The strategic use of color can make all the difference in the world — particularly the trademark world — when creating the visual identity for a brand, as color can be a very helpful legal tool in communicating the brand’s underlying meaning.
And the meaning of a brand and its trademark, or a portion of its trademark, can have many legal implications, including but not limited to whether the mark is descriptive or suggestive, strong or weak, inherently distinctive or not, whether a disclaimer might be required, whether or not a likelihood of confusion exists, and whether or not there is a valid fair use defense.
Especially when a brand name is composed of compressed or telescoped words, the intended meaning behind a brand name can be lost on consumers without the careful use of color combinations:
Without the benefit of the colored-version of the current PETSMART logo on the left, how would word-of-mouth discussions regarding the brand go, if all one had access to was the black/white version on the right? Would the PETSMART brand name be pronounced as PET SMART, PETS MART, or PETS SMART (the last option being the telescoped version where the compressed mark shares a letter between the two words that form it)? Would the bouncing ball punctuation alone be enough to steer the meaning toward PET SMART and away from the descriptive PETS MART?
The answers to these questions have important legal implications since PETS MART is likely descriptive, weak, and susceptible to the fair use defense, while PET SMART or PETS SMART is likely suggestive, strong, and less susceptible to fair use. So, when the words are compressed, and spacing cannot answer these critical questions, there is a strong legal incentive to clarify for consumers that the elements of the compound mark are PET SMART, not PETS MART, as the coloring shown above accomplishes.
To be sure, the smart use of color is not the only tool available to influence the meaning of a compound word mark. Upper and lower case lettering can help convey valuable information as well. Staying with the PETSMART example, there was a time when the brand’s visual identity looked like this on the company’s website:
Because all the lettering in this depiction of the visual identity is the same color, the smaller size of the "s" between PET and MART probably create a pretty strong argument that the compound mark is PetsMart, not PetSmart. Interestingly, an even earlier treatment of the logo uses the red/blue color combination to communicate the PET SMART meaning, but it is somewhat visually contradicted by the diminutive appearance of the MART element, as shown here.
So, who do you suppose had more influence on the various transitions of the PETSMART logo over time, legal or marketing?
Finally, for a stroll down memory lane on Duets with a couple of other posts from the past, relating to visual identity, see below the jump.
- A poorly executed visual identity can lead to a marketing or name development faux pas, as illustrated by guest-blogger Mark Prus last year.
The spacing between words on a product label can have a profound impact on brand meaning: The difference between LA MER and LAMER in the world of cosmetics.