Walmart advertising execs need a lesson in geography. And maybe irony.
Have you seen the new Walmart commercial? Pay attention at around the 50 second mark.
Have you seen the new Walmart commercial? Pay attention at around the 50 second mark.
There’s a petition making the rounds on Facebook. The short version is that Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing is suing Lexington, KY-based West Sixth Brewing for trademark infringement. West Sixth is asking the good citizens of Facebook to help them back Magic Hat off. You can read the post here, and it nicely explains the kerfuffle from West Sixth’s perspective. Have a look here for Magic Hat’s side of the story, and rest assured, their version differs from West Sixth’s.
Here are the logos in question. First, the full MH mark:
And here’s the West Sixth logo alongside the Magic Hat #9 Not Quite Pale Ale mark that is the point of gravest consternation.
My initial reaction was along the lines of “bite me, Magic Hat.” I’m someone who tends to believe that most corporate litigation is wankery (the main job of lawyers being to keep their profession healthy) and this is a case where I just don’t see the point. I’m not an attorney, but I have been a brand nazi (I sort of own that role with a couple of clients right now, in fact), so I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the issues surrounding brand integrity and infringement.
My friend and former student Seth Michalak (one of the two or three best students I ever had the pleasure of teaching, in fact) isn’t so sure, and we’ve been back and forth this morning on the issue. He began thusly:
Seth: I’m no fan of Magic Hat, but have you seen the logos side by side? It’s fairly telling that West 6th uses the general Magic Hat logo and not the #9 logo that is in question on their site…
Well, they use elements of both. Yes, the W6 “6” is similar to an upside down MH “9,” but the eight-sided star resembles, sorta, the star on the MH primary logo. W6 uses a clean, symmetrical star as opposed to MH’s stylized “hippie” star, but it’s an eight-sided star paired with a “6” that employs a similar font to the MH “9.”
How similar are they? Well, close but not exactly. I broke out the Photoshop and did a little overlay for comparison sake.
I have no doubt that the W6 logo is, ummm, inspired by MH. But this kind of thing happens every day. I can easily imagine the folks at W6 telling the design firm that “hey, we like that Magic Hat look and feel – can you do something like that?” And designers being what they are – that is, sheep – the result is a logo that’s a good bit homage. But do you look at the two and get confused?
If imitating were a crime Apple could sue about a million companies. Wander through the world of corporate logo and Web design and count the number of sites that owe their souls to the Cupertino design team, which may be the most influential industrial design collective in history. You can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting a Mac rip-off.
So sure – if I’m MH, I might be sneering at the wannabes, but suing them?
Seth: If people don’t get confused then what is the point of such an homage? It’s trading on someone else’s reputation by creating a link in the consumer’s mind. We both know that a lot of marketing happens on a subconscious level.
Good point. But. You can invoke an emotional response without confusing someone. In fact, you don’t want the imitation to rise to the level of conscious awareness. Once the customer starts thinking actively about it, you lose ground quickly. Brands work best at the emotional and, as you say, subconscious level. Feel is good, think bad. So if you’re going to imitate, do it subtly.
Listen, there are only so many ways that a logo can look. There are a finite number of visual identity approaches that are stylish and that speak to what you want to accomplish as a brand. If you look at the logo samples produced by that design shop, you’ll see a certain trendy, ragged-around-the-edges aesthetic that looks contemporary and familiar and slightly hip. Every single one of them is stylistically familiar, yet the best of the lot come off as fresh and engaging. (These guys aren’t my style, for sure, but they’re not bad at all for a local retail-focused designer.)
If you had never seen the MH logo, the W6 mark wouldn’t look even slightly out of place in that portfolio.
I’m not arguing that West Sixth isn’t ripping Magic Hat off. As I say, designers are sheep and just about every new logo you encounter is ripping somebody off, whether you know it or not. I have sat and watched very talented designers sift through online logo boards looking for things to steal. This is where SO many of them get their ideas. In this case, though, the core idea was apparently lifted from someone visible and established in the same industry, making the process a little more obvious than usual. Were I the brand nazi at W6 I’d have guided the process in a different direction because I don’t want to risk getting lost in someone else’s shadow, but I guess that’s just me.
But this doesn’t mean what they did is necessarily illegal. Ultimately that will be up to the courts to decide if it gets that far (which I doubt). It seems that MH is going to play hell trying to assert that they own a font family that existed long before they did or that another brewery shouldn’t be allowed to use a visual design concept that’s being used by who knows how many other businesses around the country already.
Seth: I would say check out some of the posts on Reddit that have Magic Hat’s side to this story before doing so. It rounds out the picture a bit more than the post from W6 alone does. W6 says Magic Hat doesn’t want to talk, and Magic Hat says they have talked and W6 walked away. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The point is that W6 likely isn’t the victim of a blindside that the post contends.
Oh, of this I have no doubt. I’m not going to look at those two logos side by side and conclude that West Sixth has all the angels on its side. I encourage readers to have a look at both of those links up top and draw their own conclusions.
In the end, I absolutely get why MH is annoyed, but this is one of those cases where winning the battle might cost them the war. Regardless of the outcome, they have allowed themselves to be cast as a big lawyered-up corporate bully in a dust-up with a brewery in feckin’ Kentucky that until now nobody had ever heard of. And not everybody is going to see the Reddit thread.
It seems to me that there is little to be gained legally and a lot to be lost on the PR front.
They’ve been the target of freedom and privacy advocates for some time. All the way back in 2008 I was talking about the company’s anti-privacy tendencies and arguing that things were only going to get worse for the citizenry. More recently, I called them the most congenitally dishonest company in America, and I’m waiting for evidence that proves me wrong.
But these days, us privacy ankle-biters are the least of Mr. Zuckerberg’s concerns. You’re no doubt aware of the debacle surrounding the company’s IPO. They opened at 38, then all hell broke loose, and as I type they’re trading at 20 and change. Continue reading Facebook’s bad year just got worse
It seems that after several days of mounting public pressure, Rush Limbaugh has finally cracked. How else could you explain his attempt to move beyond this whole “hating on young women” debacle by continuing to attack young women? Today’s victim? Author Tracie McMillan, who represents another one of those awful “overeducated” young unmarried women Rush so emphatically resents. (More)
This one isn’t as vitriolic as the Sandra Fluke case, but it certainly makes clear that Rush is committed to the War to Keep ‘Em Barefoot and Pregnant for the long haul.
Limbaugh’s remaining advertisers have to be just loving this stuff….
I don’t know when the very first boycott of a product or company happened, but I suspect the tactic has been around in some form or another for a long time. I do remember the onset of the modern form of the practice, though. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, social conservatives began going after businesses who advertised on shows they didn’t approve of as a key part of their culture war strategy and they did so with a good deal of effectiveness. So much effectiveness, in fact, that a lot of people today (both conservatives and more progressive types like myself) routinely make purchasing decisions based on a company’s political behavior. (I miss Buy Blue, which made the process a lot simpler.)
A lot of conservatives this week seem to have conveniently forgotten their history. Continue reading As boycott pressure mounts on Limbaugh, two words come to mind: hoist, petard
This one is actually fun. And pretty damned cynical about the world of business and advertising, to boot.
A Gallup poll released in August indicated that the advertising and PR industries aren’t viewed very favorably by the American public.
One-third of respondents voiced a positive view of the advertising/pr industry (6 percent “very,” 27 percent “somewhat”). Twenty-seven percent were “neutral.” Twenty-five percent expressed a “somewhat negative view,” while 11 percent were “very negative.” (The rest didn’t venture an opinion.)
You might argue that, on balance, the numbers are only slightly negative – total positives were 33% while total negatives were 36% – and the AdWeek story cited here certainly goes out of their way to put a chirpy spin on the results (no real surprise there, I suppose). Continue reading Gallup poll reveals that public questions PR industry credibility: are PR practitioners to blame?
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Mad Men is quite hot right now. I haven’t watched it yet, although I plan on renting season one in the near future because everybody I know tells me it’s the greatest thing since the invention of vacuum tubes.
For those who don’t know anything about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the agency world, I imagine the show is fascinating on a lot of levels, as it depicts one of America’s grand industries in its prime. These days, though, admen are the hunted, not the hunters. Continue reading Mad Men no longer stride the Earth
Probably my favorite ad on TV right now – I think it’s even better than the much-vaunted Old Spice campaign.
Tricky Dick. Slick Willie. Toyota. Now … Apple? What the heck is so hard about the truth, especially when it’s clear that we live in a world where it gets harder and harder to lie and get away with it by the day.
I may have mentioned my friend John Cavanaugh’s biz site, The Tap Tap Tap. John is too busy to blog as much as I’d like, but for fans of quality over quantity it’s one of the best things out there, mainly because while the subjects are ostensibly business, advertising and brand related, he’s really making much broader points that apply to the non-business portions of life. Continue reading The letter that Steve Jobs ought to write to Apple customers