Monday, February 05, 2007

Bad PR: Beat up on Churches, Don't Let People Talk About You

Some organizations are just so caught up in the "we're in control!" paradigm that they do the funniest things.

Take, for example, the NFL, which cracked down on a church in Indiana for planning a Super Bowl event:

NFL officials spotted a promotion of Fall Creek Baptist Church's "Super Bowl Bash" on the church Web site last week and overnighted a letter to the pastor demanding the party be canceled, the church said.

Initially, the league objected to the church's plan to charge a fee to attend and that the church used the license-protected words "Super Bowl" in its promotions.

Pastor John D. Newland said he told the NFL his church would not charge anyone and that it would drop the use of the forbidden words.

But the NFL objected to the church's plans to use a projector to show the game, saying the law limits it to one TV no bigger than 55 inches.

The church will likely abandon its plans to host a Super Bowl party.

"We want to be supportive of our local team," Newland said. "For us to have all our congregation huddled around a TV that is big enough only for 10 or 12 people to watch just makes little sense."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league's long-standing policy is to ban "mass out-of-home viewing" of the Super Bowl. An exception is made for sports bars and other businesses that show televised sports as a part of their everyday operations.

"We have contracts with our (TV) networks to provide free over-the-air television for people at home," Aiello said. "The network economics are based on television ratings and at-home viewing. Out-of-home viewing is not measured by Nielsen."

 Wow. "We know you'll be there watching, but we can't measure it, so you'd better not do it."

Sports are often an excuse for communal get-togethers, but I guess it's more important that everybody sit home alone so that Nielsen knows what's up.

Then there's the National Pork Board, the folks who gave us the phrase "the other white meat." They were not too happy when a web site about breastfeeding used a play on their slogan:

Pity the National Pork Board. In order to fulfill its perceived obligations under trademark law, the pork producers association on Tuesday issued a demand to a breastfeeding Web site to cease selling T-shirts that say "The Other White Milk," a riff on trademarked pork industry slogan "The Other White Meat."


Laycock recognizes that companies need to look after their trademarks but takes umbrage at the National Pork Board's approach. "What I'm ticked about is that rather than taking two seconds to send me a nice e-mail to request that I remove it, they came in guns a blazin' with a lawyer-crafted nasty gram"

And the National Pork Board's position isn't helped by its attorney's insinuation that Laycock is engaged in some perverse campaign "to promote the use of breast milk beyond merely for infant consumption"

Lee Carl Bromberg, co-founder of Bromberg & Sunstein LLP, a Boston-based law firm specializing in intellectual property issues, observes that the National Pork Board might have tried other approaches before firing off a cease and desist letter. "A lot of discretion can be applied to a trademark policing program," he says. "Some things you decide you have to go after because they're so close to the bone that you have to protect you turf." Others, he said, can be dealt with in other ways or ignored.

"The underlying issue is confusion," says Bromberg. "Are consumers likely to be confused? It seems kind of a stretch."

I haven't heard of any tragic examples of consumers confusing pork chops with breast milk. The Pork Board's ham-handed approach (sorry!) has bloggers abuzz, and generally the whole thing has been handled poorly.

It's hard to see your campaign become a part of the general culture (just ask the "Don't Mess with Texas" folks) but really, going after a blogger in a heavy handed way is seriously clueless.

 (Thanks to Jackie Huba for pointing out the pork story. Jackie also pointed out that the California Milk Processor Board has been more tolerant of satires of their "Got Milk?" campaign, without disastrous results.)

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