Brand hijacking is both obstacle and opportunity for companies

Don Draper from AMC's Mad Men is a character who parses his words. A fan of the show decided he would make a great Twitter friend. Additional fake Mad Men accounts cropped up. More fans of the show signed up to hear the (fictional) Draper wax cool intelligence on Twitter until his profile was pulled down. You know how this story goes

Don Draper from AMC's Mad Men is a character who parses his words. A fan of the show decided he would make a great Twitter friend. Additional fake Mad Men accounts cropped up. More fans of the show signed up to hear the (fictional) Draper wax cool intelligence on Twitter until his profile was pulled down. You know how this story goes.

What makes covering marketing so exciting is that reality has no room for absolutes. How AMC or the producers of Mad Men handle a fictitious Twitter account that is made to look like it is helmed by the TV show's characters presents different opportunities and challenges than when an unknown party beat ExxonMobil to establishing a Twitter account (see PRWeek's blog The Cycle).

Companies accustomed to complete brand control need to come to grips with the possibilities in benign
and positive brand hijacking. Negative brand hijacking is a different discussion point to be put aside for now.

“Our intention was never to take the accounts down, it was just a miscommunication,” an AMC spokesperson told PRWeek, explaining that the network just wanted to contact the people behind the accounts. “Twitter is another platform... for people to interact with Mad Men.” The marketing team for AMC is working on ways to incorporate social networking in Mad Men efforts.

There are many legitimate reasons why AMC or the producers should get their lawyers revved up for a confrontation with those who have taken Twitter liberties with the creator's intellectual property. However, the summation of those valid concerns can't trump the simple reality: Whoever is behind these accounts have the show's voice perfected – and people enjoy them. It's a big net positive for the show. AMC should be concerned with potential negative outcome from letting individuals run these accounts, but it can come close to inoculating itself by linking to the Twitter streams from its Web site, stressing that they aren't authored by the writing team, and by working with the real authors to post a disclaimer on those profiles.

Managing corporate reputation has never been a yes or no proposition, though companies might have previously approached it as such. It's not enough in this environment to determine whether or not an entity's rights were violated – any corporation needs to look at every situation through the prism of intent and assess the damage or enhancements that occur from any brand hijacking. In the past, companies would rarely assess whether a violation of their rights actually provided value. Times have changed, and so have companies.

Perhaps it is the woeful economic times or a movement toward enlightenment by lawyers, the C-suite, and brand marketers, but corporations are impressively looking at most things through the prism of value. As brand hijacking continues, a careful approach to dealing with those who appropriate one material is the smartest bet.

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