Apr 4th, 2008
It’s no secret that T-Shirts are a perfect canvas for political commentary. Bumper sticker
activism isn’t just a Berkeley thing anymore; more and more of you are rewarding your inner activist by choosing to express yourselves from bumper to bumper and beyond.
I’ve called this phenomenon “Getting it off your mind and onto your chest”; Americablog writer John Aravosis coined the phrase “T-Shirt blogging” a few years back while I was on the phone with him (thanks John). And this week, a federal judge in Georgia called it “protected speech” in an important ruling that ensures your First Amendment right to express yourself via the almighty T-Shirt.
Some of you may not want to wear this T-shirt. Some of you may disagree with its message, and even more of you mind find it distasteful. But anyone not on Wal-Mart’s legal team can most likely agree that this design isn’t going to be confused with the Wal-Mart logo.
If Wal-Mart was truly concerned about negative brand impact, to bring this particular design and the rationale behind it into the public eye via a lawsuit is a curious move. The design is now not only out there being discussed in various articles and blogs, but now also stands defiantly and symbolically as testament to the American everyman’s right to self-expression – even if that self-expression offends a corporate monolith.
Here’s the other thing: suing someone because you don’t like what they’re saying isn’t likely to turn the conversation in your favor. Malcolm Gladwell covers this in “The Tipping Point,” using McDonald’s disdain for the term “McJob” as the example. As an interesting sidenote, someone at McDonald’s seems to have read this book; the company has recently begun a movement to change the meaning of the terminology based on action the corporation has taken.
Certainly, a company highlighting its efforts to improve opportunities for its workforce is more likely to contribute positively to the public discourse of its practices and brand than suing a little guy for saying something that annoyed some executives, particularly in an age where information travels at the speed of unlimited and unfettered fingers flying over a keyboard.
(Irony of the day: Wal-Mart actually sells “The Tipping Point.” May someone in Marketing make good use of the employee discount…)
So, the moral of the story: actions speak louder than lawsuits when it comes to influencing public perception, particularly when you’re going to take on the basic American right and habit of speaking one’s mind.
My advice? If you don’t like what someone’s saying, make your own T-Shirt and start a new conversation.