January 30, 2015

Branding the Cause


(Photo: LesEchos.fr)

Activists create slogans to rally like-minded individuals, to generate awareness, and express their support for an issue or cause.  Slogans are, in fact, the key message for the issues they represent. They are propagated by the news media and individuals via social media, often expanding their reach on a global scale at the speed of the Internet.

The most effective slogans serve the same function as taglines, conveying attitude, personality, and information of the cause with an emotional undercurrent. As in business, they can be associated visually with specific graphics elements, like colors and images, forming a readily discernible logo; as in the case of “Boston Strong.”

(Photo: galleryhip.com)

Recently slogans like “Je Suis Charlie,” “I Can’t Breath,” “Boston Strong” and “Occupy Wall Street” have all made their way into our vernacular, Twitter feeds, car bumpers, Hollywood’s red carpet, and even our wardrobes. This publicity generates demand for branded items, like tee-shirts and bumper stickers, and demand creates value.

Which raises another issue: Does anyone have exclusive rights to these brands? After all, there’s money to be made on the sale of those tee-shirts and bumper stickers! The precedent exists in the world of business, where messages and taglines would be copyrighted and the graphics would be trademarked.

This is where the similarities stop. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has repeatedly said “No” to attempts copyright attempts. Drawing a distinction between rallying cries and taglines, the USPTO points out that slogans of this kind are broadly identified with a cause, vs. a brand; and that they can seldom be attributed directly to a single source, belonging rather to a movement.

Regardless, slogans like “Je suis Charlie” and its predecessors serve the same vital purpose served by their business-centric counterparts: Communicate memorable, meaningful, and authentic messages to a global audience.

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