Map-making was always a long, laborious process.
Plotting the physical territory, then accurately drawing the entire thing.
Often, other people would simply copy it.
Why not when you’ve already done all the work?
And if you claim they copied you, how are you going to prove it?
At the General Drafting Company, Otto G Lindberg and his assistant, Ernst Alpers, had just finished a detailed map of upstate New York.
They didn’t want anyone copying their work.
So they decided to add a fake place name somewhere that didn’t exist.
If you visited the area, to make your own map, you wouldn’t find it, so you wouldn’t include it.
But if you did include it in your map, it meant you didn’t visit the area, you just copied their map.
Obviously, whatever place they invented would have to be tiny, it couldn’t be a big town.
So, on a back road between Rockland and Beaver Kill, they invented a place called "Agloe".
(It was a combination of their initials: OGL and EA.)
Some time later, they found Rand McNally selling a map with Agloe on it.
Since they had invented Agloe, they knew Rand McNally had copied them.
So they sued them.
But, in court, Rand McNally said they didn’t copy Agloe, it was a real place.
Lindberg and Alpers knew it was nonsense, but they agreed to check it out.
And, sure enough, at that exact spot they found a shop called "Agloe General Store" and a fishing lodge called "Agloe Lodge Farm".
This made no sense.
If they had invented Agloe, how could it exist?
It turned out the person who opened the store wanted to name it after its location.
So he looked for the name on a map he got at his local Esso gas station.
On it, the area was named Agloe.
Esso was a client of Otto Lindberg’s, so they used his map as a reference.
Esso didn’t question that Agloe existed, they just put it on their map.
The man who opened the store didn’t question that Agloe existed, he just put it on his store.
Rand McNally didn’t question that Agloe existed, they just put it on their map.
And so the made-up name existed because everyone believed it was real.
And so it was real.
Lindberg and Alpers lost their case over copyright.
Because the name was deemed to exist in reality.
Reality was defined by law as what everyone believed was real.
Which is a great lesson for marketing people.
We may want the public to believe a certain thing about our brand.
And we think all we have to do is tell them to make it so.
For instance, Volvo had a reputation for safe cars, but they decided to change that and tell consumers they were as exciting as BMW.
For decades, they wasted millions upon millions of pounds.
Because, after all that money, Volvo still stands for safety, not excitement.
That’s the reality in consumers’ minds.
Not whatever Volvo put in their ads.
Because reality isn’t something we can just dictate.
What really matters is the brand equity in the consumers’ minds.
That’s the reality.
Consumers’ reality may not be our reality.
But their reality trumps our reality.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.