Readers of this blog are likely aware that trademark owners are required to actively monitor, police, and enforce their trademarks against infringement and misuse. Failure to do so can result in limitation of and, in the most extreme cases, a complete loss of trademark rights. It is thus understandable that trademark owners and their lawyers tend to handle such matters via decidedly humorless cease-and-desist letters, information campaigns, trademark guidelines, and civil actions.
However, in a world where companies increasingly interact directly with consumers via social media, and where companies’ perceived misdeeds travel across the social media landscape like wildfire, legal teams are becoming more mindful about how their various public-facing intellectual property protection activities reflect on their companies’ public images. This is especially the case given that both consumers and the media have become more sensitive to “bullying” in its various forms. The “bully” moniker has at times been applied to (over)zealous brand owners, and companies that police their brands using particularly aggressive, scorched-earth approaches have been the subject of criticism and scorn in recent years.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, over the past few years we have seen numerous instances of companies protecting their trademarks in creative ways – approaches that leverage humor and the brands themselves in order to achieve an acceptable legal outcome while simultaneously promoting the company and its brands, and minimizing the risk of public relations blowback.
In this new blog series (can I call it an exposé? That seems fancier), I’ll be exploring some of the more interesting takes on this approach, from singing lawyers to town criers and beyond.
This is @#$%^& Hook & Loop!
The Velcro Companies, the creators of the original VELCRO® brand hook and loop fasteners (and, disclaimer, also clients of Foley Hoag), have protected the famous VELCRO® trademark worldwide for well over sixty years. Their trademark protection strategies are typical for the proprietors of a well-known brand, and include trademark registrations across the globe, traditional cease-and-desist letters, and anti-counterfeiting and other enforcement efforts.
In order to reinforce the differences between the brand name VELCRO® on the one hand, and hook and loop fasteners – the Velcro Companies’ first and most iconic product – on the other, the companies have in the past engaged in a variety of consumer education initiatives in various countries, including newspaper advertisements and promulgation of trademark guidelines. Earlier this year, the legal and brand marketing departments put their heads together to devise a brand awareness campaign they hoped would make VELCRO® brand a water cooler conversation topic.
We ® the VELCRO® Brand
Partnering with Walk West and Penn Holderness, the result was “Don’t Say Velcro,” a multimedia campaign anchored by an utterly absurd, We-Are-The-World-style music video in which a bunch of company “lawyers” dramatically implore the viewer to call hook and loop fasteners by their correct generic name, and to only use the VELCRO® mark when referring to products manufactured and licensed by the Velcro Companies. The video quickly went viral (here’s Anderson Cooper’s wry coverage), and response to the campaign from consumers (and trademark practitioners) was largely positive, drawing favorable comparisons to the Xerox anti-genericide campaigns of the early ‘80s.
Legal and Brand Marketing Synergy
Acknowledging that I’m biased, the campaign is an excellent example of a trademark protection effort pulling double duty; first, it accomplishes the legal team’s goals of reinforcing the difference between VELCRO® (the trademark) and hook and loop fasteners (the product). Second, it accomplishes the marketing team’s goals of providing an engaging and enjoyable platform with which to interact with consumers.
The primary unfortunate side effect of the campaign was that I –you’ll see me in the back row of the chorus of mostly “lawyer” actors – have had the song stuck in my head for the past three months. Thanks, Penn!
If you’d like to learn more about the creation of “Don’t Say Velcro,” check out the behind-the-scenes video. I also briefly discussed my video involvement in a podcast interview with Alt Legal, to whom I also reveal my favorite television attorney (hint: it’s not Perry Mason), so you should definitely check it out!