Here’s Why Some Internet Celebrities Grudgingly Allow Brands to Rip Them Off

In the age of Etsy, trademark enforcement can block fan advocacy

Headshot of David Griner

What do you do when your catchphrase becomes so popular, major brands start using it on their own merchandise without permission or compensation? If you're the VlogBrothers, you reluctantly do nothing.

The YouTube star siblings John and Hank Green have long ended their clips with the mantra, "Don't forget to be awesome." Its acronym, DFTBA, is even the name of their indie record label, which has supported other online celebrities like Smosh, NicePeter (of "Epic Rap Battles" fame) and Rhett and Link.

The phrase's popularity among VlogBrothers fans, known as Nerdfighters, has now made it a hot item among pop fashion and retail brands including Urban Outfitters, Hobby Lobby, Delia's, Aeropostale, Pier One and more. Not one of the brands or their suppliers has paid for the line's usage.

In a new clip, John Green explains not only why the brothers are allowing these unpaid uses to be sold but also how the "wild world of trademarks" actually works for modern content creators. For the VlogBrothers, cracking down on national brands would mean also having to go after fans who sell "Don't forget to be awesome" merchandise on sites like Etsy.

If you're the least bit interested in how modern Internet-fueled catchphrases are used, abused and co-opted by fans and Fortune 500 companies alike, this video is a must-watch.  

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: December 5, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT