Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Great Moments In Terrible Branding

Woody Woodpecker. Anyone here remember Woody Woodpecker? ...I'm seeing some hands, some of you with your hands down yet. All right. We might need to do a bit of a crash course then before we can get started. Woody Woodpecker was a cartoon character introduced in 1940 by Walter Lantz of Universal Studios. He was a mite more aggressive in his screwball nature than a lot of the other characters of the day, such as the Looney Tunes gang. Woody's heyday was from the World War 2 years until the late 1960's, when his aggressiveness was toned down. His studio was shuttered in 1972, and afterwards he was relegated to the odd guest spot and cameo, such as an appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. He hasn't appeared in anything since 2002, and one of his early cartoons, Pantry Panic (1941), has even fallen into the public domain.

Woody's basically fallen into the same 'old-timey has-been' realm occupied by the likes of Popeye, Felix the Cat, Mr. Magoo and anything drawn in a rubber-hose style that isn't the Animaniacs.

That established, let's talk the 1990's, the tail end of Woody's working life. Panasonic isn't now, but at the time they were a player in the PC business, and was attempting to make a home computer for the Japanese market. What they were intending to do was make the computer an approachable thing, because as some of you may remember, computers were still in the phase where a lot of people were trying to figure out what these newfangled contraptions were capable of and as a result were a bit apprehensive. 'User-friendly' was a big, big buzzword. In part of an effort to do that with this particular computer, Panasonic went and got the rights to use Woody Woodpecker for branding purposes, basically the same way you might see the Road Runner shilling high-speed Internet service today.

There's just one problem with this approach: his name is Woody Woodpecker. In Japan, where Panasonic is headquartered, that wouldn't mean anything, nor would most any other English name; Japan is rather famous for just liking how English words look instead of caring what they say. But Japan is not the only country interested in Japanese electronics. In fact, just about the entire world is interested in Japanese electronics, given that Japan is very often the first place new innovations take hold before the rest of the world gets a shot.

And so it was that things got all the way to the pre-release briefing before an American stepped in and let them know why the foreign media kept laughing: they had named the computer "The Woody". There was touch-screen capability. They had named that "Touch Woody".

In a little bit of a panic, that got quickly renamed to "Woody Touch Screen", and the marketing people decided to focus on something else, namely the online support system.

Unfortunately, the online support system had been named the "Internet Pecker".

The Woody, like Woody himself, was suddenly out of a job. Panasonic pulled the plug without a launch.

From then on, people had to go locate their own Internet peckers.

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