An “Eat More Kale” problem all over again!

Corporate entities trying to silence the voice of their users is a story you’ve heard again and again.

I featured the “Eat More Kale” story, the story about Bo Mueller-Moore in Chat Republic. So this story of two students being told by their college, Yale, that they had no right to come up with a better website for their school, rang a bell. Mueller-Moore was considered a trespasser; a pest. Harry Yu and Peter Xu (who designed what amounts to a replacement of Yale’s course selection website) were just end-users.

These are the kinds of people who end up receiving “cease-and-desist” letters. Just Google the phrase and you’ll see.

It took an online following and petitions to get the college dean to respond to the incident. But if you read her explanation, it is hardly apologetic. This triggered an online petition, which called it a “non-apology.” It explained:

We must let the Yale administration know that these tactics are not okay. The university has broken students’ trust by acting in a hostile way towards students who were providing a beneficial service to fellow students free of charge.

Three days later, Mary Miller, the dean, responded once more. This time with a bit more humanity. She (somewhat grudgingly) granted that “In the end, students can and will decide for themselves how much effort to invest in selecting their courses.”

An interesting modern fable that keeps being updated all the time.

If only the Yale folk had read up the Eat More Kale story!

Trademark ‘Violators’ in a Connected Era

If someone were to come up with an Encyclopedia of Lessons Learned it would surely run into volumes. I would love to help edit it!

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson bring up one more case of how companies get it wrong when trying to protect their brand by trying to silence a fan and calling it “infringement.”  (Check out For Immediate Release podcast. Show # 705)

The case involved Nutella, and a fan who started something called World Nutella Day, created by one Sara Rosso. It reminded me of a case involving the line “Eat More Kale,” that was completely different, in terms of not using a brand, but “infringing” on its tagline. (I understand that advertisersconsider taglines as “intellectual property” even when they are really  sharable markers, not some protected species.)

I interviewed Bo Mueller Moore for a section in my book that talks about “speaking out of turn” and why we do it. The reason these cases resonate with me is because I was the recipient of one of these silly, corporate Cease-and-Desist letters myself, way back in 2000. I know first hand, what it means when a fan-boy (or fan girl, in Rosso’s case) is asked to shut up, or face a battery of lawyers.

You could find more about this, in Chat Republic.

But to get back to the podcast, it features an excellent discussion on why, especially (but not exclusively) in an age of social media, companies should strongly think through what they are really trying to lock down: The brand identity, or the conversations arround it? I didn’t know this, but Shel Holtz, who once worked for Mattel, referred to how the company had tried to sue the band Aqua, for a song called “Barbie Girl” –in 1997.

In 2009, Mattel did an about turn. It sanctioned and released a music video with the song.

A sobering thought for anyone considering firing off a cease-and-desist, today.