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Further thoughts on rip-offs, and whatnot

In writing my double standard post earlier this week I tried my darndest to take a detached view of the SimpleBits/LogoMaid and Marclay/Apple situations and to keep ‘my side’ out of it: not to express an opinion, only to express bewilderment at John’s. He has a fairly solid rebuttal (spoiler: you say tomato) with some choice flames at Apple, so I’ll retract my “apologist” crack, but something occurred to me…

What is a weblog if not a digital platform for the overly-opinionated? I need to get back to my roots and cut the ‘detached’ crap.

Part the first: Apple needs to rein that shit in.

There’s a TV commercial airing over here at the moment for Rexona that makes use of a particularly-recognizable pianny sample for its soundtrack. Recognizable not because I know anything about jazz pianists, but because I have my greasy, computer-nerd finger on the pulse of youth culture and own a Lily Allen CD: the ad uses a Professor Longhair lick (pianists have licks, right?) that Allen sampled a year ago.

Anyone with the mental faculties of a third-grader can tell you Rexona’s marketing team doesn’t give two hoots about Professor Longhair, they’re just trying to sell their deodorant to people like you and me (y’know: finger, pulse, etc) and want to give us something to relate to. What better way to relate than with a top-forty single from a MySpace superstar? And what cheaper way to have a hit song in your ad than to mix your own from the same sources?

The problem is it doesn’t work, or at least not on everyone I know who has seen the commercial. People say “Is that that Lily Allen song? Wait, no, it’s not the real thing. It’s a muzak version or something. Lame.”

This is about where Apple walks into the picture. Somebody at TBWA\Chiat\Day had undoubtedly seen Christian Marclay’s Telephones and thought it was appropriate. Who wouldn’t? And while the rest of the details are murky (they approached him? for permission? to buy it? wha?) Marclay was reportedly unenthusiastic and Apple ended up with a Telephones clone. A more up-to-date, better-cut Telephones perhaps, but a clone nonetheless.

And everyone thought it was cool. It is cool! It’s a cool ad.

But later, when people found out it’s not “the real thing,” just like with Rexona and Lily Allen, their reaction is the same. “Apple couldn’t come up with something cool on their own? Aren’t they, like, all creative and shit? Lame.”

Part the second: LogoMaid aren’t criminals, they’re just sad

I don’t care much for LogoMaid. The whole SimpleBits thing notwithstanding, their entire business is founded on the premise that you don’t care enough about your corporate identity to do any more than buy an off-the-shelf logo for $29. Or $199 if you don’t want to share that logo with a dozen other LogoMaid customers. And when their home page says this, it just gets tragic:

Your logo is not just a fancy graphic adorning your website or stationary - it's a representation of your business philosophy, your overall direction, and your attitude towards your clients and your business. Your logo is the sum total of your corporate existence. It basically tells who you are.

I don’t have enough sics for that paragraph, but if “your attitude towards your clients and your business” is to go grab something cheap that looks moderately professional because you’re cheap and moderately professional, I'm bewildered by your lack of respect for your clients and your business.

Looking cheap is one thing. Punk rock has coasted for decades on looking cheap. But being cheap, and generic to boot… where’s your sense of pride? There are plenty of people in the world who just turn up to work and grind through the week, hoping it’ll magically get better some day. Evidently, some of the designers at LogoMaid have that exact attitude. But how do you ‘just turn up’ to your own business?

I guess I’m chastizing LogoMaid’s customers more than LogoMaid itself. They deserve it, even if they’ve already demonstrated by their actions that they just don’t care. And I suppose I feel the same way about prostitutes and their clientele. I can’t help but look at the hooker and think “Wow, you really know how to spot a business opportunity,” simultaneously shaking my head at the client, thinking “Damn, dude, there are plenty of easy women out there, and sleeping with them won’t make you look like a total sleazebag. Try harder!”

The wrap

We’re living in a post-Godin world. And when Apple’s story is that they don’t do what’s easy, or what’s cheap, but they do what’s good, they can’t get away with something that looks like plagiarism. Big corporations can’t get away with anything.

Smaller businesses, I guess, can and do get away with things that look like plagiarism. Routinely. But when a small group of nerdy vigilantes with weblogs decide to prove them wrong, such a shitstorm can be conjured up that they’ll probably be more careful in future. I’m happy to be part of such a shitstorm.