4 Takeaways from Day 1 of AMA’s 2017 Marketing Public Policy Conference

Zach Brooke
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Key Takeaways

​Revelations on religion, drugs and trademark disputes

​1.    Toward a kinder, gentler trademark legal battle

One of the most fascinating sessions of the day was delivered by Eric DeRosia of Brigham Young University, focusing on revising the way in which trademark disputes are litigated. Calling the current process “unseemly,” DeRoisa highlighted the way trademark experts devolve into attacking each other while retained by opposing sides in a dispute. 

According to him, there are roughly 3,400 cases of source confusion a year where one brand sues another allegeding the ladder (or junior mark) packaging is similar enough to the plaintiffs (or senior mark) to trick consumers into buying it.

A standard way to fight the case in court is to hire dueling marketing experts to survey consumers on whether they mistake the packages as being manufactured by the same company. Since it’s typical for the experts to produce results favorable to their sides, much energy is expended on attacking each other’s methodology, which DeRosia argues culminates with the judge cherry-picking the research she likes best.  

There have been several proposals to reform this process; however, DeRosia says it’s a mistake to advocate for them since courts routinely ignore them. Instead, he suggests tweaking the one test judges seems to routinely employ, the so-called “Eveready method” (named after the Ever-Ready flashlight, challenged by Union-Carbide, maker of Eveready batteries.) This method shows surveyed consumers only the junior mark and asked them who they think makes it. An analysis conducted by DeRosia found that various phrasing of that question can move the responses by as much as 12%, enough to swing the trial one way or another. So, in response, DeRosia proposes that experts use the exact wording that is most favorable to the other side when conducting their research, in order to ensure the fairest outcome, which would also be less disputed on methodological grounds. 

2. Lessons Learned After 22 Years Marketing Drug Prevention Efforts to Teens

“Personally, I will never believe the campaign had no impact,” says Sean Clarkin of Partnership for Drug Free Kids. He was talking about the national youth anti-drug media campaign, which was the largest media-driven drug prevention effort ever and ran from 1988 to 2010 until funding for the program was eliminated.

The campaign ran so long that it existed in two phases. The first stage, “My Anti-Drug,” focused on risk, highlighting worst-case scenarios that result from drug use, such as death, serious injury or incarceration. In 2005, the second phase shifted the messaging tactics to appeal to the sense of control teenagers and young adults gain over their lives as they mature, signified by the tagline “Above the Influence.”

During the lifetime of the campaign, past year use of illicit drugs among youth declined by 27%, and past year use of marijuana specifically dropped by 29%.

Clarkin sees those numbers as validation of the program's efforts, but also highlighted several problems he encountered during the duration of the campaign. One was that while risk messaging was broadcast universally to target population, but the actual risk was not evenly distributed among youth. Some teens were at far greater risk of hurting their lives by using drugs, but when they saw their low-risk friends or associates use drugs with little to no consequences, they dispelled the anti-drug messaging they were exposed to.

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Clarkin believes this info can instruct current and future attempts to combat the opioid epidemic that is currently causing 91 deaths a day. The good news, Clarkin says, is that opioid abuse among teens is actually declining. Clarkin attributes this partly to well-known and accepted risks associated with using opioids. What’s less understood by teens,  however, are the “entry points” for abuse, including sports injuries and wisdom tooth extraction.

3. Wealthy AND Godly?

Anyone who has ever encountered the #blessed on social media can attest the context is more likely to reflect pleasure derived from material objects rather than spiritual pursuits. With that in mind, Kelly Gabriel of Villanova presented some interesting research on life satisfaction influenced by wealth and religiosity.

Considering the question of can religiosity and materialism – seemingly contradictory pursuits -- coexist in the same outlook, Villanova and her co-author, Aronte Bennett, realized that both philosophies can play the same role in people’s lives during rough periods. When times get tough, some people turn to religion for solace and some engage in “retail therapy” to distract or remake themselves. Also, both religious people and wealthy people report higher life satisfaction than their irreligious and lower means counterparts.

What they found is that there is no correlation between materialism and religion among people who are intrinsically religious – that is, religious for the inner personal fulfillment. Among extrinsically religious persons -- those who are religious for the social benefits -- being both wealthy and religious can indeed result higher life satisfaction outcomes.

4. Mindful Marketing

Can you brand ethics? David Hagenbuch, founder of Mindful Marketing, thinks so. According to Hagenbuch, Mindful Marketing refers to marketing that both ethical and effective. Hagenbach has developed a Mindful Matrix, which classifies advertisements by their ability to uphold both stakeholder values and those of society.

The matrix has four quadrants by which to evaluate ads. Ads that fails to promote either societal or stakeholder values are classified as mindless. Hagenbach signals out J. Crew’s size 000 pants as falling into this category, as it promotes “extreme vanity sizing makes it even harder for consumers to know what size will fit,” and “encourages societal obsession with extreme thinness and unhealthy body image.”

Advertisements that succeed at upholding stakeholder values by failing at promoting societal values fall into “simple-minded” classification. Hagenbach cites GoDaddy’s racy Super Bowl ads as a hallmark of this category, saying they “generate great interest in the firm's web-related services,” but “what's the emotional and social impact of these ads on impressionable young women and men?”

Alternatively, if an ad promotes social virtues but ignores stakeholder interests, it is “single-minded.”  Newsweek decision to discontinue print editions in favor of existing solely online, Hagenbach says, is a classic example of this quadrant, saying it was “noble move to act green and save paper,” but that the publisher “misread the target market's readiness and willingness to change.”

So what a “mindful” advertising that excels at upholding both stakeholder and societal virtues? It’s General Mills cereals, Hagenbach says.

“General Mills strives to offer cereals made with whole grains and without high fructose corn syrup. Consumers benefit from eating products that are relatively more healthy than competitive offerings. Over time, healthier food options translate into lower societal healthcare costs.”


Author Bio:

Zach Brooke
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