Monthly Archives: August 2013

Marvin Gaye vs Robin Thicke – Blurred Copyright Lines?

We take a break from more typical weighty matters with a lighter story for the weekend.

There’s a bizarre and public music copyright jousting match going on, which raises a few questions:
Who’s in the right?  And has the very public legal wrangling damaged either party’s brand?  YOU be the judge!   You’ll need to invest about 20 seconds (below).

Blurred Lines

Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye









The Song of the Summer of 2013 was Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke.*- it’s a catchy party tune, complete with the standard provocative lyrics and misogynistic video.  If you’re under 20 you’ve heard it at least 500 times.
*Alan Thicke’s son.  Their career arcs have definitely crossed.

Here’s the catch:  many people who heard Blurred Lines heard a strong similarity to Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up  (1977).  The Estate of Marvin Gaye (he died in 1984) sure did, and made a legal claim that the similarity was too close.

Gayes strike first:  The Gaye Estate notified Robin Thicke’s lawyers and preemptively offered that if “…plaintiffs do not pay a monetary settlement of the Gayes’ claim, the Gayes intend to initiate litigation for copyright infringement against plaintiffs.”

Thicke’s camp responds, with a polite lawsuit: “Plaintiffs, who have the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye…reluctantly file this action…The suit requests legal confirmation that “there are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the (Gayes) allege they own”.”

In other words, Marvin Gaye’s heirs claim they’ve been ripped off and want damages; Robin Thicke’s lawyers want a judge to confirm that this similarity doesn’t constitute infringement.

Because of the players involved, this otherwise mundane dust-up has garnered intense 24/7 global media coverage, with one result being you will have a hard time finding these videos online (but I’ve found them for you).

More to the point, it would seem that this increasingly public legal activity would undercut the appealing image that any musical artist strives for, and that this would harm their brand and consequently their ability to make money.
– so there’s 2 questions:  was Marvin Gaye ripped off, and will this harm either Gaye’s or Thicke’s brand?

Listen to just the first 10-15 seconds of each song, starting with Blurred Lines (below) and see what you think.

I found Blurred Lines starting at :40 on this outtake from Jimmy Kimmel:

Got To Give it Up can be sampled here:

SO – – Was Marvin Gaye ripped off?

My opinion:  The two songs’ similarity is striking and unmistakable.   But while I personally have great regard for Gaye’s genius (if not his personal conduct), it doesn’t seem that recreating a 35-year old beat should constitute infringement.

Will this hurt the images of either artist to the extent that they’ll suffer a financial impact?

NO!  Of course not!!  Trick question!

Their brands would be damaged if anyone in their fan base noticed or cared, and neither is going on here.

Robin Thicke’s fans don’t watch/listen to the news and almost certainly have never heard of Marvin Gaye.  This will not make one iota of difference.  Lawsuits are boring grownup stuff.

From the Marvin Gaye standpoint, there are now a lot of people listening to his music as a result of this skirmish, which has probably revived music sales.  And if his personal brand has survived coverage to date, it can definitely survive this.  No harm, no foul.

Net, this is an interesting event to watch unfold, but solely for the amusement factor.   Have a good weekend.


Is soup good food? Hard to tell sometimes.

Next to perennial diet enemies fat and sugar, sodium has never gotten much respect — probably because overconsumption of sodium doesn’t lead to a spare tire or other jiggling parts.  But too much sodium does contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure, and sodium reduction is now hitting the mainstream.  How do we know this?  Because the lawyers have gotten involved.

The Campbell Soup Company was recently hit with a lawsuit claiming that some of its Healthy Request soups contain too much sodium, despite a ‘Heart-Check’ endorsement from the American Heart Association (seen mostly on Campbell’s website), implying that Campbell’s is in the tank with the AHA (read: payola).

AHA Heart Check Logo

AHA Heart Check Mark

This is a case where technically Campbell seems to meet the AHA criteria, but where the consumer perception of benefit is probably greater than reality.   Which means it cannot be a permanent solution.

The market will ultimately choose an approach that combines great taste, reasonable sodium levels, and some way to convey these benefits without implying a taste tradeoff.  Not easy, but it’s happened before (trans-fats) and as awareness of sodium dangers gain visibility, a tipping point is inevitable.

Campbell's Healthy Request Soups

Campbell’s Healthy Request Soups

A quick fact-check:

–       To get the Heart-Check seal, a product must contain (among other things) no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving.

  • Never mind that the AHA advocates just 1500 mg per day of sodium, and that it classifies ‘low sodium’ as 150 mg or less per serving.  It’s their seal and they can do what they want with it.

AHA Heart Check Nutritionals

–       A typical serving of Campbell Healthy Request soup has around 400 mg, which clearly fits the guideline.

Campbell HR ChickenNoodle Nutritionals

Case closed?

Well, yes and no – each can has between 2 and 2.5 servings.  And according to a recent survey, over 60% of consumers would eat a whole can at a sitting.  Meaning the real sodium intake of just one soup experience could be 800-1000mg or more.  Which wouldn’t seem to be too helpful in reducing the current American average intake of 3500mg/day to a commonly held target of 1500-2300mg.

–       So there’s a fair argument that advertising as ostensibly ‘Heart Healthy’ is misleading.

–       Considering that 75% or more of sodium intake is through processed foods, this sets an unhealthy precedent for using an association endorsement to market foods with healthy benefits.  Americans can’t effect enough change with the salt shaker – it’s largely up to manufacturers to supply solutions.

Campbell has had its own corporate struggle with sodium.  In 2010 it announced significant sodium reduction in many of its soups, only to reverse course in 2011 when sales declined.   As Campbell is a public company, and is in business to make profits, it has justification in responding to marketplace demand.

Consumers care about sodium intake, but they care about taste more.  So it seems that using sodium reduction as a mainstream messaging effort will be very challenging, as ‘reduced sodium’ translates for most people to ‘bland as cardboard’.

A more appropriate approach going forward might want to include the following steps:

1) Continued formulation to deliver reduced sodium with great taste.  There are some great new salt alternatives available that should make this possible.

2) Use a so-called ‘stealth’ approach to reduce sodium gradually, and enable consumers to adjust their palates’ expectations over time.   With less salt, over time, Americans might even be able to taste the delicate and sophisticated flavor nuances that exist in most processed foods. (the thyme!  the basil!  the hydrolyzed corn protein!)

3) Continue the use of benefit-focused claims (along the lines of ‘heart healthy’), as opposed to ‘less of’ formulation claims (e.g. ‘reduced sodium’) – this is one of the only ways to convey ‘good for you’ and ‘good tasting’ at the same time.

Long-term, whether carrying an endorsement or not, manufacturers will need to make sure that sodium reductions are real and truly help the consumer –  and that the product tastes great.

But as it becomes easier for consumers to check nutritionals while shopping, the bar will inevitably be raised for both manufacturers and associations seeking an endorsement relationship.

Transparency – still not clear to Carnival Cruise Lines

Transparency is a foundation of good customer relations.  But is it possible to mess up transparency?  Carnival Cruise Line’s recent promise to disclose crime statistics indicates that it is comfortable with its historical communication approach.

Costa Concordia, Jan. 2012

Costa Concordia, Jan. 2012

Carnival might be thought of as the George Costanza of the cruise industry – a good policy might involve watching what they do, and then doing the opposite:
Being transparent as a standard operating procedure builds the trust necessary to weather a crisis
– Public statements of remorse need to be focused on the damage done to customers, not to the company
– Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned;
social media means the corporate ‘everything is ok’ statements are just not enough anymore

Carnival Triumph Feb 2013

Carnival Triumph Feb 2013


The Poop Cruise


Carnival has had a world of trouble recently – much of it self-inflicted as it conducted itself publicly:
– most tragically, the Costa Concordia capsizing in January 2012
– so far in 2013  (a sample): the Triumph’s infamous 4-day no power, no toilets ‘Poop Cruise’, the Dream stranding passengers due to generator failure, and the Legend’s problems causing a cruise to be cut short

– Following Concordia, Chairman Micky Arison went underground at Carnival’s HQ in Miami, granting no interviews and delegating public statements to the CEO of Carnival’s Italian subsidiary.

Carnival’s reparations to its customers (including meager refunds and future cruise vouchers) were of questionable sincerity.  As a result, not all prior customers have been actively evangelizing the brand (some amazing tales of woe can be read here).

Carnival’s public statements have tended toward defensive rather than disclosure:
– “I want to emphatically state that all the ships in our fleet are safe” (statement to Wall Street)
– “It’s still the safest form of transportation” (go-to industry non-statement based on a 1990 study – – Yes, we’re glad that we won’t die, but what are the stats about sewage exposure?)
– “The relative percentage of incidents for our cruise lines (versus competitors) is almost the same.  Unfortunately for us…we’ve just been hit by a run here (in the year post-Concordia) that has been very unfortunate.” Carnival Vice Chairman (in a masterful ‘we are the real victims’ performance).

Evidence suggests that Carnival takes a ‘lowest cost option’ approach to maintenance and customer satisfaction, which, based on its general positioning as a lower-cost cruise line, is a perfectly reasonable option – – as long as things are working.

However, as a result of recent events, a Harris Interactive poll showed sharply decreased opinions of not only Carnival (its quality scores were down 28% vs. pre-Triumph), but for the industry overall.

Carnival’s most decisive move?  Firing its advertising agency, of course.

Now this week, Carnival announced (along with 2 other cruise lines) that it would be ‘voluntarily’ publishing crime statistics
for its ships, apparently bowing to political pressure.  A sample:
– From Oct. 2010 through June 2013, Carnival reported 121 incidents of thefts of over $10,000, assaults with serious injury, rape or sexual assault.
This was served up with predictably defensive statements:
– “…we are doing this voluntarily to remove all doubt about the relatively low level of crime on cruise ships especially when compared with comparable land-based crimes. It is important to highlight that what is being posted are allegations of crime. The majority of these are never substantiated as actual crimes after the initial investigation.”
– “I believe it showcases that cruising is safe, especially when you consider we have some 10 million passengers each year cruising with us.  I think the crime stats on board for our four North American-based cruise lines would be an average of 41 alleged crimes per year.”

So now, in addition to sewage and engine fire fears, we get to worry about onboard crime.  And it seems there’s a lot of room for crime beyond the very serious categories covered (who brings items worth over $10k on a Carnival cruise, anyway?). And there are huge questions about the comprehensiveness of the database – – by claiming an crime number, they are practically begging to be challenged.

Maybe more importantly, I want the company to pledge to minimize crime, not tell us that a certain amount of crime is acceptable.

Carnival has made many statements over the last 18 months, so one could claim they are being transparent. But what’s important is not necessarily the frequency of statements, it’s being proactive, honest and customer-centric.

Carnival’s current course has it in constant danger of running aground.