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When is a ballpark frank a ball park BRAND frank?

Posted in Almost Advice, Articles, Branding, Food, Genericide, Loss of Rights, Marketing, Trademarks, USPTO

Do you suppose the author of this article knows that Ball Park is a federally-registered brand name and trademark, not an unprotectable generic term synonymous with hot dogs and frankfurters? The growing prevalence of lower-case brand styles and visual identity has complicated the answer to this question a bit, I suspect. Nevertheless, we should probably chalk up another example for the genericide watch.

This interesting hot dog story from Southwest Airline’s Spirit magazine caught my eye this past month, for obvious reasons, as a trademark type. And, I suspect the legal team over at Sara Lee Foods who is responsible for the protection of the more than fifty-year old Ball Park brand and trademark cringe when they see this kind of misuse. But, I’m also guessing at least some marketing types would view this kind of “free publicity” as marketing nirvana without serious regard to the risk of trademark genericide.

Actually, this kind of media misuse is not too surprising when the brand owner adopts an all lower case style. It appears this visual identity change began for Ball Park, at least as early as April 2000, although the amendment to the original all capital letter rendition of the mark was not filed until April 2004), as shown here in the oldest registration existing for this mark (note the defensive “brand” reference built right into the amended mark): 

If you’re going to go all lower case, it’s probably a good idea to add the brand reference to the mark, but for a mark like this, it is still a risky experiment, at least from a legal point of view, since the lower case style probably encourages the kind of misuse shown in the Spirit article and also tends to confirm the questions about whether the words actually function more as a brand or more as a generic category term that is free for any competitor to use.

It is worth remembering that it is the understanding of the majority of the relevant consuming public that decides the brand/generic question, so the importance of properly educating the consuming public cannot be stressed enough.

Perhaps all this helps explain the more recent move by Sara Lee to the use of leading capital letters in the current Ball Park logo:

Putting on my consumer hat for a moment, I actually like the look and feel of the safer option anyway, don’t you?