–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Back in the ’70s, National Geographic ran a story on Boston firefighters.

The writer mentioned a barb that a fireman tossed his way. “Ya gonna do another silver jets piece, huh?” Adding sarcastically, “Ya know: silver jets of water piercing the dark sky as they bravely battle the inferno…”

I owe that firefighter a debt. Since I read his diss, Silver Jets has been a mental caution sign against veering too far into the preciously romantic. (Well, most of the time, anyway; all us writers occasionally succumb to the siren’s song.)

Which brings me to Moen’s Silver Jets moment: creative work driven by its presumable campaign premise, “It’s about time we recognize all water does for us, and give it the attention it deserves.”

The Moen website has lots of solid information. Most of it is presented well and unambiguously. That’s a good thing, since we generally want only three things from our faucets: style, function, and reliability. Everything else is on the margins.

And yet, even in commodity markets—and maybe especially there—the urge to creatively distinguish the company runs strong. Channeled and managed well, it can produce good outcomes.

But when the primary focus shifts, unnoticed, to the creative idea from the business objective, you can wind up in Pittsburgh when you intended to go to Minneapolis.*

Here’s how I think that happened at Moen:

  • They wanted a new campaign to distinguish the company.
  • Someone(s) got the idea to “celebrate water.”
  • That led eventually to the premise that “Water designs our life.”
  • That led to some excited creative exploration casting water as the unsung hero/benevolent star of human existence.
  • That led to casting Moen as the combination of Alexander Graham Bell and Frank Lloyd Wright when it comes to water.
  • That led eventually to the campaign theme: “Water designs our life. Who designs for Water?”

(Spoiler alert: Moen’s answer: “Moen designs for Water.” Actual answer: Every company that makes something related to water.)

And that’s where Moen’s creative juices really go Silver Jets. Some examples sprinkled throughout Moen’s website:

  • “With 1.5 trillion gallons of water running through our faucets each year, we feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure every one of your interactions with water is a meaningful one.”
  • “Moen products don’t just make you look smart; they leave you feeling inspired.”
  • “As a company we’ve given over to the power and beauty of water. Throughout our history, we’ve learned to respect and honor it. So that makes us a company that not only celebrates water, but that also happens to make faucets.”
  • “Throughout history, water has shaped the world we live in—where we gather, what we do on the weekends and what rooms we make room for. So it’s about time we recognize all water does for us, and give it the attention it deserves.”

Those are some major-league Silver Jets. They speak to lofty aesthetic. They paint glowing watercolor images. They demonstrate what happens when marketing and creative exploration become unmoored from reality and business objectives.

Last, for now, here’s a piece of SethGodin-bait: Predictably, Moen’s creative drift inevitably culminated in a gorgeous, high-budget, 60-second art film designed to…well, you tell me. You can see it here, or by clicking on the “watch the film” link on Moen’s site.

Where did it all go sideways? Around the fourth bullet of the process described above. Creative freewheeling is a necessary part of producing good work. But so is having at least one person keeping an eye on the compass and able to trim the sails.

* Heading north on the Mississippi River will bring you to Minneapolis unless you lose focus and get sidetracked onto the Ohio River, which will bring you to Pittsburgh.

Does the thought of Cristal with ice sound weird to you?  Yeah, it did to me too – until I went to Mexico.

I am not a discerning champagne purchaser, but I’m familiar with a few well-known champagne brands like Moet, Cristal and Dom Perignon.  I can thank Jay-Z for some of that (You can’t even drink Cristowl on this one, you gotta drink Cristal).  I recently tried my first French 75, which is a delicious gin and champagne beverage, and last week, I was lucky enough to be in beautiful Tulum, Mexico, toasting with champagne to friends at their lovely wedding.  I can’t say I’ve ever had champagne with ice though, and certainly not Cristal.

Despite being in Mexico, I couldn’t get away from thinking about brands and intellectual property.

I spotted this Coca-Cola fountain at my hotel, and I couldn’t believe it – Cristal was right on the tap!  (And apparently also available in iced tea flavor).

Now reasonable consumers may immediately appreciate that CRISTAL sparkling water (soda water, “gassy water”, whatever you wish to call it) is not CRISTAL champagne (at least I would hope so).  However, it could make a person wonder whether there is some connection between the source of the two beverage products, especially given the bubbly nature of both champagne and sparkling water.

Do you think a company should be able to register a trademark like CRISTAL for sparkling water if one is already registered by another company for champagne?  How about if the mark is registered for beer, and you are trying to file for it on wine?  How about FRAPPUCINO beer v. FRAPPUCINO coffee?