September 27, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Brandjacking vs Good Fun – Where is the Line?

Brandjacking vs Good Fun – Where is the Line?

Last week I noticed I had several new followers from some familiar names. Don Draper? Peggy Olson? Paul Kinsey? Where have I heard them before?

Oh yes, they are all characters from one of the best shows on television right now, AMC’s “Mad Men.”  The series follows the lives of employees at a 1960s advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, and is known for its richly drawn characters, stunning period sets and costumes, and rampant office booze-swilling and cigarette smoking (a no-doubt accurate touch to life in 1962, and one I’m sure some of us wouldn’t mind having around today!) (Not that I would ever drink and smoke at work, nosirree.) (Um..).

I assumed, as I’m sure most did, that the cable network behind “Mad Men,” AMC, had commissioned the Twitter personae as a little marketing tool and a fun project, a way to reach out to fans of the show on Twitter. And why not? Many of Twitter’s biggest fans are in public relations, marketing, and, yes, advertising–a key demographic for the show I am sure, just as DC politicos were a key audience for “The West Wing.”

As it turns out, the character Twitter pages were set up independently by fans of the show. The blogger behind Paul Kinsey explains that he contacted AMC in advance to let them know about it, and was surprised to hear they were sending DMCA take-down orders to some of the other characters.

It is, of course, within the rights of any owner of intellectual property to exert control over their brand, and the issue of “brand jacking” is one that will likely continue to crop up as social media expands in scope, but did this situation warrant drastic action? My colleague pointed out that the Twitter accounts were similar to fan fiction, where rabid fans of programs or movies invent their own stories using the characters. It’s a widespread practice, and not one that seems to invite much notice or crackdowns from the owners of said characters. Perhaps AMC is just a bit timid of the activity on Twitter because of its newness; a lack of understanding could lead to overreaction.

I just wonder when we will reach the point where entertainment brands realize what a lost opportunity they face when they go up against their own fans and audience in social media venues. Yes, the rules protecting intellectual property exist for a reason, I support any brand seeking to protect its rights–I just wish some would stop and think for a moment, and decide instead to work with social media instead of against it.

Take the Academy Awards. These are one time only events, they are not re-run and will not be able to generate any future revenue–so why are musical numbers, monologues and other performances from Academy Awards shows banned from YouTube? Wouldn’t that be a terrific channel to attract viewers to the show, particularly young audiences? I’ve complained about this before.

AMC was well within its rights to send out cease and desist orders to the folks behind the “Mad Men” Twitter accounts, and I’d never say otherwise. I just wish they’d taken a moment and decided to work with their fans instead. Because unless they are planning on making their own Twitter pages for the characters, all they’ve done is ruin a bit of harmless fun and alienate a group of obviously devoted fans. (Including me.) (Not that I’ll stop watching, that show is damn addictive.)

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