Moleskine Monday: How NOT to Promote Your Brand

You probably saw that Moleskinerie is running a logo design contest with a prize of 5000 Euros for the winning design. This wasn’t something I was going to dedicate a post to, so I didn’t really pay that much attention to it, but thanks to an email from a regular reader, I discovered that the contest has created a huge backlash against Moleskine from the exact people the brand considers its base.

Design contests have long been a touchy subject. Designers hate “spec work”: it’s a way for clients to get a lot of work done for free, while bypassing any sort of direct interaction between the client and designer. One winner may get a decent amount of prize money, but thousands of other entrants get no pay for hours of work.  From the website at AntiSpec.com:

What is spec work?

Spec work – crowdsourcing – spec competitions

Working on spec is when a single designer or agency design for free in the hope of winning a project.

Example 1

Here’s an example 99designs logo crowdsourcing

New logo for $700. Entries so far totals 1,133 with 5 days still to run. Potentially thousands of free design hours for the client, nice profit for 99designs and hundreds of disappointed designers. Who is winning here?!

Example 2

Client asks 3 design agencies to show what they can do for them if they want to win the £60,000 / $100,000 project. The agencies will spend a solid week, or longer, with many staff involved to prepare the perfect pitch. The pitch has cost the agency £6,000 / $10,000 and there is a 66% chance of losing. Client is 100% winning.

Some people may view a contest as a valid way for an up-and-coming designer to try to get some attention, and it’s true that working for free is sometimes necessary to promote oneself and build a portfolio, but the AntiSpec campaign recommends alternatives like contacting a local charity and offering to work with them to design a logo for free. With contests, there’s a “Goliath asking David to work for free” aspect to it that is seen as sleazy– why shouldn’t a big company have the budget to pay an freelance designer to create a logo? If they don’t like the work the designer comes up with, they can pay a kill fee and start over with someone else– this may be more expensive for the client, but it’s arguably faster than reviewing thousands of entries, and more importantly, it respects the relationship between the two parties.

Anyway, this issue is a big deal in the design community, so I’m surprised Moleskine thought this contest would be a good idea. As it turns out, it’s blown up in their face, with hundreds of designers complaining on the Moleskine Facebook page and threatening to boycott the brand forever unless the contest is canceled. Some even came up with images designed to express their displeasure, such as this one by Michael Macher:

Other clever folks requested that Moleskine send them free notebooks so they can compare them to other brands to decide what they’ll buy.

Moleskine’s response on Facebook didn’t help matters– it came off as dismissive and rather rude. For a brand that claims to be very much about its user community, they can be rather stand-offish. We’ll see how things develop over the next few days, but I’d love to by a fly on the wall in Moleskine’s offices right now!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

9 Responses to “Moleskine Monday: How NOT to Promote Your Brand”

  1. I find this interesting. Creativity takes a lot of time that the finished product doesn’t reveal, and what’s the point, really, of busting your butt only to lose the contest?

  2. It’s technically the second time they’ve done this, since they ran a competition for the design of their blog too. They got criticised at the time for that as well, and had to post an “explanation” as to why they weren’t paying a designer… http://www.moleskinerie.com/2011/01/happy-7th-birthday-moleskinerie.html

    I think doing it once shows a lack of thinking on their behalf, but doing it twice suggests they’re cheap and unwilling to pay fair wages to designers.

  3. Different Perspective — just hear this out.

    I’m a consumer products brand manager with ten years’ experience across multiple industries, including stationery. There’s a simple fact as to why contests appeal to us — we get a variety (whereas most design houses have their own “style,” whether they admit it or not), something is almost guaranteed to be excellent (not the case with all design houses), everything can run simultaneously (time is key), and there may be solid entries from heavy users (who know our positioning better than we do).

    But the #1 reason for a design contest? It’s extremely difficult to get the budget required for logo overhauls and other “soft” branding (by which I mean, elements that are not tied to specific items/channels/customers and, consequently, not easily justified against real sales). Contests allow that — they’re quick, the cost is reasonable, and nobody gets fired if it flops.

    Indeed, many “contest jobs” simply wouldn’t exist outside of the contest format. Just because I can get $5k budgeted for a prize doesn’t mean I can get $100k for an agency redesign with uncertain outcome. In other words, contests often represent incremental dollars for the design industry as a whole.

    If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I empathize — believe me, I do — but everyone must play in context of real & practical. My suggestion, and I do NOT mean this to be rude or dismissive, is that if you don’t like design contests, don’t enter them.

  4. In my opinion, the solution here is simple and it’s just a matter of perspective or interpretation. Moleskinerie should just open the design to amateur or freelance designers. That way they are giving an amateur designer/artist an opportunity to have their wares displayed and they get paid for it.

    The only people insulted by this contest are people who are either gainfully employed or think their work is amazing and thus very valuable. Both of these people would not care about this contest anyway. Ironically, these are they very people complaining. It’s like if I put an ad in Craigslist for someone to help me move and i’d pay $10 an hour. That’s barely over minimum wage. If you were a CFO making $150k a year, you wouldn’t take the job, right? But at the same time, you also wouldn’t pay any attention to it because you realize it’s probably not targeting you.

  5. The company I work for ran a logo contest 20 years ago. If I recall correctly, we received 9 entries, four from elementary schools, two from professional designers and one from an amateur who thought he understood our company and we’re still using his work today although we’ve modernized the typeface.

    So, no, it’s not a simple situation and contests like this are not all bad. The issue with Moleskinerie, though, is deeper. They knew better. They reacted poorly. They made a deliberate choice to respond crudely. The PR department was asleep at the wheel. The tanker has run aground and is low leaking.

    Of the hundreds of millions of molies sold annually, the boycott by a tiny niche of super-users probably shall be insignificant. Only if the ideas of forsaking Moleskine and exploring any of the many notebook brands spread to other user niches will the impact of this silliness be felt.

  6. While I understand, and to some extent agree with, the logic of the anti-spec group’s arguement, I don’t really think that the client is the only beneficiary in these contests. Sure, definitely a bad deal for the professional design community, but a competition of this sort allows me or anyone similarly inclined to participate. I write bail bonds as a profession, and enjoy doing a little design as a hobby. If not for spec work and design competitions, anyone who didn’t wish to pursue design as a full time profession would just put any work forever unavailable.

    And I guess that is where I take issue with with the whole anti spec work camp. Their argument is seemingly one of principle, but I think it certainly contains a large element of self protection and making sure that design work stays within the club.

  7. Is there anything die hard moleskine people won’t whine about? To me, they’ve always just been black blank books, but there’s some people who just put them on pedestals and freak out the minute something different happens.

  8. Wow! I expected to get eaten alive here… instead, the responses have been common sense and pragmatic.

    Davidbogie – The difference today is the internet, and possibly greater access to design software.

    Ace – You’re actually the exact person I would try to target in a design contest. Being somewhat outside the industry means you don’t have people saying what you shouldn’t or can’t do on a regular basis.

    Anita – You rock.

    I’ll have to journalize this with a Palomino BW 602 in my Grand Luxe Dialogue. :)

  9. This happens a lot with photography – I don’t do it as a job (and I’m not interested in doing it as a job), but I have friends who do.

    My feeling is that giving up my stuff for free (as I’m asked to surprisingly often) weakens the market for the people who do make a living this way. In that sense, there’s certainly an element of the protectionism that Ace points to in my refusal to do so. There’s also an element of believing that work of this sort has an intrinsic value that’s cheapened by free use requests, and competitions that grab all the rights to an image as part of the cost of entry.

    The parallell isn’t exact, but I can see where the anti-spec folk are coming from here. (Equally, I do understand Ace’s point about putting his(?) talent to use in the real world. In my case, and talking about photography rather than design, I do what I do for me, primarily, so that’s not an urge i share).

    As for a Moleskine boycott, I doubt they’ll miss me – the inconsistency of the paper has had me on Rhodia for a while now (I have a couple of pocket reporters that I’m finishing off, and that will be it).

Leave a Reply