ARE YOU STUCK ON YOUR BRAND?
And if you were paying attention on or after September 25, you've seen the video.
It's ridiculous. Those of us who appreciate the value of brands and trademarks and intellectual property rights have been having a good laugh.
And judging from the near 400,000 views at YouTube over the last week, it seems there are a few of us.
The video is called simply, "Don't Say Velcro."
It features an ostensible cast of lawyers for Velcro explaining why you should not be using the registered trademark name "Velcro" for describing just any hook & loop fastener--and they're doing it with a big, goofy rock anthem that recalls "We Are The World."
HAVING TROUBLE RECALLING "WE ARE THE WORLD?"
It was the 1985 charity single for African famine relief.
Recorded by a vast supergroup of musical stars, it was a big, swelling rock song dreamed up by Harry Belafonte, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones, and featured almost anyone you can name.
It became famous for a note pinned to the entrance of the studio: "Please check your egos at the door."
And now, 30+ years later, Velcro is borrowing the conceit of the rock super anthem as an awareness tool to get you to stop saying "Velcro" every time you encounter a hook & loop fastener.
BECAUSE IT DILUTES THE POWER OF THEIR TRADEMARK
The patent for Velcro-brand fasteners expired many years ago, so there are plenty of other hook & loop fasteners out there.
Why does this matter to Velcro?
Every time the trade name "Velcro" is used to describe some other brand, it increases the risk of Velcro Companies losing its trademark--and that would be catastrophic.
Did you know the generic word "aspirin" used to be a trademark?
IT WAS A HUGE MONEYMAKER FOR THE GERMAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY, BAYER
But because the name fell into rampant use by other companies around the world, and Bayer didn't defend it sufficiently, they lost their trademark.
It means they lost the exclusive right to market their own creation under its brand name.
Bayer also trademarked the name, "Heroin," which was marketed as a morphine substitute lacking morphine's addictive side effects, but that's another story.
As is Bayer losing the heroin trademark in 1919 in the wake of World War I under the Treaty Of Versailles.
As we often do here in the weekly screed, we digress.
Because you, like us, appreciate ridiculous trivia.
So, back to the ridiculousness of this Velcro video.
THE ABSURD, ANTHEMIC POWER OF THE VIDEO IS CAPTIVATING
The over-the-top craziness of this band of lawyers is impressive.
As is the production value--and the sensibility that created all this.
As part of the song goes:
And we know that this is confusing,
because Velcro Brand is who we are.
But if you call it call 'velcro'...
we're gonna lose that circled 'R'.
This is called 'hook and loop,'
This part's a hook, this part's a loop.
You call it 'velcro,' but we're begging you,
This is (bleep)-ing 'hook and loop.'
And yes, the "bleeping" is part of the video, the word they bleep is never heard, and you know exactly what the word is.
And Velcro Companies claims to be doing this on behalf of all brand names that struggle to protect their trademark, like Rollerblade-branded inline skates, Xerox-branded photocopiers and Band-Aid-branded bandages.
BUT HOW DID THIS CRAZINESS HAPPEN, AND WHAT CAN WE GET FROM IT?
This is a perfect storm of cooperation, sensibility, creativity, and an overarching plan.
The video was created by a North Carolina digital agency called Walk West.
In the making-of video (yes, there really is one), a Walk West Creative Consultant named Penn Holderness says, "Velcro Companies came to us with this educational brand campaign. We had a blast just looking at their creative brief and we said, so what if we just really kind of turned this into a ridiculous 1980s 'We Are The World' style benefit but for something that really is a first world problem?"
OK, it started creative. But how did the actual lawyers feel about it?
In the video, Velcro Companies' Legal Consultant Alexandra DeNeve says, "When they came back with this concept it was, for me, it was just like 'Eureka!' That's it."
Mr. Holderness goes on to say, "Once we met them and saw not only how approachable, friendly, [and] real they were and they were bold and they wanted to...take some chances... Velcro Companies has a really good, close-knit relationship between marketing and legal. And you kind of needed that."
I queried a friend and business associate who happens to be a certifiable smart person. She's also a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She says of the Velcro effort, "It's so uncool it's cool! And that's a pretty massive triumph for an IP issue. I also like it that these lawyers come across as endearingly human in all their geekiness, especially the guy who points out hooks and loops."
BELYING THE CRAZINESS IS RELEVANCE AND COOPERATION
In all the years I have been doing this, lawyers are often referred to as the Advertising Prevention Department.
Here's the thing about lawyers: If you can talk to them before you start working, if you can make friends with them and understand where the lines are, you really can go to the edge.
Lawyers can be friends of creative work if you bring them in early.
And at the risk of coming off as a cockeyed sexist piglet, I'm going to note that the lawyer quoted earlier is a woman.
Many screeds ago, we discussed a hedge fund manager we know who likes investing in companies with female CFOs.
He says the female CFOs often have a better outlook, that their approach to the job and the company is more holistic and not just about the balance sheet.
Maybe that extends to female lawyers. I queried our friend and business associate on this. She replies, "Interesting and complicated question. I think it's generally true. I also think that because of the gender-related pressure (and racial, for that matter) that any such tendencies tend to get suppressed in larger firms. Which is a real shame. But there's tremendous unspoken pressure (against the backdrop of "we love diversity!") to be just like the power people, who are mostly WASPy men... and so it goes."
Speaking as a WASPy man, this latter challenge is disappointing. But again, I digress.
CARRYING THE CONCEIT THROUGH TO OTHER TOUCHPOINTS
One of the problems with stunts like this video is often, they aren't carried through to the rest of the advertiser's touch points.
Velcro Companies has thought this through.
Now, using the trade name "Google" as a verb us another trademark problem. Nonetheless...
If you go Google the phrase "Don't say velcro," there's a link to their website, with the video right there in the banner, under the headline, "We ®VELCRO® Brand."
Beneath that, there's the headline, "Never a Noun. Never a Verb. Always on Brand."
The copy says, "We know. You don't mean to be a serial verber, but we decided to clear a few things up about using the VELCRO® trademark correctly--because we're lawyers and that's what we do. When you use "velcro" as a noun or a verb (e.g., velcro shoes), you diminish the importance of our brand and us lawyers would lose our *insert unfastening sound.*"
AND, YOU'RE INVITED TO JOIN THE CAUSE
Another headline reads, "Take a Stand with our VELCRO® Brand."
"It's not about doing it for us, it's about doing the right thing. Successful brands around the world need your support to help protect trademark guidelines. Pledge to end the era of broken trademark laws."
And you can opt-in for an email list.
And oh, just by the way, you also have the opportunity to find out all about the various Velcro products and how they improve your life.
And yes, they're even down to the minutiae of hash-tagging #dontsayvelcro. And tweets from fans are embedded in the "Don't Say Velcro" page.
BUT CAN THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND REALLY DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Maybe not as enormously production intensive.
But it's entirely possible to start a movement, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise.
Online videos can be produced fairly inexpensively. Big expensive production value often isn't a requirement--but being thoughtful and consistent is.
In an age of WYSIWIG, drag & drop web development platforms, a dedicated website for the movement can be created very quickly and inexpensively. But again: thoughtfulness and consistency.
Using Facebook to promote the message can be done fairly cheaply. With the right material, people will pay attention. (Presently, a video for one of our clients has reached 2,000 people, almost 25% of whom have watched it more than once, 70% of viewers are staying all the way through it, and almost all of them are watching it with the sound on. The media cost? 50 bucks.)
Conflict is engaging. Humor with a core of truth is engaging. Letting people in on the joke and letting them play is engaging.
But like anything else, it needs to be done thoughtfully and with planning. And with consistency.
And it needs to inspire the core customer to feel the right thing. Never just a joke for its own sake. Like, "This is bleeping hook and loop," always, always, the right thing.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHO KNEW LITTLE JOSEPH LEVITCH WOULD BECOME WORLD FAMOUS?
He would also become a fixture in American households on Labor Day weekend.
But first, he'd have to get past that childhood illness.
It's hard to know what the illness was.
He would never speak about it.
All we know is that, repeatedly abandoned by his parents during his childhood, he was left in the care of his Jewish grandmother.
And grandmother's cure for the mystery illness has nothing on traditional Jewish penicillin.
INSTEAD, SHE PLIED HIM WITH BACON
Who knows where the long lost Jewish bacon cure has disappeared to, or when we lost it.
But as an adult, he admitted that in an attempt to ward off whatever disease it was that was attacking her grandson, grandma would cram little Joseph's mouth full of bacon.
In a different place and time, this might have led to a career as a professional eater.
"Megatoad" Matt Stonie holds the world record of 182 bacon slices in just five minutes. Six pounds. About 11 full packages of bacon. That was 2015 at Daytona, smashing the standing record set in 2010 by "The Human Vacuum" Mark Lyle, which was just 54 slices.
But Joseph didn't seem to have much interest in a career as a professional eater.
But he kept up his bacon regimen.
One celebrity friend, interviewed in GQ Magazine back in May, says he'd seen the guy sit down to breakfast, order 24 slices of bacon, and eat them all.
PROFESSIONAL EATING ASIDE, JOSEPH FOLLOWED IN HIS PARENTS FOOTSTEPS
The reason they left Joseph with his bacon-wielding Jewish grandma was because they had an itinerant lifestyle.
They were vaudeville performers.
Mom played piano.
Dad was a song and dance man.
Sometimes, little Joseph would appear in the act. At age 5, he launched his performing career singing, "Brother, Can you Spare A Dime."
But mainly, his parents left him with grandma.
It made him very insecure.
AND IT LED TO A MONUMENTAL PERSONAL BRAND
Determined not to be left behind, Joseph became ambitious and driven.
He began developing his own stage act.
As the spotlight continued to shine upon him and his fame grew, he was very shrewd about controlling his career.
Unlike so many in his profession, he kept a tight rein on the direction of his career and the ownership of his material.
He ultimately became a multimillionaire.
His energy could be frenetic.
He was endlessly creating.
When he was living in Los Angeles, his celebrity neighbors would find themselves drafted into impromptu film performances right in his living room.
The man who had once been insecure, bacon-stuffed little Joseph was very candid about his fame.
"I'VE HAD GREAT SUCCESS BEING A TOTAL IDIOT"
Yes, he said that. He called himself a total idiot.
Hard to know when or where he said that, exactly, because it has become pervasive.
It has even turned into an internet meme.
But it's impossible to argue either the success or the idiocy. At one point during his career, he was called the monkey to his peformance partner's role as the organ grinder.
But the "total idiocy" that built his success was fueled by tremendous insecurity.
It's probably one of the reasons that in his act, he was big and broad and usually playing to the back row.
He had eccentricities. Besides the bacon, that is. He never wore the same pair of socks twice. It's been reported that he'd change them four times a day.
AND HIS FANS LOVED HIM
At the same time, his critics hated him.
None of it changed the fact that he also cast himself as a great humanitarian.
For his humanitarian work, he was even nominated for a Nobel Prize.
In France, he was awarded a Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, the highest order of merit that country can bestow. It's essentially a knighthood.
The French have lionized him as an auteur.
When you see someone with this kind of raging success, it's hard not to think, Wow. They have it together, don't they.
BUT AGAIN: A CAREER FUELED BY INSECURITY
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I have a friend who grew up in the northeast. He went to prep school and spent time living in New York.
At one point, he became friends with Joseph's adult son.
They visited dad backstage in his dressing room at a performance.
It seems they were sitting there, waiting for dad to appear, fresh form the stage.
Our friend describes the door opening, and being engulfed by a whirlwind of narcissism and insecurity.
He described it as overwhelming.
Meeting this world-famous multi-millionaire, all he can remember experiencing was the man's self-doubt, harsh self-analysis, and his need for affirmation.
BUT WHEREFORE LABOR DAY?
The holiday that spawned this train of thought.
For a quarter of a century, Labor Day was the day that this man would launch a crusade to help children for whom the secret Jewish bacon cure was not enough.
During his tenure as Labor Day's ringmaster, he helped raise over two and a half billion dollars for children in need of more than bacon.
It was a cause that he took personally, and to which he dedicated himself annually.
EVENTUALLY, THAT STAR WAS EXTINGUISHED
Bad press, accusations, criticism, outdated attitudes, fragmentation of TV viewership--many things contributed to the death of the Labor Day manifestation of the cause.
But for 45 years, The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was a fixture on American televisions.
But like the arc of little Joseph Levitch's career, it was a huge success that eventually became the punchline to a joke.
And little Joseph Levitch, whose stage name became Jerry Lewis, built a stellar career on the foundation of a personal brand infused equally with talent and insecurity.
If you didn't see the news, Jerry Lewis went to the great telethon in the sky just a couple of weeks shy of Labor Day, on August 20, 2017.
He was 91 years old.
SO WHAT ON EARTH WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SMALL-BUSINESS BRANDING?
Funny you should ask that.
I was asking myself the very same thing when I stumbled upon the mystic Jewish bacon cure.
I wanted to know more about the childhood malady that Josephs' grandmother fought back with bacon.
Can I use it?
Will it help me?
I'm very pro-bacon.
But the more I searched, the less there was about the illness.
But the more there was about the carefully built brand that was Jerry Lewis.
The environmental conditions and the family dynamic that led to his success as a one-man comedy empire were fascinating.
And it got me thinking about how often the quest for perfection shoots a small-business brand in the foot.
"DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT"
That adage comes to us from the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
And it shines a laser onto the hot spot that so often prevents a brand from ever getting off the ground.
Throughout my career working with small businesses in branding and advertising, it's impossible to count the number of branding efforts and advertising campaigns that have been derailed by fear.
Yet in Jerry Lewis, we have the sky-high success of a one-man brand founded upon and driven by fear.
Some might argue that the Jerry Lewis brand is built on cruelty and megalomania.
That's an easy, pop-psychology way to explain it.
It's also ignorant and dismissive.
NOTHING IS EVER THAT SIMPLE
But if you start peeking into the life that was Jerry Lewis, you see a flawed human being who built a quintessential small-business brand that eventually became world-famous.
He did it without venture capital.
He did it without a logo.
He did it without advisors or gurus or email marketing or sales funnels.
He did it purely through intellectual investment and sweat equity.
And, perhaps, bacon.
What's in your wallet?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.