How to damage your brand with one easy lawsuit

Hasbro and Mattel, the makers of Scrabble, have slapped Facebook with a copyright infringement lawsuit over the wildly popular “Scrabulous”. Scrabulous is an multi-player, online clone to the 70-year old Scrabble word game.

Hasbro has gone after Facebook and the creators of Scrabulous in a misguided attempt to “control the brand”.

In my opinion, this is because Hasbro doesn’t understand the true seismic shift that has happened as a result of interactive media. You no longer “control” your brand via one-way, authoritative communication. Your customers now discuss, remix and share your brand with each other in today’s interactive marketplace. You can try to sue them all (like the failed record industry) or you can embrace this new reality and create a strategic platform that allows customers to share within a framework of your choosing.

Hasbro’s outdated thinking will only backfire as it faces waves of angry customers, bad press, and a shift in brand perception.

Scrabulous already has more than 500,000 daily players – that’s 500,000 people who now think Hasbro is a bully. An unofficial “Save Scrabulous” group has sprung up in response, with at last count over 8,000 31,000 53,594 members. One rabid fan posted “I’ve burnt my Scrabble board in protest!” another, more pointedly: “Do these greedy fools not realize that they should be paying the creators of Scrabulous for all the damn fans of the game they created?” Is this the kind of conversation you want about your brand?

Of course, Hasbro deserves it full share for creating Scrabble, but instead of suing the developers that created the new media clone, it should thank them for innovating when the company couldn’t. By striking a deal or buying out the creators of Scrabulous, Hasbro could ride a wave of online popularity and reach new customers without risk. Hasbro could then use the online version to market the offline game or add premium features that would allow them to charge micro-payments (How about $1.99 a month for customized tiles, or personalized leaderboards). The platform is there, the customers are there, so why not plug in, instead of shutting it all down?

My Advice to Hasbro:

1. Negotiate a fair deal with the developers of Scrabulous, understanding that they took a risk when you wouldn’t.

2. Honestly explain Hasbro position via the “Save Scrabulous” group and other online communities, not through a press release or legal brief.

3. Develop guidelines of how your brand should be presented online, with enough flexibility to allow innovation and growth.

4. Create the internal structure for innovators to contact you and work with your products to develop new ideas.

5. Datamine your online version to find your most loyal players. Treat them as heroes and empower them to spread the word for you. Offer them insider information and special offers that they can disseminate to their network.

“Business-as-usual doesn’t realize this because it continues to conceptualize markets as distant abstractions — battlefields, targets, demographics — and the Net as simply another conduit down which companies can broadcast messages. But the Net isn’t a conduit, a pipeline, or another television channel. The Net invites your customers in to talk, to laugh with each other, and to learn from each other. Connected, they reclaim their voice in the market, but this time with more reach and wider influence than ever.”
– The Clutetrain Manifesto

Photo: Ella’s Dad from Flickr