With a Sharpie® what can go wrong?

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How presidents leave their mark

You just can’t go wrong with a product like Sharpie

Well, you might, if you happen to be a recent chief executive of the United States who happens to have problems with way more than one or two words in the lyrics to “God Bless America”… It’s OK with that to hum along and bob your head to the rhythm. But a Sharpie leaves a mark, rather visible, definite, one might say incisive and, if you believe the manufacturer, pretty much indelible.

You don’t just use it casually, adding random strokes to what purports to be an official map somebody grabbed off a sub-altern’s desk, when expedience demanded it was better to be graphic and on point at least geographically, than to be precise and, well, the word is accurate.

It’s not as if the president is not familiar with Sharpies. He prefers them. Probably has played with dozens, hundreds, as he practiced that bold, spiky, electrocardiogram-looking (or, hmmm, can I say this?: kind of like a polygraph trace… “yes, my name is Donald J. Trump and I will stand by that”) signature he uses for official business, those huge non-negotiable bank checks he likes to hand people as if it was actually his money.

Of course, he’s not the first president to have a famous preference for Sharpies. President Bush (there are no invidious comparisons inherent in this), and not just one or the other of them, but both admitted to an enthusiastic preference for them. They asked for them by name at critical moments. A 2011 Huffington Post article reports the younger Bush “asks for them by name,” says a Bush insider, “and if someone hands him something else, he barks, ‘Where’s the Sharpie?’” How come? “They’re so easy to use,” says another Bushie. “And you can see what you’ve written.”

In 2011, when the pens were still manufactured under the corporate flag of Sanford Brands (the origin of which was the much humbler Sanford Ink company of Georgia, demonstrating, for a change, a sensible evolution), not only was the president supplied amply, he had special presidential Sharpies, which carried his signature and the words “The White House.” There was a special Camp David Sharpie (which we can assume with some assurance does not exist for the current president, who long since has declared his disparaging opinion of this, according to him, decrepit retreat, inappropriate in its condition to the dignity and esteem of the holder of his office). There is no evident record, as yet, of a Mar-A-Lago Sharpie, but we are working on further research.

Since the Bush incumbency, the Sharpie brand has been sold to that trademark-holding colussus, Newell Brands, which also holds such household names in leaving one’s mark or managing one’s business, personal or commercial, as Dymo, Elmer’s, Paper-Mate, Parker, and even such international prestigious marks as Waterman and Rotring. In short, it’s a brand well-entrenched in its role of assisting everyone, from the meek to the mighty, in the business of leaving their mark or holding things together. And thus, what better brand than Sharpie, to be embraced by the man who has made a life of leaving a trail of evidence of his singular presence as he has lumbered inexorably across the face of the planet?

Yet the mercantile portion of my brain can’t help but stop and wonder, a process that must be underway as well in the lofty sanctums of Newell—where they ponder matters cold-bloodedly (as in, “it’s not personal, it’s business”), though they probably prefer to call it “strategically”—is this recent attention, with thousands of reporters, in print and pixels, and nearly as many new anchors in broadcast and podcast alike, dozens of late-night talk show hosts, and myriad bloggers dropping the name of that protected and thereby sacred brand, well, is it good for the brand? A Bush is one thing. But a… no we can’t say his name in association.

However, the real question is, should we be firing up the corporate apparatus, the lawyers and the flack—well, you know, the corporate and public relations specialists, alike—what with the brouhaha about this hurricane business, and that storm still pounding the shit out of the Carolinas, and not scaring up anything but deficit points, and making it clear to every perpetrator of a violation of Federal statutes concerning usage, that it’s “Sharpie brand markers, a registered U.S. Trademark?” So, please… Or will that just make them drop the name altogether.

We don’t want another Kleenex on our hands. China will be back, and sure enough with them a lot of cheap inferior goods, which may be a better fit with the current administration, but soon enough, that will be gone. And Sharpies will still be leaving their permanent marks. Maybe not on weather maps, but surely on refrigerator doors and automobile fenders, high school corridor lockers, underpasses and overpasses, all over the country. We’ll lose the Federal law signing franchise, but the stock has already taken a hit over that. Not a mistake. Just history.

®Sharpie is a registered U.S. trademark of Newell Brands.
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