How did a footloose travel blogger secure $50,000 for himself and $50,000 for some sick elephants from a multi-billion dollar corporation? For brand infringement? Outside of the courts?
Over the last week or so, fans of the highly mobile temp worker Turner Barr noticed that their hero’s brand, “Around the World in 80 Jobs” had been usurped by none other than Adecco Group's marketing team. Adecco not only copied the name of the campaign (whose purpose was to award eight "tickets" to energetic youngsters for job opportunities abroad), but produced a marketing video whose message directly parallels what Turner writes about – and lives – day in and day out. It's even delivered by a go-with-the-flow twenty-something much like himself. (If you ignore the Australian accent, that is). Consider these excerpts from their respective introductory videos:
“Some jobs are messy, some jobs are rewarding, and some are even a bit ridiculous. I don’t always know what path I’m taking, but the experiences and the people I meet along the way make this journey that much more worthwhile.” – Turner
“But while you’re out there, you’ll have tons of experience and face amazing challenges. Good – or bad – you’ll get a taste of it all. Some of the things you’ll do look extremely normal. Others, extremely weird. You’ll definitely hate some of them. But maybe you’ll fall in love with one of them.” – Adecco
And with so many video submissions also titled "Around the World in 80 Jobs," Turner's search engine relevancy plummeted.
At first, Adecco tread extremely lightly, apologizing in the eye-roll-inducing sort of way that we’ve come to expect from corporations. On June 21, after the shit hit the fan, they released a brief message starting with: “We’re sorry for some of the recent negative comments.” Ah, the old sidestepping trick of directing the apology toward the damages they themselves incurred. It should be common knowledge by now that internet users (especially bloggers, who seem to have a tacit solidarity) wouldn’t be appeased by a “sorry” in any old context. Consider the power of 789 likes on the comment “You’re sorry you got caught.” Or a former employee announcing, “Removing Adecco from my LinkedIn resume.” But the public shaming wasn’t complete until hundreds pointed out the irony of Adecco’s company values touting such things as “respect for the rights… of all people,” "responsibility for our actions and holding ourselves and each other accountable for what we say and do," and “acting with integrity by demonstrating the courage and strength of character to do what is right even when it is difficult or unpopular."
Lo and behold, the hailstorm of negativity led to an actual apology a week later, on June 27:
We have spoken with Turner and have come to an agreement about how we can make it right with him. Sometimes corporations can make mistakes. We are sorry, Turner.
Yes, they apologized. But I wonder how many likes, comments, and tirades it took to tip the scales. How much public shaming is necessary to extract "integrity?" Perhaps in the future, companies will at least admit that public shaming is inevitable and own up to it sooner.