Friday, June 27, 2008


Marketing pundits and consumers alike were shocked and bewildered this week at the news that Nike has sold its swoosh. The iconic logo device has belonged to the Oregon-based athletic shoe and apparel manufacturer since it was created by Carolyn Davidson in 1971, and has found homes in popular culture everywhere from the golf course to inner-city ghettos. The swoosh was sold to an exultant Reebok for an undisclosed amount. Reebok said that it will debut its newly acquired swoosh at the upcoming Olympic games.

Did I have you for a second there? And if I did, surely your reaction was, “That is possibly the most futile and ridiculous branding decision since, like, ever!” Well, of course it was. Nike selling its swoosh would be just stupid, unless it really needed the money to make rent. And buying it would be stupid squared because, for at least a very long time, everybody that saw it would think of Nike. Even Sweetie’s cat could figure that out.

So, if you’re as smart as me and our barfy cat, you must have been shaking your head at the dustup earlier this month over ‘The Hockey Theme’, the mysteriously titled music that plays while the opening credits roll for Hockey Night in Canada (my American friends can substitute Wide World of Sports for an approximation of the cultural significance of this program). After decades of association with the enormously popular weekly sports broadcast, the rights holder to the song – octogenarian and former ad babe Dolores Claman – didn’t like CBC’s offer to renew the license for it, and she sold it instead to competing network CTV. Who, lacking a clear plan for how to get a return on what some speculate was a seven-figure investment, appear to have bought it just to irritate the CBC.

And so the brilliance of my opening feint is revealed. Yes, CTV is the Reebok in this story, and ‘The Hockey Theme’ is nothing more than a logo you listen to. I won’t judge CBC for drawing the line on the dollar value of this music. And I won’t judge Dolores Claman for wanting millions for it (I also want millions, yet have no song to offer in exchange). But I do judge CTV for what seems to be nothing more than macho nose-thumbing with no evident commercial value. I mean, guys, seriously… did you think that people watched Hockey Night in Canada for the song? Did you think that hockey fans were such dolts that you might, in the future, be able to fool them into thinking it was on CTV now? Or were you just rubbing your hands in glee, Grinch-like, because your efforts, while producing no benefit for you, had discomfited the enemy?

Well, I hope whoever signed that cheque to Dolores has already had their performance review, because I’ve got some unfortunate news that could affect their bonus:

First, you are not heroes, CTV, for buying and saving this piece of ‘Canadiana’. We don’t thank you. We just think you have too much money.

Second, Canadians will get over this and keep watching Hockey Night in Canada. We got over Labatt and Molson being bought by foreigners. We got over the whole Tim Horton thing. We got over Gretzky going to LA. Hockey bags across the nation were just as stinky the day after Bauer sold to Nike as they were the day before. Nobody is sad. I think they already forgot, actually.

And finally, you are going to look foolish when you hit the play button on ‘The Hockey Theme’ for the first time. Viewers who are already a few beers ahead of the game will just think they’re on the wrong channel. And the sober ones will be lost in reverie, fondly remembering the Saturday nights of their youth rather than paying attention to whatever you’re going to try to sell them during the commercial break.

Meanwhile, down at the CBC, I think they’re probably going to get over it, too. They’re having a contest inviting Canadians to write a new song for the show. They’ve got Stompin’ Tom Connors' offer of ‘The Hockey Song’ as a backup. And the optics of all this were masterfully handled: Canada’s public broadcaster drew the line, refusing to squander the taxpayer’s money (apparently $2.5 to $3 million). By the time the puck drops this fall, the whole thing will be a memory as distant as dollar-a-liter gas.

And if you miss Dolores’ ditty, a little-reported angle to this story is that Warner Music still seems to own the digital rights to the epic composition. You can listen to it all day long, free, here.

You can even make it your wireless ring tone. Heck, CBC could just download it to Don Cherry’s cell phone and then call him during Coach’s Corner. That would irritate CTV no end.

And for a lot less than $3 million bucks.


Alternative Girlfriend said...

Hey Cowboy, howz about you mosey on over to my Blog and take a read... you may change your tune over the tune a little bit. Last 3 Posts.

Scott Moore = Spin Master
Fact: Scott Moore admitted, televised that the CBC has been in negotiations with Nettwerk Music Group for over a year developing their little contest. And you can check out the link to the lawsuit that the CBC is facing over using the song illigally without paying royalties. It's all there... including the Blog from Dolores Clamans' daughter who tells it like it really is.

And 3 Million Bucks? That's a CBC cover your ass Number.

BrandCowboy said...

That, mysterious alternative girlfriend, is as may be. But it's also beside the point. The target of my little polemic is CTV who, regardless of whatever other intrigues may surround this sorry tale and regardless of the price paid, wasted their money. The whole thing is a bonfire of corporate vanities, and I suspect the only real winner - innocent though she may be - was Dolores Claman. Nice when things work out that way, huh?

Anonymous said...

You've evidently lost the plot, mysterious brand cowboy.

BrandCowboy said...

Not lost it. Avoiding it.

All of the back story is of no consequence to me, dear reader. This is a blog about brands. The song, to me, is a branding device. And in this one, delightfully parochial sense, the events surrounding 'The Hockey Theme' are silly. IMHO, as the young people say.

miro slodki said...

But does the song brand the event - hockey, the NHL event or the station carrying the event?

for me its simply a precursor to an NHL game where ever I happen to hear that particular sonic logo

I am not miffed or put out in anyway by whoever uses or doesn't get to use the music

CBC is likely to get the second most mileage out of this with their bottom-up contest.

$Millions in royalties for a 30 second tune written decades ago is excessive IMHO but if that's the price CTV wanted to pay - then who's to argue with the wisdom of a free market system?

BrandCowboy said...

In my mind, the product being branded was the television property, "Hockey Night In Canada." The song was a sonic logo for that, which is why I thought the whole drama was absurd.

And I'm with you: The free market can do whatever it chooses, however silly that might sometimes be. But, I think that those who want to portray the rights holder as a poor victim in all this would do well to remember two things: Nobody put a gun to her head to sign the original deal. And the cultural significance and putative value of that song was something it acquired through CBC's repetition of it over forty years, not its inherent musical brilliance.