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Brand Biting Part 1: Parody or Piracy

Posted on 01 Jun 2012 in Baby Roblog | Comments Off

In an era when everyone and their goldfish is a photoshop wizard, the ease of parodying and altering corporate logos and brands is easier than ever. The difficulty lies in determining what constitutes fair use and parody, and what is just plain old-fashioned stealing.

Radial Cafe, Atlanta, GA:

As most everyone in Atlanta and beyond are aware, ScoutMob finds the best local deals, hip hangouts and cool events around your city. Beyond their general awesomeness, they also boast one of the coolest brand identities around. Their combo of vintage found photography and beautiful type treatments presents a unique, instantly recognizable aesthetic.

Radial Cafe, an otherwise excellent restaurant in Atlanta, GA released just yesterday a dinner special they call “Shout Mob.” Beyond the obvious reference, their branding package (at right) is a complete bastardization of the tried and true Scoutmob logo (at left). Not only did they bite the killer Scoutmob style, they used it to promote their own “half off” deal for dinner, an avenue in which Scoutmob is deeply invested.

It’s A Joke, You Guys…

While the crew here at Baby Robot love a good joke (Bon Rappetite, anyone?), our primary business is the creation of branding and original content. The dawn of the digital age has certainly blurred the lines between piracy, plagiarism and parody, so we stick  to a simple rule: If your design is intentionally derivative of the source material in a way that either damages the source, falsely associates you with the source, or takes credit for the source material’s design, it isn’t going to fly.

While we’re fans of both Radial Cafe and Scoutmob, we believe that Radial’s attempt at parody does not constitute fair use. They make no direct reference to the original design, and they do not make the parody transparent enough to be obvious to a casual viewer. If you aren’t intimately familiar with the Scoutmob property, you would struggle to understand that Radial is creating a parody, and instead would likely attribute the classic orange butcher’s tag as an original design by Radial Cafe’s design team. No Bueno.

Even worse, consumers don’t like seeing their favorite products and brands taken advantage of, and on “ShoutMob” launch day, Twitter was abuzz (at right). The moral here is not that parody is bad, or that all attempts at “rebranding” and existing property for your own use is inherently evil. The moral is that whenever you dabble in another company’s backyard, you’d better give a lot of thought as to  how their fans are going to take to it. A “great idea” in the boardroom can be a costly mistake in the market.

 

So What?

As we all are aware, designers and branding professionals are a very under appreciated bunch. The field is crowded and competitive, the pay can be significantly less than for a similar role in management or sales with an equivalent amount of professional education, and the demands are high. As an industry we need to ensure that our brilliant designers are appreciated, and properly credited where due. “Borrowing” a high profile logo for the purpose of promoting a directly competing concept in an attempt to take business from the originator isn’t parody, it’s piracy. As the lines between physical and digital ownership and property continue to blur, we must remain conscious, as both producers and consumers, that the creators of the things we enjoy deserve to be compensated fairly for them. When a company intentionally diminishes the efficacy of a competitor’s brand, it does nothing to better the field, but rather lays the groundwork for an unstoppable erosion of protection for conceptual properties, and eventually, an increased cost to both businesses and consumers.

Stick around for Part 2 when we’ll examine some instance that we regard as legitimate parody and fair use, and how those scenarios improve the market value and strength of both brands. Until then, stay tuned for some special announcements from the Robots, and if you found this helpful, be sure to hit the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Social Madness” Challenge page, and vote for Baby Robot in the small business category!