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Trees That Bite Back

June 23rd, 2009 - by Brett Derricott - Salt Lake City, Utah

I’m absolutely baffled by an advertisement I just saw in HOW magazine. Actually, I thought it was an advertisement but in reality it was a stern warning.

Julius Samann Ltd is the trademark holder for the Little Tree® design used in car air-fresheners. Evidently they feel like their trademark is being infringed upon often enough that they’ve placed ads in HOW Magazine warning designers against using their trademarks.

Am I baffled that they want to protect their marks? Not at all. The shocker to me is the approach they’ve taken.


Did they really think this through? Creatives are going to be flipping through HOW looking for inspiration (something that usually feels good) when they hit this page which will scold them for abusing the Little Tree marks (and that will feel bad).

Creatives are always talking about how a brand feels or the emotional response it elicits. I don’t think there will be any positive feelings had by those who view this ad. I’m not even a designer, which means I’ve never infringed on these marks and never will, but I still felt bugged after viewing this ad.

Now, I’m sure I don’t know all of what’s behind them running this ad or what kinds of infringement they’re battling. They certainly have a right to protect their IP. But, they could have handled this better.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Use humor. The design of this ad looked pretty casual, and I was reading HOW after all, so I wasn’t expecting the punch-to-the-face closer on this ad. They should have played to my expectations and used humor to get their point across.
  2. Use a carrot, not a stick. They should have enticed designers to work with their legal team, rather than alienate designers. I’m certain that they get some positive benefits from that tree shape being used in non-competing situations. They should encourage appropriate use, not focus on inappropriate use in such a wide-reaching ad as this. The message would still be clear that they care about appropriate use of their marks.
  3. Test the message. I’ll be shocked if I find out they ran this ad by a group of (external) designers before submitting it. Had they done a little test with this message, they could have saved themselves some negative publicity by taking a better approach.

What do you think? How could they have better communicated their message? Leave a comment and we’ll discuss.

Update: Apparently HOW isn’t the only mag they’ve advertised in.