Bizarre Political Campaign Attacks “Santiaga,” Orc Rogue & Candidate for Maine State Senate

Note: The views expressed on this blog are my own, and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer, its management, shareholders or employees.

In the thick of an election season, I usually hunker down in my office to avoid exposure to political ads of any sort… When, suddenly, this gem crossed my screen on Wow Insider.

Political Attack Mailer Against Colleen Lachowicz

As a former mage, and current hunter, I’ve never been a fan of the proverbial stunlock. At least she’s not combat spec with dual maces… Just sayin’.

That’s right. Maine State Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz’s online persona in World of Warcraft is being used in a bizarre attack campaign to convince voters they need “a State Senator that lives in the real world, not in Colleen’s fantasy world.”

Her critics have dug through online forums, screenshots and social media to surface quotes and comments, many out of context, to use against her. Visit the campaign site > For example, would you vote for a candidate who has re-speced heavily into assassination?!?

Colleen Lachowicz WoW Assassin

+Agil bonus for purple mohawk.

Politics aside, yes, one’s online actions are always “on the record,” but… This? At least she’s not a facerolling Death Knight. Pretty ridiculous, in my opinion. Read the article on Wow Insider >

Sesame Street Fighter vs Capcom, Part II

Note: The views expressed on this blog are my own, and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer, its management, shareholders or employees.

Quick Links
Read Sesame Street Fighter vs. Capcom, Part I >
TLDR (too long, didn’t read) Tips for Digital & Social Marketers >

C Honda by Matt CranePart II
Fan-made digital art, tschotskes, t-shirts and stickers: The bane of a brand’s existence, or valuable consumer advocacy?

From Crayons to A Whole New World
Throughout his childhood and teen years, graphic designer/illustrator/game developer Matt Crane loved to draw what he watched on television or read in comic books. From He-Man to Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Disney’s Aladdin, he gravitated toward popular cartoons and comic book characters. Visit Crane’s personal site for his portfolio >

But it was a video game, Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo, which first exposed him to the world of graphic design. “That was a turning point for me,” he said.

Since his family didn’t own a computer,Mario Paint for SNES Crane quickly became fascinated with the game’s digital drawing, painting, animation and musical composition power. “I’ve often marveled at how that early experience with Mario Paint was a small taste of many of the things I would do later in my career.”


Crane’s Life on Capcom’s Streets

It was, of course, the graphics of Capcom’s Street Fighter II game that caught Crane’s eye when it hit North American arcades of his childhood. It quickly became one of his favorites.Street Fighter II Guile

“It was impossible for me to not notice,” he said. “The graphics were much larger, and had more frames of animation than most of the games before it… The characters were so creative and fun.”

Crane fondly remembers Dhalsim, the Indian spiritualist with “stretchy limbs” who could spit fire from his mouth. And Blanka, “a green monster that can electrocute people? It was so mind-blowingly cool at the time.”

He played as Guile, a U.S. Air Force soldier who joins Street Fighter’s World Warrior tournament to avenge his friend’s death. With the ability to hurl “sonic booms” at his opponents from afar, whilst keeping his famous, exaggerated blonde flattop perfectly kempt, Guile was aJean-Claude Van Damme favorite amongst American players. Errr… Perhaps favorite until Jean-Claude Van Damme portrayed the character in the 1994 live-action film/abomination, Street Fighter. Gah… right in the childhood.

Sunny Days?
Now, with children of his own, some of the popular characters of his childhood and teen years continue to influence Crane’s home and professional life.

He’s introduced one of his favorite Sesame Street characters, Oscar the Grouch, to his children. “I love reading an Oscar book to my kids… It’s one of our favorites to read together,” he said, “where he keeps telling the readers to GO AWAY.”

Oscar's BookGO AWAY…  A giggle-inducing outburst from a lovable, albeit curmudgeon of a kid’s character. But, when Capcom, video game giant and producer of Street Fighter II, responded Grouch-style to Crane’s fan artwork, there was little to laugh about… More on that, but first, some background.

Cartoon Mashups, Culture Connections
Though the idea came to him as a young teen, Crane admits he was “certainly not the first, nor the only person who had the idea to combine Street Fighter and Sesame Street.”

He remembers doodling the characters in junior high school, sketching Bird Bird throwing fireballs at Grover, a ‘la Street Fighter’s protagonist Ryu. “There was obviously some cross-over potential, just based on the fact both franchises have the word “Street” in them,” he said.

The fourth installment of the Street Fighter series ultimately led to Crane’s decision to “take a serious crack” at developing the Sesame Street Fighter illustration series. He noticed some characters naturally “mashed up” together. “Bert and Ryu? Both serious guys, in contrast to Ken and Ernie, who are less serious, fun-loving types.”

Tschotskes, T-shirts and Other Weapons of Infringement
Big Bird Shirt by Matt CraneFor Crane, the idea of creating and selling merchandise from his fan art was “an afterthought.”

“I never thought I’d be able to sell my artwork… I just did my illustrations and posted them on Deviantart.com,” where he’s been a community member for about five years. “I just hoped I’d get a few laughs and page views,” he said.

Oscar iPhone Cover by Matt CraneHe found tschotskes, trinkets, t-shirts and stickers on Websites like Zazzle and Cafepress, where users upload personal artwork to produce custom merchandise, Crane had the idea to make his own line of Sesame Street Fighter items. However, site censors quickly identified and rejected his work, citing copyright infringement.

Eventually, he discovered Redbubble.com, where he noticed a number of parody and satirical designs from licensed franchises like Star Wars. “Sure enough, [they weren’t] as strict as the other Websites I tried using,” allowing him to begin selling his items. Visit Crane’s Store on Redbubble, Buy a Shirt >

Capcom the Grouch
Capcom LogoWhile it’s unclear how Capcom became aware of his Sesame Street Fighter merchandise, Crane indicated the company contacted Redbubble, demanding the site remove its trademarked characters. The site complied. “I was saddened, of course,” he admits, “but wasn’t all that surprised… At least I sold a few shirts, and bought one for myself and my wife before I got shut down,” he said.

After his initial disappointment, Crane began searching through Redbubble to uncover other fan-made merchandise that used trademarked characters. A Star Wars parody, featuring Calvin and Hobbes, caught his eye. “I’m doing exactly what these other people are doing… Why can these other people sell their work… but when I try, I get shut down?”

Crane composed an e-mail to Redbubble, appealing its compliance to Capcom’s demands. He included examples of his work, then referenced other parodies he found. “Amazingly, they actually cared enough to respond to me,” he said. “They basically said that they weren’t saying I was violating any copyrights with my artwork, but Capcom was pushing [the site to remove his merchandise].”

The Greatest Form of Flattery
Redbubble directed Crane to a number of forms and Websites that helped him create an official rebuttal to Capcom. After following the instructions, his appeal was simple: “I didn’t believe I was infringing on their copyright,” he said. “What I was doing was clearly a parody, and that as a parody, my work would be protected if they wanted to take me to court.”

“It’s an important distinction,” Crane said. If he were simply creating illustrations of Big Bird, or Ken & Ryu, then selling the individually trademarked characters on his own merchandise is “obviously not right… I wouldn’t blame Capcom at all for stopping me from doing that.”

But Crane maintains his unique twist on Capcom and PBS’ intellectual property is something altogether different. “That’s what makes it fun,” he said. “A combination that we all know would probably never actually occur between the two companies,” although, he noted, Hello Kitty is producing Street Fighter material, “which is great.”

“Honestly, I don’t think the existence of my Sesame Street Fighter Parody merchandise is any kind of threat that Capcom should be worried about, legally or financially,” he said.

“Was Michael Jackson getting screwed by Weird Al? Was George Lucas getting screwed by Mel Brooks when Spaceballs came out? … I doubt it.”

Crane thinks George Lucas is “smart enough to know that if fans want to create their own little spin-offs and parodies, that it will help more than hurt him.” He believes Capcom benefits from his parody as well. “It’s free publicity for them, and I doubt there are fans out there who are buying my parody stuff instead of buying official Capcom licensed stuff.”

George Lucas at Comicon

George Lucas regrets nothing. No, not even Jar Jar Binks.

The Semi-Silent Treatment
Crane never received an official response from Capcom, though his materials were relaunched on Redbubble soon after his appeal. His sales total slightly more than 200 items since his encounter with the brand. “That’s a drop in the bucket compared to whatever kinds of numbers officially licensed Capcom stuff is selling, I’m sure.”

Matt Crane

Matt Crane, digital artist & He-Man enthusiast

“I’m assuming that they decided it wasn’t worth getting into,” he said. “It’s funny,” Crane adds, noting Capcom’s former online community manager, Seth Killian, posted his Sesame Street Fighter artwork on one of Capcom’s largest fan Websites when his work was removed from Redbubble. One community member commented “The most epic fanart crossover… ever!!!!” in response.

While Killian’s comments weren’t exactly complementary, he obviously had a sense of humor about it, Crane figures. “[He wasn’t] looking at it as something that’s a threat to the company.”

“I think [Killian’s posting] is a good example of the kind of response I would hope Capcom would have toward my artwork,” he said. “Just have a good laugh, then go back to making tons of money selling great games, right?”

Crane speculates Capcom’s staff in Japan may have had a more difficult time discerning between infringement of its intellectual property and fan work. “What I’m doing is a compliment to them,” he said. “I’m a big Capcom fan, and I’m also a big Jim Henson fan. I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt either of their intellectual properties, and I don’t think I am.”
 
A Brand’s Guide to Picking Its Fights
To be fair, brands and marketers have an obligation to protect corporate identities and trademarks. Allowing any and every violation of trademark and copyright infringement to simply slide through in the name of creative freedom could set a precarious legal precedent.

Street Fighter's BlankaHowever, the digital and social revolution has forever changed the relationship between brands and consumers. Consumers effectively “own” a brand’s reputation.  A single consumer tweet, wall post or Instagram photo can rally troupes for or against your product or service.  Thus, whether it’s moral, ethical or otherwise, my not-so-legal opinion remains: when consumers organically use your brand to express themselves online, it’s something we should celebrate, not litigate. Recognizing and understanding consumer intent is key.

But how can marketers ensure brand identity is consistently maintained in the online landscape as it exists today? First, I agree with Ernst & Young’s suggestion that marketers develop and implement a holistic digital and social strategy that both protects your brand, but allows for flexibility in the rapidly evolving space – especially when it concerns consumer expression of brand enthusiasm and loyalty.

Secondly, if you truly need to feel in control, provide fans with tools, parameters and opportunities to “play” with your brand. It could be high resolution photos or images, logos, etc. Encourage fan and enthusiast expression on your digital canvas, like my former team at Ford did when we produced the second incarnation of the Mustang Customizer.

As mentioned in my previous post about Stride Gum & Apple, parody and satire can be powerful tools to rewire consumer thinking and jumpstart brand conversations, whether it’s brand or fan-produced. I believe fanwork like Crane’s enhances Capcom’s brand and reach.

Using nostalgic cultural icons, it both has relevance to potential new fans, and reignites positive sentiment and conversation to its existing base – all at no cost to Capcom. Frankly, I wonder how much cash Capcom potentially wasted on legal efforts to thwart the very objectives and engagements they’d pay for through media investments.

My opinion? If it’s truly not hurting your bottom line, it’s likely helping your brand in the long run. Perhaps legally naive, but digiculturally appropriate.

A few tips & opinions:

  1. Recognize the difference between opportunists/parasitic companies and true consumer enthusiasts. Sure, Crane may have made a few bucks with his parody, but both Sesame Street and Capcom gained precious digicultural relevancy. Online fans, enthusiasts and owners have already given you their attention, engagement and advocacy, which is incredibly valuable. Don’t punish them.
  2. Celebrate fandom. Show your appreciation. Ask if you can share their work with other fans. Give them prizes or shoot them an appreciative note.
  3. Provide fans with tools, parameters and opportunities to “play” with your brand (high res photos, logos, etc.).
  4. Have questions or concerns about fanwork? Begin a dialogue with the consumer(s) in question directly – and, potentially, discretely. With Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites, it’s fairly easy to identify a way to make meaningful contact.
  5. Don’t intimidate your fans, or act like a corporate Goliath. Big corporations can be scary. People who work at corporations? Less so. Demonstrate you’re someone who cares, who happens to represent a company. I’m clearly not a legal expert, but don’t leave it to your lawyers alone.

Know Your Meme: All Your Base Are Belong to Us

When an evil, enigmatic villain named “CATS” threatens the very balance of the universe, a few things get lost in translation.

CATS All Your Base Are Belong to UsAccording to Knowyourmeme.com, All Your Base Are Belong to Us (AYBABTU, AYB) “is a popular catchphrase that swept across the Internet at the dawn of the 21st century, as early as in 1998.”

Origin
Zero Wing, a side-scrolling, shooting game set in space, was first introduced to arcades in 1989. The player, the lone starfighter of a “ZIG” spacecraft, would fire lasers, avoid incoming fire and maneuver through eight levels of enemy invasion.

A1 All Your Base“[The] side-scrolling space shooter might have been doomed to obscurity if not for one of the most hilarious mistranslated “Japenglish” introduction sequences in video game history,” writes Gamespy.com’s William Mistretta. “Instead, it became a nationwide fad… Perhaps the first true geek catchphrase of the new millennium.” Learn more about “Japenglish” or “Engrish” >

When porting the arcade game for play on home systems, the developers wished to expand its plot for European and U.S. audiences. Under pressure of aggressive release dates, the team roughly translated the Japanese dialogue into English, resulting in such infamous lines as “Somebody set up us the bomb,” and “All your base are belong to us… You have no chance to survive make your time!”

Zero Wing’s opening sequence:

Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha ha ha ha …
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
Captain: For great justice.

Before the founding of YouTube, the more creative of early digital settlers would often upload flash-based movies to Newgrounds.com, where the now famous AYB music video (below) was posted in 2001. It soon spread from inboxes to online forums, before crossing over to the real world in a variety of forms, from t-shirts to mouse pads.

Memelife: Where is CATS Now?
Haven’t seen or heard of All Your Base Are Belong to Us before? Not surprising. Digital years pass like dog years, and countless memes have forced CATS, with his broken English, from the limelight.

The meme has since evolved into an almost secret handshake, its meaning eluding most Internet users; now used a nod to early digital underground culture or as a catchphrase to  establish a semblance of digital street cred.

All Your Base TattooAll Your Base CATS IRLAll Your Base Millionaire

Learn more about All Your Base Are Belong to Us at Knowyourmeme.com >

Sesame Street Fighter vs Capcom, Part I

Note: This post is the first of a two part series. Part II will become available later this week.

Sesame Street FighterThis specimen, ladies and gentlegerms, has become one of my favorite recent finds. Combining two of the more formative elements of my childhood, gaming and PBS, Matt Crane, aka deviantART’s Gavacho13, has created a gamer cultural masterpiece.

Street Fighter 101
Street Fighter (ストリートファイター Sutorīto Faitā, for those who prefer Japanese) is a fighting series of video games in which its players pit competitive fighters from around the world, each with his or her own unique fighting style, against one another.

Since Street Fighter debuted in 1987, it has sold more than half a million arcade cabinets and exceeded 33 million units for home gaming systems (XBOX, PlayStation, etc.) globally. The second, and probably most popular edition, Street Fighter II, generated more than $1.5 billion for Capcom alone.

Gameplay was fairly straightforward. Players pick their fighter, or combination of fighters in some cases, to challenge another player or CPU (artificial intelligence) in a bloody brawl. The goal? Knock the lifeforce of your competitor to zero, rinse, repeat for the best of three rounds.

Button combinations on the controller or arcade would allow players to execute special moves, each unique and distinct for each of the fighter characters. The character variety made Street Fighter stand out from the rest of the arcade games. From Chun-Li, the beautiful and deadly female agent hellbent on revenge, to Blanka, the green-skinned man-beast who could electrocute the snot out of you, the diversity was far more appealing to a gamer than the more generic heroes from concurrent arcade games.

Shut Up & Take My Money >
At age 12, I’d bike daily to a local grocery store to return volumes of pop/soda cans, each refunding me a 10-cent deposit. Given the fact that my family was chemically dependent on Diet Coke, my weekly cash-in was quite respectable. I could easily pull in $20 to supplement my allowance, $100 if we hosted an after-school event.

Street Fighter DhalsimI’d immediately bike to the local 7-11, where I promptly fed my entire allowance and recyclable refund to the Street Fighter II machine. I primarily played as Chun Li, the fastest, most aeriel-oriented fighter with enormous thighs that could crush a man’s skull. Ryu, the silent warrior-type, or Dhalsim, the mystical yoga master who could breathe fire and extend his extremities to smack an opponent from afar were my backups.

I’d spend hours at 7-11, and was once asked to leave after a four-hour stay. I became quite good, and could easily defeat most challengers or the CPU. I even won a local tournament, but that’s a story for a future post.

While Street Fighter II may not have given birth to it, the game certainly stands as a milestone in the history of gamer trash talk. In the 90s, I typically played against players twice my age, and taunted them regularly. I also learned my fair share of curse words along the way – usually directed in my direction when Chun Li’s innocent victory laugh mocked their defeat at my hands. Watch Chun Li kick the crap out of other fighters >

Gamer Culture
At any rate, I wasn’t alone in my Street Fighter obsession. It became, and remains to be, an important part of gamer culture, including: reprehensible Hollywood films, fan fiction, comic books, clothing & costuming (see below), arts & crafts and more.

Street Fighter CosplayCulture Connection: Street Fighter, Digital Marketing Edition
For digital marketers, understanding Street Fighter and its cultural implications isn’t necessarily going to solve sales slumps. However, I believe tapping into gamer culture is key to reaching and connecting with people online. Gaming reaches more than just 12-year-olds. The average gamer is 37, and has been gaming for 12 years (note: a recent change in methodology has brought this age into question, finding 30 to be the average age). Of course, there are different types of gamers. Again, a future post for another day.

Play Angry Birds, Draw Something (heh, does anyone nowdays? That was quick.) or another gaming app on your phone? Congrats, you’re a gamer, too – let the trash talk begin.

Anyway, my point is this: What Crane has done with Sesame Street Fighter is brilliant. By combining themes from nostalgic cultural icons into a visual/artistic statements, his work connects to fans of both gaming and Kermit & Big Bird. It cuts through the clutter, and communicates to the core of its target audience – all without having to say a word. That, my friends, is the foundation for good, relevant marketing.

To be continued in Part II…