A Million- Dollar Branding Disaster: Answers

Recap: Freight Service Global was poised to introduce new branding and an updated website and social presence—all of it built around the company’s new tagline: “We’re so devoted to customers that service is in our name.” But on the desk in front of Ron Billingsley, FSG’s SVP of marketing, was the new issue of Delivery&Distribution, with an ad for ShipNow Services International, FSG’s main competitor. The company’s new tagline: “We’re so devoted to customers that service is in our name.”

Chris Stoltz, a marketing assistant, hadn’t done the requested due diligence on the tagline. Who was responsible for the mistake didn’t matter; all Billingsley cared about was what he should do.

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April winner: James D. Zawicki, marketing communications manager, Sartomer USA

Like it or not, Billingsley and Freight Service Global were aced out of using the desired tagline, “We’re so devoted to customers that service is in our name” by ShipNow Services International. While Stoltz, the marketing assistant, should probably be fired, the immediate task at hand is addressing the work already initiated. Hopefully, Billingsley has an agency that can help do some of the legwork to contact the media, to hold their planned launch, and to notify the select reporters who had a head’s up on the project that additional research has yielded information that requires a change to the intended tagline. That said, the branding research is still valid and the company still should proceed to focus on service, as that rose to the top as the critical value proposition. FSG needs to work with its agency to adjust the tagline to another legally acceptable (and preferably shorter), service-focused alternative.

Other responses:

Jeff Sawyer, group creative director, Lands’ End

Once he’s returned from the marketing assistant’s wake, Billingsley should change the tagline and use the opportunity to improve on it. For example, he might consider the shorter and punchier, “Service is our middle name”—and have his new marketing assistant check whether it’s available.

Teresa Drushel, VP account services, Detrow & Underwood

An SVP of marketing should know his competitors’ brand and positioning statements—even if the marketing assistant neglected his job. Billingsley needed to be legally, financially, and creatively responsible for the new brand campaign.

You cannot go to market with a similar tagline as your competitor. If the competitor ran the tag first it has initial rights, even if it’s still in the trademark registration process.

To correct the problem Billingsley has no choice but to postpone all media announcements and redevelop the creative message. Rescheduling all media announcements and rollout programs could result in a loss in investment for space reservations and printed materials. That loss comes with the responsibility of your company to maintain your professional brand positioning. Additionally, the creative headline/tagline could change and still include “service” as a focus and theme. Examples would be FGS-“For Great Service” or “We Built Our Name Around Service.” Subtitles and copy content could be salvaged to support the modified title or tagline.

Michael Smith, designer, Tri-Win Direct

If the competition trademarked its slogan, the only option is to change the FSG slogan. Even if the competition didn’t trademark it, competing against a similar company using a similar slogan will confuse the consumer, so again it’s best to change the slogan. Making the needed changes in a simple and meaningful way, FSG can push forward with its new branding on schedule.

First, keep the change as simple as possible; i.e., just change text. Change the slogan to something along the lines of “When you put a name to service, that name is Freight Service Global.” This keeps the “Service is in our name” concept from the original slogan, so the brand image is still intact.

Second, send out a press release to the reporters and analysts with a statement telling them to disregard the old slogan in favor of the new one, which better reflects the new company image. This should give them enough time to change any articles they wrote.

Finally, let Chris Stoltz buy the creative team’s pizza because, depending on the number of different ad versions, the team will have a number of late nights changing the slogan on all the new marketing collateral. Changing the digital files will be simple, and with a little luck you can still trade out the ink-and-paper art before the print deadlines.

Billingsley is in a tough spot, but nothing is final until it goes to print.

Sterling S. Bader, creative director/content chief, Badermedia of Florida

Mr. Billingsley, here’s my advice:

1. Your competitor’s trademarked tagline was too wordy anyhow, and you can one-up the competition with a catchy tagline that plays off your company name.

2. Write a new tagline and have approved alternate(s) ready in case a trademark shows up on choice number one.

3. Freight Service Global is a concise, self-explanatory, easy-to-remember company name, so the tagline should be, too.

4. FSG can still convey devotion to service to its customers in a tagline with an easy-to-remember play on words without infringing on the competition.

5. Revised tag line: “So focused on our customers, service is our middle name”

Alternates: “So customer focused, our middle name is service”; “Service is our middle name”

Lawrence A. Tillinger, proprietor, SFLI

Billingsley should consult with FSG’s legal department and do as it says is allowed. If FSG’s legal counsel allows the FSG brand refresh to proceed as planned, he should commence a social media campaign, managed by a social media consultancy, to point out and request opinions on the difference between “Service” as used in FSG’s name, and “Services” as used in SNSI’s name, and the respective tagline claims.

It’s highly suspect that the wording of both FSG and SNSI’s taglines would be nearly identical. Billingsley should commence an investigation, to be conducted by an external security consultancy, into the possibility of a leak, of industrial espionage, of hacking and resale, or of internal sabotage.

Stoltz should be replaced. And Billingsley should institute policies and procedures to assure that assignments are completed and requested tasks are performed as expected.

Mike Ratchford, AGBS Safeguard

First, stop all production and catch your breath. Develop a new campaign with modifications to the first. Use all the same check lists and see how much of the original work can be saved.

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