Mojo readers know that I follow two wise marketing/business cartoonists and like to share their work once in awhile. On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David JonesAdland. Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

Both offer observations that – in a very tiny space – say volumes about just how goofy this business can be. 

As you might expect, this is not the first time I’ve posted one of Tom’s cartoons about social media.  Enjoy!

‘Seen the new Pringles campaign yet? Check out the new post on my second blog, Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Observations Grown Daily.

Last week, I attended Columbia Business School’s Brite Conference 2010. “Brite” stands for brands, innovation and technology, and the event is sponsored annually by the school’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.

The two-day happening gave me enough material for quite a while, but let me start here.

There was a real mix of speakers.  On the first day, one of these presenters was… read the rest of this post here on my other blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily

There’s a real reputation-meets-revenue battle happening online.

Today, any advertiser with a Google AdWords account can buy virtually any keyword to advertise its own goods, regardless of whether said advertiser has the rights to use the word.  This is particularly troublesome for companies that have spent decades burnishing brand franchises and consider the associated names and words to be reputational assets of great value. 

If you go to Google right now and type in “LVMH” (the owner of numerous brands including Louis Vuitton and Hennessy), one of the sponsored ads shouts “Designer Handbags 70% off,” with a URL that includes the Louis Vuitton name. That has LVMH steamed and the company sued Google in Europe for trademark infringement.

Well the ruling is in… and it’s a split decision, advantage: Google. Upon Google’s appeal of earlier rulings (that didn’t go its way) the highest court in the EU has determined that – on its face – the mere fact that an LVMH-protected word is available for sale by Google does not mean that Google is in violation of LVMH’s trademark rights.  stephanie-fierman-louis-vuitton.jpg

Specifically, the court has said that the search company is not violating trademarks if (a) its automatic ad system is judged to be “merely technical, automatic and passive” in its operation, and if (b) the company is not aware and cannot be expected to fully police all the words that advertisers purchase.

Since computers are programmed by humans, I would argue that the first point is debatable, but there it is.  It was not a flat-out win for Google, however, as the court also ruled that Google must remove said ads if the brand owner formally complains about an advertiser infringing on its marks.  If Google fails to do this, the court says it won’t be so helpful in protecting Google’s revenue stream the next time around.

The court also reinforced that Google could be held liable for selling keywords that openly encourage or facilitate counterfeiting, which is a win (or at least a booster shot) for brand owners.  And lastly, the court also clarified the responsibilities of advertisers who mustn’t, by “using such keywords, arrange for Google to display ads which do not allow Internet users to easily establish from which undertaking the goods or services covered by the ad in question originate.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’m an advertiser that gets into hot water for legally buying a word that Google sold to me – and I’m not trying to sell knock-offs – I’m naming Google in my legal response.

stephanie-fierman-brand.jpgLVMH has been on the attack re. this issue for a long time all around the world, and must fight infringement in all possible sales channels. It has sued (and has won), for example against eBay in the past.  And  LVMH was front and center in the effective elimination of a thriving Louis Vuitton counterfeit trade on Canal Street in New York City.  After this ruling, the company will flood Google “Don’t Be Evil” Inc. with complaints until the search company will at least have to question what (and how much) it is defending by taking on massive legal expense (and bad PR) in order to make money from advertisers leeching off others’ trademarks.

And speaking of buying Louis Vuitton knock-offs on the street, a LVMH board member asks what may be the most probative observation yet: “Under trademark law anywhere in the world, brand owners have the right to stop third parties from using their names. “Why make an exception for the digital world?”

 As the division between online and offline “worlds” continue to disappear, why indeed?

Let’s talk about Audi and the choices it seems to have made regarding its newest advertising work.

Audi USA’s new campaign is based on the “Green Police,” a band of roving law enforcers who try to protect the environment.  “You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy,” says a Green Police enforcer to a clueless grocery shopper in Audi’s Super Bowl ad. “A man has just been arrested… for possession of an incandescent light bulb,” says a reporter.  Here’s the ad:

There are even educational YouTube videos, like this one that tells you how many napkins to take per sandwich.

Hoo-HOO! Hilarious.


But if your brand had a history that was, you know, linked to the largest human massacre of all time, how funny would an ad have to be for you to go ahead anyway?


Audi’s problem is that there’s already one Green Police in history – a Nazi organization associated with the forced labor andphoto-original-green-police1.jpg extermination of millions of innocent people.  Audi is one of the companies that converted its factories to make automobiles and heavy artillery for the Nazis.  Both Audi and Volkswagen have been named in multiple lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors and their families over the years.

So the social media campaign and the TV ad comes out… and some people are upset.  Others race to defend Audi’s advertising process, e.g. Audi did lots of research prior to launching the campaign, and it showed the ad to Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors who were not offended.


These comments just reinforce Audi’s deafness.  Did Audi know in advance or not?  Which would be worse?  And as for the defense that the company showed the ad to some Jewish people… there were thousands of people of multiple faiths caught up in what happened during WWII, and there are human beings of all faiths who could be offended by such a reminder.  We are all citizens of the world – and we are all consumers with money to spend on new cars.  And if I’m not in the market for a car, I can assure you that I talk to someone on Facebook or Twitter or at work who is – someone who values my opinion.

This isn’t about religion, it’s about brand.  It’s about judgment.  It’s about customers.

What was the judgment that Audi made here? As PR flak Melanie Lockhart says on her blog, “Lockstep on PR, “Even if you don’t personally think so, from a PR strategy perspective, it doesn’t matter.  As soon as someone takes reasonable exception to anything an organization does (and especially if that someone has an audience), you’ve got a potential issue on your hands.  Can you reasonably predict that a campaign with resonances of the Holocaust will offend people? I think so.”

green-police-logo-design11.pngOthers on the Web haven’t been so charitable.

Audi volunteered for a big kick in the gut. Why – for a social media campaign? To spend $3 million on a single :30 Super Bowl ad insertion, when said ad drags so much negative baggage with it?  If I were CMO, I’d like to think that I never would have seen the concept in the first place, because my agency would have considered and rejected it. But if it had gotten to my desk and I’d reflexively typed “[Fill in the Blank] Nazis” into Google, it’d have been lights out.  No chance to debate whether or not an ad may or may not offend anyone.  Why take the chance? 

In this case, there simply isn’t enough funny in the world to balance the scale. It’s not as if there’s “another side” to the Holocaust.  This isn’t the same as being “offended” by a bunch of guys farting in a TV ad.  Even if you are one of these folks – in the words of Help A Reporter Out Founder Peter Shankman on Twitter, “Nothing good can EVER come from a PR campaign involving Nazis.”  

In a world where trust is a brand’s greatest asset, one’s very first filter has to be good taste.  Audi had no reason to take this kind of risk.  It makes cars that people love – one guy calls  his Audi TT “lovable and charismatic.” The company doesn’t have any controversial point to prove, and the brand doesn’t need shock value. Why take this road?

And in case you think I’m being overly sensitive, or perhaps that killing the campaign would have been tantamount to censorship, you may have a tin ear.  It’s not about us.  It’s about the audience and the message you want them to receive.

Be tough.  Put ideas to the test.  If one person can “reasonably predict” a problem, don’t hogtie the work and your reputation by asking for a punch in the face. There are plenty of great ideas out there that won’t generate over 100,000* negative mentions on Google.  Go find one.

* On February 14, 2010 a Google search on “Audi Nazis Super Bowl” yielded 107,000 results.

I guess it had to happen sooner or later… but back to the point of our story in a moment.stephanie-fierman-identity-theft.gif

I’ve been sitting at my laptop at home in NYC most of the day, getting things done.  Then, about an hour ago, I get an email receipt for a $260 card scanner purchased at the Apple Store in Birmingham, Alabama.  I check Google. The store is real.  Hmm. The receipt has my email address on it, but a dot is missing.  I check Google’s Gmail rules and it says that, even with a dot missing, GMail will usually get your mail to you.  Great.  How many Stephanie Fiermans could there be??  If the receipt is real, the scanner was bought with an AmEx that doesn’t seem to match my number (insert glimmer of hope here), but maybe I’m reading the somewhat fuzzy numbers wrong.  

Even so, the next number hits me like a ton of bricks: a 6-digit number directly beneath the credit card info starts with the first 4 digits of the phrase I use for nearly all my online passwords.  Oh my G*d.  Someone has basically cracked the code for my entire online identity!  I feel my guts clench and – while I’m on hold waiting for the store manager – I get busy changing all my passwords, worried that a thief is working faster than I can call all my credit card companies and check all the other sites.  The store seems like a good place to start, but who knows what could be happening out there in the meantime?!

A very nice store manager named Brad confirms that the Apple transaction number is correct. S**.  My mind is reeling. Identity theft. A stalker. How many credit bureaus are there, again?? Anyway, Brad and I are talking, and sleuthing, and we’re stumped because he says the card was physically swiped at the store, and he’s looking for more info, and we’re talking some more, and I’m wondering if he’s single, and then it hits me: there is another Stephanie Fierman in the United States – and I seem to recall that she’s from the South.

stephanie-fierman-identical-twins.jpgAnd now back to our online personal branding show, already in progress.

While I am certain, gentle reader, that you think there could be no other, there is another Stephanie Fierman in the United States.  I’ve “seen” her on the Web for years.  Since I’ve been blogging and tweeting and writing and guest speaking (and she, conversely, appears to be a normal person), I haven’t seen her pop up on the first several pages of Google for quite some time, but she’s out there. 

And yet we’ve never crossed paths – until today.  So while Brad is running through the possibilities, I type “Stephanie Fierman Alabama” into Google and – there she is.  My doppelganger lives in Alabama.  She LIVES in Birmingham, Alabama!  And the set of numbers that looked like the online password I use? It’s an AmEx authorization code – and pure coincidence. Case closed.

 I’m still a little nauseous, but I figure it’ll go away.

As for you… I decided to write this blog post because (a) the story is too crazy not to share, but also because (b) the part that made it appear as though someone had discovered my “universal” online password scared me straight.  I talk a lot about building your own personal brand (see my series, because you should anyway: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), but the #1 most important thing about being on the Internet is staying safe – and using the same or close to the same password everywhere is just dumb. Yep – close to the same password on all my credit card sites: brilliant.

Do you do the same thing? Do you use the same phrase or – when you run into a site that needs a letter or a number – do you always add the same letter or number to your basic phrase?  Change them now.  Mix it up. Use truly different phrases.  Especially on all the websites related to YOUR MONEY.stephanie_fierman_dilbert_passwords1.jpg

I have no idea how I’ll remember the strange new brew of passwords I cooked up but – if I forget one – I can always go through the annoying process all the sites have of resetting it.

It’s a heck of a lot better than falling into an identity theft situation that could follow you around for years.

So change your passwords now, and regularly – and please make sure they are sufficiently different from one another.  And check Google to see if you have a doppelganger.  I was lucky, but if yours is an adult film star or, say, in prison, you may have a little online personal branding work to do.

Check out my second blog at www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.com.