Guess Who Really Owns Your Brand?

A version of this was published a few years back, not long after Gap made an unfortunate attempt to change its logo. The recent noise about Slack’s updated logo reminds me that, as brand owners (and this applies also to employer brands), we need to assert our right to make decisions, even stupid ones.

So who owns your brand?

Hint: The same person who owns your dog. Stop looking around. It’s you. If you don’t have a dog, just play along.

If your dog eats the neighbour’s lawn furniture, it’s your problem. If that neighbour blogs, tweets or otherwise moans publicly about it, then it’s still your problem but more people know about it. So it’s arguably a bigger problem.

If your dog rescues a basket of kittens from a burning house and manages not to eat one of them, it’s your proud moment. If the neighbour blogs, tweets or otherwise publicly praises the dog, it’s still your proud moment but more people know about it.

Brands are the same: good or bad, kitten-eater or hero, brands are owned by the people who pay to register the trademarks, patents, designs and other property.

These are the same people who pay to update the website, recruit the employees, make the products, deliver the services, clean the floors and so on. Just like the dog belongs to whoever pays the vet bill, buys the kibble and takes it for a walk.

So why, oh why, oh why does this ridiculous idea that brands now “belong” to customers and candidates continue to circulate?

Cornell’s Johnson School of Management, no less, attributes the success of the PT Cruiser to customer band ownership. and cites the success of the PT Cruiser as its evidence. While they are perfectly correct that the brand experience is lived by the customer, at the end of the day, the brand is owned by the organization that puts it out there in the world.

Some look to public failures as evidence of decentralized brand ownership, for example the snarky commentary around the GAP logo or Slack’s new mark.

If we extend the logic that mockery equals ownership, then Samantha Bee probably owns the Fox News brand, which would be a fairly nasty surprise for both parties.

Who’s Throwing a Frisbee for Facebook?

Do you recall how many people ran out and claimed to own the BP brand while said company was lubricating the Gulf of Mexico? How many owners showed up when Facebook was summoned to Washington, DC to explain itself? Not so many. But plenty mocked.

The sad part is a lot of companies are buying into this nonsense that the critical mass of all social media somehow confers ownership on its participants. Maybe this comes from the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. But I would remind you that it also takes a village to raise an idiot.

Which brings me to GAP. Those poor buggers. They had every right to change their logo. Because it’s THEIR logo. Just as you have every right to have your dog clipped until it resembles an ambulatory crockpot because it’s YOUR dog.

I would imagine they approached the task with all the right bits in place: brand persona analyses, focus groups, A/B tests, creative briefs and all 64 Crayons.

But then the critics showed up. Which is their right. And they mocked and they sneered and they made up very funny parody sites and it all went viral and GAP started spinning like a not-terribly-bright dog who has mistaken its tail for a squirrel.

And they spun, and the blognocrats laughed and GAP spun some more and then went home and killed their new logo. Which is a very sad, very cowardly way to end it all. Stephen Denny has a way more eloquent post on the subject of guts.

So GAP abdicated its brand ownership, which is the marketing equivalent of dropping the dog off at the shelter to see if it can do better with someone else. That usually doesn’t end well for the dog, incidentally. They let Vanity Fair (how many of their editors are GAP customers?) and a bunch of bored under-employed designers (also not lining up at GAP on Saturday morning) scare them away from doing their jobs with bravery and purpose.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have an opinion of the old or new Slack or GAP logos. I’m not a designer, I don’t work for GAP and I’m fairly sure angry middle-aged women are not their target market so who the hell cares what I think? It’s not my place to weigh in on what you name your kids or to question why every Golden Retriever is named for a mid-western state. It’s none of my business. And these brands should ignore me.

If you’re losing sleep wondering if your customers or potential employees are out there throwing a tennis ball for your brand when you’re not home, don’t. The only person who gets to play with your brand, sneak it people food and let it bark at 5am is you. Go do that.

Bonus links: If you like to mock other brands’ logos (and who doesn’t? ) here are some great places to do it.
Bored Panda
Horrible Logos.com

B2BNN did a great roundup of the many reactions to Slack’s updated logo.

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