Razor's Edge Communications

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Every now and then, lightning strikes where a creative team sees a terrific, fast-turn opportunity to have a little fun. I think of them as targets of opportunity.

We had one some years ago when we were in the midst of creating a series of mailers for a search-technology client. Early in December, the spark hit and we scrambled to make this idea happen in time:

Looks like lightning struck for the GMC creative team when the LA Rams made it to the Super Bowl. I don’t know if this was a national ad, but it appeared on my Super Bowl Sunday morning doorstep in its full-page, Boston Globe glory.

Perfectly timed delivery 12 hours before the game, perfectly targeted to Boston.

The only quibble is whether there actually was a competition to introduce the first six-function tailgate, or even if that’s a deciding factor for a substantial percentage of truck buyers. It would have been perfect all around if it were announcing that GMC sales had been tops.

But that’s a minor point. This one’s a winner for the creative team and GMC for seeing the opportunity, seeing the target, and hitting the short window to take advantage of it.

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Every now and then, I find pearls floating in the tide of print advertising. These two, for example.

First is the Kiton ad, one of a series the company is running. I liked the whole look and feel of it right away, but didn’t know anything about the company.

I like it even better after doing a little research and learning that Kiton prides itself on its fabrics and the quality of the clothing it creates using them.

These ads work on multiple levels. First, they stand out both for their striking simplicity and for the visual puzzle: why the red dot covering the head? (At least, it’s red to my color-challenged eye.)

Beyond that, the more you look at one of the ads, the more attention to detail you see. There’s deep creative thought behind these.

More important, the first ad you see imprints visual clues that unmistakably identify every subsequent ad you see as a Kiton. In the sea of luxury-good advertising, you too often have to glance at the company name to see whose ad it is.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the big creative questions is, “How can we indelibly link the company or product name to the creative idea?” Kiton’s campaign achieves this, not least by linking the red-dot head with the red dot on the Kiton i.

Incidentally, the dot over the head probably has an additional benefit for Kiton. Rates and residuals for models vary depending on the image used. Because the Kiton models are unidentifiable, their rate is likely lower than if we could see their faces. Small change in the larger scheme of things, but a benefit for Kiton nevertheless.

The other pearl is this ad for the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M. In case it’s not clear, the tuxedoed Daniel Craig is up to his chin in water. It’s a great visual that pays off the promise that the watch “will take you from the bottom of the sea, to the center of attention, and the top of the world.” Form and function married with fashion illustrated by a brilliant concept.

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Recently, I came across a snappy-looking website with unconventional design for a small consulting company. It’s cleverly done, easy to navigate, and appears to have good information.

I say “appears to have” because there’s one slight problem: it’s challenging to read it. The design motif has small white type on large circles that are color-coded for the different sections. You have to be very motivated to read more than a few paragraphs on some of those circles.

It reminded me of an anecdote related by a writer colleague that occurred at a design staff meeting. The creative head held up a print piece the group had recently produced, and asked, “What’s wrong with this?”

Lots of designers chimed in with thoughts, each of which she dismissed with a “Nope.”

My colleague, who was the only writer in the room and had known right away what the problem was, finally spoke: “You can’t read it.”

“Right!” said the design chief.

Like the website, it was an interesting design and looked good. But as often happens, the designer(s) saw text as simply a design element and failed to remember that the copy needs to be readable, too.

Vampire video falls into a similar trap. It starts out as a good idea for communicating marketing information. But somewhere along the line, both the creative team and the marketers get seduced by the idea itself, and lose sight of the communications objective.

You usually wind up with a really well-produced video that’s interesting and even fun to watch—so much so that the original marketing objective has inadvertently taken a distant second place to the idea.

So how does this happen? Whether we’re predominantly on the visual or the writing side, even the most pragmatic among us chose this career because we love the creative part of the business.

Most marketers do, too. As one once told me, “You guys get to do all the fun stuff.” (Hard to remember that when it’s midnight and you’re still banging away to meet an 8 a.m. deadline.)

When solving communications problems with creative ideas is your stock in trade, it’s no surprise that some of those ideas will sweep you down a very different pathway than the one you set out for. It’s a seduction that we need to be continually on guard against.

Of course, neither showcase design nor vampire video has ever occurred in any of my projects. (Cue the trombones.)

We have some razor sharp readers and guest bloggers. We’re deeply thankful and especially grateful when our readers and guest bloggers send us real life illustrations of marketing pitfalls we’ve identified, sliced and diced here on DuetsBlog. They provide more great teaching tools.

Hat tip to our own James Mahoney of Razor’s Edge Communications for reading and passing on to us the fine print appearing on the package insert for a Spyderco Dragonfly 2 pocket knife, appearing to provide a large opening to probe the validity of a federally-registered, non-traditional trademark, namely the prominent round hole depicted on a Spyderco knife blade:


The nearly twenty-year-old incontestable federal trademark registration describes the design trademark this way: “The mark consists of the configuration of a portion of the goods, namely a circular through hole formed in the body of a knife blade.”

The package insert for the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 is reported to describe the round opening on the blade feature this way: “The Trademark Round Hole(TM) in the blade proudly proclaims it as a Spyderco product and ensures swift, positive one-handed opening with either hand.”

Let’s just say, it’s kind of an odd combination of highly beneficial look-for advertising (without using the clunky word “look-for”) in the first part of the sentence (“proudly proclaims”), but then after the word “and” the dreaded functional touting appears, linking function to the round hole trademark design feature (without using the “F-word”).

The website information for the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 reads similarly: “The position of the enlarged Spyderco Round Opening Hole in relation to the pivot leads to smooth opening and the FRN (fiberglass reinforce nylon) handle fits the hand ergonomically with a series of grip angles and leveraging spots.”

The Spyderco Manix product information adds additional cuts: “Improved jimping on the thumb ramp and forefinger choil provide enhanced control and a large 14mm Trademark Spyderco Hole makes one-handed deployment a breeze, even while wearing gloves.”

The Spyderco Dragonfly Foliage Green knife is described this way: “Even the positioning of the Spyderco Round Opening Hole in relation to the pivot is tweaked for smooth opening and hitting all the correct pressure points in the hand. Blade and handle geometry create a series of grip angles with a purposeful flat shelf at the base where the pinkie finger rides as a leverage point.”

Spyderco’s 2014 Product Guide contains additional functionality blade cuts, and in one place, actually uses the dreaded F-word:

  • “All CLIPITs have a pocket clip, a Spyderco Round Hole™ for single-hand operation, and an exceptionally sharp cutting edge.”
  • “and Trademark Round Hole™ provide fully ambidextrous carrying and high speed operation.”
  • “A reversible pocket clip Spyderco Round Hole and sturdy lock mechanism offer convenient carry one-handed access and serious functionality.” (emphasis added)
  • “and has a 14 mm Spyderco Round Hole for quick, one-handed opening — even while wearing gloves.”
  • “with a 14 mm Trademark Round Hole for infallible one-hand opening.”
  • “features a Trademark Round Hole for easy opening.”
  • “have Spyderco’s Trademark Round Hole for one-hand opening.”

The federally-registered round hole design feature is presumed valid as a non-traditional trademark, but given the prevalent language touting function, one must wonder how many cuts with the functionality knife will it take to render the claimed trademark design feature functional and unprotectable as a trademark?

Keep in mind that marketing statements linking form to function can be considered self-inflicted fatal wounds, used against the brand owner when trying to assert exclusive rights in a non-traditional trademark, when the product feature being claimed as a trademark is functional.

Here’s to starting 2016 the right way, by encouraging effective collaboration between trademark and marketing types, and resisting the temptation to tout function when there is the potential for owning and/or maintaining a product design feature as a trademark.

What do you think, are these functionality references fatal wounds, like evidence of a ticking time bomb that can serve to invalidate even incontestable federal trademark registrations?