My recent family road trip through the heartland had me spending more time than usual pumping gas and shopping in convenience stores, so a few chewing gum brands "gone single letter" caught my eye. As you may recall, I already have reported on Single Letter Envy in Hotel Branding. Well, it appears that the quest for single or one-letter brands is not limited to the hospitality industry (let alone others I’m sure to write about in the future), but has "stretched" to the confectionery industry too.
Turns out, both single letter gum brands that caught my eye are owned by the same company, Cadbury-Adams, part of "Cadbury plc – a leading global confectionery business with the number one or number two position in over 20 of the world’s 50 largest confectionery markets."
Yes, Cadbury Adams has migrated from its long-lasting Bubblicious brand name (having equal style for each letter) to a differently styled beginning B in Bubblicious, and most recently, to the letter B, standing alone, front and center on packaging; fully-truncated to B, as shown above. So, in our ever-abbreviated and truncated branding world, where G now means Gatorade (among other things, as a previously blogged about here), B now apparently means Bubblicious, and S now means Stride (another Cadbury Adams chewing gum brand). Might care be in order to avoid having these two brands appear side by side on store shelves — at least in the order appearing above — to avoid some unintended combined meaning of the brands? Perhaps one of the "sticky" consequences of single letter brands is the temptation others may have to spell alternate and unfavorable words and acronyms with them.
As you might imagine, confronting these single letter brands raises a number of questions in need of some answers. For example, are single or one-letter brands for chewing and bubble gum, just the latest flavor trend, or are they here to stay? Why are they currently so appealing, at least to Cadbury Adams? Are there other single letter gum brands in the marketplace, or just B S? Lastly, what are some of the legal ramifications of branding single letters for confectioners?
I’ll leave the first two questions for others to chew on — especially marketers, but I’ll take a crack at the second two.
Do Other Single Letter Chewing Gum Brands Exist, or is it Just B S?
Well, apparently it’s not just B S, even for Cadbury Adams, who has actually registered a stylized letter "C" for chewing gum, apparently to reinforce the first letter in the long-lasting Chiclets brand, here and here. Having said that, the specimens on record at the Trademark Office don’t appear to scream "C" — at least to me. Unlike the B and S brands, where these single letters appear front and center, standing alone, the stylized "C" trademark appears quite intertwined with the design elements of the packaging, making it difficult to discern the claimed "C" as a separate trademark.
In case you were wondering, Cadbury’s major competitor Wrigley’s (now part of Mars) currently appears more interested in putting single number brands (namely, the single numeral 5) front and center instead of single letter brands, although it apparently has flirted with more subtle use of a stylized W on the surface of certain gum sticks (consisting of "one or more ‘W’ designs substantially as shown in the drawing" below on the left):
Honestly, I always wondered what those "tire tracks" were on Juicy Fruit gum sticks.
Anyway, soon we may see how broadly Wrigley’s views its scope of rights in "W" since the Walgreens’ stylized W mark (shown above on the right) is set to publish for opposition next month, and within the long list of intended goods and services is "breath freshener . . . gum" and "smoking cessation . . . chewing gum". So, stay tuned here for more on this point.
Yet, others seem to prefer the combination of a single numeral and a single letter: N-2 and N-4. Indeed, if V-8 vegetable juice ever considers a brand extension into chewing gum (how likely is that?), it will have to contend with the already-registered V6 brand.
Legal Ramifications of Single Letter Brands?
There are a few legal take-aways for single letter brands worth mentioning here:
- Don’t assume you can truncate an existing brand down to a single letter without conducting the necessary trademark due diligence;
- Designing a highly stylized first letter in a brand name (that is styled differently from the remaining letters in the name) may permit the owner to obtain a separate federal trademark registration covering the highly stylized single letter by itself (as Cadbury Adams did with the stylized B in Bubblicious some five years ago), even though — at the time — it is only used as the first letter in the brand name (as was the case for Bubblicious);
- Utilizing the strategy in (2) above may help facilitate and protect the possibility of later pursuing a migration of the single letter from the brand name (as Cadbury Adams did with B Bursts years after filing for B), and then to a stand alone, front and center, fully-truncated single letter brand, as depicted above;
- Taking a more gradual approach toward truncation and migration might help reduce risk of a conflict, especially in a crowded field, assuming it is pursued along with the design and registration strategy in (2) above; and
- The scope of rights in a single letter brand will be impacted by third party uses of the same letter: The more crowded the field, the narrower the scope.
So, to illustrate the due diligence concern stated above in (1), if Trident decides to truncate itself to T, it may have to contend with this T and that T (stylized). And, if Gatorade Gum returns to the scene, it may have to consider G & Design, G-1, at least, before assuming it automatically may truncate to G for chewing gum.
With respect to scope of rights, apparently, Cadbury Adam’s Bubblicious beat Bubble Yum, Big League Chew, and Bazooka in truncating to B, but Cadbury Adam’s B, nevertheless, coexists with B-FRESH, and may soon coexist with Grupo Bimbo’s B logo too.
It remains to be seen how many more single letter chewing and bubble gum brands "pop up" and whether any confectioners "expanding" in this direction will "blow it" by migrating or truncating their brands to single letters without doing — in advance — the necessary due diligence. Of course, the timing of the due diligence may unwrap the difference between a successful "no-face-sticking bubble gum" brand from one that leaves a rather sticky mess on your face when it finally bursts.
Before closing, and back to the title of this post for a moment, for anyone wondering whether the use of B S in the title of this post might be a tad too racy, first of all, it is an acronym with many possible meanings, so you’re responsible for the one you decide to apply, but perhaps more importantly, I have confirmed that the Trademark Office readily registers marks consisting of or comprising B.S., so long as it is not spelled out in full as a "profane" or "scandalous" term (as Red Bull apparently attempted to do, here): (1) BS is federally-registered for jewelry and leather goods, (2) I.T. WITHOUT THE B.S. is federally-registered for maintenance and repair of computer networks, (3) BS EVER & Design is federally-registered for steel-wire, (4) BS (stylized) is federally registered for certification services, (5) NO B.S. is federally-registered for a marketing newsletter, (6) B S & Design is federally-registered for a swimming pool drain cover, (7) BS & Design is federally-registered for insurance services, (8) B:S is federally-registered for footwear, (9) NO B.S. was federally-registered for telephone calling card services, (10) B.S. METER was federally-registered for a toy talking telephone, (11) CAN THE B.S. was federally-registered for printed message cards, and (12) a mark consisting of "a stitched letter ‘B’ on the left back pocket and a stitched letter ‘S’ on the right back pocket of a garmet" was approved by the Trademark Office.
Just so you know, even a mark having the words "NO B.S. MORTGAGE, LLC," and depicting a "bull with blue eyes and a gold nose ring holding a roll of white toilet paper and sitting on a white toilet," was not refused registration under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, despite that provision’s prohibition on the registration of marks that consist of or comprise scandalous and immoral matter.