–Dan Kelly, Attorney

I have now been reminded several times, in several places, that “FedEx Kinko’s is now FedEx Office.”  Does anyone else think that this is a huge mistake?  I understand that FedEx is a strong, national brand — even a strong international brand at this point — but Kinko’s is arguably stronger.

This name change is no doubt the product of much study and corporate soul-searching, but as most marketing professionals know, there is an X factor of sorts in a name change that cannot be calculated through market studies and focus groups.  I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest something like this, but a good, strong, retail store brand should be run through something like the five second shouting-up-the-stairs, “Honey, I’m running to _______!” comprehension test.  “Honey, I’m running to Kinko’s!” passes with flying colors.  “Honey, I’m running to FedEx Office!” doesn’t–it doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way, and it is susceptible to an, “I thought you said you were going to the office,” misunderstanding.

Which brings up a trademark strength issue.  As applied to retail office service centers, “Kinko’s” is arbitrary and therefore quite strong (according to Wikipedia, “Kinko” was the nickname of Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea).  In contrast, “Office” is largely descriptive as applied to those same services.  Moreover, FedEx is about to sacrifice a brand name with a longer history:  Kinko’s dates to 1970, but FedEx started in 1984.  There is certainly an argument to be made that the FedEx brand can expand to occupy the space where Kinko’s once stood, and I’m sure some accountant somewhere can show me a bunch of numbers explaining that killing off Kinko’s is better for FedEx’s bottom line, but it still seems like a marketing mis-step to me.

Here’s an interesting sideline question for water cooler discussion:  Presuming that FedEx affirmatively abandons the Kinko’s brand and trademark completely (and I do not know that it is doing so), at what point could a third party pick it up out of the virtual garbage can and start using it for competing services?