The Value Of The 'Wassup' Concept

from the it's-not-all-money dept

I'm almost afraid to post this because I worry that the comments will devolve into yet another totally wasted and pointless political battle. This post has nothing at all to do with the politics behind this ad, but about stuff that we actually do focus on around here: royalties and ownership rights of ideas and concepts. As you may have already seen (along with millions of others) the original actors behind the super famous Budweiser "Wassssssssssup!" commercials recently got back together to make a new political ad that's an update on the original Bud ad. The commercial makers make it quite clear that the message of the commercial is not in any way endorsed by or associated with Anheuser-Busch.

That raises some questions about both trademark and control over the concept. Luckily, Business Week got to the bottom of things and found out that, Charles Stone III, who created the whole Wassup concept, directed the first commercial and stars as the first guy who picks up the phone, never gave Anheuser-Busch full control over the concept. Rather, he sold them an exclusive on it for only 5 years for a grand total of $37,000. He admits that people laughed at him at the time for selling so "low," but he's quite happy with how it worked out:
"That I'm able to use an idea distributed by a huge company, who made a lot of money off it, so that now when I put out what I want to say, it's recognizable, and it sparks -- that's worth $1 million to me."
Now there's someone who recognizes long term value. Rather than focusing on pushing for more money upfront, he knew that there would be plenty of value down the road, so long as AB didn't take over control of the concept. Since no one knew how successful the commercials would be, $37,000 was probably quite a good deal at the time, and in the end it worked out well for both parties, with Stone recognizing plenty of additional value down the road, built on the success of the original commercials. Now, some traditional IP maximalists may whine that he's somehow unfairly profiting off of the success of the original commercial, but that's not true. AB got what they paid for and made their money. The fact that someone else can later take advantage of that themselves to gain value (whether monetarily or not) doesn't impact that earlier deal at all. In fact, the end result is greater overall value. The initial use increased value (for AB) and the new use increases value for Stone. It's a true win-win.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    jc, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:21am

    AB also gets plenty of additional value from the subsequent use of the concept because it relies on the original use for its effect. to wit, the original ads are enjoying substantially increased viewings on sites like youtube as users watch them to a) provide context for the new ad, or b) simply because the new ad reminded them of the original.

     

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    sachin, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:22am

    seen both

    I have seen both the commercials and are my favourites.

     

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    Ima Fish, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:25am

    This is awesome. I was wondering how they managed to make the updated "ad" without being sued.

     

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  4.  
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    SteveD, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:34am

    Authentic connections

    Watching these vids again reminds me of the ‘Authentic connections’ Matt Mason is always advocating, where businesses promote themselves by connecting products culturally with audiences rather then the more cynical forms of traditional marketing.

    It’s incredibly difficult to do, but incredibly powerful when it works well, and something that will likely form the backbone of successful business plans in the age of digital piracy.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:40am

    did he copyright "Wassabi!"?

     

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  6.  
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    John Doe, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 5:48am

    I don't see how this plays into your views on IP at all? The guy licensed a concept to AB and was able to use it later. How do you know that $37k wasn't market rate? Did he have a reputation in the ad world to command more? There is no way to know that the ad could pay off later except maybe make him recognizable in the ad business if it worked.

    This seems to be a normal business deal, licensing the ad concept to AB and re-using it later. Your usual argument is against the fact that he could trademark it at all in this age of infinite ideas???

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 6:04am

    Letting others make a profit

    This article hits at the root of a lot of business problems today (not just IP business problems). A lot of the execs I come in contact with have a big problem with someone else making a profit off of "their" thing, even if the other company's profit makes them money, too. "ALL MINE" is the motto of 3-year-olds and the modern corporate exec. Sometimes the best way to make money is to come up with an idea that lets other companies make money, too. That concept seems totally incomprehensible in the modern board room.

     

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  8.  
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    Tyson, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 6:26am

    "The initial use increased value (for AB) and the new use increases value for Stone. It's a true win-win."

    Taking that a step further: Whenever you see those commercials, whether they make it clear they aren't affiliated with AB, your mind still ties it back to AB, thus giving it the potential to still benefit the beer company.

    So not only is this completely legal, AB would be foolish to try and attack it even if it wasn't. The whole concept still associates in people's minds as being a beer commercial.

     

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  9.  
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    JohnnyMarr, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:01am

    That joke isnt funny anymore

    I dunno, I think it was soo played out by Budwieser, I dont know how much value outside of the minor irritation factor it really has left. Im also not really clear on how a person can own a phrase? Especially when that phrase was not only already common before he used it, but it was the very common nature of the phrase that made it useful to him in the first place?

     

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  10.  
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    Literacy has its advantages, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:10am

    @John Doe

    Try reading the article before commenting.

    Mike gives some background, including the possible conflict of ownership of the phrase. Then he cites a source which explains why there is no conflict. Then he adds commentary which expands on his advocacy of added value being beneficial to both original and current users.

    None of your questions (except possibly the final one) have more than barely tangential bearing on the apparent intent and actual content of the post.

    Perhaps it's time for a second cup of coffee? Then try re-reading the final three sentences of the post.

     

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  11.  
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    John Doe, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:21am

    Re: @John Doe

    Why don't you take your own advice and read the original story and my post in the context of Mike's previous writings. He usually is against most forms of IP and then points out how this ad worked. This ad appears to me to be a standard business arrangement with regards to IP. The trademark was not sold to AB, only licensed. That is not a new or novel concept as IP is licensed every day. So I don't see how this story jives with Mike's views of IP holding back innovation?

    Of course, I also don't see how you can be so defensive of Mike when someone asks questions. When you start in with the insults you have already lost the argument.

     

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  12.  
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    John Doe, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:23am

    Re: That joke isnt funny anymore

    Im also not really clear on how a person can own a phrase?

    This is exactly the point I expected Mike to be making with this article. Instead, this article is more of a defense of IP rather than questioning the need for IP.

     

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  13.  
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    Neverhood, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:31am

    I saw the new edition a couple of days ago. It's quite well made and entertaining.

    Charles Stone sounds like a smart business man.

     

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  14.  
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    No Six Pack, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:50am

    Own a Phrase - why not a number

    Talk about something that is still funny ... and sort of relevent

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/29130

     

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  15.  
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    sam, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:55am

    .

    That guy seemed pretty sad when he said "change"

     

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  16.  
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    Literacy has its advantages, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 7:59am

    @John Doe

    Having read many of Mike's previous posts, I believe he seems to be against exclusivity (patent or trademark) when applied to an idea. He maintains that trademark should be applied to ensure the public is not mislead about the source of a product or implementation of an idea. He also consistently advocates for increased clarity in copyright law, since the business environment involving copyrightable material has changed drastically since the laws were enacted.

    This particular post appears to follow along the same track: the originator of the idea licensed it for a fee and for a limited time to another business entity. When the term expired, the originator then re-used the idea in a way that is clearly and specifically noted to not be related to the first users of it. It is an example of IP done correctly, not a rant against IP holding back innovation. What does it matter if Stone originally got market rate or not, or what his ad world reputation was, or even if it is a standard business deal? Mike is sharing his appreciation of a business deal that doesn't use misapplied IP rights to bludgeon an innovator into paying extortion.

    I'm not defensive of Mike; he is more than capable of defending himself should the need arise. Please specifically reference any insults you noted. I made none.

     

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  17.  
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    Mark Murphy, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 8:00am

    Re: @John Doe

    He usually is against most forms of IP

    No, he's not.

    What Mr. Masnick has consistently been for is balance, with an eye towards both short-term benefits (for "IP" holders) and long-term benefits (for other uses of said IP). He has not advocated piracy, and he has not advocated copyright terms best measured on a geologic time scale.

    This ad appears to me to be a standard business arrangement with regards to IP

    On the surface, yes. However, the typical big-business mode of operation is to either do deals with all rights or not do deals. Here, Mr. Masnick is pointing out a case where one party (Mr. Stone) had the foresight to try to negotiate a limited license and the other party (AB) had the foresight to actually agree to it. Again, balance. While many of Mr. Masnick's posts are focused on legal challenges to balance, it is nice to see that, on occasion, balance can be achieved in normal business.

    So I don't see how this story jives with Mike's views of IP holding back innovation?

    I do not believe that Mr. Masnick feels that "IP" ipso facto holds back innovation; rather, the inappropriate use of "IP" does.

     

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  18.  
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    John Doe, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 8:04am

    Re: @John Doe

    So "Try reading the article before commenting" is not an insult? What about the coffee comment. Come on, you are all for literacy, surely you understand making demeaning comments only hurts your position in the discussion?

     

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  19.  
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    AZITDad, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 8:27am

    WASSSSSSAP!

    I don't watch TV anymore. I had 999 channels of crap that I never watched, and I was paying over $600.00 annually. I'll check Youtube for the commercials.

     

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  20.  
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    Literacy has its advantages, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    @John Doe

    Um, no.

    My statements may be condescending; they may be patronizing. I certainly intended both. But neither phrase is an insult. You have every right to feel offended; and if you do, then I accomplished my aim in including the comments. But your feeling offended does not mean the statements were insults.

    And I'm don't recall saying I was all for literacy, either. I do believe literacy has its advantages; but as in the case of knowledge, a little can be dangerous.

    However, as none of this furthers a rational discussion of the post, this is my last response on the matter. Mr. Murphy makes some good points.

     

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  21.  
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    bowerbird, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 9:54am

    kudos to mr. stone for being smart enough to do a time-limited deal.

    but 5 years is an extremely long time in the ad business.

    and, sorry to say it but... in the ad business, $37,000 is chump change,
    especially considering how much impact was generated by the campaign.
    mr. stone should've inserted some elevator clauses for better protection.

    let's put it this way: the _actors_ in those commercials made _far_more_
    than did mr. stone. and the ad agency, of course, billed many millions...

    there is, however, one sweet note in this whole thing, namely that
    the new version of the commercial has built some heat for obama,
    with cindy mccain on the other side with her anheuser-busch angst.

    -bowerbird

     

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  22.  
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    John Doe, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    Re: @John Doe

    I don't feel offended, I feel sorry for people like you who cannot successfully argue a point so they resort to being condescending or insulting. When a discussion takes place where one person resorts to these tactics, the other usually gives up and walks away. The condescending person is happy feeling they have won the debate. The polite person just shakes his head that he has found yet another person who cannot calmly debate a topic. Onlookers see the condescending person for what they are and can no longer focus on his argument but on his tactics. Just look at the state of politics today and you will see a prime example of this.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2008 @ 10:57am

    Party On Wayne! Party On Garth! Shwing!

    Kickin it old school. Oops I guess even the nostalgic appeal has worn off of some things. Sort of like that marketing gimic they are using.

    Aren't you the advocate for "innovation"? How is an old marketing campaign innovative? They might as well get the frogs to say "OH" "BAUM" "UH", and why not update the spuds mcKenzie concept. Oh and how about the Clydesdales playing football on the white house lawn. YAWN! How is this even news, wake me when they come up with a creative new idea.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2008 @ 8:57am

    Yet if this guy takes his "innovation" and uses it for a porn site, what value does that give AB?

    I think its funny that you write about this topic as most of your previous work would be against this guy being able to "control" his concept so long after he came up with it.

     

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  25.  
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    Literacy has its advantages, Oct 31st, 2008 @ 11:15am

    @24. Anonymous Coward

    - Yet if this guy takes his "innovation" and uses it for a porn site, what value does that give AB? -

    He didn't. What does that do to your argument?

    And I believe you are misinterpreting the position presented in the article. Had A-B sued Stone for using "their" phrase, Mike would probably have been against that, even if Stone had not had the foresight to recover rights to the phrase after five years.

    Again, it seems to me that Mike is happy to find a win-win situation regarding IP rights, and shared it with his readership. No ifs, ands, or buts -- just "here's how it's supposed to work."

     

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