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Hey! Somebody Stole My Own Words Right Off The Page!

March, 2003 | by John Siebenthaler: photos©john siebenthaler Drop me a line for a winning social media marketing strategy. taking business to market more event coverage

iron crushes aluminum t-shirt“Iron Crushes Aluminum. Every Time.”

(INDIANAPOLIS) That‘s my headline on the shirt. But it's not my shirt. Just back from Indianapolis and the '03 Dealernews Powersports Expo. Record snow aside, the show held more than the usual interest, because among the hundreds of displays was this t-shirt printer, in a good location at the head of an isle and backed up to Drag Specialties semi.

With all the clothing available, it's a wonder I even noticed, but something about the caption caught my eye. Ahhh, I remember! It's a headline, reproduced verbatim, I wrote in the '90's for hot rod engine builder Accurate Engineering's repro Knuck. Now, this kind of head just doesn't occur every time someone orders a round of long necks and some wings. No. This was my head, ripped off to sell somebody else's shirts.

Thing is, I always liked the copy, but it really needed a bit more tweaking. I thought the concept was novel, but the phrasing a little awkward. The ad only ran a few times; I thought it deserved more play than that. But it was written for a knuck, and this ain't that. Associating the slogan with an Evo sorta' misses the point.

Plus, and you'd have to be a writer to appreciate the feeling, seeing your work used without so much as a, "nice work, would you mind if?" is kind of like popping up in a parallel universe and discovering your kids have been stolen by otters and all anyone can remark on is what good little swimmers they are.

I started wondering, how much more of my work's been "borrowed"? Well, I know Ultra swiped a head (maybe if they'd of called then, they wouldn't be a footnote today) when they were still on the way up. I see a wheel manufacturer ran a head derived from a self promo tee shirt I designed five or six years ago. siebenthaler logo for accurate engineering signature seriesAnd then there's the rash of you name it "signature" brands popping up. I first introduced the powersports community to that style of branding in '98 when I concepted and designed Berry Wardlaw's Signature Series V-Twins. Not that it was breakthrough creative - hardly that - but it was a first in this market, and that makes it special, if not unique.

What's the point? Literary license has always been a part of marketing since cavemen began fingerpainting on the walls of their homes, and imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery. After all, every creative and art director keeps a swipe file for inspiration; mine's three file cartons deep, and who knows if anything is original anymore. And make no mistake, borrowing to elicit interest is not the same as swiping to make a quick buck.

But in our industry there's so much room for original marketing, and so little of it done, that most of what's seen survives only because it's a sellers market in a crummy, crappy, pc template world. Think it doesn't matter? Tell Coke, whose shareholders demand performance - or else. Remember the bears on the ice flow? Ahhhhhh...

So why not spend - no, make that invest - a couple of bucks on qualified talent that could actually lift your image, instead of pursuing the mistaken notion that no one notices and then claiming success when you sell two instead of twenty? There's a ton of creative folks out there, and you do have to write a check. But there's no down side - the good news is that you could get a reputation that springs from creativity which translates into sales which means way more cha ching at the end of the day. The prosecution rests.

footnote: I now own the exact shirt shown in the display above; got it the same way the vendor got his inspiration - I took it. But not before making sure he knew the source of his income was my copywriting that he neither paid for nor acknowledged. all©2003 by John Siebenthaler.