They happen relatively rarely, but I actually saw a car ad spot recently that, while somewhat risky, I found to be very creative and effective.  The spot by BBDO Berlin is called “Offroad,” and it features the Smart Fortwo car.  Check out the English version here.

I have never given Smart cars much credit.   Anytime I see one on the freeway with a semi-truck bearing down on it, I can’t help but think “death trap.”  But by focusing on the car’s benefits and applying some humor about its limits and about other car commercials, the “Offroad” spot actually improved my perception of the Smart car.

I mean, look, they can do wheelies.

And you can trick them out, if you are into that, like this one modified to look like a tank.

After seeing the “Offroad” ad, I became curious about the status of Smart’s trademark registrations.   The use of the term “smart” has been pervasive in trademark filings for several years.  Currently over 10,000(!) active applications and registrations incorporate the popular term “smart,” and marks that incorporate the term are often subject to a refusal or a disclaimer requirement.  The term “smart” has been held to be merely descriptive of goods or services, particularly goods that have an electronic or computer-controlled component.  Surprisingly, Daimler’s SMART mark in standard character form actually registered on the Principal Register in 2006, meaning that the Trademark Office apparently concluded that it was not merely descriptive  (although it took them over 10 years to get the registration).  As originally filed, the application had a broad goods description of “automobiles and their parts,” but this was eventually narrowed to the carefully crafted goods description  “sub-compact automobiles featuring colored exterior body panels which can be changed easily, low fuel consumption, ease of parking, and crash protection comparable to larger cars”.  This somewhat clunky goods description was key to the Trademark Office’s reversal of the refusal of the mark over descriptiveness:  “Applicant’s identification of goods, which emphasizes the small size of the car and exchangeable body panels, suggests a car that would be smart in the ‘smart buy’ sense as opposed to the advanced computer technology sense.”  Certainly the Offroad ad emphasizes the ease of parking of the car to suggest that it is a smart buy.

So what do you think of the ad?  Would you buy a sub-compact automobile?  What do you think about using the term “smart” in branding?