The legal team at Velcro Companies will be patting themselves on the back today, as its marketing campaign to educate the public about the proper use of its trademark went viral overnight. Response to the song has been mixed, with some commentators sceptical that it will actually lead to a change in behaviour. Nonetheless, it has certainly raised awareness of an issue that Velcro has been grappling with for a number of years.
Released yesterday on the official Velcro Brand account on YouTube, ‘Don't Say Velcro’ (originally called ‘We ® the World’ according to the press release) is a music video purported to be from – and featuring – “the lawyers at Velcro Companies”. Using catchy lyrics and flamboyant performances, the song pleads with viewers to use the term ‘hook-and-loop’ rather than ‘Velcro’. The lyrics explain: “We’re a company that’s so successful, that everywhere you go, you see a scratchy, hairy fastener and you say ‘hey, that’s Velcro’. [...] You think it’s awesome for us, we’re famous, but we’re lawyers and it’s causing us grief, because there are trademark laws being broken, it’s all here in this short legal brief. And we know that this is confusing, because Velcro brand is who we are, but if you call it all Velcro, we’re going to lose our circled ‘R’. This is called a ‘hook-and-loop’, this one’s a ‘hook’, this one’s a ‘loop’, you call it Velcro but we’re begging you, this is *bleeped* ‘hook-and-loop’.”
Halfway through the video, a break in the song features a claim that the song isn’t just about Velcro. “We’re doing [this video] for all the successful brands that get so popular that people start using the brand names the wrong way.” Indeed, brands like Xerox, Chapstick, Band-Aid and – in recent years – Google, may appreciate the awareness the video has given rise to. Overnight, the video racked up over 220,000 views thanks to being widely shared on social media, with hundreds of shares on Twitter (including 47 retweets of Velcro's own post). There have been dozens of articles too, with outlets like Business Insider, Mashable and Time posting the video and repeating the message about genericism.
All in all, in terms of raising awareness, this has arguably been one of the most successful campaigns of its kind. For Velcro, it’s undoubtedly smashed all other past attempts to spread this message (another video with a similar message from three months ago garnered just 800 views). The success, it seems, was not an accident; Velcro Companies drafted in creative consultancy Walk West to create, as described in a behind-the-scenes video, a “ridiculous 1980s ‘We Are The World’ benefit, but for something that is really a first world problem”.
While the ridiculous nature of the video has spurred hundreds of thousands of views, the response to the video has been mixed. On the positive side, some viewers found it “hilarious”, with another saying “this has to be the most amazingly done corporate messaging for an incredibly banal topic I've ever seen”. In the IP sphere, Morrison Lee founding partner Ryan Morrison labelled the video “the greatest trademark lesson I've ever seen”, while legal scholar Rebecca Tushnet says it is “possibly the best attempt to create an alt generic term ever”. On the flip-side (and as so often happens when posting content online), some viewers were disproportionately angry, such as one user who ranted: “I have a complaint. NOBODY tells me what I can and can't say. F**k them, f**k their hooks, f**k their loops, and f**k every single corporate shill in that video. It's velcro. Their trademark means nothing to me. They would have to torture me slowly and/or threaten my family in order to alter how I speak.”
The majority of comments, though, indicate that the video alone isn’t going to change everyday misuse of the term ‘Velcro’. While one viewer said that “maybe I'll try my best from now on to call Velcro brand hook-and-loop the proper name from now on”, another commented: “0% chance of ‘hook-and-loop’ taking off, but a damn catchy song nonetheless.” Another pointed out that ‘hook-and-loop’ is three syllables and ‘Velcro’ is two, adding “sorry, sticking with what's easier to say”. Reiterating this point, one user on Reddit added: “The issue is that ‘hook-and-loop’ is a [bad] name for a product so people will call it the much better name, Velcro. [The] marketing team was too successful.”
For Velcro Companies, the response highlights the uphill battle the legal department faces in actually changing behaviour. The two terms that Velcro urges consumers to use, “hook-and-loop” and “self-adhesive straps”, arguably make that task significantly more difficult. But a wholesale shift in common parlance isn’t necessarily needed; if a genericide case does go to court against Velcro Companies, the sheer effort that went into this video – and the subsequent viral view-count – is a good indication the company has made a serious effort to educate consumers on the proper use of its mark. Furthermore, it can point to past examples (including being an exhibitor at the USPTO’s National Trademark Expo) as evidence of its continued awareness efforts.
Genericide is a risk that needs to be on the radar of brands that have truly gone mainstream. In response to the threat, legal teams have previously turned to magazine adverts or website guides to highlight proper brand use. This week, though, Velcro Companies’ legal team has demonstrated that educating consumers about proper trademark usage can be a golden marketing opportunity as well as an important legal duty.