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Keep Cities Branded

I went to Dallas the other day, which happens infrequently.  While driving around the city, getting both lost and stuck in traffic, I was struck by a couple of bumper stickers I saw.  One read KEEP DALLAS NORMAL, and the other read KEEP DALLAS PLASTIC (with that ringing endorsement, it’s a wonder my visits are so infrequent).  Reading Mike’s recent post about Baltimore and the use of “hon”, I started to think about the identity and marketing of the cities around me, including the extent to which those cities define themselves as distinct from other cities’ marketing, specifically, the renowned KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD.  

It turns out that there is some dispute over the use, if not ownership, of the trademark KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD.  The mark has been federally registered for years by a company that uses it on t-shirts and mugs.  (This company appears to have also registered other culturally-iconic-in-a-B-list-sort-of-way marks, such as WHOOP ASS and UGOGIRL). 

The creator of the “Keep Austin Weird” website (which predates the registration and first use date), was none too happy about the federal registration by a commercial entity.  He claims to have used the slogan on the website and on freely distributed t-shirts and bumper stickers to counter the increasing commercialism of the city by highlighting aspects of the town that are unique, and, well, “really weird“.  From their viewpoint, a company’s registration of the trademark after its development and intended grassroots use “rather than letting this chicken run free is a sad proof that commercialism is winning.”  However, an intent not to use the mark in commerce is not likely to help them in a trademark dispute, and, in any event, a challenge to the registration based on prior use was never formally filed.  While the website laments the fact that the mugs using the mark are made in China, and that “most people probably think of Keep Austin Weird as a marketing slogan,” not only has the mark gained recognition among a wide audience, but has spawned additional variations on the slogan in other cities, including the ones I saw this weekend.    

Since that mark was registered, there have been applications filed to support keeping Austin everything from GEARED to SCHMEARED to BEER’D to FEARED (and everything in between, like HOLY and HEALTHY and TOPLESS).  And, the Keep Austin Weird website has proposed other shirts to replace their original ones, prototypes of which can be found here.

2 thoughts on “Keep Cities Branded”

  1. This is they type of branding I discuss in detail in Patriotism for Profit and Persuasion: Trademark, Free Speech, and Governance Problems with Protection of Governmental Marks in the US, 100 Tmk Reporter 1181 (2010); available on Westaw & my website.

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