Living Arrows

As some of you may or may not know, I work for Fjord.

And every year, all of the Fjord employees get together and try to figure out the trends for next year. It’s an exciting process :-)

Well, these are our trends for 2014:

The whole thing is an interesting read, but for some reason the Living Arrows trend on page 13 is one of those where I go “finally someone gets it!” (a feeling I have rather often at Fjord…)

The idea behind this trend is that companies can’t control every facet of their brand any more, and – my interpretation – they look pretty stupid if they try it.
The term Living Arrow comes from a poem

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.

— Kahlil Gibran, On Children

So, companies, like parents, may do their best to make sure their Living Arrows are well-prepared for what awaits them in the future, but they’ll lose control over them once they are air-born.
For brands this means that the owner can try to make sure that he dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts, but once the brand is out there, it sort of becomes part of the public domain, and people will interact with it.
And it is very difficult, if not impossible, to control how people will interact with the brand.

Now, I am a nerd.
I like to interact with stuff, because that is sort of my job as a programmer.

This also means that – as a fan and a crafter – I will not sit still and just consume, say, a TV show.
I will interact with it.

For example, I might knit a scarf with wee TARDISes :-)

My “Even Bigger on the Inside“, knit after the free “Bigger on the Inside” pattern.

Unfortunately, the BBC is well-known for treating their brand like a cannonball rather than a living arrow.

They have a long history of hitting people with Cease and Desist letters, if there is even a whiff of copyright infringement.

There is the story of Mazzmatazz who engineered the most adorable Who-themed knitting patterns, like this Adipose or an Ood.
Please note that even though Mazzmatazz distributed these patterns for free, and made no profit from it, the BBC sent her a strongly-worded letter:

“We note that you are supplying DR WHO items, and using trade marks and copyright owned by BBC. You have not been given permission to use the DR WHO brand and we ask that you remove from your site any designs connected with DR WHO. Please reply acknowledging receipt of this email, and confirm that you will remove the DR WHO items as requested.”
Interesting choice of words to say the least. Further communication continues to stress the point that Mazz’s designs constitute unlicensed merchandise, and that BBC Worldwide has every right to stop others from distributing their property. However, Mazz is not selling merchandise, he/she is providing a knitting design to tell others how to make their own versions of the Adipose. While commercial exploitation has no bearing on whether there is copyright infringement, I think that it should be a huge consideration for BBC Worldwide when deciding to prosecute a fan who clearly loves the show.
TechnoLlama, Doctor Who: Partners in Copyright Crime

This has happened several times, which has led to a veritable black market of Who-themed knitting patterns (which are usually distributed for free). No one would dare to use the word “TARDIS” in a  pattern, one has to know that the codeword is “police box” :-)

Enter Google.

Google produced a game called Ingress, and started its closed beta phase in November 2012.
Closed beta means in this case that people had to apply for an invite key to play the game.

It quickly became known that one was more likely to receive an invite key if one did something creative.

Ingress coasters made by friends of mine

People created perler beads coasters, drew pencil sketchescooked Ingress-themed food, laser-engraved team badges, and Members of Parliament demanded invite keys to investigate this “underground movement” (tongue firmly in cheek, of course). There are websites dedicated to Ingress artwork.

I myself got an invite key for knitting the logo into a hat

Sorry for the lousy pic

And Google?
Instead of letting loose their legal team, they rewarded people for playing with their brand – both by handing them invite keys and by featuring the artwork on the official Ingress channels.

Guess what.

People loved it.

For a few months Ingress was the hot thing in my social circles, and people tried to out-do each other with the funny / absurd / creative stuff they did for an invite key.

And let me tell you: when I walked into an Ingress meet-up in Berlin, wearing that hat, jaws dropped :-D
Quite frankly, it felt good to have my artistic interpretation of the theme appreciated so enthusiastically :)

Somehow, Google had managed to turn their brand Ingress into a public-domain entity and by their brand’s “body language” invited people to embrace it and to play with it.

And, compared to BBC’s handling of Doctor Who, I felt indeed like Google was somehow meeting me on eye-level. It was as if we shared the enjoyment of this game — together.

Google said “hey, we created something cool” and encouraged us to reply “yeah, and we created something even cooler from it”.

The BBC on the other hand seems to tell me “sit down in front of the telly and watch the show. Do nothing else. Well, besides buying loads of officially licensed merchandise”.

Let’s hope that the BBC reads Fjord’s Trends :-)

1 comment

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