Tuesday, March 4, 2008

RE: "Bastardized Brand Virtualization" by Seana Mulcahy

This post is a passionate response Seana's Column "Bastardized Brand Virtualization on Mediapost that I am vehemently opposed to. Here's the synopsis.

"OK–I get how the Net has always offered anonymity. It can also be a medium for escapism. Maybe I’m old, but I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not, let alone create a creepy three-dimensional version of myself. Caveat: Yes, for those of you who IM or have seen blogs and emails, I have an icon sometimes associated with me. It’s two-dimensional, and to me, more like an icon, cartoon or caricature of me. It’s not escapism; it’s fun.

So, back to 3D worlds. I just get an uneasy feeling about them. In a way, it is somewhat lifelike. I used to get a kick out of the computer game “The Simms” way back when. It was a game. Have games evolved to social worlds now? When “Simms” first came out, there were many gaming sites that launched and were quite successful. Audiences were loyal. On the sites, players (or members) were able to associate icons to their screen name. This was so beyond picking the car while playing Monopoly. However, I wasn’t a gamer.

I did find the value of advertising on such sites. Back then, I launched a large automobile campaign with a car relaunch, a beverage, and a fast-food company. All benefited from the audience of gamers. Co-branding opportunities were pretty much nonexistent, so we created them. Our clients were cool and progressive, so they weren’t splitting hairs about measurement and concrete definitions. It was hype; it was reality. It was the way the Web was moving.

So I try to scratch below the surface of trying to figure out the offline lifestyle of these Second Life users. I hope I don’t offend you if you are one of them. Seems like a lot of time needs to be invested in keeping up with it. How could you be in this business and fit that all in?

Certainly, if you are reading this, you are most likely not the primary target audience. This will impact you, though: There are swarms of unauthorized uses of brand images all over these sites. Yes, it is true. If you don’t believe me, log on (although I am not trying to contribute to the site’s traffic). See for yourself. As a protector of brands, it makes me cringe. How can something so wildly popular with more than 11 million members allow this?

Simply put, people create their avatars and interact with other avatars they meet. They create their “world” and control how they “live” in it. In fact, there are even opportunities for members to set up businesses on the site. Real businesses with currency exchanges that turn into real U.S. dollars.

In the March hard-copy issue of Inside Counsel magazine, page 22, it lists even harsher realities. For instance, some entrepreneurs who make money in Second Life were making money by creating and selling unauthorized copies of Herman Miller furniture. The copies were shoddy at best, and Herman Miller didn’t want to be associated with them.

It’s like an online trip to Canal Street in New York’s Chinatown. “Walk” around, and you can buy fake Rolexes, Gucci bags and iPods. It goes a step further–you can even buy a knockoff Ferrari.

More than 100 major brands are already legitimately marketed on Second Life. If you want to advertise your brand there, knock yourself out.

However, for those of us who don’t, do we get the shaft by the site’s acceptance of a user’s brand — without our authorization? The reality is, it depends on the sites right now. There are no legal prescriptions. In fact, there is a law that justifies innocent infringement of a trademark, logo, etc. Can’t anyone say they were innocent and had no idea? Well, perhaps these sites could take some social responsibility and let users know the real deal. But then again, why would they want to?"

: I didn't put this on mediapost, as I felt kind of bad for being this blunt. Like you are passionate about branding, I'm passionate about taking abstract concepts and applying them practically. As such, when I feel like such a "holy" concept abstract as branding get's "hijacked" by "brand strategists", I start blowing my top.

I know that as many "savvy" people will vehemently disagree with me as will agree... So let's hit it.

**rant start**


C'mon, really. Do you really mean that brands have control over their image - and they should? Brands want to become an integral part of the identity of people, then they have to abide the "free speech" concept.

People take your brand and use interact with it in the way that has meaning to them. We don't want to "control" our brand - it just isn't the best way to get brand evangalists by repressing people's natural interaction with the Brand. We can merely try to channel it in a positive way.

I know that I'm not coming from a branding perspective, so everyone will eat me up, and rightfully so. I'm picking a bone with some of the branding concepts that are obviously backwards. The same (insert big insult here) lawyers that made mattel sue the maker of scrabulous would make Herman Miller force people who are obviously fans of Herman Miller and integrating it into their "virtual" life; adding the brand to their / their friends culture to remove that representation.

I'm not a big "virtual life" person either. I'd rather have face to face interaction. But bottom line, you are admitting that you aren't into "living in a virtual life", so why are you assuming that the "unauthorized versions" of branded products are a negative impact on the brand? It's reality.

I'll take a leg out, and extend this to the music industries issue with pirated music. The cost of entry to distribute music is now next to nil. Therefore, the actual value of the music is much lower. Nobody should complain about piracy. Sorry - that's going backward by making the barrier to entry higher. Let's just let China figure out a better monetization method for music. Gosh.

Instead, bands should think of "piracy" as them getting free branding. The question is how to monetize that branding. The whole concept of branding is engagement. If you are engaging your users, you can leverage that to get the ones that are fully engaged to spend more.

This should be the music industries real question. In what way can we add value to startup / successful bands that we can monetize? The current ones are:

1) Live shows
2) Schwag, T-shirts

Stop fretting about people interacting with your brand. That's good news! Learn how to leverage that, and encourage positive interaction (ones that have some monetary value especially)!

**Rant over**

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