Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Ad-Man Cometh, With a Crapload of Shrimptm

You heard it here first, folks: Red Lobster has trademarked the phrase Big Festival of Shrimp. So if you were planning to have a Big Festival of Shrimptm, you're going to have to come up with another name for it, lest you receive a visit from Red Lobster's legal department.

If you're scratching your head because you came here for the usual bike drivel, hang in there. I'll get to it. The reason I noticed that little "tm" in commercials announcing this (one must assume) large, festive event that involves the consumption of tiny crustaceans is because, for a brief, misguided moment, I was a advertising agency copywriter responsible for coming up with similarly inane trademarks. Here's how the process works: 

The client goes to their agency with some idea, be it a crustacean-fest, or in my case, a redesigned part for a washing machine (for the record, I'm going to be cagey about who my former client was, though after 15 years out of the biz, any non-compete/non-disclosure I had with them is as dead and mouldering as my soul). I might get a little blurb from the engineers about what this new part is supposed to do, then I'm sent back to my desk to come up with a list of catchy names. I brainstorm for what feels like days (but is probably only an hour), make a list, scratch off the obviously stupid ones that may have gotten me to the less-stupid ones, then run the less-stupid ones through an online database of existing trademarks to see if anyone else in an industry vaguely related to my client is already using them. If all goes well, a few of my names will survive the "already trademarked" culling and will go to the client. If they like one, oh happy day, and their legal department does the reams of paperwork to stake a claim on the name. If they like none of them, I start over.

Here's how I imagine it went down for the copywriter at Red Lobster's agency: The client said, "We're going to have a festival. It will be big, and it will involve shrimp." So at the top of the brainstorming page, the copywriter scratched down "Big Festival of Shrimp" just to start the mental gears turning. Unfortunately, the copywriter forgot to remove that phrase from the final list of ideas that went to the client, and the client said, "Big Festival of Shrimp! That's brilliant! Send it to the legal team immediately!" (As anyone who's done client-driven creative work knows, you should NEVER present an idea to the client that  you think is stupid, because -- without fail -- that's the one they'll choose, and then you're stuck with it in your portfolio forever.)

Bike people who've stuck with me through all that Inside Baseball nonsense, the (admittedly small) payoff has arrived. Here are the takeaways you should always keep in mind when consuming bike-related advertising, based on my experience writing ad-drivel in other industries:

One, the person writing the catalog copy probably doesn't know anything about bikes or care. I certainly knew next-to-nothing about washing machines or tractor tires or water filtration systems or cotton towels or anything else I was writing about, and I cared even less. Someone on the client end does (or at least should) know and care, but that information is filtered through any number of intermediaries (creative directors, client services flacks, engineers, lawyers, you name it) before it reaches the writer, and it will see just as many filters (editors, proofreaders, middle-management flacks, lawyers again, and graphic designers cutting out random words to make the copy fit the page) before it shows up in print. Thus, the copywriter can be forgiven if, for example, he or she winds up accidentally touting the benefits of 37-spoke wheels or sealed-bearing head tubes.

Two, the lead times for producing a catalog (even in the Brave New World of the Internets) are long enough that what may have been accurate information at the outset might not match the reality of what shows up on the shop floor. For washing machines, sure, there were some stalwart models that had zero changes from year to year. Bikes? That's a rapid-turnover industry. The model name might stay the same from 2016 to 2017, but maybe Shimano couldn't provide the derailleur that the bike maker planned to spec in the right quantity or at the right price, so a different one gets substituted at the last minute. The bike with the other derailleur has already been to the trade shows and photographed for the catalog, and the spec sheet has already provided grist for the catalog copy -- a catalog that's either at the printer or already in a box at the bike shop. Thus, counting on the catalog as the Holy Text is a fool's errand at best, and busting the chops of your local shop because the catalog says your bike should have a 36-tooth middle chainring when yours came with a 34 is just not cool.

Hopefully, after all this, I've shed some light on how marketing nonsense gets to the consumer, deflated the Don Draper myth a little bit, and made it utterly impossible for me to get another job in advertising. Now, I'm craving some crustaceans...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How did "Shrimp-o-rama" not get chosen?? Or "Shrimp on a Stick"? Yeah, well, obviously this is not my core competency. (insert smiley face)

Goodness... trademarks are just one of the circles of that hell known as Marketing. Thank heavens that I never got drug into that mess. I will admit that there is a lot of value to maintaining a consistent look and feel for a family of products, which is difficult to do when products are being designed around the world (and I'm speaking specifically about my most recent employer). For doing that difficult and probably tedious task, I tip my hat to the marketing folks.

Having spent his time in trademark hell, has karma smiled upon our Fearless Blogger since then??

Steve in Peoria