Everyone has a right to protect their intellectual property, but I was quite surprised and a bit puzzled when I saw a full-page ad for Little Trees Car-Freshner in the September issue of Graphic Design USA.
The ad displayed 5 Little Tree designs and contained the following copy:
“This is privately owned property. So is this, and this, and this, and this [each with an arrow pointing to a tree]...no matter how you use it.
The footer copy contained additional legal language explaining why using the images was a bad idea and to ask for permission first.
I wondered what happened? Why would this company go to such lengths to defend their brand image? After about 15 minutes of research I discovered that some designers were using the famous tree shape in design projects such as invitations, t-shirts, and posters. Okay, so I get why they did the ad—kind of—but why so heavy-handed?
It seems to me that the Little Trees company blew an amazing opportunity to work with designers and artists, a community that could help build the brand image, by shunning them away with threatening advertisements.
What the Little Trees company could have done was turn a negative into a positive. Invite these infringers in with an international design competition? Here is my advice to the Little Trees company:
Create an international design competition inviting designers and artists from around the world to submit their ideas to put a new spin on the famous tree icon.
Attach a theme or challenge around the competition, maybe it’s Green Around the Globe, or Environmental Sustainability. Themes will help keep designers focused and allow you to market the campaign more effectively.
Allow the designers to mock-up the logo on many mediums, not just flat graphics. These can be art installations, merchandise, or even architecture.
Work with a non-profit organization like the Social Design Network or AIGA to co-sponsor the project and include a financial hook for their benefit. These organizations are experienced at engaging their community in socially responsible campaigns and can help get the word out. It will also offer instant credibility.
The intended outcome of a this campaign is two-fold:
- become a collaborator with the design community, not an enemy
- increase your brand awareness through custom artwork, generate ideas for new products and designs, make your products more “green”
What Little Trees did was a completely human reaction: protect what’s theirs. All too often we act in protectionism mode not thinking about the bigger picture. Will they realize greater sales because of these ads? Probably not. Unfortunately, they probably left a negative impression on most people.
I believe their attitude should have been: “This is privately owned property, come in!”
What do you think?