Monday, August 25, 2008

August 25, 2008 - Life is Good (no trademark)

Driving around recently, I’ve been noticing an odd slogan on little stickers on the backs of cars. They’re everywhere, it seems. The stickers say, “Life is good®.”

What’s all that about, I asked myself? And, who’s got the kahunas to trademark a slogan like “Life is good”?

The trademark seemed to me an oxymoron. If life truly is good, then why trademark it? Is someone going to steal the goodness of life from you, if you don’t assert your proprietary rights over it?

I Googled it. My trusty Firefox browser led me to a website belonging to a clothing company trading under that very name. There, I found a link to “The Life is good story.” I clicked on that, and discovered their corporate saga: how the company was founded by a couple of brothers who were living a hand-to-mouth existence hawking homemade t-shirts, until they happened upon the slogan, after which everything was golden. Now, it appears, they have not only a full line of clothing to offer to the universe, but also “Life is good Festivals, positive products, and a steady dose of ping pong,” along with their “simple message of optimism.”

Along the way, they’ve evidently done quite well for themselves – which makes their slogan a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It seems their company also has a mascot, a crudely-drawn stick-figure guy named Jake, whose image appeared on the first “Life is good” t-shirt, and countless products since then.

Who could quarrel with “Life is good”? Is anyone really going to disagree, saying it’s bad to be alive?

Of course not. “Life is good” is a harmless bit of fluff – the 21st century equivalent, I suppose, of the yellow smiley faces of the early 1970s.

The “Life is Good” guys were shrewder than the artist who invented the smiley face. They went out and got them a trademark. According to Wikipedia, the smiley face’s designer was a man named Harold Ball, who drew the first of these faces in 1963 for an insurance company’s employee-morale campaign. The only profit he made was a $45 commission from the insurance company. Neither he nor the company ever trademarked it. It went viral. The annoying yellow face has now passed into the public domain, so it belongs to the ages. (That, and to Wal-Mart®, I suppose.)

An article in Inc. magazine says part of the company’s success has been its slogan’s appeal to survivors:

“But ‘Life Is Good’ has also become something of an anthem for survivors. The founders receive thousands of letters from people whose lives are demonstrably not good, because they are sick or have lost a loved one. Where other companies supply their stores with headquarters-authored mission and values statements, Life Is Good provides loose-leaf binders labeled ‘Fuel’ and stuffed with thank-yous from people who have taken solace or inspiration from its message. Michael J. Fox, suffering from Parkinson's disease, has been photographed wearing Life Is Good products. So was Stephen King during his long convalescence after being struck by a van.”

I don’t know how I could have missed noticing this pop-culture phenomenon. Guess I just have my head in the sand or something.

Leigh Buchanan, the Inc. writer, confesses a grudging respect for Ben and John Jacobs, the “Life is good” guys, and all they’ve accomplished:

“One reason I initially missed the charm of Life Is Good is that I misinterpreted its message. I sensed a smugness there, as though the wearer were proclaiming, ‘My life is good,’ or else a willful blinkeredness: ‘Life is good if you make enough money and live in a First World democracy.’ But the Jacobses mean neither of those things. Rather, the words are an exhortation to appreciate the here and now. ‘Don’t determine that you’re going to be happy when you get the new car or the big promotion or when you meet that special person,’ explains John. ‘You can decide that you’re going to be happy today.’”

The Jacobs brothers have evidently been doing a decent amount of philanthropy of late. As is only right for the owners of a company whose worth has now topped $100 million. More power to ‘em, I say. When life gives you lemonade, you oughta spread some around.

Anybody who’s been around Cancer World very long has run across another slogan: “Cancer Sucks.” It’s found its way onto t-shirts, headbands and the like. If I had to choose between the two, I’d take “Life is good” any time. I think I’d even have said that in the midst of my chemotherapy. I felt lousy, but I never questioned the proposition that life is good, and worth holding onto.

Which, I suppose, is the essence of survivorship.


Stushie said...

Another great observation Carl. I like the research you put into this one.

Mignon's Dad said...

Wow great post, life is good.


John said...

I get upset see this saying trademarked. My friends and myself as well as a slew of other people have always said Life id Good. They saying is in Public Domain, just like Have a Nice Day.

I would help pay to turn that Registered mark over.

John said...

For the record we have been saying life is good at least since 1980. I'm certain people have been saying this for decades and decades.