Friday, November 09, 2012
It’s not often I disagree with the Royal Canadian Legion. It’s an even rarer event that I find sympathy for Quebec PQ leader, Premier Pauline Marois. What happened last week, however, made me feel a bit of both.
Marois, as you may have heard, was in hot water for placing a small Fleur-De-Lis in the centre of her poppy, doing away with the stick pin that comes installed from the factory. Legionnaires, veterans, journalists and many in the chattering class, were up in arms over the affront. How dare she desecrate the symbol of Canadian sacrifice and heroism?
The President of the Quebec command of the Royal Canadian Legion, Margot Arsenault was quick to lambast the premier for disfiguring the trademarked poppy. She made the point that it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been a Canadian flag instead. Changing the poppy in any way constitutes an infringement in Arsenault’s opinion. So, too, would be to get a poppy tattoo.
The Legion is very sensitive to their poppy image and guards it with almost the same over-wrought diligence as Disney does with their cartoon characters. Legion officials even refused to endorse the efforts of a group of elderly knitters from Fredericton who were producing woolen poppies for sale on the Internet for five bucks a pop, with the proceeds, they claimed, going to the Legion’s poppy drive. The legion, however, is adamant that any reproduction of their symbol without express written permission is a trademark violation. They have not indicated if they will be taking steps to stop these women from engaging in their criminal activities to date, though.
I can appreciate the Legion being so protective of their precious emblem. Corporate symbols in our society are very powerful and if not managed carefully, can become diluted or disfigured in the eyes of the public. Although the gang of outlaw poppy knitters probably only had the best of intentions, not everyone in the marketplace has pure intent. What’s to stop wool twisters with less philanthropic plans from hijacking the design for their own evil purposes?
Understanding the Legion’s position with regard to their trademark, does not tell the entire tale, however. Another aspect to the poppy, and the original equipment it is sold with, is its extremely flawed design. When I was a lad, poppies came with the same red plastic flower part and the black felt dot along with a much more substantial stick-pin. It also featured a little green doily dealie that went by the wayside somewhere along the way; probably at the same time the pin’s thickness was drastically downsized. Current poppies, without bending the pin, weaving it through and piercing the flower or using some kind of pin retention system, (an eraser snapped off a pencil works well for this purpose) will be lost minutes after applying it to your jacket. Without modifying the original design, the poppy is practically useless, yet changing the design, according to the Legion, is a trademark infringement. It is as if they are hoping we will lose them so we will be forced to buy another and another.
The public understands that the poppies go to a very good cause. The annual sales of these mini-corsages are the Legion’s biggest fundraising effort and are an integral part of our society’s calendar. Their greatest value, beyond their money-making ability, is that they do serve to remind us all of the debt we owe those that fought for the freedoms we enjoy; except, of course, the freedom to alter our poppies. You’d think once purchased, I could do with it what I wished.
Let me just say that I am not anti-Legion. I have been a member for much of my entire life and volunteer often with our local branch; mowing grass and working the odd bingo. My Father was president of our local chapter, my Mom president of the Auxiliary, while my brother, Bob, is current president. I have never missed a Remembrance Day service at the Legion.
A noble cause cannot absolve a group of blame when they make a mistake. That’s how corruption happens. It is time the Legion addressed the shoddy workmanship of their product, or allow those wanting to improve on the design the ability to do so. We know money tossed into coin boxes is a donation and that poppies aren’t really sold provided free. I also know if these poppies cost more than a dime to make, the Legion’s getting ripped off. Few people donate less than a dollar for their poppy. Surely wearers should receive a bit more quality for their charitable donation. If not, simply issue a statement allowing a Canadian flag pin to be used in the centre of the pin and sell the pins separately. The stud retainer element is a well-proven design and the flag makes poppy wearing feel like a patriotic act. What can be the downside?
If the Legion was smart, they should examine their whole poppy-marketing strategy. If they had people in place to monitor people wanting to use the poppy design for good, they could expand their poppy income significantly. Social media marketing is where it’s at today and with many Legions reporting difficulty getting volunteer poppy salespeople, this may be the ideal opportunity to diversify their operations.
I suspect this won’t happen. The membership of the Legion is not a group known for making snap decisions, at least, not anymore, anyway. Because the poppy’s business model has been a success for over a century, modernization will be a tough sell. All I know is I’m tired of having hands that look like I’ve been juggling feral cats after trying to bend a poppy pin so it won’t leap out of my lapel at the first unguarded moment.
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