Cease and Persist
Like Picasso said…learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist…
Product Drives Promotion
The creative prompt behind virtually any of the Seven Stills branding tended to come from what made the beer. A peach-apricot beer begat “Twins,” satirizing the 80’s Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito classic because like those two, apricots and peaches are identical twins. A beer brewed with cucumber and mint seemed like such a beach drink we had to call it “Drink Umbrella.”
So when we had a “Neapolitan milkshake stout” coming, brewed with chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and lactose, it prompted thoughts of the classic diner or drive-in hamburger stand. Being proper Californians, the image of a hamburger stand automatically conjures up dreams of In-N-Out Burger.
And…oh, man…doesn’t “In-N-Stout” just write itself?!?
Incapable of controlling ourselves, we mocked up a render. Then further incapable of controlling himself, our CEO impulsively posted that render to Instagram one random afternoon at a completely un-optimized time with no strategy or audience or agenda whatsoever in mind other than, “this would be rad.”
Something From Nothing
This packaging was never going to happen. Obviously a copyright infringement, we never even had the intent to release the image as a publicity stunt. It was rendered out of no other agenda other than a fantasy we wanted to visualize internally. But San Francisco is a City of kids running kompanies, and these kids happened to leave their toy in the yard for all the world to see. So within minutes of posting, we were in full publicity stunt after all.
The post broke the Internet. I was afraid to touch our Instagram account for the next 48+ hours for fear of interrupting the momentum. Notifications were coming in by the second, and for a brief moment I knew what it must feel like to be a Kardashian. When the dust cleared we’d seen over 500 comments and 3200 likes. (Egads…what does 1M likes look like?!?)
Wait for iiiiiit….
Of course a cease and desist letter was coming. Certainties in life include death, taxes, and this letter. There are times when we might have used a likeness, or were pretty sure we crossed a line in our parodies, but never got that warning and lo-and-behold the label was actually printed. Logistics were also in our favor…our releases were so small that we could put out anything and by the time the CND came we’d be sold out. But after the response we witnessed, we knew there was no doubt in this case.
What we didn’t know is what that letter was going to do. Contained within were nine puns about beer or whiskey.
“We felt obligated to hop to action in order to prevent further issues from brewing.”
“we are attempting to clearly distill our rights by crafting an amicable approach with you, rather than barrel through this.”
It’s almost as if they new exactly what they were doing.
Obviously I had to post the letter. I was actually in a sort of flattered awe that In-N-Out’s corporate counsel would have so understood me/us via our Instagram presence as to craft a letter so clearly intended to be made public.
I printed the letter and added another parody layer on top of it, mimicking one of those can-you-find-the-hidden-things-in-the-picture games from those Highlights magazines you always see in doctors’ offices. Fun Fact: peeking out behind the letter (photo above) is the actual can this stout beer would be released in.
The letter went viral all over again. And this time the press picked up on it, sending it press-viral. We saw about 3 weeks of press hits from it. First came the dumbed-down local news, but then coverage spread into case studies on best practices in the legal and advertising industries. Google presently counts 10,700 links on the subject.
The next task then was mollifying the public. There’s an old Twain quote, “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.” The unthinking lock-step masses can be a brand’s lifeblood when marching in your direction, but if you change direction and they don’t, it gets problematic. I was left to explain that the In-N-Stout can would NOT be released. No matter how I said it, what imagery I used, how many ALL CAPS BOLD PHRASES I used, another query would come: “When are you releasing the In-N-Stout can?!?!?”
This went on for three weeks until we released the beer in a different can. We publicized the release under the banner “WE ARE NOT RELEASING THE IN-N-STOUT CAN,” yet they showed up asking where it was. We released the beer and for weeks later they asked when the In-N-Stout can was coming. Then they asked if we maybe-kinda-sorta actually made one and if we have it in our office and how can they get it.
But no, we never even made a prototype. What we did make was an amazing barrel-aged beer in a purple can with Kanye West’s dumbest lyric typographically molded into the shape of his face. Because why not? Fight ridiculous with ridiculous. We put a thick brown beer inside a label that said “poop” on it, and it sold out in a week.
Never did get that CND from Kanye though….
One comment noted that “the cease and desist is the new press release.” That’s brilliant. There’s almost always a benefit to playing along, and almost never a benefit to angst and outrage. That goes double for creative thoughts and ideas. The famous line always rings true: Good artists copy, great artists steal. At 40,000ish years of human civilization, there are no original ideas, and “intellectual property” might be a contradiction in terms.