function that notifies the recipient of a message. Thus, Ping for connecting and sending messages to your friends via a social networking tool is not all that original.

What is even more interesting is that Apple entered into a license agreement with the well-known PING golf equipment brand to use the mark. What do golf clubs have to do with music oriented social networking you might ask? Well, Karsten Manufacturing (the owner of the registered PING mark for golf equipment) actually applied for numerous PING marks in connection with computer and online services just months ago. Take a look at a few of the applied for marks here, here, and here. Thus, Apple’s social networking venture might have created a potential risk of confusion with Karsten’s use of PING in connection with the applied-for marks.

Andrew’s earlier post aptly identifies the benefits that Karsten will receive out of the license agreement, namely, possible financial gain and association with a bleeding-edge technology company.

But, why did Apple pay for a license to use Ping, a snappy, but far from original mark? Apple could have easily chosen a mark that fit within its i-family of marks or, following in the footsteps of it’s world famous Apple mark, it could have chosen something arbitrary and new, either of these choices would have launched the new concept without the need for a license agreement.

Maybe this decision is not all that surprising for Apple. As you might remember, Dan opined on a similar trademark clearance issue with iPad earlier this year. What are your thoughts on the new Ping social media adventure?