Propagandist Company Limited (Propagandist) is a design company in Thailand established in 1994 by four advertising experts. The company creates everyday interior design and household objects, which it imbues with fun and irreverent modifications inspired by international designers and the Thai sense of playfulness and love of life.
Within two years of starting business, the company expanded its product range and started exporting its wares beyond Thailand. As of 2011, Propagandist was in a strong position, exporting playful yet provocative and practical products across the globe.
The product-design company is inspired by international influences and the local essences of Thailand itself. Propagandist, for example, utilizes basic and aerodynamic modernist forms based on plastic and inspired by the 20th century Italian industrial architect Achille Castiglioni – a minimalist creator of everyday things who used simple materials to create his products.
For other sources of creative inspiration, the company relies on Thai culture and its sense of playfulness and humor and the collusion in Thailand between tradition and modernity. Thai Buddhist appreciation for the sensual, ephemeral and surface beauty of things, for instance, is ever present in Propagandist products such as the “Melting Bulb” – a surreal lighting device in a blob-shape of molten glass.
The youthful and ultra-modern Thai capital, Bangkok, with over-crowded, neon-light-covered bars, malls, and myriad sounds and aromas is a well of inspiration for the company. The capital is also beautiful, with tranquil seas and ornate ancient temples and other serene locations. This humorous and rather dissonant juxtaposition challenges preconceptions of rhyme and reason and has been a mainstay of inspiration for the company’s designers.
Propagandist also draws inspiration from the fact of the company “being Thai”. According to a company spokesman, being Thai involves having a playful sense of humor, a keen appreciation for simplicity, and a laid-back approach to life. These Thai qualities are frequently seen in the company’s products such as the AP-Peel Fruit Bowl and Knife combination. The idea for this two-in-one household device occurred to the designer while sitting at home, watching a movie on TV. Because he was frustrated by having to leave the room in order to get fruit, a knife and a bowl while watching a film, the designer decided to combine the knife-holder and fruit bowl into a simple, beautiful, time-saving device that can sit at arm’s length.
The “Tooth Tooth-Brush Holder” product, moreover, is one of Propaganda’s most well-known creations. The enlarged tooth holder was created when one of the company’s designers lost his own molar tooth and, being impressed with its shape, decided to design a toothbrush-holder based on the natural shape of molar teeth. With large holes at the top (to insert a tooth-brush) and smaller ones at the bottom (to drain away excess water), the holder is a simple yet inspired reminder for customers to put away their toothbrush after using. The idea behind the toothbrush holder has inspired a tooth-themed brand of products for the company including tooth-shaped designs such as toothpick holders, seats and lamps.
From the milieu of incongruous and even humorous interrelations in Thailand, Propagandist has been able to create and manufacture a plethora of playful and even provocative yet practical products. “We are a Thai company, and we often present the Thai character in our work,” said Chaiyut Plypetch, one of the company’s chief designers. “We like to party. We like to smile and joke. We have a cheeky sense of humor”, he added.
Propagandist has a vast array of product brands covering a wide area of designs including: table and kitchen-wares, stationary, lighting equipment, and surreal gifts. Its most successful brand is based on a playful, comic character called Mr. P. The humanoid creation is an unusual combination of clean lines of dazzling, molded plastic whose expression is of a frivolous wit. Rotund, smooth and snowman-white, Mr. P. is oddly endearing and has been an icon for the company whose representation has also appeared on Propagandist t-shirts, mug cups, and stationary. “He always does the ‘bad thing’”, said Mr. P’s creator and designer. “He’s a character who can laugh and play…like a cartoon. He is balanced on a line between being cute, but not ugly”, said the company spokesman. The Mr. P. brand has been extended to include the Mr. P. Lamp and the One Man Try product (an adhesive tape dispenser based on Mr. P. and the company’s best-selling item).
Among Propagandist’s other brands is Swan - a ballerina who is allegedly Mr. P’s love interest and whose tutu serves as an ashtray. The ballerina has at least five manifestations, namely Swan Act I, II, III, IV, and V. Swan Act I, for example, is a dust-brush whose bristles act as “the most elegant dust-sweeper to ever grace your living room”, according to a spokesman for the company.
Not only does Propagandist constantly create new, comical yet purposeful brands, the company is also careful to use attractive colors (Swan is deep orange and Mr. P a variety of colors including luminous blue, green and pink) and tactile materials for its frivolous designs. In so doing, Propagandist is able to compliment the fun and utilitarian element in its creations with a vivid and sense-rich experience for its customers. By combining form, function, artistic expression and a desire to enrich customer experience, the company is able to transform everyday household objects into useful works of art that are appealing and meet consumer demand from across the world.
Mr. P. and Swan are part of a growing brand of absurd but practical, romantic yet mundane household products bringing great brand awareness success for Propagandist.
To connect with the next generation of designers and consumers, for instance, Propagandist has been a sponsor of the annual Young Design Award in Thailand, which honors students and recent graduates. Working with Elle Décor Thailand (a well-known interior design company), the Propagandist-sponsored award provides a showcase exhibition for new product design ideas.
In a successful marketing campaign aimed at the local market in Thailand, Propagandist teamed up with LA Bicycle (a famous bicycle manufacturer in Thailand) in a campaign to raise awareness about the environment under the slogan “Green Power Clean Power Mr. P & LA Bicycle”. The humorous campaign posters for the event featured Mr. P. being flatulent whilst riding a bicycle provided by LA Bicycle. Mr. P’s fun branding as a champion for the environment was a playful reminder to customers that natural energy, in all its forms, is ultimately healthier and better for society.
Wishing to expand beyond the Thai market, the company established a sister-company and developed marketing partnerships with other organizations in several countries such as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Pakistan), Japan, and the Republic of South Korea (South Korea).
“Useme”, for example, is a Propagandist subsidiary that sells the company’s wares to the insatiable Japanese market for fun objects. Commensurate to the Useme concept, in 2009 Propagandist partnered with Global Forme Concrete Inc. (Global Forme), a product design company in Japan. Under a concept called “Black Hotel”, the company and its Japanese partner held a fair at the Bangkok International Gift Fair and the Bangkok International House Fair. All Propagandist products at the event were presented in black in an attempt to challenge customers to abandon the “color battle” of contemporary design and return to basic black.
The company has held similar promotional events and marketing fairs in South Korea (in the World Design Market in Seoul, in 2008) and in Pakistan (under the “Propaganda Pakistan” concept in collaboration with Architects Inc., an architectural firm in Pakistan).
By establishing subsidiaries in other countries and collaborating with local and international partners in imaginative, fun and concept-driven marketing drives, Propagandist is able to promote and commercialize its products to an ever growing, international client and customer base.
The dynamic Shear Mug/Cup (Photo: Propagandist
Because of its vast creative out-put and international clientele, Propagandist is an active user of the intellectual property (IP) system. “IP is critical to the success of our business. It helps protect the very heart of our business – our designs and name”, said the company’s general director, Mr. Chuayboon.
In order to expand into the lucrative United States of America (USA) product-design market, in 1999 the company filed a trademark for Propaganda™ at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In the same year, Propaganda was filed as a word mark in a stylized form at the USPTO.
Intending to exploit commercial opportunities in the European Union (EU) whilst securing its corporate name in the region, in 2000 the company filed a trademark for Propaganda as a figurative mark in 35 classes of the Nice classification list of goods and services at the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM).
Moreover, in 2004 Propagandist filed a trademark for “Mr. P” both as a figurative and a graphical representation at OHIM.
Commensurate to the company’s trademarks, Propagandist maintains five domain names (including www.useme.jp and www.propagandaonline.jp), further enhancing its IP assets, and keeping its avenues for future expansion clear.
As of 2010, the company was looking to grow its business in ten overseas markets including the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the EU, Japan and the USA. With trademark registrations in each of its intended markets, the company has paved the way for future expansion, whilst ensuring its customers of the products’ authenticity and quality.
Propagandist is keenly aware of the value of its IP assets and has an extensive monitoring and review strategy for them both locally and internationally.
When the company first launched, it relied on the IP advice services of a legal firm in Thailand. However, the company now seeks legal advice from its own in-house IP lawyers: “It does take time and it is a process that has many steps but it’s OK; our IP is worth defending and keeping safe”, said the company spokesman.
Not only does the company monitor its IP at home (the company holds trademarks and copyrights in Thailand), it has legal agents in other countries that likewise monitor the company’s international IP assets. “We know IP in Thailand but not so well in overseas markets so we must use agents in each country to assist us in our quest for protection,” said the company spokesman.
With the advice of IP experts on hand, the company has been able to monitor its own IP and create new ideas without infringing upon the IP rights (IPRs) of others.
Propagandist has subsequently expanded into commercialization opportunities in three continents whilst reassuring its partners and distributors that its products are secured with a strong IP strategy.
As its popular brand portfolio has grown across international borders, the company has faced incidents of IP infringement and, as a result, it has had to take legal action against infringers. In one such case, the company was made aware that another entity was selling its products, without permission, on the Internet. Propagandist vigorously defended its IPRs by successfully writing cease and desist letters to the infringer in order to halt the illegal sales of its products. “We believe that every product (has a risk) of being (copied),” said a company spokesman. “But we (did) not walk away from these vendors who tried to sell our products without our approval. There was a case where…we had to issue a Cease and Desist letter to the vendors demanding them to stop selling the (copyrighted) products.”
If the infringement had continued, the company would have filed a court injunction or taken further legal action in order to recover costs and seek damages. “You must protect your intellectual property, even if it takes two years, it is worth the wait,” a company spokesman said. By proactively taking action against IP infringement, the company has protected its hard-won good name and lucrative IP assets while ensuring that its commercial growth remains unencumbered.
With IP protected goods and a reputation as an industry leader, Propagandist has been able to enter licensing agreements with other companies including Architects Inc., in Pakistan. Architects Inc. has a franchise for “Propaganda Pakistan” and the architectural firm has already, in 2010, concluded a successful exhibition under the Propaganda Pakistan concept, where the company’s Mr. P. character was a great hit. “It’s so innovative,” said one attendee when talking about the Propagandist event. “I love the fact that everything has such a weird twist to it,” added another. Propagandist also has licensing agreements with Global Forme (the company’s exclusive distributor in Japan), Decolives (a lifestyle products retailer in Singapore) and Lund-Stougaard (a design company that has a distribution license for Propagandist products in the Kingdom of Denmark).
Propagandist has enjoyed great financial success and won several international awards and citations for its imaginative product-designs. The company’s SaltePepper shaker, for instance, won the Good Design award (in the “Household Product” category) in 2000, hosted by the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, USA. Several Propagandist brands have subsequently become Good Design winners including: “Melting Bulb” (2002), “Forked UP” (2005), “Forgetmee” (2006), and “Dog Lamp” (2007). As testament of the company’s impact on design culture in the USA and elsewhere, Propagandist-made products are also featured in the museum’s permanent display.
The company celebrated its 15th Anniversary in 2009 and as of 2010 Propagandist products were available in more than 40 countries and regions including the EU, Hong Kong, Japan and the USA. In the same year, Propagandist had 65 staff, a retail shop and warehouse in Bangkok and distributors in other countries including Denmark and Japan.
Propagandist is a company whose success is based on creating playful yet practical designs that place priority on form, function, and fun. With slightly irreverent brands such as Mr. P, the company has been able to protect its products with IP, expand its brand portfolio and put the “P” back into profits.
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