The Dark Side

How the US government seized control of a trademark to thwart a band of outlaws

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One of the most fascinating ways to study brand equity is to study the deviants—the “dark side” of branding. For anyone who thinks that a brand doesn’t have power, look no further than the Mongols, an outlawed US motorcycle gang.

The Mongols took the extraordinary step of securing a trademark for their logo. The brandmark is synonymous with trouble, so much so that the US Department of Justice successfully petitioned for, and was granted, control of the trademarked logo. As a result, the government has the right to seize possession of any item bearing the gang’s logo. The landmark case is causing a first amendment fire storm, but I think branding is the really interesting part of the story. First, you have an example of a government taking control of trademark rights and using those rights to enforce the law. Second, you have a great case of a legendary brand — a mark that is associated with a belief system that drives a narrative and a culture. It is a great example of a brand as the centerpiece of a narrative and social conflict. The brand can literally get you arrested—or at least detained.


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