The Fanny Pack Resurrection

Whether you love them or loathe them, fanny packs are a topic of fashion buzz dating back to arguably the 1950s. From must-have festival bags to high-fashion statement pieces, the handy pouches’ origins were designed to serve as functional and convenient mini packs that have had quite the evolution into today’s modern society. 

The Rise and Fall — and Rise Again 

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the fanny pack is back, with no signs of fizzling out of the mainstream market anytime soon. 

Origins of the convenient pouch remain unclear — some mentions seemingly date all the way back, 5,000 years ago, to the Ice Man, whose mummified body was found wearing a fashioned belt with a pouch attached. Recent legend has it that the fanny pack was invented by an Australian woman in 1962 who was inspired by the pouch of a kangaroo. Whether we chalk that particular possibility up to urban legend or not, the combination of belt and bag has existed in different iterations across varying cultures and eras due simply to the concept’s utility. Similar designs to the modern fanny pack over time have included the Medieval Scottish sporran (in a day where most clothes did not have pockets, belt bags just made sense), and the chatelaine purse, a stylish Victorian era belt bag.

(The Scottish sporran was born out of necessity for pockets)

(The chatelaine purse was hooked to a sash, belt, or waistband)

One of the first memorable mentions of the modern fanny pack (and the name) came in a 1954 edition of Sports Illustrated. It was featured on a Christmas gift ideas list. The $10 bag was described as the perfect gift for cross-country skiers, cyclists, hikers, and equestrians. In the ‘70s, the Swiss had their version as the “stomach bag,” which served as a holder for sandwiches, snacks, money, etc.

(Rock those retro sporty vibes with the Puma – Fanny Pack – PSC1043)

Over time, the mini backpack’s functionality for athletes, adventurers, and tourists turned into a full on fashion spotlight after the era-defining athleisure trend of the ‘80s. Adweek named the fanny pack the “Hottest Product of the Year” in 1988, with Chanel, Gucci, and Nike getting in on the game. The fanny pack then became a fashion mainstay in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and was rocked by style-influencing celebrities, including Will Smith and New Kids on the Block. So, how did such an iconic accessory lose its popularity?

The Fall From Grace

Like many trends before it, it was ultimately overexposure that caused the fanny pack to fall out of fashion grace in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The once beloved accessory became passé, a tell-tale marking of a once scorned dad style. It was mocked everywhere from Seinfeld to Weird Al Yankovic’s “White & Nerdy.” If you asked any fashion sensible person in the mid 2000s if the fanny pack would come back in style, they likely would have given a resounding no. However, the resurgence in popularity was inevitable. 

The Great Return

(Get the street style look with bold red from Champion – Champion – Fanny Pack – CS3004)

Around 2016, the fanny pack’s new era took off with streetwear giant Supreme’s FW17 fanny pack launch, in addition to popping up in several other 2017 fashion week collections. By 2018, fanny packs made up 1% of fashion accessory sales and generated nearly 25% of the industry’s growth, showing that the belt bag was officially back.

Today’s versions of the fanny pack come with modern twists, primarily the move from the “fanny” to the chest — and even the foot. The trend has been updated by adapting the style to be worn across the chest rather than across the waist, with modified designs being made once again by high-end brands like Valentino and Louis Vuitton.

In 2019, fanny packs are still going strong. It seems like every brand has its own version, from streetwear titans like Stüssy and Champion to luxury fashion houses like Prada and Balenciaga. And, of course, mainstream retail brands, like Urban Outfitters, are stocking them too. The trend is openly sported by celebrity style influencers today, like A$AP Rocky and Bella Hadid.

(The U shape and antique brass zipper make the Comfort Colors – Garment-Dyed Canvas Belt Bag – 344 perfect for across the chest wear)

Where will the trend go from here? Only time will tell, but we have a feeling this versatile and useful bag is here to stay, in one form or another. 

Original article from S&S Active Wear can be found here.


Speed & The Promo Product Industry

The one real differentiator today is the speed with which you can deliver and respond to client needs. Are you prepared?

By Andy Cohen for ASI Central

As a customer, you don’t realize how conditioned you’ve become to order-fulfillment expectations until something doesn’t meet those expectations.

I was recently having work done in my kitchen, and let’s just say that one of those frustrating experiences came my way. The problem in question happened with Lowe’s, the big-box home-improvement retailer. Trying to purchase handles and knobs for new cabinets, my wife and I researched options on its website, found ones we liked, and then walked into a local Lowe’s to purchase them. Not so fast. While there were hundreds of choices on the website, the actual store had only three shelves worth of options and certainly not the ones that we had identified. “Oh, the store only has some of what the website has,” one rather unhelpful employee told us when we inquired about the SKU we were looking for.

So, we went home and pulled up the website again to order the knobs from there – only to find that they could be delivered to us two weeks later. Say what? What consumer product takes two weeks to deliver these days?

The website presented another option: Order the knobs online and pick them up in the same Lowe’s we just walked out of. Those could be delivered within a week instead of two weeks, the site said. So. Many. Questions.

The first: How can a retail website deliver products in half the time to a store three miles from my home instead of direct to my house? Sure, I can imagine the answers include bulk deliveries to a store, but this isn’t mass inventory being moved. Anyway, we chose that option because of the relative speed – and proceeded to get no updates along the way about when exactly the order would show up at the store. On the specified date, we called, and voilà, the box was in the store. We didn’t get an email or notification to let us know – we had to actually call and reach a human being to find out the status. My contractor’s spot-on question: “Why didn’t you just order from Amazon?”

Indeed, many of us are accustomed to receiving products through Amazon and other consumer-goods retailers within 48 hours, to receive multiple updates along the way, and to be able to access information about the status of an order at any time. Your customers are doing the same thing these days. If they can order promotional products in an easy way, get updates on the order throughout the fulfillment and delivery process, and receive the goods quicker than they ever could have before, then that’s the vendor they’re going to purchase from.

Providing that kind of order experience is imperative today, and those that don’t are getting close to being left behind. All companies in this industry – distributors and suppliers – must quicken the pace of fulfillment and delivery. But, maybe more importantly, distributors need to ramp up their communication to customers throughout the whole process – and it’s best if that enhanced communication can be automated and easily accessible by customers on their own.

This is the key to success as customer buying habits change and even more consumers, like me, become conditioned by the Amazon model in both their personal and professional lives. As a fulfillment business, the time to adapt is now.


Rock-Solid Promotional Ideas to Help You See an End-of-Year Rise in Sales

By Chanell Turner for CBT Automotive Network

We are less than four months away from 2020. Depending on your perception of the New Year, this is either good or bad news. However, there are ways to ensure the close of 2019 sets you up for a stellar start to 2020.

Many consumers know that the end of the year brings discounts and promotions. However, while it is crucial to provide deals that benefit customers, you also want to ensure these incentives are attractive enough to make up for any sales lag that occurred during 2019.

So, what are some unique promotional ideas you can use at your dealership to encourage a sales surge at the end of this year? Take a look at our essential tips below:

Invest in Promotional Products

This tip is a short-term strategy that can facilitate long-term results. According to Promotional Products Association International, promotional products or “swag” really resonate with customers. For example, promotional products draw up to 500 percent more referrals from satisfied customers than an appeals letter alone. So, in preparation for the end of the year, see about offering promotional products that include your dealership’s logo. These items could be tote bags, pens, caps, or even mugs. Customers pay attention to “swag” and offering it to test drivers, and potential buyers can expand the reach of your brand.

Connect Your Brand with a Charitable Cause 

We are coming up on a season that is densely packed with many prominent holidays. From Halloween to Thanksgiving and Christmas, these festive events can cause buyers to feel more inclined to donate to charitable causes. So, don’t just offer the same standard incentives. Allow potential buyers to save money on a car while helping a charitable cause in the community. For example, you can partner with a nonprofit, and ensure 10 percent of every sale of a vehicle purchased during a specific time goes toward that organization. You can also hold a volunteer event at your dealership and allow potential customers to participate. From there, you can further cultivate a relationship with them.

Offer Deals Connected with End-of-the-Year Birthdays

Make sure you are keeping an eye on your CRM, and the profiles of past customers and test drivers. Take the time to see who is celebrating a birthday, and send them a repair or maintenance discount. This tactic is an excellent way to get them into the shop so you can provide an excellent customer experience, and hopefully get them re-invested in interacting with your dealership. It not only shows that you care enough to pay attention to their birthday, but it also allows you to reinforce the customer-dealership relationship. 

Offer a Special Holiday Referral Bonus 

This step is an excellent way to get your customers to become ambassadors for your dealership. While it is a great idea to offer a referral bonus throughout the whole year, you may want to up the ante and add a bit more money to the incentive. Also, you might want to have a tier of referral bonuses. For example, you can offer one that provides a more substantial incentive for someone who refers a customer who purchases a car, and then a smaller reward for those who successfully refer a family member or friend to your maintenance and service department for a routine servicing.

Add Urgency by Adding Visible Countdowns to Promotions 

If you are offering any incentives, be sure to establish a time limit when possible. A sense of urgency can impact customers. So, if you are running any standard end-of-the-year promotions, attach a countdown clock wherever you are advertising the incentive. You can show this on your dealership website, and even within an email newsletter. Also, be sure to remind customers on your mailing list during specific points of the duration of the countdown (one week, 48 hours, and 24 hours). Providing urgency by adding a deadline to the promotion is a great way to push those customers who may be in the final stages of research to ultimately buy from you. 

Final Thoughts

The end-of-year can be a mutually beneficial time for your dealership and your customers. Consumers are looking for deals, and many dealerships will be offering them. However, the tactics above can help you stand out from the pack and provide even more convenience and satisfaction to your customer base. Ultimately, incentives and promotions are an excellent way to say, “thank you,” or “trust us,” and the practices above can help you accomplish this.


Corporate Holiday Gift-Giving That Stays On-Brand

POST WRITTEN BY Rebecca Kowalewicz

Buying holiday gifts for your clients can be a daunting task. From finding gifts that are cost-effective to items that take little thought and are easy to order (fruit baskets, anyone?), when it comes to holiday gift-giving, the idea isn’t to send out what everyone else does but something that speaks to and about your brand and business.

Holiday gift-giving is about more than just presents. A study conducted in Switzerland showed that gift-giving between two companies with a preexisting relationship led to orders that were almost twice as high as the average order, especially when the gifts were given to the boss or head of the company.

Before you start scouring the internet and magazines for gifts, determine a budget. At Clearbridge Branding Agency, we set aside a portion of our marketing budget each year for client gifts. Because we are an agency, that budget fluctuates with the influx of new clients, but we also adjust the cost of the items to ensure we try to stay as close to budget as possible.

Regardless of what vertical your business is in, a unique holiday gift that’s aligned with your brand will probably be appreciated much longer than that basket of apples and oranges you send every year. And with the option available to customize just about everything, it’s likely you can have your brand logo added, no matter what gift you buy.

With so many different types of companies within the service industry, vertical gifting can get very creative. For example, those in the HVAC field can customize a desktop heater or send USB cooling fans that can be plugged into computers or phones. If you are in the solar business, portable solar charging panels are not only amusing but extremely on-brand. Those in the electrical field can send lanterns, light-up pens, high-intensity LED flashlights or even a fun phone lamp to light up the night.

Moving on to the mouth-watering, those in the food industry can create edible delights like custom chocolates and cupcakes. But regional food, especially if you are shipping the gifts across the country, make a delightful and delicious gift option. Customized oven mitts, plates and even barware are both useful and unique.

Those in real estate tend to give chip clips, calendars and magnetic cooking measurement guides. But step up your gift-giving game with items like a decorative brass fire extinguisher, cutting boards with your logo or a customized labeled candle.

Those in the education field can etch their logo into an apple-shaped crystal paperweight, embroidered logo backpacks or sling bags or get creative and send custom-made adult coloring books (crayons, too).

If your vertical involves being outdoors, plants or flowers and desk terrariums are not only fun but also decorative and make great gifts. If you’re looking for something more unique, custom Chia Pets with your company logo will show your recipients that you’re really “growing.”

Marketing and advertising firms have quite a breadth of options when it comes to sending gifts to clients. Customized socks are all the rage and are fun to receive and wear. Logo-branded lunch totes are also useful and a great way to remind people of your brand at their favorite time of the day.

If number-crunching is your business, calculators personalized with your logo are always handy and make great gifts. A piggy bank with your logo is charming. Take it one step further and include a handwritten letter with ideas to raise money at the office, like a $5 donation to wear blue jeans on Mondays, and at the end of the year, donate the money to a charity.

And if making people look, feel or see better is your vertical, placing a logo and gifting items like eyeglass holders, hand-shaped massagers, compact pocket mirrors or a travel first aid kit are both on-brand and practical.

In addition to finding items that are in alignment with your brand, it’s also important to ensure that the gifts you are sending are appropriate and not in poor taste or possibly offensive. When customizing your logo, be sure to check with your company’s marketing team or style guide to ensure that it reflects the exact image required. It’s also smart to find out whether the company you are sending the gift to can accept it. Some companies have a no-gift acceptance policy or, like governmental agencies, are not permitted to receive gifts by law.

Because many of these gifts will be customized, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to place the order, approve the proof and allow for shipping. Start your search in early November if you plan on giving the gifts by mid-December. While it’s a little less personal, you can save time by having the items shipped to each individual recipient, if the company you are ordering from allows that option.

And if you’re in a specific vertical but can’t find anything that seems to be in alignment with what you do, try tying a gift in with your name. At Clearbridge Branding Agency, we’ve given out small logo-engraved crystal bridges to our clients, which doesn’t necessarily show them what we do but reminds our clients of our agency name, and they look really nice on display.

Finally, don’t assign just one person to look for gifts. Ask a few team members to get creative and see what they can find. Not only does this reinforce your team, but you might be surprised at what they come up with.


An Open Letter to Promotional Product Buyers

Why you should work with a consultant.

8/29/2019 | Joel Schaffer, MAS, The Take Away – Originally published on Promocorner.com

Dear Promotional Products buyer:

I am sorry for calling you a buyer. After 52 years in promotional marketing, I recognize that you are not a buyer but you may be tasked with building your business image or branding, or employee performance, motivation, safety, fundraising, membership development, etc. You may be a parent working to build pride or raise funds for a school. Perhaps 99% of the “buyers” I meet with your responsibilities did this as a small part of their job, not full time. I have learned they didn’t study creative and strategic brand marketing, etc. but were given the job. Even when it comes to motivating or recognizing employee or sales performance, most had little education because they just don’t teach it in college. 

I am called a 5 Star Certified Supplier. That means I manufacture quality promotional products backed with award-winning service and, most importantly, my company, people and products are certified to be compliant with product safety laws, product liability, environmental regulations, state regulations and more. To purchase my products, you will need to work with one of my exclusive agencies nationwide and you won’t find me on Amazon or through big E-marketers offering little more than price. 

I sell that way because, through my marketers, you not only get products at a competitive price, but you can also get peace of mind that you won’t risk your company being sued for purchasing inferior products, or for violating a law. If a child dies because the cheaper internet source didn’t know about child safety, it is you, personally, and your company who may be liable. How many times have you seen a kid sucking on the collar of their tee-shirts? Is that a risk to you? Yes, there are things you need to know and my people, my promotional agencies, and consultants bring that knowledge to you and more. 

I have to say, my people are some of the most creative marketers, branders, and sourcing experts on Earth and, incredibly enough, they give all this expertise to you free. There is always a cheaper price. So, the next time you want to make a decision based upon saving a few percentage points, think twice or even more than twice. However, if price is your sole criteria for purchasing, don’t call my people. They are way more than vendors, they are partners in every way. They are no doubt busy creatively serving clients who understand and respect their value add. 

Consider the future of you and your company. You don’t need the risk and exposure when you can get so much value-added for even the simplest of products or programs from the promotional marketing agency that forwarded you this.

I appreciate your reading this. My name and company really don’t matter. Your promo partner knows me and my company should you ever need us in a campaign or want to disagree with me that price is “everything”…

Joel D. Schaffer, MAS is CEO and Founder of Soundline, LLC, the pioneering supplier to the promotional products industry of audio products. Joel has 48 years of promotional product industry experience and proudly heralds “I was a distributor.” He has been on the advisory panel of the business and marketing department of St. John’s University in New York and is a frequent speaker at Rutgers Graduate School of Business. He is an industry Advocate and has appeared before the American Bankers Association, American Marketing Association, National Premium Sales Executives, American Booksellers Association and several other major groups. He has been a management consultant to organizations such as The College Board and helped many suppliers enter this industry. He is a frequent contributor to PPB and Counselor magazines. He has facilitated over 200 classes sharing his industry knowledge nationwide. He is known for his cutting humor and enthusiasm in presenting provocative and motivating programs. He is the only person to have received both the Marvin Spike Industry Lifetime Achievement Award (2002) and PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award (2011). He is a past director of PPAI and has chaired several PPAI committees and task forces. He is a past Chair of the SAAGNY Foundation, Past President of SAAGNY and a SAAGNY Hall of Fame member. He was cited by ASI as one of the 50 most influential people in the industry.


Brand Hijacking

Requests for artwork and designs using other brands’ intellectual property without permission—honest mistake or not—are a growing challenge for distributors. What’s the motivation behind the practice, known as brand hijacking, and how can industry companies address it?

by Joseph Myers

For Promo Marketing
August 2019

Let’s open with a hypothetical scenario. A nonprofit client comes to you with a request. The Super Bowl is right around the corner, and the organization is hosting a fundraiser viewing party for supporters with a pop-up shop on site to raise a little extra cash. The nonprofit needs a couple hundred T-shirts, a few dozen water bottles, maybe some stickers, all decorated with a special “Super Bowl Watch Party” design incorporating its logo and a silhouette of the Lombardi Trophy. You’re eager to help, of course, but you know that using the words “Super Bowl” is a no-go, as the NFL owns the trademark. You suggest that the organization go with “Big Game Watch Party” instead. The rest of the design remains the same. Your client places the order.

It was almost a good catch, but there’s a problem. The NFL owns the rights to the Lombardi Trophy design, too—even the silhouette. Depending on how litigious the league is feeling, that pop-up shop merch could bring legal action against your client. That may only mean a cease and desist. But it could mean more. Either way, getting caught with your hand in the IP cookie jar is a bad look for everyone.

If you’re even a casual follower of trademark infringement cases, you’d probably have caught the trophy mistake. The NFL is notoriously protective of its intellectual property, after all, and these kinds of cases make headlines all the time, usually as the Super Bowl nears. Here, it was an honest mistake. Your client was just trying to have some fun and raise some money for a good cause, not deliberately rip off another brand. But, sometimes, the requests are not so innocent—they’re attempts to quietly cash in on someone else’s hard-earned IP.

The practice is known as brand hijacking (not to be confused with the similar practice of using competitors’ names or trademarks in paid search keywords). And far too often, cases of it—intentional or not—are much murkier and harder to spot than the Super Bowl example above, especially when the IP in question isn’t as well known as the NFL’s.

To explore what it all means for distributors (and suppliers), the psychology behind its increasing presence in the field, and what can be done to combat it, Promo Marketing connected with Craig Davidiuk, owner and marketing director, Ultimate Promotions, 100 Mile House, British Columbia; Joshua White, general counsel and senior vice president of strategic partnerships for BAMKO, Los Angeles; and Rob Ross, president of Chamberlain Marketing Powered by HALO, Taylor, Mich.

Through these conversations, it became clear that though we live at a time where industry businesses can fulfill clients’ orders faster than ever, that quick pace can end up being a double-edged sword, owing to the temptation to make a quick buck, even if it means skirting the rules and jeopardizing reputations. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Elephant in the room

Even in the time it took you to read this article’s introduction, the world’s population grew significantly, and that immense total will swell even more as your eyes scan the rest of the contents. Since mathematics reminds us that we have never seen more people gracing the face of the earth than we are doing now, we could feel that the vast numbers make us seem disconnected because we are all doing “our thing.”

A little something called the internet has played the role of unifier in the commercial sense. Thanks to its global emergence, the world has become smaller, according to Ross, with that figurative shrinking coming as a source of hope for business-minded folks, but also one of worry for those who always want integrity to be the hallmark of economic transactions. The initial part of that equation means that brands are expanding their scope internationally, but no matter whether companies are dealing with domestic requests or gaining clout overseas, the perennial pest, brand hijacking, is there to be its irksome self.

“When I was in private practice, it never even occurred to me that brand hijacking was something that took place,” White said. “However, I saw a lot of other instances of companies taking deceptive actions to try to mislead consumers into placing a higher value on their product. That’s really what brand hijacking is—trying to exploit the value of someone else’s brand to create an artificially inflated value on your own brand or product.”

In many respects, brand hijacking—the deliberate kind—also resembles the I-wish-I-could-have-created-that mentality that we hear among writers and creative individuals who are looking to commend their contemporaries. With these situations, though, hijackers, rather than attempting to contribute something unique for consumers’ consumption, simply yield to an I-can’t-outdo-them-so-I’ll-steal-from-them yearning and compromise the legitimacy of those on the straight and narrow.

On our website, we’ve covered numerous high-profile instances where businesses have gone after equally renowned institutions and smaller establishments for alleged copyright violations and trademark abuses. Nirvana and its confrontation with Marc Jacobs over T-shirts. Harley-Davidson and its gripes with, well, lots of brands, including SunFrogAffliction and Forever 21. The NHL and its legal tussle with a drinkware company over Stanley Cup mugs.

These and many more examples (see graphic below) all inspire causes for concern among promotional products industry constituents. With so many people involved in the manufacturing, supplying and distributing of goods, one bad apple does not have the power to spoil the bunch.

But what about the effect that many such tarnished presences can have on everyone? We would have a difficult time in thinking of a field that does not, in any way, occasionally find itself defending its standing due to judgment errors by practitioners.

The promotional products industry specializes in being an efficient, trustworthy and professional partner—a solutions-provider for clients. Putting them at risk of legal trouble due to lack of preparedness—or, worse, intentionally engaging in questionable practices—can harm that reputation.

“I feel that brand hijacking is more prevalent now than ever,” Davidiuk said. “There’s no pretty way to put it. I see it as a huge problem because there are some people out there who just fail to place any respect in brands and the hard work behind them.”

There is also no attractive way to state that brand hijacking can be an elephant in the room for industry figures to discuss. In fact, Promo Marketing met with rejection from a few sources that found the matter either too controversial or too layered to address. Davidiuk, however, proved the most vocal, having approached us with the idea of covering the topic as a means to raise awareness for distributors.

Having made his pitch after reading one of our accounts on Harley-Davidson, Davidiuk revealed that clients occasionally come to him and his hires with requests to place such items as major brands’ artwork, “bastardized versions” of it and celebrities’ faces on goods.

All of these, if put to product, could count as instances of brand hijacking. Davidiuk said he turns these requests away. But for distributors with less knowledge of the legal restrictions and ramifications—or those who know the rules but just want to make a quick buck by looking the other way—these kinds of sales could be trouble.

Brands that use another entity’s intellectual property on promotional merchandise without permission are setting themselves up for legal trouble if the IP owners take notice. If that happens, it’s a problem for both the client who asked for the design and the distributor who delivered it.

“Staying focused at every turn has to be what guides your identity as a business figure,” said Davidiuk. “But, and this is going to sound surprising, I personally think that if I contacted 10 companies to produce off-brand Mickey Mouse pins, T-shirts or cups, nine of them would take the order. The urban myth that ‘If I change Mickey so that he has neon ears and no face, it’s my own art’ is alive and well. Unfortunately, it’s 100 percent wrong. I think we all have Andy Warhol to blame for that. He’s the most famous brand hijacker of them all.”

A growing concern?

While one could argue that the pop art pioneer gained significant regard for derivative work, that same person could say that anyone who tries that approach now, on a grand or minor scale, could be infamous for far more than 15 minutes. Like Davidiuk, Ross holds that brand hijacking poses a risk to the value that they and their peers look to bring to every project, and that it will likely remain a pest for a considerable period.

“We have the task of being brand police for clients,” Ross said of a duty that he and other promotional products professionals should treat with the utmost respect. “We have information-gathering and competitor-tracking as tools to assist in that regard. And though those are great, so, too, is the motivation that brand hijackers have to go against the grain, making policing increasingly cumbersome.”

Ross noted he supposes that brand hijacking most frequently occurs in the form of “one-off items for individual consumption.” That desire for quick fixes finds an ally in what he sees as a new generation of printers that is quite willing to overlook the securing of permission to use a protected piece of IP.

“It shouldn’t sound too surprising that most people who engage in [brand hijacking] feel they’re not doing anything wrong,” he said. “Their moral compass, so to speak, becomes stuck because they’re in it only for themselves. But there are so many complications for consumers, who could end up hurt, depending on the quality of the knockoffs, and the companies, who will have had their operations questioned—because people who run into trouble with bogus products are going to go after the trademark holder, or what have you, and not the people who had put them in the bind.”

“Proper usage,” therefore, resounds as a huge consideration for all parties, with everyone knowing that those who wish to go against reason to make a buck could not care less about the repercussions of their actions. No matter one’s business-related lot in life, the threat of brand hijacking is a real one, for even if a company has become well versed in warding off unlawful requests, any instance of a corruption of someone’s brand resonates among that enterprise’s whole identity.

It might not sour it, if we were to refer back to the “bad apple theory,” but it can, and does, inspire sympathy among industry heavyweights for their troubles. Even the possibility of it also leads legitimate industry movers and shakers to sharpen their diligence. For Davidiuk, who has come to prominence through selling enamel pins, that has been an educational experience.

“Every day, when I log onto Instagram, I see at least five new suggested accounts for new people who are planning to create and sell enamel pins online,” he said. “I’d say about 30 percent of those people are creating art that involves Marvel characters, ‘The Simpsons,’ celebrities and brand remixes, such as changing the words ‘Campbell’s Soup’ to another message but maintaining the look and feel of the brand.

“We really struggle with video game characters like Pokemon or Warcraft,” he continued. “I’m not a gamer. My staff is over 35 and doesn’t game. How are we supposed to know that we’re not creating art out of video game characters? In one case, our designer’s teenager picked up that his mom was working on a pin that was a Pokemon character. We had to turn the order down. There is only so much pop culture one 47-year-old man can absorb, and this issue does worry me as a business owner.”

One might argue that distributors and decorators signed up for this when they entered the industry, and, yes, that is true to an extent. But the strain can grow intense. Davidiuk noted that companies have become especially protective of their holdings, and that people have grown increasingly cunning with trying to see their commercial aspirations come to fruition.

As an example of the latter, he talked about Etsy as a location where there are “thousands of items that violate copyright law,” suggesting a search for “David Bowie” as an example. He also wondered just what businesses are to do when a customer can buy goods directly from China or through “five other distributors” with no questions asked.

Regarding the former point about better protection of intellectual property assets, Davidiuk, who also singled out Shopify, Squarespace and similar “easy-entry” e-commerce platforms as brand hijacking accomplices, explained the provocation behind brand hijacking, both among clients and those they approach, and relayed a personal example to detail the watchdog nature that companies should exact if they care deeply about their identity.

“I feel at the end of the day, morals will take a backseat to a $2,000 sale,” said Davidiuk. “People think they won’t get caught. What distributors do not realize is [that] big brands hire legal firms to go after violators. Google the term ‘brand endorsement,’ and there are thousands of results, so that industry is alive and well. [Companies] use employees posing as real people on social media, and they search for and prosecute violators, much like the insurance industry does to catch fraudsters.

“Fifteen years ago, I was the vice president of a mountain bike club in British Columbia in a town of 10,000 people,” he added. “One day, we got a cease and desist letter from Harley-Davidson regarding our logo. Note that Harley is located in Milwaukee, which is 2,000 miles away. Facebook wasn’t really around yet. We had 200 members and our website got maybe 400 visits a month. Our logo was a hand-sketched, line art drawing of mountain bike handlebars and a race plate. It didn’t look that close to their brand, but it was close enough to catch the eye of Harley’s legal team. Our choice of font, which was hand-drawn, was too close to their typeface. Our logo was black and white. Harley’s is color-filled. We had to change the logo at the end of the day.

“[Harley-Davidson] has been very aggressive about pursuing brand hijackers, and sued Zazzle a few years back and won,” he continued. “Zazzle is a platform that allows you to order merchandise easily online and even had a waiver for people to sign regarding copyright. Harley-Davidson successfully proved in court that knockoff merchandise produced without a license is a violation of copyright regardless of the waiver the end-user signs.”

Intellectual legwork

If we are to accept the statement, commonly attributed to P.T. Barnum, that “There’s a sucker born every minute,” that means that the promotional products industry is susceptible to attacks from numerous sources, including, as Ross noted, people who sell goods outside of such occasions as sporting events and concerts. Their rampant roles as brand hijackers, along with the aforementioned examples and instances where clients seek to circumvent conventional business transactions, comes down to, in so many words, laziness.

Though White has never needed to tackle brand hijacking head on in his employment with BAMKO, he nonetheless realizes the breadth of the conflict that it causes and the toll it takes on brands.

“Since joining BAMKO, I can’t help but develop a much greater appreciation for the value of brands,” he said. “It’s the world we live in every day, so it seeps into how I see everything now. I think when you’re a civilian outside of the industry, you don’t intuitively understand that it is the brand itself that is valuable. For Nike, it’s not the shorts they sell—it’s the swoosh on the shorts and the way that swoosh makes you feel that drive the bulk of their value. I think folks in the branding industry inherently understand that in ways that most people, including many of our customers, may not.”

White explained that BAMKO trains every employee on the significance of clients’ brands as extremely valuable assets, and on the importance of protecting and amplifying those assets. His employer relies heavily upon its IP Protection Protocol, which compelled him to contend that the potential for infringement is something “I think our industry, in general, is far too cavalier about.

“[The protocol] is a constant, tireless process, but it’s one you have to take seriously if you’re working with the kinds of high-profile brands we work with at BAMKO,” White said of clients that include Dunkin’, Peloton, Reebok and Taco Bell. As for what has come to make brand hijacking a too-common practice in the promotional products world, he chalked it up to his assessment that most bad decisions come from the combination of laziness and ignorance.

“People are generally ignorant about intellectual property, and they are usually looking for the easiest path,” he said of the mentality that views outright rip-offs and approximations as acceptable. “When you combine those factors with fear of your clients, that’s a wicked stew that can lead to some pretty dumb decisions.”

If your eyes lit up upon seeing “fear of your clients,” know that ours did, too. Asked to elaborate, White divulged that he thinks of that trepidation as being analogous to parents who are unwilling to set boundaries for their children.

“Simply saying ‘yes’ to your kid who wants to eat Oreos and ice cream for dinner might be easier, but you’re actually not doing the kid any favors,” he explained. “Sales reps who are afraid of saying ‘no’ to clients can fall in the trap of saying ‘yes’ to anything, even if doing so is harmful to the interests of that client.”

White pointed to “a lack of sophisticated knowledge” around brand hijacking as a culprit, holding that the intangibility of concepts can cloud reasoning and lead to trademark violations. Considering the comprehension of an idea’s value component, he feels, will lead to a better grasp on the pretty-easy-to-determine difference between right and wrong.

“The good news is that some of that understanding is going to happen naturally over time,” White said. “As we increasingly lead digital lives and exist in a world where data is the most valuable asset sold by companies like Google and Facebook, people will better understand that intangible assets are among the most valuable.”

‘Not the easy thing’

So, what do you do if a client asks for a design that would amount to brand hijacking? White had some simple but powerful advice: “Do the right thing, not the easy thing.”

“You’re protecting your company and looking out for the best interests of your customers [when making the right choice],” he said. “There’s no order that’s worth enough to be worth compromising that trust.”

It’s certainly easier for a large distributor like BAMKO to turn down an order than it is for a smaller distributor whose fate depends more on each individual sale. But that size disparity only makes it more important for smaller businesses to avoid brand hijacking. For a large distributor, the legal ramifications of a bad case of trademark infringement might be an annoyance. For a smaller one, they could be devastating.

“You’ve got to ask yourself what the price tag on your integrity is,” White said. “Because that’s what you’re selling.”

In admitting that he does not see the battle against brand hijacking becoming any easier, Ross added that licensed goods will likely be among the most illicit products because of the tariffs placed on them. No matter the item or request, though, distributors should do everything they can to educate themselves on intellectual property concerns so they can be prepared should a client put them in a tricky situation. Plus, the ability to guide clients on these issues is another tool in the distributor toolkit.

“Yes, I don’t see matters getting much better in terms of brand hijackers suddenly deciding to choose legitimacy, but I think that brand hijacking, or rather its effect on us, is an opportunity,” Ross said. “I think that taking a stand against it provides value to clients and dealers and leads to added credibility. The business world can be quite cutthroat. You don’t want to help the competition by inflicting wounds to yourself.

”This is our August 2019 magazine cover story and the seventh story in PM Longform, a semi-regular web series from Promo Marketing going deep on the promo industry. Want to be the first to get more long reads like this one? Subscribe to our monthly magazine and daily Promo Marketing Headlines newsletter here. It’s free. Free is good.

Photo: Getty Images by peshkov