What is citizen marketing?

Is the homeless guy with a Safeway shopping cart an evangelist, say a citizen marketer, for Safeway? Or has he just walked off with a corporation's property? I'd have to say it is theft.

So, why is the FedEx Furniture guy a hero to the bloggers? Steve Rubel writes today that Jose is a citizen marketer, helping show how much he loves FedEx by stealing boxes to make furniture. Jose notes that he does love FedEx, and has used them to ship product.

But, that does not change the fact that, well, those boxes are property of FedEx for its customers to ship out product. That's a pretty cut and dry case. Boxes are to be used for shipping, not to make avant-garde furniture, no matter how cool it might be, or how much the designer claims to love FedEx and use them. Yep, I say claims.

I doubt any corporate communications department is going to rush out and embrace a homeless person with a branded shopping cart. Why should FedEx rush out and embrace a furniture-less guy that decided to use their products for his own purposes and means? To me, it's just a knee-jerk reaction of the blogosphere because FedEx is using the DMCA to claim its intellectual and property rights.

If FedEx didn't crack down, could they start to lose money on more stolen boxes? Colleges are opening their doors right now - think of all the college students, alone, that might be seeking to mimic this lil' effort, and then think of the cost to FedEx.

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  1. Jeremy: couldn't there be, at least, a third way? Remake their materials distribution policy while laughing off the furniture. The man made functional furniture out of boxes. It's remarkable. They responded with an ear of tin and an iron fist.

    Brands get hijacked. You're not in control. (Did Campbell's sue Warhol for unauthorized reproduction of tehir brand image?) FedEx just comes off churlish and clumsy, and the growing network of DIY media means the mocking gets heard round the world.

  2. No, Campbell's did not sue Warhol (at least I couldn't find any notice of a lawsuit in Google), but the company did commission artwork from him in the 1980's - but there seems to be a disconnect here.

    Warhol was replicating the logo, not using the logos themselves. He was enhancing the brand, not stealing product.

  3. I definitely agree that FedEx handled this correctly. It's one thing to wallpaper your house and build furniture with FedEx boxes. It's another to publicize it. FedEx is looking out for the bottom line here (your point about college kids is well taken), and copycats of this kids would hurt the company and the brand.
    They are not a quirky, new-age-type company that would benefit from embracing a quirky kid. They are serious about what they do and are damn good at it.
    They don't want to be cool. They want to be on time.

  4. Where does it say that he was stealing the boxes? Do you know for sure whether he actually stole the boxes vs. buying them?

  5. FedEx did not attempt to get him to take down the site for the misappropriation of the FedEx boxes. The claimed trademark infringment instead. They lost this one and Jose put his site back up.

    The point is simple, FedEx could have achieved their goal of safeguarding their assets (boxes) without starting out with action from their lawyers. Too often in America we call the lawyers instead of stepping back and thinking things through. Call the marketing team first, the lawyers second. Brian's point is that FedEx could have turned this lemon into lemonaid.

    There are million great ways to handle this issue. Sean indicates that he "agree[s] that FedEx handled this correctly." I contend that they DIDN'T handle the issue. They only fueled the issue - making it bigger than it needed to be. Get it?

  6. I agree with Brian. I mean there are already a ton of temp furniture items made out of cardboard anyway, so it's not as if there isn't a market for them.
    As for college kids, you just spin it and start offering Fed Ex chairs and Tables for sale in Target and Walmart, that can also be broken down and used as shipping material. I can tell you from experience, that most college students would rather buy it than build it, and if the item in question is popular enough, they'll definately be buying it.
    Look at what Subway did with that Jarod guy. They offered him a deal instead of telling him to quiet down about his weight loss plan, and they've been able to actually compete with the health food market. Seems like a no brainer to me.

  7. I just have one question, where is your sense of humor? No matter what image FedEx is trying to put out there, I doubt that stodgy (yet on time) is not what they're shooting for.

    Yes, it is important to keep on top of issues that would effect trademark infringement, but as long as the Furniture Guy isn't on the corner selling his ripped-off furniture... what's the harm? He has not copied their brand to start a shipping business, he does not want to expand his furniture line to Target (great idea though)...so with no direct threat to the company's trademark, why risk offending potential customers?

    The power of a quirky spokesperson to bring in new markets and amuse the old ones has been used a lot. Can you say Jared? He walks to the store, eats the sandwiches, drops weight -BOOM-a spokesman is born. Now, we can't watch TV without hearing him hawk us a foot long or two. True, he paid for the sandwiches (we think), but now he is well compensated for supporting the brand he loves.

    Whether or not FedEx is truly bothered by the use of its boxes, they run the risk of offending an audience of bloggers. I agree with Brian's earlier post that they might be seen in a bad light. Why not use this chance to capitalize on some online advertising/sponsorship if this guy is so popular. If they would sponsor a link on their website, then their 'All Business' customers can still efficiently use their services, while those with a sense of humor can enjoy some FedEx decorating tips.

    It's a shame he didn't grab the boxes from the Post Office, they could use a boost.