One of the cardinal rules of public relations is that perception trumps all. You may have the law on your side, for example, but the public won’t care much if it considers the optics ill conceived.
We started to think about the power of perception in light of the Beastie Boys accusation that toymaker GoldieBlox violated their copyright with a hit viral video.
More than 8 million people have watched GoldieBlox’s Princess Machine video since it launched last week, using a parody of the Beastie Boys’ 1987 tune “Girls” to promote its construction toys for young women, according to The Guardian.
Late last week GoldieBlox filed a preemptive lawsuit against the Beastie Boys, claiming the group’s attorneys had threatened to sue for copyright infringement.
(Following the death of Adam Yauch in 2012, the Beastie Boys revealed that Yauch’s will instructed his estate to prohibit the use of the group’s music in advertisements, The Guardian said.)
GoldieBlox said it is subverting the Beastie Boys’ “highly sexist song,” The Guardian added, to encourage girls’ interest in science, technology and engineering.
To put it mildly, this is no-win situation for the Beastie Boys.
While the Beastie Boys may have a legal (and financial) leg to stand on, the court of public opinion seems to be with GoldieBlox—which itself is riding an incredible and probably inadvertent wave of earned media.
All the legal precedents in the world are little match for a corporate message designed to both empower younger women and shatter stereotypes about the kind of careers that appeal to them.
The Beastie Boys reaction to the GoldieBlox parody is justified, but the response threatening a lawsuit is not.
The group could have done itself a bigger favor by harnessing the current popularity of the GoldieBlox song and, via some PR of its own, reminding the public that the Beastie Boys (who peaked in the 1980s) are still active on the music front.
Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1