Magic Hat Protects its Tricks. Rightfully So?

beer-magic-hat_300Photo courtesy of Flickr user, justgrimes.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user, justgrimes.


This spring, Magic Hat sued Kentucky-based, West Sixth Brewing on the charges of trademark infringement.  Why, you ask?  Well take a look at this video to learn more.

Both logos feature numbers in a circular design.   A six and a nine can often be confused, as can a star and a compass.  Some say, no big deal.  Others stand behind Magic Hat and the popular brewery’s allegations.

What’s most interesting about this story is all of the negative backlash that Magic Hat has received from craft beer consumers.  According to Magic Hat, West Sixth crafted the perfect stereotypical story of a bigger brewery beating on the little guy.  But Magic Hat maintains that this was not the case.  “Our first step was to reach out to them. We hoped to handle it amicably. We had no desire to file a lawsuit against a fellow brewer,” said brand manager of Magic Hat, Ryan Daley. “We thought we had made a lot of progress with West Sixth. They agreed in principle to modify their design. And now they’re going back on their word, and are attempting to tarnish our image instead.”

Regardless of the “he said, she said” dialogue that ensued, Magic Hat faced some very negative press as a result of the lawsuit, and is still feeling the effects of the feedback.  West Sixth even went as far as to create a petition against Magic Hat and its so-called “corporate bullying.”


Just a few examples of the negative feedback:

haikuhicumagichat       photo-may-22-5-48-59-am

Facebook user compares Magic Hat's Blind Faith IPA with the classic Van Gogh painting Starry Night.

Facebook user compares Magic Hat’s Blind Faith IPA with the classic Van Gogh painting Starry Night.

Facebook user compares Magic Hat's Elder Betty label with popular movie Big Fish.

Facebook user compares Magic Hat’s Elder Betty label with popular movie Big Fish.

Facebook user compares Magic Hat HiCu label with Mountain Dew.

Facebook user compares Magic Hat HiCu label with Mountain Dew.


Old hat for Magic Hat?

Even more interesting, this is not the first time Magic Hat has made such accusations.  In 2010, Georgetown Brewing of Seattle was forced to rename its “9 lb. Porter” to the “Georgetown Porter” after the number 9 was disputed.

The Magic Hat and West Sixth lawsuit was ultimately resolved with the mutual agreement that West Sixth would remove the star from its logo.  Now the question remains, will Magic Hat learn from this situation, or will it continue to bully the little guys?

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Controversial PR: Knowing when to draw the line

For as many overtly offensive instances of public relations that exist, there are a handful that drive home a solid message despite the sometimes controversial messaging.

Tomatoe, Tomato.  Not always…

I think it is important to start this conversation by addressing the difference between controversial and offensive.  From my point of view, the two cannot be used interchangeably.  Controversial, by definition, means debatable or divisive.  So, in essence, what one person may find appropriate, another might find inappropriate, to put it very simply.  Offensive, on the other hand, can be defined as aggressive or belligerent, so innately bad.  I wanted to clear the air on this before proceeding with my views and why are they are such.

To be offensive, or not to be offensive

We all know that there are plenty of examples of offensive PR.  Below are just a few examples that come to mind:

–       Popchip’s Ashton Kutcher

–       Groupon’s Tibetan Cuisine

Nivea's Re-civilize Yourself

Nivea’s Re-civilize Yourself

The examples above are offensive for the mere fact that their only purpose is to drive sales.  In the process of attempting to drive sales, they make use of racist and offensive tactics that are accomplishing no greater goal or higher purpose.


The Good Angel

The examples below, on the other hand, although controversial, serve a higher purpose, and for that, can be deemed as justifiable.

Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board

Higher purpose: Creates awareness surrounding violent sexual assaults and the undesirable outcomes of them.

–       Georgia’s PSA targeting obese children
Higher purpose: Educating a population about a nationwide problem in a very high risk state.


So, in my opinion, it is very simple.

  1. What is your message?
  2. What is your goal?
  3. Is your goal worth the potential controversy?

In my view, preventing individuals from harmful situations and saving lives is worth the controversy.  Giving customers a good laugh and driving up sales is not.  It’s just that simple.






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CONVERSE: An All Star Brand

Photo compliments of

Photo compliments of

One of the first brands that comes to mind when thinking of crazed fans is undoubtedly Converse.  Established in 1908, the company released its flagship sneaker, the Chuck Taylor in 1917.  Still its most popular shoe today, the brand continues to gain momentum among its fan base by constantly evolving based in its consumer preferences.  Though the company has hit some rough patches financially, today it remains not only stable, but thriving, with over $1.1 billion in revenue during its last fiscal year.

Three ways that Converse has survived as an All Star in its fan’s eyes:

Largest fan collection of Converse All Stars.  Photo compliments of Hadley 1978.

Largest fan collection of Converse All Stars.                 Photo compliments of Hadley 1978.

1. Converse allows customers to personalize their products, in order to make each purchase unique and distinctive.  Fans are encouraged to do more than just design a cool pair of sneakers though.  This summer, Converse partnered with Creative Social encouraging fans to “hack” their chucks in fun and creative ways.  View the winning videos here.  The company’s CMO, Geoff Cottrill explains, that the brand empowers its customers to believe that “unleashing their creative spirit will change the world.”

2. Converse focuses on five primary concepts to define it’s brand:

  • American
  • Sneaker
  • Youthful
  • Rebellious
  • Blank canvas

By focusing on the core values of the brand, Converse succeeds at continuing to keep fans engaged.  One of the primary ways that they do this is with the honed focus on music.

The majority of the Facebook posts, a fan page that boasts a combined $42 million likes, center around bands, live music and self expression – exactly what its target audience is passionate about.  And if that’s not enough proof that Converse “cares,” the company even went as far as to open its own community-based recording studio in Brooklyn, appropriately named Rubber Tracks.

3. Finally, Converse allows its fans to do the speaking on their behalf.  And as we all know, fans love this.  And additionally, with over 42 million Facebook fans, there are a lot of folks looking to talk.  Cottrill’s philosophy is as follows.  “You have to have the courage to let go and not try to control the conversation or broadcast advertising messages every chance you get. Be respectful of the time between purchases of your product by adding value and contributing to the conversation. When it comes time again to purchase, your relationship with them should pay off.”

Social Media ROI.  Oh, that bugger again?

 There remains a looming debate on the true value of social media ROI and how accurately it can even be measured.  I have a tendency to take the position that less emphasis should be placed on ROI in the social space.  My reasoning?  If the focus on ROI is too tight, it is often reflected in the content, and often times has the opposite effect of its intention to engage customers.  As Cottrill explains, “The real metrics are the ones about engagement and ultimately, about connecting a conversation or brand affinity to results. I think a lot of brands are trying to figure that out right now — can social play a role in generating sales?”  So, should it be paid attention to, yes, but too much emphasis can have counterproductive results.  Converse is a great case study for this.  “Our philosophy in social media has been to bring our voice to the medium, which includes acting like a good party guest — we bring something to the table, and we listen more than we talk. It also means not bringing campaigns from other channels verbatim to a platform that’s about conversation,” explains Cottrill.

Converse has proven to be the perfect party guest – low maintenance, fun, a good listener, and always leaving the coolest kicks at the door.

Photo compliments of Flickr user, I am a small man.

Photo compliments of Flickr user,                      I am a small man.


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Men’s Wearhouse: The calm before the storm

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk.

Former Men’s Wearhouse spokesperson, George Zimmer.  Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk.

With the recent firing of Men’s Wearhouse spokesperson, George Zimmer, many opinions have surfaced addressing the question, “What would you have done differently?”

In order to ensure a successful transition of the founder out of his role as company spokesperson, here are just a few of the things that I would have done:

  1. Create a transition plan – Identify who will take over the role of company spokesperson when Zimmer leaves.  Not necessarily someone just like Zimmer, but an individual who will fill the role appropriately and also bring his own unique traits to the table.   So, for example, Zimmer was never really a strikingly handsome man.  Perhaps to fill his role, Men’s Wearhouse should consider hiring an attractive, young man who could serve as Zimmer’s protégé of sorts.  This would also assist with maintaining the presence of a familiar face in the branding efforts.  Doug Haslam calls this as the “Trapper John/BJ” effect, referring to characters from the popular television show M*A*S*H.
  2. Be honest with customers early on via social media and other traditional PR avenues as to why Zimmer was being let go and where the company plans to go from here. Otherwise customers are left to draw their own conclusions, and we all know how that story typically unfolds…
  3. Place emphasis on the voice of the company itself and its products and services, with Zimmer providing a benefit, but not being the entire draw. By placing emphasis on what Men’s Wearhouse is truly all about, the suits, it would help alleviate some of the pressure placed on Zimmer as the spokesperson.
  4. One last favor – Ask Zimmer to either appear in one last advertisement with a farewell message or to release a statement explaining his exit from the company.  By having Zimmer actively participate in his final statement, it would help add credibility to the message.
  5. Focus on the positives – Perhaps host a National Suit Drive during the transition featuring the new spokesperson and his commitment to giving back to the community and those less fortunate.
Men's Wearhouse National Suit Drive.  Photo courtesy of Brandon Doran.

Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.                           Photo courtesy of Brandon Doran.

Hindsight is always 20/20

On the flipside, if I was brought in to consult after the crisis, I would likely employ the following steps:

  1. Identify a target audience for a response to the criticism.  Pinpoint specific talkers and customers and respond to them directly with honest and straightforward answers.
  2. Focus on responding to the audience that is talking to us in the way they want to hear from us. Because Men’s Wearhouse customers are avid social media users, it would behoove the company to respond directly to folks in those spaces.  A standard press release might not be the best bet in this case.
  3. Record our own YouTube video responding to the criticism ensuring that we will do all that we can to reverse any wrongdoings and restore the Men’s Wearhouse brand image.  Domino’s Pizza is a great example of a company that did this very well in 2009 when responding to criticism regarding the quality of its food.
  4. Launch a campaign similar to what LIVESTRONG did when responding to the Lance Armstrong crisis.  The company made it very clear to its customers that LIVESTRONG is about more than just one person:

“Thank you for standing with the Foundation — now, in the past, and most importantly, in the future. Your encouragement energizes us and we are going strong, serving people affected by cancer. People are in the fight of their lives. This place has never been about one man, and we are grateful beyond measure for every message of hope and good will that we receive.” LIVESTRONG.

Photo courtesy of LIVESTRONG.ORG

Photo courtesy of LIVESTRONG.ORG

So it turns out that being successful in life does hinge significantly on how you look.  Lesson learned for Men’s Wearhouse.  This time around we can pretty much guarantee that the company did not like they way they looked.

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Homeless hotspots? Not so hot for SXSW

“Hi, I’m Caleb and I’m a 4G hotspot.”  While a creative idea, and most certainly a way for the homeless population in Austin to make some extra money, is it really worth the message they are sending to potential customers?  And does it reflect positively on South By Southwest?  But most importantly, is it even ethical behavior?


Perpetuating the stigma of homelessness

There is already a negative stigma surrounding the homeless populations in most cites and countries, but now we are making it even worse by exploiting the group’s state of desperation.  How embarrassing it must be for these individuals – in many ways, no better than holding out an empty Styrofoam coffee cup asking for change.  Some might say I am not being progressive enough with my thought process.  But if being progressive means exploiting our homeless populations to benefit the already privileged and overly connected population, then I don’t want to be progressive.

Try on their shoes for a moment


For the sake of empathy, I used my younger brother’s name in the first sentence of this blog post.  Caleb could be homeless had his cards been stacked differently in life.  All of us could be.  But we aren’t.  We are lucky, fortunate, blessed – whichever one falls in line with your particular belief system.  So fortunate in fact that the lines have become so blurred for us that we cannot distinguish what human behavior is appropriate and what human behavior is inappropriate.  Turning homeless individuals into Wi-Fi hotspots, I’m afraid, is far beyond inappropriate.  It’s downright careless.

Where is the buy in?

Yes, the extra money is nice I am sure.  But let’s take a look at the systemic problem with homelessness.  Is paying these individuals $20 a day to become walking, talking Internet machines really helping the homeless?  Is it really getting to the root of the problem?  No.  Show me an idea that pays the homeless $20 a day to work, develop a skill set, and foster abilities they will help get them off the streets.  Now that’s an idea I will buy into.

According to ABC News, it looks like other folks are having trouble with the buy in factor as well.  After following one homeless man around for almost an hour, not one person took advantage of the Wi-Fi hotspot.  Was it guilt?  Shame?  Or maybe even something far worse?  “I am not using Wi-Fi that is coming from a homeless person?  That’s gross.”  Either way, the thought process is not natural because the act is not natural.  These people are human beings, just like you and I.  Let’s step out of our self-involved, internet-obsessed lives for a moment and acknowledge this simple fact.  Shame on South By Southwest for employing such a cavalier tactic.

Just ask Paula

One of the many Paula Deen comics that surfaced.

One of the many Paula Deen comics that surfaced.

This example begs the larger question, “Is all press good press?”  And the very simple answer to that question is “No.”  I hate to use such a glaringly obvious and contested example, but Paula Deen pretty much stole the show with “bad press” this summer.  Some may argue this fact, but the proof is in the pudding (bad-um ching).  My apologies for the terrible pun.  In all honesty though, whichever side you take on the popular Paula Deen debate, it is tough to deny that all of the negative press has ultimately hurt the celebrity and will be next to impossible to recover from.

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