PictureMarshawn Lynch sporting a "Beast Mode" branded hat.
I looked at the calendar and realized that we are already a sixth of the way through 2015. I also looked at my blog and realized I haven’t posted new thoughts since last year! So to get the new year up and running (feels weird to call a year that is already into February new, but what the heck), I thought I would start off with something nice and easy: the trademark exploits of zealous sports stars and people in the public eye.

Public figures seem to have a prime opportunity to promote pretty much anything. There’s a shocker, you might say. I mean, obviously it is going to be easier for someone who has substantial big- or small-screen exposure to capture the attention of consumers. Not only do these public figures have the opportunity to promote themselves; their personas often go far beyond their on-screen roles to create their own auras. Of course, this is part of the reason why such public figures often secure those lucrative licensing deals.

Still other public figures push even beyond merely using their own personas to promote the product du-jour, launching their own brands. Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and yes even Johnny Football (done before he sent himself to rehab, no, no no) are all spectacular specimens of this exercise. With their viral off-the-cuff remarks and signature hand signs shared on Facebook as the latest and greatest meme (if you don’t know what a meme is, here’s what I’m talking about), each of these public figures presents intriguing study material for any marketing figure who is seeking to understand what drives consumer purchasing decisions.

In other words, only a guy like Marshawn Lynch could take a phrase “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” and turn it into a potentially multi-million dollar brand. Lynch is famously regarded as a man of few words, so perhaps the few words he utters are that much more valuable than, say, the same phrase that is uttered by an ordinary person. The “I’m just here…” phrase, sounding like it is some kind of prelude to a late-night comedy TV joke, is soaring, just like Lynch’s other trademark “Beast Mode”, which is now a veritable household name and one which Lynch is eponymously known by. This latest phrase came during a press conference at the Super Bowl (media day, they call it) where Lynch showed up but refused to answer any questions, saying only “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Wouldn’t I like to be the trademark attorney responsible for managing Mr. Lynch’s trademark portfolio? I mean, the guy waltzes in front of a camera, utters a mere 8 words, and voila, a new line of clothing is born. But it isn’t that simple, I mean for a trademark as non-descript as the phrase Lynch is credited for to become a potentially household name. And it’s not so simple getting a registration for such a phrase. Lynch may have some issues, like explaining that there is no likelihood that goods bearing his “I’m just here” phrase will be confused with other phrases beginning with “I’m just here” (Bud Light used to run a promotion for “I’m just here for the beer”, but that is an older trademark that is apparently no longer in use). Lynch found out that obtaining the first registration for his “Beast Mode” mark was no walk in the park. Only in that case, Lynch actually had some pretty compelling arguments as to why his “Beast Mode” trademark was distinguishable over the other numerous “Beast” registrations (here’s a hint: it had something to do with Lynch’s overwhelming on-field play).

The second difficulty is enforcing this trademark. Where will Lynch and his attorneys draw the line in determining which phrases are infringing and which are okay? After all, the phrase “I’m just here….” Isn’t an entirely unique phrase for 2015. To see what I mean if you want to get an idea for how common the phrase “I’m just here” is, just run a Google search and see all that pops up). I could come up with a phrase for my line of t-shirts and hats that are gag gifts worn by dads to lament their weekend trips to the shopping mall with their wives (“I’m just here so my wife doesn’t get a divorce.”). The mark begins with the same group of words and may even have the same meaning (that is, explaining a situation where a minor annoyance is endured to avoid a much larger problem later on). My mark may even attempt to ride on the coattails of Lynch’s phrase by appealing to the same sort of connection between annoyance and reward that Lynch’s phrase was designed to exploit.

If the number of potential infringing uses is high, Lynch will find the legal bills to deal with these free-riders equally as high (it costs money to prepare and send all those letters, lawyers aren’t free you know). But those are the types of things you have to do as a brand owner to protect a trademark. So long as the value of the brand exceeds the potential enforcement headaches and the social stigma of trying to exclusively associate yourself with a phrase (the whole “Candy Crush” trademark publicity nightmare is all too instructive in this regard), a decision to zealously enforce the brand is wise. For public figures and those with the financial resources to promote a phrase as unimaginative as “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” to the point that it becomes a wide-selling brand, such endeavors can be well worth the investment.

I’m still waiting to hit my big break in the continual struggle of coming up with that one coined phrase that captures America’s attention. Until then, I’m just here as the trademark guy (who hopefully won’t be fined).

 


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