Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wikipedia, fantasy casting, and branding

I’m researching and writing a Wikipedia article about fantasy casting as a generic activity. I started out by using a Google search for terms like “fantasy cast”, “fantasy casting”, “dream cast”, etc. Some people also use the term “dream teaming”, which seems to have equal references to sports and Hollywood. Many followed links later, it became clear that, although nobody was ever actually defining the term, everyone seemed to know what it was about: selecting actors for an imaginary movie. I then went on to use the academic search capabilities at my alma mater (I still have access), where a slightly different picture emerged. In American print media, the “imaginary movie cast” idea was the most common usage model. By contrast, in UK newspapers and magazines, “fantasy cast” is more likely to be used the way we use “dream team” here: a best-possible set of players for a real performance. UK writers use that term whether the activity is sports, movies, television, or even a ballet company.

What surprised me was the fact that there was no Wikipedia article on fantasy casting. When you go there and type in “casting’, you immediately are presented with references to falconry, fishing, metallurgy, and “performing arts”. The “performing arts” page has additional stubs for typecasting and stunt casting, but nothing for the imaginary kind of fun activity. So, I’m preparing the text for just such an article, holding to the guidelines for strict neutrality. I’ll be allowed to cover the topic itself, but any mention of the website has to be left to the final section, “Sources and external links”. That’s fine with me; I’m even going to mention our (older, smaller and plainer) competitor as a valid example of the activity.

The “branding” aspect of the site presents its own problems. You may ask, “Don’t you want Storycasting to become a household name?” The answer is, “Not really - that dilutes the value of our trademark”. Think about the names Bandaid and Kleenex, and then read the Wikipedia entry for “genericide”, and you’ll see what I mean. Publicity and recognition is nice, but we have to maintain our exclusive rights to our trademark, by gently reminding people not to use “Storycasting” to refer to generic fantasy casting. However, we can’t complain if someone wants to talk about a “storycast”, because that’s already in use in the industry, and we don’t own that term – but I’m sure there will be some cross-over associations in the minds of all the users. I recently saw a post on an author fan site, asking if anyone had tried “Storycasting” the author’s works. I think that’s a plug for our site and not a generic use, but it’s on the edge of the kind of use we’ll need to watch out for.

The particular activity we promote on the website, which we call Storycasting, is even more narrowly focused: creating and posting an imaginary movie cast, using a book or some other story as the base material, and involving images of the books and actors. This is why I’m perfectly happy to talk about “fantasy cast” and “fantasy casting” – those are already generic terms that are more broad than the unique trademarked activity on our site. Since we own it, we can define it.

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