|This bear grossed more than|
US$ 140 million during his brief
life as a live brand
Sadly, Knut passed away earlier this year and, like so many events in the bear’s short life, it happened in public. Knut, weakened by an undetected brain disease, drowned at Berlin Zoo in front of shocked zoo visitors. Knut's short life was not an easy one: born in the Berlin Zoo at the end of 2006, Knut was hand-reared by his keeper Thomas and became a global celebrity after being rescued when his mother rejected him. Knut became so famous that he even made it on the covers of the US and German editions of Vanity Fair. He was also the German government's mascot for its climate change campaign and even inspired the Class 46 blog’s logo.
Now you would be forgiven if you thought that this might be the end of the exploitation of the Knut brand. But no: shortly after his death there were rumours about plans to have Knut stuffed and displayed at a Berlin Natural History museum. Knut’s fans and the German public mostly reacted with bewilderment to these plans. In light of Knut’s sad fate, these plans sounded too much like a distasteful exploitation. However, to be fair, while the Berlin Zoo had its only profitable years while Knut was alive, the zoo had strict guidelines as to who was allowed to take a licence to use the Knut trade mark: Knut products had to either be environmentally friendly or raise awareness for climate change. That there is still much interest in the Knut brand can be shown by the fact that the media still report about Knut and speculate on the worth of his brand, most notable Peter Savodnik in his recent article for Bloomberg Businessweek.
Gerald Uhlich, the former chief executive of the zoo, told Bloomberg Business Week that in his short life Knut generated more than US$140 million globally -- a staggering amount. And while there is a good argument that the Knut brand will have survived his death, I would naively argue that consumers would somehow wish to see Knut’s fate reflected in whatever products are now marketed under the Knut trade mark. However, it appears that I got that one slightly wrong. Reading Peter Slavodnik’s article, I have now learned that publishers, film makers, advertisers, as well as “manufacturers of stuffed animals, lunchboxes, and coffee cups” are planning to launch new Knut products. Porcelain manufacturer KPM even plans a commemorative Knut statue and there are already plans for a television documentary in Germany. Uhlich is also as having said that the Knut brand should not necessarily be limited to environmentally sensitive goods: “there is still greater potential to use it for further products or services", a view that appears to be shared by the chief executive officer of the Berlin Club of Merchants and Industrialists. No surprise then that Uhlich is himself writing Knut biography, covering Knut’s “untold story”.
The idea of branding celebrity zoo animals appears to have caught on, as the recent examples of the now deceased psychic octopus Paul and cross eyed opossum Heidi have revealed. Bearing all this in mind, it is a relief to hear that Flocke, a polar bear cub born at Nuremberg Zoo in 2008 and who was the centre of widely publicized trade mark dispute, is doing well at a French zoo. Wilbär, another German celebrity polar bear, whose name was registered as a trade mark, appears equally happy at a Swedish zoo.
Somehow, however, I have this inkling that this iss not the last we shall have heard about the exploitation of polar bear and other celebrity zoo animal trade marks.