Tag Archives: branding

Writing and the Use of Trademark Words

The use of trademarks is a very litigious business for those who commit infractions. You better not title your strawberry drink Coca-Cola, or call your car design the Toyota Prius or Toyota Pumpernickel. Most of this seems obvious. The maker and manufacturer own the right to that brand and no one will ride on their fame and steal their sales. It can get as contentious as the famed Disney lawyers who have actually trotted into a little flea market and told a woman to cease and desist in selling clothes made with Disney trademarked designs. The fabric was bought legally; it was the fact that she was trying to sew the cloth into clothing and sell that, that Disney objected to. Lawyers for Marvel contacted Vancouver media at one point and told them to stop calling a particular cat burglar (who climbed the side of buildings ) Spider-Man. They didn’t want the comic book hero associated with the dark side.

These areas can become very contentious, and there are copy cats who will take a name and change one letter while keeping the font and style the same. Companies also trademark their brand colors but when it comes to the world of writing there are many different areas.  If I’m putting a brand name into my magazine or website, say as an ad that they paid for, then I have to use it properly, with either a registered® symbol or a trademark ™. These are different forms of branding. But what happens when we’re talking about fiction?

This came up in the writers’ group I belong to and it caused some upset as one author felt picked upon, although we were discussing the vagaries of the situation. Someone said her manuscripts had been rejected from a publisher because she mentioned name brands in her story, such as the character putting on his Armani suit and driving his Rolls Royce. In fact, a writer can using any brand name in their fiction and they do not have to put trademark or register marks into the text. As an editor I’ve sometimes had to pull these symbols out. The discussion continued that it would be okay to have a character drink, say, an Absolut vodka but to drink piss-warm Absolut would possibly be seen as defamatory.

The truth is, it would be an extremely rare case of any publisher ever being sued (or the writer) because a brand name was used in a negative light. It happens all the time. But this is very different for fiction than for advertising and marketing materials. Even nonfiction, as in a review, a critical piece or a journalistic article on a company or a product does not curtail the writer from writing negatively about that product and naming it. There have been science fiction novels that had various corporations taking over or running the future and these did not depict the shiny side of the corporation.

A publisher who asks a writer to remove every name brand from a piece of fiction could be doing it for several reasons, but should explain why they want it removed:

  • they think the usage actually detracts from the writing
  • they fear libel for the defamatory use of the name
  • they have a personal feud with a company
  • other?

The first reason is the only valid one, while the third is more a case of personal issues that should not interfere. And the second reason is really ridiculous. I commented and still maintain that a publisher who fears being sued is not knowledgeable in the ways of publishing, fiction and trademark issues. You don’t have to be an expert to know this and there are numerous examples out there. Not all publishers are educated on copyright and publishing, as was seen with the Food Source editor who thought everything on the internet was up for grabs and public domain. Not so.

If you opened a book store and called it Kodak, or a shoe store and named it Xerox, you would run into branding issues. But if you opened a bookstore called Blackberry Books, you wouldn’t and in fact there used to be a bookstore by that name. If you write about a drug smuggler who drives a Humvee and loves her Converse runners because they help her escape faster you’re not going to have a problem. If you write a book saying that Lulu Lemon yoga pants cause cancer, you better be able to prove it or you’ll be slammed with a defamation suit.

Product placement in a movie or TV show is a big thing worth big bucks. You, the writer, naming any brand in your story is not what your story is about, yet it could be a major part of the plot and it would still make no difference to those corporations. So write away and don’t worry. This blog has not been brought to you by Pepsi, Disney nor Exxon.

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Procter & Gamble and the Man in the Moon

The original Procter & Gamble logo.

Once upon a time two men, William Procter and James Gamble, formed a business. It’s genesis began in 1837 with the sale of candles and soap. The US was in a financial crisis and was rumored to be broke but the men persevered with what would have been essentials at that time. Electricity was still in the future.

Dock hands, handling shipments of the candles, would mark the boxes with a crude star to differentiate them from other merchandise. It seems this mark bloomed into the Star Candles brand and eventually the stars appeared in a semi-official capacity as the company grew (or maybe they marked the Star Candles boxes with a crude star). By 1859 the company was making a million dollars, a quite substantial amount for those days.

As Procter & Gamble grew the stars on the candle boxes solidified and a logo was born in 1851, with thirteen stars and a man in the moon with luxuriant curling beard. If you know anything of the art styles of the period, you will understand that this logo, shown above, was as precursor to the stylized, swooping swirls of the Art Nouveau period. Part of the Romantic period in art, the design is not unusual for the time in style. My guess (as it’s hard to find out what the founders originally intended) is that the stars played significantly in the company’s brand evolution. From those stars, they became stylized and it’s said that there are 13 to represent the 13 original colonies of the United States.

Procter & Gamble, Satanic symbols, logos, branding

The new P&G logo.

Considering that Procter & Gamble supplied soap and candles to the Union army during the Civil War, it seems likely that they had some form of patriotism and pride for their roots in the United States. Shortly after this, they began making Ivory soap, among many other products. The logo was a longstanding icon for Procter & Gamble, and if you have ever used Crest, Crisco, Downy, Bounce, Charmin, Duracell, Gillette, Olay, Pampers, Tide or a host of other products, then chances are you might have noticed the little man in the moon with the stars on the back of the packaging. In fact, today Procter & Gambler (more commonly called P&G now as we’ve reached the age of abbreviation and acronyms) is the 6th most profitable corporation in the world and 5th in the US with only a few like Exxon, Microsoft, Apple and Walmart ahead of it.

Consider that this logo existed from the 1850s to to the 1980s before some latent ruckus arose. And what was it in the era that spawned supposed Satanic messages in rock n roll records played backwards that got people up in arms over Procter & Gamble? The stars numbered 13. Good lord! It’s the devil’s number and if you reverse the beard you see 666 and if you get drunk and draw lines from one star to the next you see more sixes. It’s more bizarre that the US dollar bills have an eye in a pyramid (Masonic ties and there’s a secret society there) than the man in the moon and the 13 stars.

But rumors spread and Procter & Gamble battled defamation and slander suits for many years. Interestingly, most of these rumors of the Satanic relationship stemmed from Amway distributors, who in fact have been accused of having cultlike activities, running pyramid schemes and being tied closely with the very conservative far Christian right. Now who seems more likely to have suspicious dealings?

Personally I find this logo has personality as opposed to modern and very sterile logos, including the new P&G logo. Branding is a powerful thing. Procter & Gamble had been in business far too long with their logo to bow to a bunch of superstitious nut jobs wanting to tarnish their image. Probably Amway’s true reason was to knock down P&G’s position in the corporate hierarchy. It might have made a dint but not that much and Amway, though powerful, has had to ride more waves of trouble than P&G. Unlike Starbucks who seemed to bow to public pressure (of a few) and kept changing their logo, P&G did not, until they hit an era of modernization. Did the logo changes or stasis affect these companies? Probably not much because they both have very strong products that hold up against the people with too much time on their hands.

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Really Dumb Olympic Trinkets

I wasn’t sure what I would write about today but then I received, with my bank statement, a little blurb about winning some Olympic art, sort of. My bank is VanCity, a local, good reputation bank. But in the statement was this double-sided pamphlet from Citizens Bank. It says, “You could win 1 of 12 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games edition Visa prepaid card collector sets.” Phew.

Okay, so first Citizens Bank in my VanCity statement? It makes me wonder what my bank is getting out of it. Then I thought, okay, so I enter to win and then get 12 Visa cards with a prepaid amount, maybe $100 on each. That would be a nice prize, $1200 maybe to spend on the Olympics.

But no, as I read, it turns out that these are prepaid Visa cards, as in you don’t have to buy them. Okay, when have I ever had to buy a Visa card except off of the shady guy on the street corner in Paraguay when I was on the run from the black ops CIA? Never. It turns out that there isn’t a prepaid amount, nor can you put funds on them, but this super duper Olympic art is prepaid, as in you don’t have to pay for it. If you go out to buy them it will cost you $25, $50 or $100. WTF? So what I’m getting is 12 little pieces of plastic that say Visa and have (for the most part) paintings of headless athletes.

These are such great pieces of art that the pamphlet doesn’t bother to mention the artist’s name. And really, if it’s not original the best it can be is a limited edition and there is no comment on how many pieces of plastic have been printed. So whoopdeedoo, if I go to citizensbank website so that they can start spamming me with Visa applications, and I enter to win this “‘prize” I get 12 Visa cards that can’t be used with pictures of headless and generic athletes on them. Wow. That’s impressive collector’s hoopla for the Olympics. Don’t forget this said it was also Paralympics. I can’t see one image that looks like it shows an athlete who would fit in the Paralympic category. No crutch, no wheelchair, no amputee. Okay, there might be one on there but it’s unclear from the pamphlet.

But yes, if I want any piece of so-called Olympic art sanctioned by the official committee then I will indeed rush out and buy these pieces of worthless plastic. I’ll mount them in a frame worth more than they are and put the “collection” next to Bubba’s beer cap collection and the plastic beads from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. People may want a souvenir or a piece to remember the Olympics by but a mass merchandised shirt or stuff mascot is probably going to be more useful than the supposed collectors edition of Visa cards that are in fact as mass produced as these other items. Why not just mass produced fake paintings? Because then Visa couldn’t plaster their branding everywhere. Personally I’d rather take pictures but these days that could you get you arrested.

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Political Name Changes: A Rose By Any Name

Or perhaps never a rose. It could be a stinking weed or even a better flower. The NDP (New Democratic Party) of Canada is looking at changing their name and dropping the “New.” One reason stated is that people who are newer to Canada (and maybe those not so new) see the “New” and think that the party hasn’t been around very long, and is less experienced.

Fair enough, and it’s not the first time the NDP have gone through a transition. Its roots are in two parties, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Co-operative Commonwealth Foundation, which joined together to form the National Committee for the New Party (known for a while as the New Party). That party became the NDP with Tommy Douglas as its first leader.

It’s not bad for any political party to re-evaluate where its going, what its mandate is and is it serving the needs of the people. Of course, once you have more than a small handful of people you will get differing needs and views. (Heck, even if you have two people that can happen.)

The Progressive Conservatives went through a split where the right of center PCs spawned the Reform Party of Canada. This happened after Brian Mulroney drove the party into the ground, setting up Kim Campbell to be the fall guy (or gal) for the party that was nearly voted out of existence. Mulroney’s arrogance and his implementation of the GST and the controversial Free Trade Agreement (seen as selling away some of Canada’s rights to the US) left the federal party with only two seats in the next election.

The Reform offspring, a farther right-wing, extreme conservative party then became known as the Canadian Alliance after the unfortunate name of the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance party (or CRAP for short). They were known for being narrow-minded and members were caught several times saying racist and sexist remarks. So in a big sellout the Reform party merged back with the PCs, causing many long time Conservative members (such as former prime minister Joe Clark) to leave the party in disgust.

That’s our Conservative party today, cloaked again with the respectable Conservative name but still more right of where the PCs were yet not as red as the Reform was. But Harper’s disinterest in helping anyone of color or of a nonChristian religion, even if they are Canadian citizens has been noted by the press. (such as Abousfian Abdelrazik in Sudan but not charged with anything) One could say it is the government but Harper likes to keep a stranglehold on his ministers.

So, in that case, the name change for the Reform didn’t work but merging back into the Conservatives did. Will it work for the NDP? That depends. Often what happens when a party renames itself is that it also looks at its mandates, its policies and its platform. If the NDP doesn’t do an in-depth examination, then a name change probably won’t do much for them in the polls and they’ll continue to be third runner up in federal politics.

As I’ve said before, Canada’s political parties don’t have very charismatic leaders at present. I’ve heard from an experienced ex-politician that he liked Jack Layton until he met him. I also listened to several people talking this weekend at a party about the NDP. Layton at some point had been in town for a photo op with guards and press. It blocked the way to a local store (selling roleplaying games I believe). Because it took so long when they were packing up this one guy was saying that Layton could have gone into the store and shook a few hands because the nerds (his word not mine) were waiting to go in. And then they would have probably blogged about it. But Layton missed an opportunity.

Layton comes from a long family history of politicians and a has a PhD in political science so he should know his stuff. However, he comes across as arrogant, and he’s not the only political leader who does. It certainly didn’t serve Stockwell Day or Brian Mulroney that well with many people. Like Preston Manning before him, it could be Layton also needs a makeover. Not even gay men wear moustaches like that anymore: only policemen. But it’s attitude and party politics that will need to change most of all to bring the party out of third place in the race. Politicians should try being genuine and talk more with the common people.

If the NDP are not going to be new democrats anymore but democrats with seasoning and experience, then the party has to grow up all around. Perhaps at the NDP convention the name change will come with a new leader but if they change the leader they better throw smarts and charisma into the package. Oh and clearly stating their platform and sticking to their guns. If not, the NDP, or the Democratic Party, will continue to bring up the rear, even if the other two choices aren’t much better.

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Sci Fi Channel: When Branding Goes Stupid

Sci Fi Channel is trying a new branding idea that is seriously going to backfire on them. Really, I don’t watch TV but I’ve heard enough, including comments on my writers’ groups that say this is one big dumb idea.

The executives, those guys who get paid the big bucks, decided that the term sci fi (pronounced sie fie) which people everywhere identify with science fiction was just too geeky and they wanted to distance themselves from that overly geeky image.

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

Anti-social boys as opposed to the general public and the female audience? Urr, have any of these guys actually paid attention to the changing world of science fiction in the last fifty years? Have they noticed that the stories and characters are farther reaching, that perhaps they’re thinking cliche here? Yes, the demographics will still have a majority of men but I’m thinking not as big a margin of difference as they might believe. Hmm, well they want to broaden their audience. That’s a good thing, right? “We spent a lot of time in the ’90s trying to distance the network from science fiction, which is largely why it’s called Sci Fi,” Mr. Brooks said. “It’s somewhat cooler and better than the name ‘Science Fiction.’ But even the name Sci Fi is limiting.”  They wanted to distance themselves from what they were selling. How odd. The execs must suffer from a lot of split personality disorders.

So, in their infinite wisdom, they have decided that a rebranding of a channel that shows science fiction and fantasy programs will be better if it doesn’t look like sci fi, even though that’s what they’re selling, sci fi shows. The think tanks specialists of NBC worked long and hard I’m sure, trying to find the right name. Over 300 ideas in fact.  And guess what they came up with: SyFy. Yep, if you think that sounds the same as sci fi, you’re right.

“When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said.

Hilarious. I mean, if I was being techno savvy and texting I would use SF, pronounced ess eff. My techno-savvy friends would figure that out and it takes fewer letters. And aren’t they trying to bring in new viewers besides those techno-savvy viewers who are already watching? But “SF”, maybe the general public can’t recognize what that stands for so SyFy will look better and “cooler” as the execs proclaim. Cooler. Yeah, way cool. And of course more identifiable as umm…science fiction but not science fiction.

I wonder why they didn’t go for “skiffy,” one former pronunciation of the term sci fi, which I was told once was what the nongeeky people called SF. It just sounded too goofy to me. In the world of speculative fiction where we who are female or older than sixteen but perhaps still geeky tend to say sci fi, or SF or science fiction even. We even say speculative fiction to encompass horror, fantasy and science fiction. I’ve not noticed people at the theaters worrying about what category the films like Wall-E, Watchmen or Star Wars fit into. In fact, Vancouver’s top grossing movie last week was Watchmen. But then:

Mr. Brooks said that when people who say they don’t like science fiction enjoy a film like “Star Wars,” they don’t think it’s science fiction; they think it’s a good movie.

And that’s the point. They don’t think sci fi, SF or SyFy. They look at what they think they will enjoy. A rose by any other name? But hey, if these big execs want to spend their time mixing letters up, well that shows what’s important. I wonder what their programming will be like. I’d like a job like this, to spend time thinking up a new way to spell the same word.

Oh and I really hope they haven’t gone international with this. If they have, people in Poland may not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon as “syfy” translates to something like heretical and unclean. The full article is below and people’s comments are worth reading as it indicates how well the brand change is going over.

http://www.tvweek.com/news/2009/03/sci_fi_channel_aims_to_shed_ge.php

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