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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Public sector lost opportunities

Buzby: judging by the caption,
he not only talks but tells lies ...
The IPKat has often wondered about the failure of public sector bodies to capitalise on their IP. In some instances they have concocted complex rules relating to the copyright in official documents and have tried to cash in on the sale of statutes, court judgments and suchlike -- but where there is a good marketing opportunity it is often overlooked. In 1976, before privatisation of its telecoms arm, the UK's Post Office (which also ran the phone system) developed a talking bird, Buzby, which was used in advertising campaigns designed to encourage phone use and which incidentally generated a good deal of income through sales. The bird was however axed in the 1980s, without the Post Office cashing in on the goodwill. The same organisation commissioned Postman Pat in 1981 to promote its postal services, but let him go too. Now, the IPKat suspects, Postman Pat is a good deal more profitable than the public sector postal service.

Now here's a little piece from IPKat reader Gerry Gavigan, which illustrates beautifully that the same thing is still happening. He writes:
"It turns out that the power of a brand (and I suppose, therefore, its monetary value) can be much greater than ever intended.  Hector is still not dead yet, despite a drive-by attempt on his life in the early 2000s (noughties).

Hector, who really is here to help you
Several permanent secretaries/chairman ago, the UK's Inland Revenue (as was) decided to capitalise on the reality of tax, (we like what we get, we don't like paying for it) and invented Hector the Taxman as a brand. Hector (such a good name) was the little bowler-hatted stripey trousered chap that used to bang on about compliance. And, of course, he resonated.

There used to be Hector statuette awards (I don't know what for but I bet if you know any accountants ask them all and at least one of them will still have one tucked away somewhere).

Hector was developed in house (a little birdie tells me) for about 50p. However the then Civil Service diversity champion, Inland Revenue Chairman (Sir Nicholas Montagu), decided that Hector wasn't the right image and should go.

Since then HMRC (as it is now) has spent a lot of money on campaigns with high profile people heading them up, actors, TV celebrities and the like (no doubt with suitable appearance fees) including shouty woman "go on, go on, go on", Moira Stewart, Adam Hart-Davis, (possibly others, I'm not obsessed ...), none of whom seem to have the required brand effect as they are replaced.

However the one person that I keep tripping over is Hector. He will be redrawn to illustrate Sunday newspaper tax articles. Whenever there is a news story about tax he appears. Most recently (today, in fact) he appears advertising a check your tax code facility on

I imagine that there are many organisations that would have loved to have a brand so powerful and redolent that it is impossible to kill. It is not a shame that a public sector body has spent so much money trying?"
The IPKat wonders whether this is a peculiarly British phenomenon, or whether the public sector in other countries is equally good at missing golden opportunities like these?


Anonymous said...

With respect to Hector, I would think that someone got brand consultants in and decided celebrity would work (and incidentally charge thousands for it).

As for Postman Pat, I would love to see the contract for his creation, I can imagine that the question of IP didn't even enter the PO's head at the time. If it had, I am sure someone will have told them that they couldn't do anything about it as it would be uncompetitive...

Anonymous said...

Circa 1980 a US electronics magazine did an article on a new IC chip that someone had designed for BT, illustrated by a half-page photomicrograph of the chip. Tucked away in an unused corner was a representation of a telegraph pole from which Busby was hung by the neck from a rope. I don't know if BT ever noticed!

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