If you’ve paid attention to any billboards in the Twin Cities over the last year or so, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t discussed this one yet, knowing my passion for billboard ads:

The Kris Lindahl billboard ads — especially this one —  are hard to ignore. They are almost as ubiquitous as a certain iPhone Xs ad. Plus, this one strikes a pretty distinctive wingspan pose.

Apparently there is an art or science behind poses for real estate agents, but as far as I can tell from a Google search, none appear to cry out “wingspan” like Kris’ does, so is the pose ownable?

Seems pretty clear from how his name is used as a mark on this billboard that Mr. Lindahl’s eponymous Lindahl Realty firm is on the way to registering his personal name as a service mark.

While it isn’t always a cake walk, in obtaining federally-registered service mark rights in a personal name, what I’d really like to see Mr. Lindahl attempt next is registration of his wingspan pose.

What would you rate his chances, putting aside whether you like the above billboard ad or not?

How much do I believe in federal registration of trademarks and brand names? Well, this much:

I’ve always been a big fan of practicing what you preach. Actually walking the talk. Not just talk.

That mindset helps explain why we stuck with the suggestive name of this blog, even after the experts recommended against it several times, for SEO and other reasons. They do agree now.

Anyway, the registration issued in the nick of time, given my true fortune just two days earlier:

Seriously though, obtaining federal registration of a personal brand name can be a bit challenging.

A common refusal when personal names are involved is that they merely identify a person, and they fail to function as a mark, the very refusal the USPTO initially issued in my particular case:

“Registration is refused because the applied-for mark, as used on the specimen of record, is a personal name that identifies only the name of a specific individual; it does not function as a service mark to identify and distinguish applicant’s services from those of others and to indicate the source of applicant’s services.”

“In this case, the specimen shows the applied-for mark used only to identify the name of an individual and not as a service mark for applicant’s services because it is used to identify the author of blog posts, but does not separately indicate the source for any service. Applicant has applied for services including providing information in the field of law. The specimens shows the applied-for mark being used merely to name the author writing the posts, and to identify a particular individual and give information about him. The specimens include a short biography or “about the author” post with the name of the author or individual at the top, and several posts that show the applied-for mark included only as “By Steve Baird.” This shows the applied-for mark being used in a by-line, attributing authorship, but not identifying source. The applied-for mark is not used in association with the offering of any service in a way that would make it a service mark.”

Fortunately, I’m surrounded by really bright, passionate intellectual property and trademark attorneys, and in this case, our Tucker Chambers came to the rescue, with this winning response.

And, thankfully Tucker had some decent facts to work with, especially given kind commentary of some generous giants from both the legal and marketing fields, two of our core audiences.

Trust me, the irony has not escaped me, that one of these generous giants recently allowed the registration for his blog’s name to lapse, and the other giant likely prefers to Just TM It instead.

I’ve never professed to resemble a purple cow, but my mother and father did teach me to follow the beat of my own drum, after taking in a variety of different perspectives to settle on my beat.

So, if you have a personal brand name that truly functions beyond indentifcation to indicate the source of goods or services, my hope is that you will consider federal registration to help protect it.

Keep in mind, personal brands can go beyond an actual name to embody a non-verbal image too, where consent of the individual so identified is of record at the USPTO, hello Ralph Lauren:

Personal brands also may include nicknames, like Mr. Wonderful aka Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank fame, who is seeking registration of Mr. Wonderful for roasted nuts, hello Wonderful:


So, I’m left thinking that Mr. Wonderful best get crackin’ on his anticipated response to the inevitable likelihood of confusion refusal that he’ll be experiencing in the not-to-distant future.

Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

There was a time, back in the day, when you could just “Google” yourself and that was the best way to assess the value of your personal brand. Simple quantifiable way to see how many mentions you had on Google’s interwebs (the reference is intentional). And, you could dig deeper into each link to see what others were saying about you.

Then, we entered an era of social media and the digital landscape shifted, even for the brilliant minds at Google. Managing your personal reputation now included not allowing old high school friends to upload and tag photos you believed were forgotten in albums (yes, the arcane way of storing embarrassing photos from childhood). And, while Facebook is one of the largest, you also needed to be aware of and perhaps even managing your reputation in LinkedIN, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and perhaps Pinterest (just to get started).

It has become a bit overwhelming so you question, “why should I care?” Well, unless you’re a billionaire and old enough to give a rats asterisk about your reputation in the digital universe, it matters (think owner of LA basketball team). It matters because your reputation helps get you a job, income and food on the table. It matters because you can spend decades being true to your values and then find someone has attached something false to your name. Decades of living by certain standards can be undone in a simple mention in the digital universe.

Then the small things, people and brands who sit facing backwards on your coattails and use your reputation to build their own brand. This can be as simple as a person referencing how well they know you in order to get a job with an ex-colleague of yours. And, it can apparently show up in the world of social media. Here’s a recent example brought to my attention by a gentleman (Scott Petinga) considering a class action suit against a gigantic brand in social media.

Are you sure you LIKE something? When you see someone’s name come up (see the image below) as Liking a particular brand, it may surprise you that they may NOT have actually clicked LIKE as it clearly indicates. I was first made aware of this tricky method by Facebook by Scott Petinga. So, I started to look for it and asked my wife if she found brands claiming I LIKED them, but seemed a bit odd based on her view of my reputation (Personal Brand).

Here’s the first. Cub Foods. I have nothing against Cub Foods, but our firm, helped rebrand Byerly’s, hence I haven’t found a need to LIKE Cub Foods. Certainly not a big ding on my personal brand, but it is a shady method to influence my friends with a false statement. And, it makes me wonder, how many times does my name come up as LIKING something I have not and what other brands is my name attached to in the Facebook universe?

This has led to a request, if you’re a friend of mine on FB, please tell me if you see my name attached to a brand you wouldn’t expect. Send it my way. And, I suggest you do the same in your personal network to see what Facebook is up to with this shady method.

And, if it makes you angry enough, contact Scott Petinga and get yourself on his class action lawsuit.

Thank you for reading and if your reputation is important to you, start looking into this behavior.

Some of you may remember that I recently authored a post calling Tim Tebow a Garbage Pail Kid.  The thesis of my post was that in the world of personal branding, Tim Tebow was significantly closer to a fad than an enduring symbol likely to yield dividends from significant endorsement investments.

After Tebow’s miraculous (lucky) playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, at least one person (and likely many more) arguably disagreed with me by questioning whether Tim Tebow was the next $10 million man.  To be sure, Tebow’s current “buzz” stats are impressive, as set forth in the following quote from the article:

Mr. David’s colleagues at The Marketing Arm are responsible for the Davie-Brown Index, which measures celebrity popularity and buzzworthiness in several attributes. In the latest research, Mr. Tebow now ranks among the top 85 celebrities in the world in the Trendsetter attribute, on par with George Clooney, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake. In Trust, he is in the top 75, along with Harrison Ford and Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. And in terms of Influence, Mr. Tebow is now in the top 40 of 3,000 celebs in the DBI, on par Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Aniston and Steven Spielberg.

There’s no debate that Tebow’s hot right now.  But does that mean companies should be lining up to throw money at him for endorsements?  I still say no.  SI.com put together a list of the top 50 sports earners for the year 2011.  Included in the $10-15 million dollar endorsement range are the following perennial sports superstars:  Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade, and Derek Jeter.  Checking in at substantially lower amounts are the perennial sports superstars Alex Rodriguez (who’s image has admittedly taken a hit), Albert Pujols (arguably one of the top ten greatest hitters of all time), and Eli Manning (who may very well get a bump after Sunday’s Super Bowl performance).  In my mind, these are sports stars who can be expected to be near the top of their respective leagues year-in and year-out.  Tebow-mania has shown absolutely no staying power and I think its madness to assume that he will be around long term at this point.

Perhaps I’m wrong and the temporary white hot heat would yield benefits to a company seeking his endorsement.  In the interest of full debate, I pose the following question:  Is it better to have an endorser that will burn out or slowly fade away?  Stated differently, when seeking a sports endorsement deal, would you prefer a long term partner or a quick sales booster?  My preference would be to build something that lasts.  What’s yours?

Randall Hull, The Br@nd Ranch®

Charlie Sheen, aka “F-18”, “Warlock”, “Torpedo of Truth” — oh please — is instructive to anyone pondering the vicissitudes of brands, particularly celebrities as brands.

Unless you have been off planet Earth for the last year, you have surely watched the not-so-slow train wreck called Charlie Sheen. Once a $1.8 million per episode likeable lout on Two and a Half Men, Charlie has morphed into an uncontrolled, whacked-out liability to Brand Sheen and likely eviscerated any endorsement potential.

Granted, there is no rulebook defining normative behavior of a “star”, and the public has made allowances for most eccentric or even ‘off the meter’ conduct in the past. However, it appears the “Winner” has wildly veered out of the acceptability envelope, an act that few, if any, celebrity brands can survive.

Celebrity brands, though more elastic, are ultimately as vulnerable as any other brand — of note, the other “Tiger”. Charlie is proving that you should never assume your brand is indestructible, no matter how bright your “star”, how quotable you think you are, or how well you leverage social media.

Charlie: the app. Last week, Sheen announced “The MaSheen”, an app available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. If Twitter or the tabloids aren’t feeding your need for Sheenisms, now you can carry "the mind of Charlie Sheen in your pocket". Even at a mere $2.99 it appears overpriced and leaves this writer skeptical of its earning potential or its restorative qualities to Brand Sheen. You just can’t out-clever virulent behavior. 

His 20-city My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option odyssey is a fallacious attempt to create an entertaining, and profitable, perambulation through Charlie’s fecund mind. Rather, this "circus macabre" reeks of a desperate attempt to turn the inexplicable into a variety show. Yes, a brand may be built, but not one extensible to endorsement deals.

One wonders, too, if Charlie is angling to be the next 85-year old man dating 24-year olds. That “brand” hasn’t proven profitable for Hugh Hefner. And, of course, what many may have been anticipating, one of the ‘goddesses’, Bree Olson, saw the light and exited stage left, with a breakup via text message. How befitting. How sad.

Clearly, I am doubtful Charlie can remediate the damage he has inflicted on Brand Sheen and “phoenix” his career, as did Robert Downey, Jr.

Next stop for the “Sheenster”? Maybe Celebrity Apprentice or truTV’s Worlds Dumbest…. But “Winning”? Sorry, Charlie, the “Magik” is gone; your brand has lost its luster.

 —David Mitchel, Chief Marketing Officer, Norton Mitchel Marketing

The ongoing saga of Charlie Sheen has been quite odd. He demanded a pay raise and made inflammatory comments about his boss, Two and a Half Men Executive Producer Chuck Lorre, which led to Two and a Half Men shutting down production for the rest of the season. He later made rather unusual comments in an ABC interview, amongst others.

This melodrama has raised his public profile. On March 1, Sheen started a Twitter account. In less than 24 hours, he got 1 Million followers. The Guinness Book of World Records confirmed that Sheen was the fastest to reach 1 Million followers and he is still accumulating followers quickly.

Conventional wisdom would dictate that Sheen’s antics would have destroyed his abilities to be an effective product endorser. The conventional wisdom is correct to a certain extent. I do not expect to see Sheen endorsing branded products in the traditional media space. In recent years, he had an endorsement contract with Hanes, but that deal ended after the domestic violence incident in late 2009.

All is not lost for Sheen’s endorsement potential. He has the opportunity to capitalize on his Twitter following. His rapid rise in followers has already gotten the attention of one brand, the Just Chill beverage brand. Just Chill has offered Sheen a $3 Million endorsement contract. The endorsement deal has certain stipulations that Sheen must adhere to. The social media space represents the newest opportunity for branded products to use celebrity endorsement.

Brands have shown willingness to engage in endorsement contracts via Twitter. Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan are examples of celebrities that have Twitter based endorsement contracts. Kardashian collects nearly $10,000 per tweet of a branded product and her price is getting higher by the minute. Kardashian has mentioned brands such as Quick Trim, Sketchers and Midori Liqueur on her Twitter page. One website has called her “The Queen of Endorsements” and offers an extensive list of her product endorsements. Lindsay Lohan has promoted coupons/gift cards on Twitter and is an interested case study for Charlie Sheen. Like Sheen, Lohan has faced scandals. Despite scandal, there has been interest in Twitter based endorsement.

Based on his behavior, Sheen probably will not be offered a Twitter based endorsement deal from a major brand for at least the next year despite his major following. Even in the digital space, he represents far too big of a risk for the public perception of a brand. Other recently tarnished celebrities have had challenges in brand endorsements. Tiger Woods lost a number of endorsements from his scandal, but remained under contract to Nike. Michael Vick has regained endorsers after his release from prison, but they have been with smaller brands. A brand looking to raise its profile could be interested in linking with Sheen in the digital space and there is no shortage of these types of brands.

With celebrity endorsement, the key to success is an alignment between the celebrity endorser and the branded product. When thinking about Charlie Sheen, it is difficult to think of a case of strong alignment. He’s known for his partying ways and a Hugh Hefner esque lifestyle. Hugh Hefner has had endorsements before, such as this one for Stoli vodka, but his public perception differs from Sheen’s. Based on Sheen’s history with substance usage, I don’t think that major alcohol brands would be interested. Even though Jimmy Fallon made a Winning Fragrance ad imitating Charlie Sheen, I can’t imagine a major fragrance brand linking with Sheen.  

The recent string of unusual events in Sheen’s life doesn’t spell the end of his acting career or his product endorsement capabilities. There’s a need for him to make changes to his behavior and keep those changes in place for a significant period of time. Other celebrities have bounced back from more devastating circumstances, often involving the threat of lengthy prison sentences. Kobe Bryant went from having sexual assault charges filed against him in 2003-04 as a result of an extramarital affair to making $16 Million a year in endorsements by 2007. Today, he is still a desirable product endorser. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder investigation and was able to secure endorsements after his plea agreement. His endorsements have included Under Armour and Old Spice. Both Bryant and Lewis have stayed out of trouble over a number of years, and that’s exactly what Charlie Sheen will need to do, not only to be a desired commodity as a product endorser, but also to continue to secure high profile acting roles.

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:

Continue Reading Taylor Swift’s Signature Trademark?

Aaron Keller, Capsule

In the movie “Crazy Heart,” Bad Blake is asked about authentic country music and whether Tommy Sweet was “real” country. With his hatred for Tommy, he still gave him the authentic country nod. Kind words, but really what is an authentic brand when it comes to an individual star like Bad Blake or Lady Gaga?

If you’ve read Pine and Gilmore’s book Authenticity, you might view Lady Gaga’s authenticity as “Fake-Real.” We all know her costumes are designed to create a fake image of her, yet many (including myself) still love her and her music. Then, she gets herself in a situation on an airplane where her outfit doesn’t, well, fit. Would we expect her to fly in her “Fake-Real” world? Not really. Actually, in her “Fake-Real” world we’d likely expect her to have her own airplane. Plus, the “Real-Real” version of her would be hard to identify in an airport because she is so iconic. So, Lady Gaga is authentic until she gets herself stuck in a wardrobe situation and the result is a media gluttony party. Because almost more than blood, the media love an authenticity stumble. Lady Gaga, we’re still fascinated by the “Fake-Real” you.

Now onto country music star Bad Blake. He lives and drinks in a way that makes him iconic. Bad Blake would be considered “Real-Real” in my view. What you get on stage is what you would get if he was your neighbor, boyfriend or unfortunately, your father. He was authentically bad. So what happens at the end of the movie when he sobers up? Good to see, good sponsor film for AA, all good things. But, is he now a “Real-Fake?” He changes his name back to his birth name, cleans up his life and becomes successful. Now is he more or less authentic?

Perhaps he’s authentically average. What do you think?

Putting aside the questions of whether Tiger Woods needed to or should have made a public apology, the timing of it, and even the content of it, now that Brand Tiger made the decision to do so and did so last Friday, I’m interested more with how Tiger conveyed it and the likely impact it will have on his personal brand going forward.

What struck me most about Tiger’s 14 minute public apology (actually Tiger worked in more than an apology during this time) was the fact that he read it, word for word, rather stiffly, from a prepared script, and from behind a podium. Doing so begged for me the question of who wrote it, in the same way we might ask who a famous politician’s speech writer is. Reading from a script or teleprompter behind the security of a podium works well for politicians, I’m not sure it is the best way to convey a heart-felt apology, ok, I am sure, it’s not.

After seeing the entire 14 minutes, I had to check with the U.S. Trademark Office to determine whether Brand Tiger had any registered protection for trademarks in Int’l Class 35 for the "production of public service announcements." But, I couldn’t find any . . . .

So, why the script, why the podium, why the presidential-blue backdrop? No doubt, this was a carefully controlled message with nothing left to chance, and no chance for surprise. So, that probably answers that. However, it seems to me the tightly controlled format squandered an opportunity to create a more meaningful connection, or perhaps reconnection, with Brand Tiger.

This morning I saw an interview on ESPN with one of the golfers on tour who thought it would have gone better if Tiger had not read a script, but instead spoken from the heart, perhaps guided by a few bullet points in some notes. I tend to agree and believe doing so would have conveyed far more emotion, truth, and authenticity. So, who recommended or chose this format for Brand Tiger?

I’m thinking it was a left brainer, not a right brainer, because striving for a more natural, emotional, and authentic expression from Tiger seems like a no-brainer to me, at least, if the goal is to resurrect, or at least begin the resurrection of Brand Tiger. Or, perhaps a right brain advisor recognized that the target audience for Brand Tiger’s apology skewed toward left brainers who would feel themselves more comfortable with this controlled format too? By the way, if you’re not sure which of your hemispheres is dominant, here is an interesting and brief online 18 question test.

Left brain dominant Accenture was the only sponsor mentioned by name, do you suppose they had any say in the chosen format?

For further guidance on my hemispheric brain hypothesis, I consulted Al & Laura Ries‘ most recent and highly acclaimed book War in the Boardroom, which explains the conflict and divide between management and marketing types by their respective emphasis on left and right brain thinking:

If you’re the CEO of a major corporation, chances are good you are a left brainer. Before you make a decision, you want to be supported by facts, figures, market data, consumer research. It couldn’t be otherwise in a world where the ultimate measurement is the bottom line and the stock price.

If you have a job in marketing, chances are good you are a right brainer. You often make decisions by "gut instinct" with little or no supporting evidence. It couldn’t be otherwise in a creative discipline like marketing.

Another striking difference: left brainers have a strong preference for verbal thinking, while right brainers favor visual thinking.

When a management type makes a speech, he or she usually stands behind a podium and reads a script or the words on a teleprompter.

When a marketing type makes a speech, he or she usually stands in front of a screen using dozens of visuals.

Again, all signs seem to point to the left side of the brain on the format. Now, I’m not suggesting that Brand Tiger would have benefited from a Ross Perot style speech complete with charts and graphs, but I do think that Tiger would have chipped his personal brand out of the rough far more effectively without a podium, without reading a speech, and he wouldn’t have needed 14 minutes to do it. No doubt, this was only the first public step toward resurrection of Brand Tiger.

As Laura Ries blogged last December on Ries’ Pieces, and as I suspect will always be the case, It’s What Tiger Does Next That Counts . . . .

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.

Continue Reading The Roar of Tiger Woods in Branding