The estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. is pondering legal action regarding the sale of unlicensed King imagery in the commemorative items cropping up all over in the wake of Barack Obama’s victory. Whether this legal action strikes you as sensible image protection or overzealous profit-seeking, the real takeaway for me is the power of consumers to remix and, to a lesser extent, remake your brand.
Long gone are the days when companies could effectively police brand style guides with their logo non-interference zones, and showcase “walls of shame” depicting egregious logo misuse. Consumers have the power to reproduce and manipulate images — both in their appearance (see this Starbucks “Consumer Whore” logo parody) and in their intended use (the Diet Coke/Mentos experiment was probably not in either brand’s marketing plan, but the YouTube video has been viewed over 7M times).
Bottom line: strategic brand managers have always been all about the experience, but now it’s as much about including consumers as enticing them. No word yet on Dr. King’s family’s decision about how to manage the imagery, but the challenge becomes more difficult as infringements “pop up like mushrooms”.