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Consumers sometimes get creative with brand-related IP (i.e., trademarks and copyrights associated with a firm’s branding marks, identity, products, or positioning) to solve problems or needs, or for the sake of creative exploration[1].But what you probably did not know is that consumers are considered to be one of the largest sources of open innovation activity from which firms can extract valuable  insights[2]. It is absolutly clear that brands represent enormous value to the company and that it is extremly important to properly protect them and control them, this is why most managers decide to immediately shut  down any unauthorized use of brand related IP, take legal action and persist with their close branding  approach. 

Although an IP owner may have a strong legal basis to stop the creative consumer, such a response can damage a brand when it is perceived as inappropriate. In some cases, pursuing legal action can cause more damage to the brand than allowing the unauthorized use of IP, especially when the unauthorized use of IP creates value for the brand. It could be useful for managers to  consider the more open approach to IP enforcement because it can serve as a valuable strategy for brands. Often infringers become valuable partners.

In 2015 Pokemon Company took legal action against a group of cosplayers who planned to throw a Pokemon-Themed cosplay party in which people would wear costumes of Poke´mon characters.These creative consumers promoted the party on Facebook and planned to charge guests a $2 admission fee. When the Pokemon Company heard of this party, it took legal action against the consumers and asked for $4,000 to cover its legal fees.The consumers canceled the party and refunded the $2 to those who had purchased tickets, but they were unable to pay the legal fees and so turned to the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe.2 The consumers were quickly able to achieve $4,000 in crowdfunds, with many donors and observers voicing their anger at the Pokemon Company.[3]

Consumers are increasingly considered to be cocreators of brands[4]suggesting that they may well play an important role in aspects of brand management previously controlled by the firm alone. Consumers, not just marketers, play a major role in what a brand stands for. [5]Creative consumers shape a brand by intentionally using it in different ways than intended, as opposed to producing brand-related messages like consumer generated advertisements, reviews, and ratings [6]Creative consumer activity may create brand value by showcasing the brand, bringing attention to it, making and sharing consumer generated content, and by fostering positive word of mouth. Such actions can strengthen brand communities and inspire other consumers to join them; the creative acts of consumers can enhance a brand via grooming (i.e., when consumers produce and share complementary inventions to make better use of products) and commoditization or via cosplayact in which fans of books, movies, and television shows create and wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character; these characters are protected under copyright and trademark law. In these cases, an open approach to branding presents an opportunity for firms to benefit from consumer activities. Or in the case of Pokemon Company, legal actions can backleash, creating great harm to brands’ reputation.

On the other hand Netflix for example chose open branding approach in 2017, when a group of fans of the Netflix series Stranger Things appropriated the brand by opening a pop-up bar in Chicago by the name of the Upside Down. This bar, which was intended to operate for 6 weeks, featured decorations and menu item that made direct references to places and characters in the show; even the name of the bar itself is a reference to a setting in the popular show. Instead of demanding that the bar be closed, the firm sent a letter(here) asking the owners not to keep the bar open past the 6-week run it was initially scheduled for and to reach out to Netflix if they wanted to do something like this in the future . The letter also thanked the owners of the bar for loving the show. The appropriation of the Stranger Things name and characters for the pop-up bar, while unauthorized and unexpected by Netflix, helped theshow by creating a space for fans of to gather and connect, and it further promoted Netflix’s original work. The Netflix response not only avoided angering fans by allowing the bar to continue operating but gained additional positive publicity through its laid-back approach and acknowledgement of the love the fans had for the show.

In conclusion

Creative consumers often highlight product or service gaps, thereby exposing opportunities for firms to improve. As a result, firms that find themselves at the center of unauthorized efforts by creative consumers would be well advised to  consider the benefits of formalizing a cocreative relationship with them or with simply pursuing a variation of their undertaking, they can highlight needs and wishes of consumers which can be acknowledged and used in future branding activities. They can have many beneficial implications for brands, or sometimes harm it. It would be smart to make a second thought before filing legal actions. However, when deciding to open brand, brands should really think things through and take an advice from IP specialists who have a heart and some humour as well.

[1] Robson, K., Wilson, M., & Pitt, L. (2019). Creating new products from old ones: Consumer motivations for innovating autonomously from firms. Technovation, 88, 1e13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016649721730336X?casa_token=Jx2pRPBXtCsAAAAA:ktHSgnNoja_vTDnZNkdSYhGkueKfOTPTKBKpIYHgibfWBWrpOvekC68jvO-jDk-fTjxGnUXYh4Bn


[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/pokemon-company-are-suing-fan-putting-unofficial-cosplay-party-a6680381.html

[4] France, C., Merrilees, B., & Miller, D. (2015). Customer brand co-creation: A conceptual model. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 33(6), 848e864. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:cd88e4c

[5] N., Shanmugam, M., Papagiannidis, S., Zahay, D., & Richard, M. O. (2017). Branding co-creation with members of

online brand communities. Journal of Business Research, 70, 136e144. https://isiarticles.com/bundles/Article/pre/pdf/84755.pdf

[6] Burmann, C. (2010). A call for ‘user-generated branding’. Journal of Brand Management, 18(1). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/bm.2010.30