by David Mitchel, Vice President of Marketing at Norton Mitchel Marketing

Branding is an intricate and complicated process. Every aspect of the marketing mix must be handled with care. Brand managers watch their brands in the same manner that most parents care for a newborn child. However, there is an element of marketing communications that brand management teams are unable to directly control: pop culture references about the brands in what appear to be non product placement contexts. These pop culture references can come from both old and new media. They are often found in music, and frequently occur in the hip hop genre. In recent years, brands have been prominent parts of popular YouTube videos. As social media evolves, it has the potential to present new threats for brands. With regard to pop culture references, it is a challenging minefield that brands must negotiate carefully in order to prevent them from detracting from marketing strategy.

In 2003, hip hop artist 50 Cent became a huge sensation with the album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”. One of the many hit songs from that album was “In Da Club”. Near the beginning of the song, the lyric “we gon’ sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday” appears. This is not the only time that the Bacardi brand has been mentioned in song lyrics, but it is certainly one of the more prominent references. In its advertising over the years, Bacardi has crafted an image of being a fun brand, as their ads often feature a party scene. This may have inspired 50 Cent to write the lyric in the way that he did. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bacardi featured a “Bacardi By Night” print advertising campaign. These ads clearly targeted individuals with serious jobs and emphasized that Bacardi was a part of their work-life balance.   Additionally, Bacardi has also used their long standing and rich history as a selling proposition in advertising. Bacardi’s association with fun and partying may have attracted the hip hop element, as extravagant partying is a common theme of hip hop imagery. However, this association is tenuous at best and does not appear to be widely perceived. Bacardi has strongly withstood unsolicited pop culture references and its well refined marketing communication messages have helped to ensure that they remain the world’s largest spirits brand.


Continue Reading Branding in Pop Culture: How Brands Avoid Negative Associations

We all would agree that “As Seen on TV” is one of the great brands of all time. The brilliant marketeers behind it recognized the extraordinary power of television – people believe as true what they see on TV.

Why that is I’m sure has been the subject of enumerable studies; after all it defines who we are as consumers and sets the stage for a marketplace where the phrase “targeted consumer” takes on real meaning. Between infomercials laden with celebrity endorsement, a tried and (sometimes) true tactic for moving people closer to their wallets coupled with compelling “just like my neighbor” testimonials, and home shopping networks with live celebrities and testimonials whose “it has to be true” quality rings true for millions of people, consumers are drawn to purchase like moths to a light.

The online world has taken this phenomenon and cranked it up a notch. The more modern version of “As Seen on TV”, its sister brand “As Seen on the Internet” – is an even more powerful lure. It is extraordinary how so many people believe that the “default” for the Internet is Truth, as if there were a mysterious group of censors and law enforcement officials who were reading everything found on the Internet to ensure that anything false or fraudulent automatically was removed. If only that were so.

Social networking has taken this propensity to believe anything electronically delivered to an even higher level. People tend to believe as true what others in their electronic neighborhoods say. This tends to be the case whatever the form of visual channel, from “expert” blogs in About.com, to the thousands of pseudo-news blogs, closed social environments like Facebook or MySpace, or in some form of IM (Include Twitter here). The stories of fraudulent promotion on Twitter already are legion. Add to this the hundreds, perhaps thousands of for-hire bloggers who will supply testimonials for a fee, and the potential for online, “As Seen on the Internet” consumer deception increases dramatically.

It was inevitable that at some point the FTC would have to step in. The Federal Trade Commission historically has taken consumer fraud seriously, but the massive amounts of online fraud, ranging from paid for false testimonials to the most severe forms of identity theft , have created a new vigor in that agency.

On December 1, 2009, new Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (the “Guides”), with heightened requirements for bloggers to disclose affiliations with sponsors of those endorsements, go into effect.  See FTC Press Release dated October 5, 2009, here.  The text of the Guides, 16 CFR Part 235, is available, here.  Although these Guides are advisory in nature and do not expand the scope of liability under Section 5, they are intended to provide guidance as to how the FTC would apply governing law to various fact patterns.


Continue Reading Let’s Play “Truth or Consequences”: The New FTC Guides for Endorsements & Testimonials Bring Truth a Little Bit Closer

For the last month or so I’ve been following the antics of Twitter as they attempt to assert rights to the word "tweet". Based on their completely inconsistent—one might even say schizophrenic approach, I feel justified in using the word "antics".

Until very recently, Twitter didn’t seem to care much about what third-party apps were named. In fact, in a blog post from July 2009, founder Biz Stone said, "Regarding the use of the word Twitter in projects, we are a bit more wary although there are some exceptions here as well. After all, Twitter is the name of our service and our company so the potential for confusion is much higher. When folks ask us about naming their application with "Twitter" we generally respond by suggesting more original branding for their project. This avoids potential confusion down the line."

Note the phrasing: “suggesting more original branding”. What happens if the developers don’t take the suggestion? By allowing so many third party apps to use the name already, they’ve tacitly given permission for others to infringe on their trademark. If they then try to defend their trademark against the new filers, what can they say?


Continue Reading Twitter, Twitter Everywhere — But Will They Own the Tweet?