Seeing this Caribou Coffee skyway billboard was a good reminder to me of how much we hear about the importance of transparency in our relationships, including those with brands we love:


It appears that the prevalence of society’s use of the word “transparency” may be at an all time high, where the use of “transparent” has declined somewhat since its high in the mid-1800s.

We’ll leave to the lexicographers and linguists an explanation as to why “the condition of being transparent” is apparently more important nowadays than the root word “transparent.”

Having said that, what’s not to love about transparency, at least when it is synonymous with trust, authenticity, and integrity, as opposed to becoming lipstick service to the idea, an overused buzzword, or meaningless cliche.

Yet, given the popularity of the term, especially in certain business niches, when it comes to owning trademarks and taglines containing the term “transparency,” at least from a trademark perspective, it might be a better idea to consult your handy thesaurus, and look for a far less-used and more distinctive term with similar meaning: Limpid, Pellucid, and Perspicuous.

To illustrate the point, what might be the scope of rights associated with this federally-registered service mark for TRANSPARENCY in connection with medical services, especially when it coexists with a federal service mark registration for TRANSPARENT HEALTH, not to mention this multitude of references on Google?

And, when it comes to non-traditional trademarks, such as product packaging and trade dress, let’s not forget what implementing the idea of transparency might bring, when the brand owner is too obvious about it: Functionality and no trademark rights (i.e., when see-through packaging elements are utilized, especially in the food industry).

Could there be a need for balance in not providing “too much information” when consumers don’t really want to watch the sausage being made, yet know it is safe and healthy to eat?

In the end, let us not forget that actions always speak louder than words.

  • Great post professor Baird, it is a fascinating word, transparency. My recent thinking, around the word is focused on human transparency alongside brand transparency. The proliferation of negativity online certainly correlates to the ability to hide behind a pseudonym or codename. Though, in full personal transparency, this comment is motivated by a negative reviewer on our book, with defamatory commentary hiding behind a codename. See here:

    People making negative, emotional and harming actions against other human beings should also consider their own transparency. In other words, if you’re not willing to say it in front of a large crowd with your face and name attached, then maybe you should keep it to yourself.

    Corporate transparency and human transparency go hand in hand; if we expect it of our corporations and brands, we should expect it of our fellow human beings.

    That’s my humble view, from the north loop of Minneapolis. My name and email are attached if you care to disagree. Ironically, this comment is curated by a platform using a name sounding very similar to disguise.

    • stevebaird

      Couldn’t agree more Aaron, and in the interest of full transparency here, we are well aware of the fact that your cup certainly overflows with too many talents and gifts to list here, so a very belated congratulations on your most recent book!