—Alan Bergstrom, Brand Insights

As an occasional contributor to the DuetsBlog, I have pointed out irregularities as well as similarities among brand names and identities.

I recently ran across an interesting case of international “double identity” that has even me scratching my head as to the probability of pure coincidence. For me, it certainly raises questions about possible trademark infringement but, since I am not an attorney, I’ll let you be the judge. At issue is the use of the same brand name by two unrelated companies operating in a similar product/service category, but each on opposite sides of the Atlantic. It gets even more interesting when one brand adopts the exact same slogan as the other in a recently launched advertising campaign.

On the other side of the pond, is the UK-based Nationwide (the short brand name commonly used for Nationwide Building Society), which offers a broad range of financial services products ranging from retail banking, mortgage loans, investments, auto and homeowners insurance, travel insurance, and credit cards. Nationwide has been around since 1846. Building societies were part of a movement to encourage savings and fund home mortgages that had its origins in Great Britain in the late 1880s, and they are in effect, a “mutual”, that is, owned by its members. Nationwide is the world’s largest building society.

On this side of the pond, a Nationwide brand also exists that is totally unrelated in any way to the brand by the same name in the UK. You probably know this brand as primarily an auto and homeowners insurance company, also organized as a “mutual”. It has been around since 1926, but it also sells and distributes financial service products beyond their core insurance portfolio that includes banking, life insurance, retirement and investment products.

If that weren’t strange enough, get ready for the next twist. For several years, the US Nationwide has used the slogan “On Your Side” in conjunction with its logo and has featured it in its advertising, including a new campaign series rolled out about a year ago. You can probably hear the jingle that goes with it in your head as you read this.

Just last month, the UK Nationwide unveiled a “new slogan” and advertising campaign with, yes…you guessed it, “On Your Side”.

As mentioned, I’m not an attorney, but the strong similarities here seem a bit too coincidental. What does international trademark law allow in cases such as this? Is this a case of inadequate due diligence? We’d love to hear your thoughts and arguments on either side of this issue.