Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Why Shoot Yourself In the Foot . . .

When you can shoot yourself in the crotch? Walmart has been beleagured by image and PR problems recently, for a variety of reasons, some fair criticisms of the company's business practices and others completely unfair and untrue potshots. But they sure aren't helping their image any by trying to own the smiley face.

Wal-Mart is embroiled in a legal dispute over the smiley face image which it wants to trademark in the US. A Frenchman who claims to have invented the yellow smiley face back in 1968 is opposing the US retail giant's move.

For some, the image is a reminder of 1970s counter-culture, for others, a useful shorthand when sending e-mails.

But since 1996, Wal-Mart has used the image in the US on uniforms and promotional signs, and it wants sole rights to it in the US retail sector.

Wal-mart claims that they were forced to do this because of Franklin Loufrani, the above-referenced Frenchman who claims to be one of the inventors of the smiley face. To me, that argument wears thin and this seems like more of Walmart using Loufrani's actions as a pretext to lock down the smiley as a logo for the company. The BBC piece mentions other possible authors, so why doesn't Walmart just ally itself with them in an effort to stop Loufrani from getting the trademark? If they're that afraid of being charged money to use it as part of their corporate branding, why not fight to keep it public domain? The only answer to these questions is the obvious one: Walmart would much rather own the smiley, and that's what it comes down to. This sort of thing is bound to further amplify Walmart's negative image. What kind of corporation wants to own the smiley face? An evil one. And Mr. Loufrani is no better for trying to do the same. It's the stupidest thing since Donald Trump tried to copyright "You're fired" and Paris Hilton tried to copyright "That's hot." I doubt people will respond well to a world where they can't use emoticons without forking over some cash to Walmart. And if they're going to do it, they better trademark the frowny face as quickly as possible too. (H/t: Insta)