A couple of months ago I blogged about Branding Exclamations!

Before that I blogged about Increasingly Intense Ellipsis Branding . . . .

Now, it appears I must revisit the subject of punctuation mark branding given Cadbury Adams’ new Mega Mystery Stride brand gum, prominently featuring a question mark logo on the packaging where the S logo normally appears.

The mystery apparently surrounds the presently undisclosed flavor of the gum. The unknown flavor appears to be part of Stride’s claimed Ridiculously Long Lasting Gum, not to be confused, of course, with Wrigley’s Curiously Strong mints and gum (Altoids).

Anyway, my daughter brought a pack of the ? gum home and said, "Daddy, you should blog about this," so now you know the inspiration for my curiously strong or ridiculously long attention to this subject.

I fully expected to find a pending trademark application filed by Cadbury Adams for the "?" symbol, given its ridiculously flavorful interest in single letter chewing gum brands. To my surprise, however, I found none, at least yet.

As you might have imagined, I did find some "?" trademarks of others, as shown below. Do you recognize any of them? Each "?" image is linked to the corresponding trademark record at the U.S. Trademark Office.

 Mark Image Mark Image Mark Image Mark Image Mark Image Mark Image   

Turns out, there is a ? trademark battle heating up too. Not in the world of confections, but rather in the world of fashion. Just days ago, Guess IP Holder L.P., owner of the famous Guess brand, filed a Trademark Opposition against one of the above Question Mark logos, guess which one?

It asserted ownership of these federally-registered trademarks:

 Mark Image  

But not any of these, for some reason:

Mark Image Mark Image

To find out, click here for a link to a copy of the Notice of Opposition.

Any more questions?

  • It’s interesting because on another discussion about brands, it’s about McDonald’s asserting its ownership of the prefix “Mc” to almost anything, and in one case they are coming down on a teenager whose surname is McClusky and she is raising money for the Special Olympics via an event called a McFest.
    On this matter, it would seem that you can own original graphical renditions of almost anything, including variations on punctuation symbols. Whether or not this has any real relevance to branding or company identity is up to mature managers and consenting adults.
    As a branding / naming person, I’ve never felt comfortable adding an exclam or a question mark or ellipses to a name. It seems rather trivial and as if we’ve exhausted all the ideas and can’t think of something else and need to tart up the name with something. I agree with others on this site that Yahoo with an exclam, does absolutely nothing. My guess is that it was intended as an emphasis on the thrill that a user gets when one finds something on the web through this service, but you really don’t need to be slavish this stuff. Then you have taglines and whether periods are required. Don’t get me going.

  • Michael, it does make me wonder how powerful punctuation marks are or can be when it comes to branding?

  • Hi Stephen, feel that it’s all about context and desired outcome – vodafone in the UK own speech marks and I will always associate Yahoo with an exclamation mark! Is there a specific brief which coincides with your question? Regards Steve

  • An interesting point. But possibly not a full point. (Sorry!) How literally (sorry again) are we supposed to take this?
    Of course a punctuation mark or letterform, or even a calligraphic swash (or swoosh) can be used as very powerful devices in visual branding. And why not?
    Coca Cola is a good example where we recognise the visual branding (including shape and colour of packaging) before necessarily reading the name, for instance http://www.playtime-magazine.com/2009/02/marie-de-france-is-not-the-old-coke/ and http://www.buyinisrael.com/coca-cola.htm
    It depends what you want to convey. You may also want to play visual tricks with duality of meaning and visual mnemonics. I did it with Swissair’s Swiss Flag logo once, adopting it as a “plus” and invoking the verbal/visual – it became the “plus factor” or “+ factor” which also had positive (again!) connotations with all things Swiss.
    The key is that it should be a visual shorthand.
    Finally, echoing Steven above, it does depend on context: plus, as I keep telling my clients, you shouldn’t judge a logo or branding device in isolation as it rarely appears on its own.
    By the way – a picky note: in your linked blog you refer to an “ellipsis” – which in fact ‚Äì correctly and typographically speaking ‚Äì always three dots (and in fact a specific set character with its own relative fixed set width).
    On a Mac (and possibly a PC) it can be achieved as option; (…)

  • The visual shorthand you mention that branding can provide requires a lot of heavy lifting to have it mean something. This requires a consistent message and repetition to be effective. The use of punctuation marks, converted into a graphical element does provide the added benefit of secondary meaning and can do some of the reinforcing for you. The “@” “&” and “$” are frequent visitors to companies branding efforts because they bring meaning and emotion to the table without the branding.
    There are downfalls to using this kind of branding though. Because they are used as a part of everyday communication and commerce, the company cannot protect the mark from negative association or control the message while it is being used. Also as a part of the public domain, it make is an easier target for other branders to use in their own marketing tools.
    My feeling is that using a punctuation mark as a brand graphic requires commitment and resources to work. If executed properly, it is a great tool. If not, it is another wishy-washy campaign, destine for the wastebasket…waiting to be dusted of but someone else a few years down the road. :)

  • Really? You associate Yahoo! with an exclamation point? I’d be willing to bet you’d be hard-pressed to find three more people who even know they use it. And, even though I’m one of the three, I’ve never understood what it means. As a Yahoo! customer, I find their service a lot less exciting that they clearly hoped I would.
    As far as question marks and ellipsis, they just always seem lazy to me. Sort of like saying, “We couldn’t really figure it out, so we’re hoping you fill in the blank.” What a brand statement!

  • I don’t fully agree Chip, sorry‚Ķ Or rather I would agree in part: yes there are downfalls in using any visual device – and they have to be properly controlled and used both consistently and intelligently. Moreover – and using one of my favourite maxims – “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly or not at all.”
    In other words, what I say presupposes that the job is thoroughly thought out and properly implemented.

  • Chris, you cannot (or rather should not) arbitrarily dismiss such a potential solution out of hand as “lazy”. As I suggested in my reply to Chip (above) any solution needs to be thoroughly thought through. It doesn’t matter either that someone necessarily consciously associates an exclamation mark with Yahoo or not. I’d argue very strongly that it’s still part of its visual recognition and can be almost subliminal. Finally, the mark/device/logo (or whatever you choose to call it) is not the be all and end all in terms of communication, it all depends on context, supporting messages and use.
    It is all too easy to try and over rationalise these things.

  • Do I associate Yahoo! with an exclaimation point? Maybe not. But the graphical treatment of the name along with the exclamation point I am sure elicits some emotion and meaning when seen by me and others. What it is? I can’t tell you. (That might be considered a brand that isn’t messaging properly so that the addition of the “!” does have appropriate and brand associated meaning)
    Michael, Most anything can work if done properly and with enough money/support behind it. The question is one of efficiency, in addition to effectivness. Are the benefits of incorporating a pucuation mark into the brand worth what it takes to get where you want the brand to be?
    A company like E! Entertainment uses the Exclamation point as a part of their brand and seems to do a good job with it.

  • Really enjoying this chain – Chris I associate ! with Yahoo! and you don’t, why? Might be where I live, what I remember, how I decode, where they advertise, who I chose to be my ISP, my love of the colour purple and so on. Do I believe that they deserve the !, no, so I’m with Melanie on this one – WhatIf certainly do.
    Michael, Chip and I have discussed context, I would balance that with the objective – what reaction are you looking for, how will it reinforce my brand promise, will it differentiate me against the competitive set?

  • I stand corrected. Clearly there are at least three people who associate the exclamation mark with Yahoo!
    That said, I absolutely agree with those who have pointed out that any brand–with or without punctuation–still needs advertising support for the messaging and mark. And I am further convinced by your comments, that it has to make sense for the overall brand message. Good points all!

  • We have been conditioned to interpret a punctuation mark as an “emotion”.
    Since “we think with our heads, but decide with our hearts”, the emotive power of the punctuation mark with the brand name has the potential to “pre-dispose” us (positively or negatively) towards the brand name – even before a “brand image” is formed in our minds. Hence it can be a powerful tool for branding, and subtly influence the adoption or usage of the brand.

  • What a great discussion, thanks all. I am learning a lot here as a lowly trademark type who often wonders what motivates certain branding decisions. I have always been fascinated when brand owners single out and draw attention to non-verbal symbols, in these examples punctuation marks, in their branding efforts as Chips Ahoy! did with the exclamation point (owning it as a separate trademark too) and as Cadbury Adams has done with the question mark in the Mega Mystery gum flavor. The emotional driver that Chip and Datta have mentioned makes sense to me — especially when it is linked to something like E! or Yahoo! or Guess? Fascinating. In my humble opinion, there is definately not any laziness or lack of emotions among this group!