Tag Archives: advertising

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

one new shoe and one worn out shoe

One day, not long ago, I was having coffee with a friend. He is an account manager of sorts and deals with a lot of larger companies, many of whom are serviced by big ad agencies, design and marketing firms. He had worked at pretty much every level of the marketing, advertising and production business and had accumulated a wide variety of skills and insight.

We talked about a lot of things, as we usually do, and at a certain point the conversation got around to the differences between large agencies and small agencies in today’s business world. His observations had pretty much convinced him that the future of marketing, with the exception of companines in the top 10% in terms of size, reach and value as a client, was trending towards smaller ’boutique’ style firms.

Having all come from the big agency business ourselves once upon a time, I was really quite interested in what he had to say. And how, of course, that would affect things here at Ink Tank.

Life in the Twenty-First Century – Marketing Wise

His opinion is that large agencies and creative firms will continue to exist and the best ones will thrive, however with the global business landscape becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial, the prospects for those large agencies with hefty fees, heavy skews toward strategic development, slow turnaround times and large markups for outsourced services will, or in fact, have already narrowed considerably. Conversely, the opportunities for small, affordable, nimble and highly experienced smaller firms will broaden significantly.

The simple reason for this, according to my friend, is all about value. An entrepreneurial client values his or her relationships to a much greater extent than a big corporation does. They like the accountability and transparency that relationships with smaller firms engender. And they know that smaller firms, especially those who have been around for awhile, tend to be made up of individuals with a) much higher levels of experience, b) the ability to strategize, conceptualize and execute in a much more fluid fasion, c) a proven outsource supplier base with the same kind of DNA as they have, and d) the willingness to embrace client opinions much more openly, as opposed to the ‘us v. them’ mentality that still exists in many large creative and marketing firms.

The conversation with my friend resonated with what I’ve felt was true for quite some time. The world is a much different place than it was even a decade ago. The Internet has created a mixed bag of new media, some of which have yet to be fully proven and not all of which are right for all businesses. It has also created a number of new challenges for clients and business planners alike, all revolving around basic strategic and creative issues.

Many large agencies, studios and marketing firms today are filled to the brim with people who have grown up with a distinct bias towards digital media – a natural tendency as digital has been the bulk of their life and business experience. And like all biases, they tend to see only their own value and ignore or de-value other ways of doing things. Sadly, these big firm creative and marketing people are disadvantaged to a great extent because they have had very little in the way of mentoring: the people who could have mentored them, by and large, didn’t stay around to do that. They went off with their knowledge and experience and grew along with the digital age.

Old School and New School

This is pretty much our story here at Ink Tank. We all held senior positions in the advertising and design business. But instead of hanging around and passing ourselves off as gurus of one kind or another, we decided to keep working – our way – and adding new skills and experience. Because that was where the joy for us is derived.

Having worked in the communications business both pre and post-digital age has equipped us with a level of insight into both how these things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. And at the end of the day, the strategic insight and experience, the creative development process and the need for high calibre execution remain constant.

What’s changed are really only the tools. And of course, our own levels of knowledge, experience and expertise, which are constantly deepening and expanding.

Protecting Your Brand: The Uphill Battle Of Keeping Your Eyes On Your Fries

There are all kinds of ways to tread on someone else’s brand–knowingly or not. From ‘borrowing’ to parody to outright trademark infringement, between tight budgets and new media, it’s becoming an increasingly big problem.

One of the things that one learns very quickly in the creative and communications business is that there is relatively little in the way of innovative thinking. You hear the expression ‘that’s been done to death’ a lot, usually in the same speech as you hear the words, “Make it feel like Apple,” or Telus, or Nike or Pepsi–or that other law firm. “We want to look like (read ‘be’) them.”

When branding and communications experts hear this, we cringe. Because everybody knows that the easiest way to work your way out of a problem (as an employee with a boss or two to deal with, or a consultant with too many people making decisions) is to do exactly what you are told.

So what happens is that a lot of advertisers, designers, web people, “branders” and small business start-ups invariably end up ‘borrowing’ a look, style, idea or an approach from something famous (or competitive), twisting it around a bit and making it their own. The really desperate and unscrupulous types (and we have all known a few) will actually just lift the idea and put their client’s logo on it.

They call it homage or free commerce. But basically it’s just taking a great idea that someone else carefully thought through, invested in and sweated over–and repurposing it, because they don’t have one of their own. Or because it’s faster, easier, or cheaper to produce. But it’s also a form of stealing, albeit one that has historically been difficult to enforce, mainly because of the ‘grey area” in which transgressions like this reside. And, in point of fact, people with similar strategies to deal with will sometimes use a similar process to come up with ideas that are very much alike.

Good Parody v. Bad v. Questionable

Parody–borrowing inspiration from an existing brand or idea to make a point–is a whole other ballgame. True parody (authentically spoofing a brand, film, person or campaign) is a good thing and is often used to great effect to get into the heads of consumers. Great brands are iconic. Equally great parodies of them can help them gain customer-driven insight, awareness and market share and bring otherwise overlooked societal and cultural issues important positive attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of great and funny ideas for parodies are not so great. There are a lot of important things to take into account before posting or printing or broadcasting something based on someone else’s brand. What is a great idea is to make sure that you and the people you hire have a handle on them.

One of the most ‘ripped off’ advertising campaigns recently is the famous Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man In The World” campaign. The style has been parodied and mimicked in dozens of different ways and for several completely different products or services. Intellectual property infringement, or homage? Tough call. https://www.youtube.com/user/dosequisbeer

To compound the problem, parody is no longer just the realm of professionals. Anyone with a (subjective) sense of humour can jump on the parody bandwagon and play it forward. Let’s face it: if we think something’s funny, we pass it on–and the Internet does what it does well. But the concept of going ‘viral’ is a double-edged sword. Bad parody, laziness, ill-intent or do companies just not care or not notice? A lot comes down to intent. When parody starts to have a negative impact on a brand, it ceases to be funny and starts to become bad for business.

Plain old infringement

There was a time when once a brand or organization name was trademarked, the owners of the trademark could feel relatively secure that their intellectual property was not going to be hijacked or otherwise used, or misused, without their permission.

But times have changed. And the very equity that these brands have worked so hard to build over the years can easily be diluted by companies and individuals who take the easy way out, and/or who (knowingly or unknowingly) abuse the brand using what’s often the anonymous veil of the Internet.

This hits close to home. We have encountered companies stomping all over our own registered trademarks, with Ink Tank® trademark challenges from businesses ranging from a local design firm (who pride themselves on their due diligence), to a worldwide manufacturer, an American cartoonist and now a new cloud-computing firm in the U.S.  They all thought Ink Tank was a great name. So it is–it’s why we’ve used it for 29 years.

This brings us to a whole other issue of due diligence when creating a name, corporate identity or concept for a product, process or organization. It also says a great deal about the sad state of affairs out in the business world where respect for brands as intellectual property seems to be eroding at an alarming pace.

Keeping the Wolves at Bay

There will always be issues with the ‘borrowers’, the lazy, the unscrupulous and the unprofessional creating challenges for your brand. And with new media they are more prevalent today than ever before. Staying on top of them is, in a lot of cases, the real uphill work. But it’s work that needs to be done if you are to maintain the integrity of your brand and not have it eroded by people would use your equity for their own gain.

So how do you protect yourself? Start early and start right. Early consultation with a great IP lawyer is a smart step. And a smart IP lawyer will advise you to hire

a firm that actually understands branding and corporate identity and the differences is a good start; one that really knows the meaning of due diligence and cares about it. One that gets that humour has boundaries. One that understands that there are distinct differences between patents, trademarks, registered trademarks and corporate registrations and the boundaries they work in. And one that can ensure your communications tools are not only building your brand, but protecting its integrity and trademark too.