In 2000, we opened a design studio and were in search of a name. Eventually, we landed on smashLAB, reasoning it represented one part creativity, and one part method. At the time, there were no others using the moniker and, with the URL available, we ran with it.
As years passed, other groups used the same name. For the most part this wasn’t a big deal–until a new Discovery Channel program did the same. You see, their program was so poorly received that references to it were overwhelmingly critical. In fact, if you ran a search for our name, you were most likely to find results like “Smash Lab = Fail.” (Not good.)
In the months that followed, a lot of weird people got in touch with us. A taxi company in Los Angeles wanted us to use their decommissioned cabs in explosions. We received extensive (and rather bewildering) schematics for complex experiments. Heck, even a prison inmate sent us some “interesting” fan mail.
This whole experience became quite tiresome, and we feared this confusion would damage our brand.
Sure, we could have fought the program over the use of this name, but we would have lost. Although smashLAB was (and is) a trademarked name, our agent explained that the television program was in a sufficiently different industry. Thus, they were not infringing on our intellectual property. Besides, we were savvy enough to realize that fighting a large television network would have cost us more than we would have ever won.
We contemplated changing our name, but doing so seemed like an admission of defeat. What precedent would we set by just rolling over? And if we were to give up so easily once, what would protect any new name we’d create, in the event of a similar situation?
Then, it struck us: why not just have some fun with the whole thing? As marketers, we had an opportunity to make some noise, and perhaps generate some added visibility for ourselves. Over the course of the next three hours, we registered the domain smashlabsucks.com and wrote an open letter asking The Discovery Channel not to stop using the name, but rather to make their program, “suck less.”
Many shared our playful letter, and seemed to enjoy our cheeky sense of humor. (Others, thought us immature brats, but we were OK with that, too.) The best part was when our letter received kudos from the people at TechCrunch, adding fuel to the fire. By day’s end, many tens of thousands had visited our site.
The Discovery Channel also reach out to us, and wanted to know how we wanted to proceed. We explained our studio had no expectations, nor requests for them to do anything. Instead, we wanted to make light of a situation that had been kind of crummy for us. Their representative agreed that our approach was rather funny—and noted that they had little intention of renewing the program.
Eventually, the television program died, with a whimper, and any brand confusion slowly ceased to be. However, a few years later, one of the program’s creators reached out to say hello. A pleasant fellow, he apologized for poaching the name, and acknowledged that although our letter initially hurt, he’d later come to find it amusing. (He also added that their show did kind of suck.)
The point of this story: You might not be able to use traditional approaches of fighting back when you’re up against a big adversary, but that shouldn’t stop you from having a couple of laughs. Perhaps you’ll even create a little buzz for your company along the way.
Take it easy,