Microsoft, Harley-Davidson, and Brand Passion

A few years ago, I went to Daytona Bike Week.

The first time I saw it, I did a double-take. A guy had the word "Harley" tattooed on one arm and "Davidson" on the other.

Talk about brand loyalty.

 Harley doesn't send letters to bikers with guidelines about proper "context" for their logo. They are thrilled to have "raving fans" who take a megaphone and shout out their excitement for their product.

What more could you ask for?

And you know who your most passionate advocates can be? Your employees (thanks Andy!).

So, today I get a forward that cc'd Corporate Brand Support at Microsoft and it made me cringe a bit. [names removed]

 Bottom line, some guy wants to use the following logo set in his email signature:

clip_image001

He gets a note back telling him to refer to

http://www.microsoft.com/about/legal/intellectualproperty/trademarks/default.mspx .

http://www.microsoft.com/about/legal/intellectualproperty/trademarks/usage/logo.mspx

and advice specific to email signatures at:

Windows Vista…

https://brandtools.partners.extranet.microsoft.com/Windows+Vista/Guidelines/Visual+guidelines/Templates.htm

Dynamics…

https://brandtools.partners.extranet.microsoft.com/Microsoft+Dynamics/Guidelines/Visual+guidelines/Template.htm#2

He is told that he can:

 use the brand signatures in your email signature as long as you follow the established system (e.g. Vista and Dynamics examples). Please do not combine brand signatures unless it’s for an approved cobranded effort, in which case, respective brand managers should approve.   

Look, I understand the value of a Brand, but an email signature is an opportunity for individual expression in much the same way that a tattoo on a biker's arm is.

If an employee (or heck even a partner) is really jazzed about Zune, Office, Vista, or Xbox and wants to put the logo in an email signature that will generate conversations with customers, then let 'em do it. Give employees, of all people, some latitude to express themselves as individuals.

We're not talking about an ad in the NYT or on CBS (as if those work, but that's another post), we're talking about making it easy and fun for employees and partners to spread the gospel, to get others excited, to start real, authentic conversations.

I just think we're missing the boat on this one. What kind of story are we telling when we have these types of rules?