Relani Belous | October 01, 2023
Brands matter. In any incarnation. So, when you think of a union, why don’t you think of IP or more specifically, trademarks? Many people don’t make that connection until you see picketers outside your favorite restaurant or hotel. For the last several months, they have been outside the gates of the studios that bring you the binge-worthy shows that keep you glued to the couch and your “like” buttons.
Most of us have heard about the recent strikes of the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. And for now, as of the date of this article, the 148-day Hollywood writers’ strike has finally taken its final curtain call from the picket line, thanks to a new three-year deal the Writers Guild made with the major Hollywood studios. While there is a formal ratification to be had, the film and TV writer’s room will be open, and they are on their way with pens and digital devices in hand to get back to work.
While many of us associate trademarks with brands and services such as food, hotels, amusement parks and the like, that is not where brands end. In the entertainment space, for actors, models, singers, writers and other celebrities, their brand is something they see in the mirror every day. In fact, the USPTO has seen more than its share of trademark applications from celebrities (or those trying to poach their names) on the trademark registry. This includes the applications from Kim Kardashian for KIMONO which was ultimately abandoned after Kim received criticism for the name being offensive to Japanese culture. Also, Kim’s “sis” Kylie Jenner tried to trademark her first name in 2015, but the application was rejected. Kylie Minogue, who has been around for a lot longer, fought that application because she was technically the “prior” Kylie, and her counsel even noted that at the time Jenner was “a secondary reality television personality.” Additionally, in 2018 DJ Khaled filed a lawsuit against a company that registered a number of trademarks using his son Asahd’s name. Of course, Emeril, that famous chef, has even trademarked BAM!
But like film and television studios, when you are in the business of commoditizing people and not “things,” what does a strike do to your brand? The strike has a significant impact on the brand of the network or streaming service. Many of us are loyal to a particular branded network or streaming service and when we can’t indulge (or overindulge) to watch our favorite shows, we may stop and consider that the branded network is not living up to our expectations. Alternatively, when new content is unavailable, viewers may end up exploring the network’s bountiful content libraries and discover new shows, strengthening viewers’ affinity for the network and brand.
The strike and lack of new programming has also had a significant impact on the brands integrated with these shows and on these networks. Certainly, major advertisers who are “sitting on the sidelines” with the brakes on their budget have been holding off on their usual advertising volume and spend. Thus, the exposure and the brand impression rate decrease for these ancillary goods and services that are a part of the viewing process as well. According to a recent Guideline survey, ad spending on reruns jumped to 79% in June 2023, while spending on new content dropped to 21%—its lowest since the pandemic and down 10% from May 2023.
Nonetheless, the lack of content in one space also shifts attention and “eyeballs” to other spaces. Programming such as sports and reality-based (non-union) programming sees an uptick when other programming that relies on writers is not available. Again, this poses a shift in brands since different content likely appeals in part to a different audience and also attracts different brands.
The US is no stranger to strikes, and these cut across many industries and job titles as workers fight for better wages, benefits, and safety protections. We also have seen over the years that employees are having more of a say as the e-suite up against those in the c-suite. Companies have been forced to recognize and reassess the changing workplace and standards, especially in light of the shift in protocols from the COVID-19 years.
At the heart of the matter, trademarks are a SOURCE of origin and in the free market one scarcity can create plenty for the other. It also can increase prices for consumers who may change “brands.” In the case of the Hollywood unions, there only remains one strike — and unless two more are planned no one is “out” of the game yet. So, let’s keep honking when we pass by until there is a resolve…since brands (and those who build them) matter.