For an issue that shouldn’t have really had a clear winner or loser, The Cultural Trust has done a bang-up job of mucking up its little tiff with the Toonseum’s Joe Wos to the point that guess what? The Toonseum is coming out the winner.
Good job good effort, Cultural Trust.
Back to the beginning.
[How I Met Your Mother SWOOOOOSH]
First, by writing this, I’ll probably get on the Trust’s bad side. And you’re like, “Does the Trust really have a bad side?” As I’m about you show you, it does. It has a dark side. It has a SQUASH THE PUNY HUMANS side. It has a horse-in-your-bed side. I’m exaggerating.
Here’s what I know:
1. Artist Florentijn Hofman created an installation in 2007 called … ready … The Rubber Duck Project. In his effort to bring “joy” to cities and to MAKE SHITLOADS OF MONEY, he created an enormous rubber duck (really an inflatable) that has appeared in a dozen cities. Each city, from what I can gather, basically builds its own duck at Mr. Hofman’s instructions/bidding. Each one is a different size. For instance, ours needs to fit under certain bridges lest schoolchildren witness a duck beheading. Sydney, Australia commissioned and still owns theirs.
2. The Trust contacted Hofman and he agreed to bring the duck (or rather allow a duck to be built) to Pittsburgh for the Trust’s Festival of Firsts.
3. Pittsburgh freaked out in excitement. Our rivers graced by the duck, making its first appearance in America. Suck it, Portland. [rocker kick] The duck will be here next Friday.
4. The Trust has possibly invested “several hundred thousand dollars” in this installation (I’ve emailed the Trust with this question. If they respond, I’ll update the post). What I don’t know is if that’s just the artist’s fee or if that’s the artist fee combined with building fees and logistics like transporting the duck, security, etc. Either way, the artist is MAKING A SHITLOAD OF MONEY. But he says he just wants to bring joy and public art to the people. But he’s seriously making bank here. Dollah dollah billz.
The Trust is also going to make money off of this investment via merchandise sales, sponsorships, and the fact that the duck is basically a giant advertisement for their Festival of Firsts and other forthcoming shows that fall under the Trust’s umbrella.
5. The Toonseum is, according to Wos, “doing an exhibition of Rubber Ducks working with a company that has been producing them for over a decade. And exhibiting art of cartoon ducks that predate this big rubber duck by 70 years in some case.”
Seeing a chance for promotion, Wos created a shirt featuring a rubber duck, very similar to the Hofman duck, and put it up for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Toonseum:
He started taking pre-orders and the Trust responded in calm, measured fashion.
6. Joe received an email as follows from the Trust’s vice president of marketing and communications:
It was surprising to see the attached Facebook post on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s website attempting to sell Rubber Duck tee shirts with a representation of the Rubber Duck Project that the Cultural Trust is presenting. Further, messaging that ‘proceeds of the tee shirts are going to benefit Toonseum’ is a major problem for us.
When you had inquired as to whether we would have official merchandise, the answer was yes. You were at no point given permission from the Trust to produce Rubber Duck tees of your own.
You may be unaware of the magnitude of our investment in this project. The artist also has a very high stake in maintaining the brand of the Rubber Duck and have asked us to help stop the very activity that Toonseum is undertaking. We have contacted other organizations that have attempted their own knock off merchandise but it is unexpected that a partner in the Cultural District would try to use our investment for profit and to further fundraise off of another organization’s presentation is truly flabbergasting.
Kevin is extremely unhappy as are many senior staff members at the Trust.
We ask that you cease and desist the selling of this unauthorized merchandise.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
First, “maintaining the brand of the Rubber Duck?”
It’s a big rubber duck. It’s not an original concept.
Here’s one in an old episode of the PowerPuff Girls Z, which Joe used as inspiration when drawing his duck:
Capitalizing the first letter of something doesn’t make it a brand, otherwise, I’d like to say I have a high stake in maintaining the brand of Nutella Hoover.
7. Joe responded:
Marc, just to be clear are you asking that we change the image of the rubber duck to one that looks less like the rubber duck by the artist?
This is the perfect response. It’s a rubber duck and the artist wants to protect his version of the rubber duck (which isn’t really his version as you’ll see), so if Joe were to make the rubber duck look like ANY ONE OF THESE RUBBER DUCK SHIRTS, then would the Trust be cool with that?
Marc’s response is a non-response:
Toonseum is directly referencing the Rubber Duck installation in your messaging and asking people to show their Pittsburgh spirit by purchasing a tee shirt representing that art installation for profit and fundraising.
Turn it around… How would you feel if an organization started knocking off merch for a Toonseum exhibition (that you invested your blood, sweat and tears into) and then sold that unauthorized merch against your own merchandise on Toonseum’s Facebook page?
Frankly, the ill-will that this is causing is not worth whatever dollars you’ll make.
I’ll ask Kevin to continue this conversation with you.
I hope that a positive outcome can be attained since this is not good for either organization.
This would be more valid if it wasn’t just a simple rubber duck. It’s not an original creation in any way, shape or form. What about the guy who invented the rubber duck in the late 19th century? How does his family feel about this art? Not only that, City Paper reveals that guess what? The artist admittedly simply enlarged a duck already sold by DuckTolo Toys!
He didn’t even create that particular duck!
If the artist had created some Phineas and Ferb-esque insane contraption that floated on the river, pulled in river water and turned it into wine and glitter before shooting it out of a cannon, then maybe the Toonseum shouldn’t make a “SHOOT WINE AND GLITTER OUT YOUR BUTT N’AT!” shirt.
But it’s a duck. A rubber duck.
And no matter how much you capitalize it, it’s still just a rubber duck, Ernie.
8. Joe refused to pull down the shirt, and instead informed the public that the Trust had sent him a cease and desist, at which time … VIRAL HAPPENED.
Yes, a little shirt that probably would have sold like 5 copies, is instead appearing on every single media outlet and is burning up local social media like a bag of cotton balls set on fire with the flames of the sun. Most everyone is on the Toonseum’s side on this one. Because … I can’t stress this enough … it’s a rubber duck. And because we always cheer for the little guy.
9. Not only that, the digital artist for the Cultural Trust, Brian Nichols, used his personal account to post on the Toonseum’s Facebook page to vent:
Holy quap, indeed.
10. Now, here’s my thoughts on this.
First, you can buy your own giant inflatable rubber duck and stick it on the river until the police shoot holes in it.
Second, I wouldn’t have a problem if the Trust asked Joe to change the image to look different from THE Rubber Duck. It’s valid. They’ve invested in that particular version of the duck; make your own version and sell it in your shop. But instead the Trust is just stomping their feet and being incredibly stubborn for an organization that is currently promoting and making money off of an unsanctioned by J.K. Rowling UNAUTHORIZED HARRY POTTER PLAY.
Third, I compare this to the vendors who sell “Pirates” gear near the ballpark. You’ll notice nothing actually says Pirates. Instead the hat will be black and gold and it will say “Pittsburgh.” The Pirates have invested tons of money into their own merchandise, but even they know sending a cease and desist to generic black and gold pirate-themed merchandisers is a losing game. Besides, other than those who are looking to save a few bucks, most want the AUTHENTIC merchandise. We want Cole’s name on our backs. We want the angry pirate dude on it. We want the sweet P. Likewise, the Trust should have realized the market for their official merchandise will be fantastic, with or without one knockoff shirt being sold in a tiny museum down the street.
11. What should have happened? The Trust should have asked Joe to cease and desist using THAT particular duck and Joe would have complied. He would have made it a more generic rubber duck and sold 30 shirts, if that. The official merchandise, which is AWESOME, would have sold thousands and thousands.
Instead, the Trust is going after all duck-themed merchandise that could be sold in conjunction with their forthcoming installation, angering the public.
By their own fault, it’s now viral and it’s a Big Deal. And since I capitalized it, you know I mean business.
I don’t even want to know what the Trust will do when they see this site, which has been selling duck merchandise since 2009:
And not just because of the Comic Sans.
12. And finally, to the Trust I say, “Frankly, the ill-will that this is causing is not worth whatever dollars you’ll make.”
That’s my take on it. What do you think?
Please don’t comment with “This is low, Ginny … just low.”