In an exclusive chat with Retailer, Olafur V Sigurvinsson, CEO, Just Licensing, talks about the ultimate ethos of the brand based on one of the most famous activists of today’s world, Julian Assange.
Kindly throw light on the brand and its legacy across the globe? What was the reason for taking WikiLeaks brand into licensing?
Rising demands from freedom of speech supporters, as well as a growing spurt in the sales of merchandise, in the year 2011, were the reasons behind taking the brand into licensing. A survey on WikiLeaks done by Ipsos (www.ipsos.com) in 24 countries stated, WikiLeaks enjoys 80 per cent awareness globally. The online merchandise did in no way return any of the revenues to the cause of freedom of speech, so the idea was born.
The objective was to protect the brand and give supporters a way to purchase genuine WikiLeaks and Julian Assange merchandise, where part of the revenues go directly into supporting the cause and to control the message of the brand and its identity. Passion is basically what drives people to wear brands, and where there is awareness and support, coupled with passion, there is a way for a brand.
Initially, you were considering categories like apparel, accessories, and stationery and home wares. Are there any special areas interesting enough to explore?
As mentioned earlier, we have given out rights for the above stated categories, but our first product to hit the market will be technical gadgets and we have signed a deal with German manufacturers to produce and distribute the first product line on a global scale. We see possibilities in almost every category as the brands carry an exceedingly popular message of honesty and transparency.
Please share some insights on your style guidebook and licensing likeness of Julian Assange.
Our style guide is like a recipe book for companies that want to produce merchandise. We spent a lot of time to identify the correct images, logos, fonts and colours so that the end user will be satisfied with the products he buys and will have a way to make sure the authenticity of the products.
How difficult was it for you to handle the branding programme, when WikiLeaks was pulled under media controversies?
It has not been difficult at all because I believe that a successful brand evokes passion. As Peter Von Stalk from Jones and Soda said, “Good brand will evoke passion, either you love it or hate it. I’m good with people hating us. I’m good with people loving us.” ‘Truth will be out and tell me the truth’ are a few samples of our slogans.
However, the main obstacle has been with conflict of interests where we have been turned down by agents that carry brands which might conflict with the message of WikiLeaks. The message of WikiLeaks will always be unwanted by someas we have come across large corporations and politicians talk against WikiLeaks, but I think that’s the nature of truth telling.
How would you define the scenario now?
Since the start of the programme, a lot has changed now with regard to the need of transparency. The general public support is much stronger now, especially in countries like the US, where the brands had least support earlier in 2011.
Today, the figures are twisted as the public in the US support the freedom of speech and transparency, also, New York Times editorial which was in the past against WikiLeaks, had written an article in the summers which states, “If an individual reveals that a government breaks the rules and commits crimes, the same government cannot punish that individual.”
How do you see the people who might not have supported WikiLeaks in the first instance?
The fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) story, which Edward Snowden (computer professional) brought into the daylight won the Pulitzer Prize, is a confirmation that whistle blowing is, at times, a necessity. That was certainly an advantage.
Large corporations like Google and Facebook are breaking individual rights by using their customers’ private identities for their own benefit. The more people get abreast about day-to-day happenings; the need for an organisation like WikiLeaks is produced automatically.
WikiLeaks stands for truth and freedom of speech which is the goal of the organisation, and also the sole reason behind people purchasing WikiLeaks merchandise. Technically, WikiLeaks is not different from media organisations like CNN or BBC, but it stands apart as it is a nonprofit organisation which offers no room for manipulation.
How do you plan to maintain the integrity of the brand and its message?
Our style guide book is shared with our sub-agents and licensees that give a clear direction for the branding of products, use of slogans etc.
How do you define the fan base of the brand in India?
In India we are optimistic as the national motto of India is ‘truth only triumphs’. The fact that India is the youngest democracy in the world tells us that people in India are highly concerned about the cornerstones of democracy.
Reality, transparency and the freedom for individuals to express themselves tell us that India is a strong market for WikiLeaks branded products. Increasing purchasing power and education level are also strong indicators as per Ipsos survey that gives statistics about support in relation to spending power. Therefore, India ranks second in awareness and in engendering support towards the brand, after Sweden.
What are your plans globally?
We plan to sell WikiLeaks merchandise in every country in the world in around next 12 months. We are in discussions with prospective partners. The goal is simple; make the freedom of speech, truth, transparency and individual rights transform the world, and in order to strengthen the path we need to kindle WikiLeaks.
We have garnered interest from all over the world and companies are eager to make use of the brand on their merchandise. We now have agents in most countries of Europe, Central Eastern Europe, N-Africa, Baltic and India where Bradford Licensing is our partner and we are in discussions with agents in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia.