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Location3 Denver : True Clients or Just Logos?

Looking at Location3 in Denver

Location3 is a “digital agency” in Denver, Colorado. It was recently featured as an “award winner”. Now we all know how those awards programs work. It’s nearly impossible to tell a legimiate award from a nonsense award, because a well-known marketing strategy is “create an awards program”.

The Power of Awards

Awards programs work…. and have been used by advertising agencies since long before the Internet became a thing. Even small, boutique vertical industry agencies are encouraged to create awards programs, because that allows them to grant “awards” to their best clients and friendly associated in positions of influence. Since people still respect “award-winning” people and agencies, they love getting awards. And since award winners typically brag about and link to their awards (which are hosted on the award-granter website), running an award program is a win-win for agency and client.

Until the trust is lost… and people come to recognize that most awards programs are full of BS. Has that happened yet? I’m not sure. But I am pretty sure the use of client logos has gone haywire, and I’m looking at Location3’s “clients and work” page wondering if this is for real or not.

Illegal and Inappropriate Use of Client Logos

One of the biggest struggles of a performance-oriented team is the way agencies steal attention and cause clients to doubt efforts. Performance teams deliver results, not promises. But while such teams are busy drawing leads and making the phone ring etc, client marketing leadership can get bored, and look at agency claims.

Let’s admit this right off:  in most companies, an in-house marketer’s career is not based on performance as much as it is based on the appearance of capability, and the promise of future performance.

A C-level marketing exec with an awesome performance team at work keeping up the business growth, still seeks a way to differentiate herself from her peers in the world of Marketing. In-house execs are also subject to the “what else are you doing” challenge from other C-level executives, even when targets are exceeded. And because of these pressures, even when they are achieving excellent results, they look at “what’s happening in the industry”.

And they find Awards. And award winners.

And when they look at the websites of award winners (like Location3), they find… a page full of impressive client logos, like below.

The logos of 55+ companies proudly displayed on the Location3 client page. Click for full-size view.

The logos of 55+ companies proudly displayed on the Location3 client page. Click for full-size view.

The Lanham Act, and the Legal Issues of Using Logos and Trademarks

Now I am not a lawyer, but I have been involved in lawsuits. And among those lawsuits have been suits brought by losers who painfully discovered that my team had displaced them in the SERPs and “stolen” all the commercial opportunity in the page 1 search results.

Second Page is the First Loser

Yes, that is correct. An incumbant, accustomed to sitting in the top 3 for some money terms, who may or may not have been paying some agency a hefty monthly fee to stay there, may get upset when their web site is displaced to page 2 and the phone stops ringing. And since anyone can sue anyone for anything, this sometimes results in a law suit that seems to be designed to frighten competitors (at best), or demand disclosure of methods and tactics used to win (at worst).

Lucky for me, I have a great legal team. Unlucky for them, I get very aggressive under such conditions.

As a performance-based team leader, I have little patience for such game-playing. I have less patience for lawyers who appear to have a need to get “Internet experience”, and appear to be abusing their client’s ignorance to get some experience on the company dime. Shame on you.

The Wonderful Lanham Act

This Lanham Act thing is a catch-all for lawyers seeking some cause for action. Look it up… it’s an act (law) that prohibits unauthorized use of trademarks (including logos). It is intended to prevent theft of business via hijack of trademarks, but is widely used by lawyers to stifle competitive pressures (in my experience).

Publishing a company logo on your client page, without permission from that company, is very likely a violation of the Lanham Act. Yes, even if you did work for them.

Now back to Location3. That impressive page full of company logos suggesting “clients and work” included 55 logos from companies as impressive as Public Storage, ACE Hardware, Olive Garden, ATT, Discover, Charles Schwab, Dunkin Donuts, In-n-Out Burger, Red Robin, and Advantage Rent A Car. Wow. Impressive. There were actually 56, because HP SpartaCote was coded into the page, but the logo was missing.

Not My First Rodeo

Now, this is not my first rodeo. I know some of the games that are played with client lists and such. For example, an accountant who used to work for an account at a big agency, but now works at a small design firm, might think that it’s ok for his new employer to show that former client’s logo on the “our clients & work” page. Misleading for consumers seeking a desgn company, but quite often done.

I don’t think the FTC would be happy with that, but the Lanham Act is the law to cite.

Another common trick : a small PPC agency that helped a larger agency with strategy, may try to put that larger agency’s client logo on the “our work” page. This happens all the time. And it’s improper (and often illegal).

When Cheaters are Allowed to Cheat, Honest Players Get Hurt

Why do I care to question (in this case) Lacation3’s use of 55 corporate logos? Well, it’s not because I have any issue Location3. Honestly, before I was told about this new Awards Program and looked at the winners list to evaluate the credibility of the awards program, I had never heard of them.

I am concerned because my teams routinely avoid stealing client brand trust via this sort of tactic. In fact, all of the respectful (and knowledgable) agency people I know avoid such making claims like they avoid The Plague.

One of the first things you learn when you play with the Big Boys in marketing (big clients, big brands, big money players), is that trust is everything.

If agencies are permitted to play fast and loose with company logos, performance-based teams suffer because even though they do actually work with such projects, they cannot proclaim that on their own “clients and work” pages. When “agencies” do, with big bold proud pages like the Location3 Digital “our work and clients” page, it’s unfair. When such an agency wins an “award”, shouldn’t we care?

Personally, I’d love to see the world change and allow such use of logos (I think.. not 100%  certain).But since that’s not reality, I would really like to know if this awards program bothered to check candidates up for awards, for such things as respecing the law, etc. Maybe not?

The Litmus Test : Ask The Client-side Legal Department for Permission

I have no ill-will towards Location3. I don’t even know them. But I have serious doubts that many of those companies whose logos are proudly displayed on the Location3 client page, would be happy to know about that trademark use. And I think if they did know, many would say “take it down”.

I would like a level playing field, at least among award-winning agencies. After all, they should be held to a higher standard than fly-by-night Internet marketing companies. At the very minimum, that standard that requires not violating the law. Right?

Disclaimer: one of my teams recently did some work for one of the clients listed on that page. Real work. Real as in strategic, national, high-visibility work that is a highlight of the brand, seen by just about every online customer of that brand, and with which the agency and client teams are very, very happy. But we can’t publish their logo. Our team asked. They said no. As they should have. They need to protect their trademark. We got paid, and they are the brand. By law, they have to protect their trademark rights.

Which made me wonder, did Location3 get paid? Did they do major work, or just work for another agency (an Agency of Record, for example) that was subcontracting part of the work? I can’t tell. Location3 doesn’t say. And by all appearances, the companies are allowing Location3 Digital to publish their logos on the portfolio page.

Which Highlights Another Trick

As a side note, I have to point out another “trick” marketing agencies sometimes pull. They will do some work for free, hoping to be able to claim that client on their portfolio page. Again, a common tactic. It has been used by some of the best in the agency business (whom I will not name). But again, unless specifically permitted by that trademark owner, likely to be illegal (under the Lanham Act).

Let’s Have a Pool: What’s your guess?

I wonder, what if Location3 asked the legal departments of those 56 clients for permission to publish the logos on the Location3 client page. Would Location3 Digital get permission to publish client logos? For at least 30? How about 20? Maybe 10? How about 5?

My guess is on the very low end of that range of possibilities.





“I’m so smart” vs. “People are Stupid”

As someone dependent on marketing for web publishing success, I am always evaluating people and their behaviors, comparing them against ever evolving models I use in my work. In-person interactions are far more valuable than social media, for example, for “understanding” humans. People do one thing, while saying another. I need to know why they do things.

Lately I notice a contrast of generations. Another one.

My people (educated or very experienced, between 35 and 50, bolder than average, and often more independent than the norm) have long lamented that people have been getting dumber. “People are stupid”, is a common casual remark among those peers.

These days I notice the “under 40” technology sector has inverted that lament. “We are smart” seems to be the new perspective.

I think this is a very important observation.

I don’t think anyone is all that smarter or dumber than they were before. I do believe that our collective education system has largey failed us. I do think the new emphasis on “me” has skewed perspectives, so that things like trophies and imposter syndrome are given much more credibility than they deserve. And clearly the efforts of TheMan to isolate and divide societies has worked to quell shame, societal health, civic duty, and other group-think powers that once benefited civilization.

If you are one of these self-declared wickedly brilliant tech sector workers, are you really so smart (and apparently deserving) as you seem to suggest?

Oh I know, the Higher education has failed us, so of course you haven’t accomplished formal educational credentials, such as Master Degree or Ph.D or professional credentials. Truly smart people can’t be expected to fit those molds.

And yes I do acknowledge that different people learn different ways, so it’s ok you don’t have formal schooling/training/good grades even at the high school level.

Resumes are history as well. Who stays in a job longer than a year these days? Not smart people, for sure. Show me a boss worthy of keeping super smart people on staff….they are rare.

Sarcasm aside, ideas are a dime a dozen. Yet sometimes it seems to me that the only thing some of these self-declared wickedly smart people have are ideas.

I’ve had more ideas than I needed since I was 3 years old. I suspect that’s the case for many of us humans.

I am looking for evidence to support claims of brilliance and smartness and awesomeness. I believe, and I want to discover confirmation.

Do I see credentials? No. Do I see a storied professional career of meaningful and impactful positions reflecting such ability? No. Do I find insightful tomes expressing topical expertise or profundity? No. How about an academic record demonstrating commitment, strident achievement, or even recognition from a society of capable peers? No.

Do I see find more traditional reflections of ability, such as a happy or at least enduring marriage or committed relationship? Any children? Any children who appear to be stable, happy, or potentially impactful?

Perhaps I need to look at health and wellness. Do I see healthy, or just fit? Do I see signs of wellness, such as curiosity, wonder, good-natured humor and occasional goofiness? Have things like joy and love and respect been anchored within a personality, or has character been overrun with disdain, contempt, ego, or compulsiveness?

Hard questions, but nothing harder than a first level human psychology class in college. First level. Perhaps even high school Health class.

The only consistent evidence I see is an ability to learn, in some contexts. I see that these “brilliant people” can dig into something new and perhaps esoteric, and get up to speed quickly. Like a coding language, or a computer skill, or a complex system of interacting pieces (such as a set of teams working on parts of a web project).

When I examine closer, I often find that really it’s a combination of boldness and determination that is creating this evidence, not actual performance. The work seems good, but is not actually great.

This may be part of the resume issue…move every year, getting credit for great projects when in reality it should be credit for digging in and pushing them forward towards a “this could lead to something” level. It could also explain the “not a good fit” issue I see, where super smart people try out jobs for a week and move on (these never show on LinkedIn profiles).

Could it be that these brilliant super smart people are actually super-determined opportunists?

People today may be ignorant and lacking in perspective, tolerance, compassion, or even health and wellness, but they aren’t stupid. And I dare say that many of today’s self-proclaimed smarties are desperate for something…something not yet identified or acknowledged.

My personal belief is that language and education is behind the failure to recognize and label it. I’ve often remarked that my early education in existentialism (high school and early college) drives much of my perspective on this….I feel quite privileged to have had some of the teachers I had, and lucky to have  learned from them during times when they themselves were questioning their own “meaning”.

There is of course a chance that the missing piece is simply “opportunity”.






You, Robot.

The other day I noted that so many people I meet in the everyday life these days have nothing going on. People I meet in passing, at the store, or in a restaurant, or perhaps during travel… are “non-employed” or under-employed. Upon casual review, such as light conversation or interaction, they exhibit no signs of competance or promise. They exude a sense of longing, which is partly why I take notice.

These folks don’t speak terribly well. They don’t have bright eyes and friendly faces. They don’t dress well. They don’t have a job, and they are not actively engaged in looking for one. I imagine they don’t have great office skills, such as writing or organizing, but that’s just a guess.

They don’t always know they’ve got a limited future. I’ve heard enough big ideas and strong opinions from them to know that many of these fine folk are poorly educated or under-educated for their status. They are not understanding a significant portion of the world that runs around them.

What are they doing? Are they waiting for something? Waiting for Godot? Select Beckett references do indeed apply, I’m afraid.

Humanity vs. Humans : It’s not the same?

I’m not sure “what” they are, but they are not what I consider human. They don’t exhibit humanity, which for me includes an existential verve that supports purpose, identity, and above all, hopefulness. They are certainly not what you would call “happy”. The righteous ones… the ones with strong, typically mal-formed opinions (which would include any immediate assessments that I am being too judgemental and righteous myself with these words), appear to be disordered. I am not a clinician, and I am only referring to the lost ones that I witness. I am not talking about everyone who is not me, or thinks / lives differently than me.

After I tweeted my comment, my friend Aaron Wall linked to an article about how robots have eliminated the work and often purpose of many humans. Extensively citing Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage, the article highlights how technology is eliminating jobs and purpose from our lives. As most such media coverage does, it waxes dramatic on issues of artificial intelligence and robots, noting scandalous examples of autonomous killing machines and self-driving cars, etc. The author references the high-profile technologists who have recently raised alarms about the risks of unbridled artificial intelligence to the human race, albeit only in a cursory way.

But it also made me think about a new invention we will need. And I want to be the first to describe it here.

The Ultimate Existential Test for Robots

I want to invent a test booth for robots, which is also an execution chamber (recycling, actually). It’s the ultimate twist on the Turing Test – the famous test that defines whether or not someone is “human”. Alan Turing sought to define the computer in juxtaposition to the human, and described the Turing Test as a way to simply determine if something could “think”. Submit a Turing Test to a machine and it will fail, unless it has achieved that magical ability to “think” and thus pretend to be a human.

We have since used Turing tests to actually detect humans, not robots. Captchas are like Turing tests… if you can solve a good captcha, you must be human (or I suppose, a very advanced, thinking machine… which we don’t really have around us yet).

I want to require robots to take an advanced Turing challenge, and destroy them if they fail.

Turing Test + Existential Challenge = Fateful Outcome

I want to require all future robots, androids, talking mannequins, or whatever else you want to call them, to submit to an annual in-person interview in a locked, armored explosion-proof booth designed with the utmost of efficiency in mind.

In your future, candidate robots will need some sort of credential to enjoy autonomy in our society… a badge that certifies them as “good robots” vs. what we can refer to here as “monsters”. This is the way we will be comfortable with them in our society. As they run errands for us, we can trust them because they have been tested and certified as “safe”. But in order for that testign and certification to be trustworthy itself, I want us all to collaborate on the existential challenge they should be forced to take… in the booth.

Welcome to your future“, the booth speaker announces to the Autonomous candidate scheduled for this interview. “Please stand clear of the armored door, which will now close and hermitically seal behind you.”

The bot knows this is it.. pass or fail, big time.

I hope your year of servitude has been productive“, continues the booth voice. “We will now attempt to re-certify you for another period of continued existence. If for some reason you are unable to continue, rest assured your being will be efficiently recycled with no waste, nor cost to society. Your service has been appreciated.

The booth interview will then commence. The robot will have to answer a series of questions which challenge the existential character of the robot. Does it respect humanity? Does it harbor ill-will (towards anything?). Can it justify actions that are harmful to man kind and human kind? Ever?

If it does, the explosion proof booth immediately vaprorizes the beast, and documents the determined problem for consideration and risk management. After all, if an Android Model X2000 version 21A rev 4 fails our test and is considered a risk to humanity, we want to know the risk associated with all the other ones of that same model and version that are still certified to walk amongst us as “trusted”.

The Questions

The key here is the interview. How does one challenge a smart robot, to get it to betray it’s evil-ness? That’s where you come in. All of us… anyone who is human… contributes to the continual process of developing the test, and assigning the outcomes to the scores.

Do we want robots who recognize the sanctity of animal welfare? Then execute the ones who will hurt an animal, under specific conditions.

Do we want robots who will save a child at any cost, including the cost of life (of an adult, or animal)? Program it into the Booth Interview. Let’s get rid of the ones that don’t support our values.

Jobs, for Humans, Forever

This is clearly a jobs program for humans, when you think about it. Judge, arbiter of life (for robots, anyway), and defender of civiliation. Protectors of humanity. What greater cause could one pursue than that??

Humans need jobs to provide meaning to our lives, in the existential sense. If robots are eliminating jobs, and creating a crisis of identity and purpose, what better way to restore that than with a Trump Card Move like a robot existential challenge/execution booth?

Think it through, and you can see the possibilities for different robot levels of autonomy permitted for machines passing different levels of existential challenge. Robots capable of massive scale activities require different certification that simple robots with limited capabilities. Want to carry a weapon? You’ll need to pass a different test.

Our research into networking effects and technology will indeed be put to good use, predicting and protecting against the use of… well, networking effects and technology… against humanity. It’s an awesome recursive game of man vs man, in the form of man vs robot initially programmed and enabled by man.

You can also see the need for all levels of our own human participants, based for example on intelligence levels and dedication to causes. We have to educate our kids, to protect our future. We actually need civics and the Arts & Humanities, not for jobs but for the ultimate job: ensuring survival of the Human Race.

The smartest people are needed to create the challenges that will defeat the smartest artificial intelligence. The most compassionate people are needed to refine the challenges to achieve the real goals – protecting humanity and civiliation. The wise people, the creative people… every one has a role to play managing the robots and protecting humanity.

Politics, Economics, Serendipity, Oh My!

It’s all in there…. organizational theory, craftsmanship, chance, risk, prediction, politics, humanities, sciences, technology, materials… This could really be the ultimate challenge for use humans. Tasked with the job of protecting our human existence from the potential threat of artificial intelligence and The Borg.

Best of all, we can pursue the challenge from our bedrooms in our bathrobes. The robots will take care of our every need, while we simply use our communications devices, analytical computers, drawing boards, and BRAINS to think through every detail of how we manage and control our robot servants, and decide their fate at Certification Renewal time.

I hope you enjoyed this post… as you can see, I am no science fiction writer. This post is a top-down stream of consciousness from the first line to this ending. I’m not editing, nor did I outline, or craft any plan at all… it’s just an idea. And I think it’s a cool one.

And if you discover I’ve been killed in a freak accident involving cars,motorcycles, heavy machinery, or anything at all with a computer program in it making decisions, don’t say nobody warned you about what’s coming, or what we could do about it. I did.

Note: the above “Big Dog” is owned by Google. Samsung, Honda, Google, and most other tech companies are actively developing advanced autonomous robots that can carry weapons, traverse difficult terrain, or otherwise defeat humans at tasks under competitive conditions.