-Martha Engel, Attorney

Several years ago I wrote a post about Selfridges’ “No Noise” campaign, featuring de-branded items from brands like Heinz, Clinique, and Levi’s.  In that post, I asked whether de-branded design would soon become a new trend.

It looks like we might be there at least in theory with Brandless, a startup retailer that, as today’s Wall Street Journal article stated, “is betting it can get American shoppers to break up with big brands from Colgate to Heinz.”

The premise with Brandless is that everything – soap, pasta, and even a pizza cutter – is $3 and everything is labeled with the generic product name.  As they say on their blog, they also “hacked the BrandTax™, the hidden costs you pay for a national brand often associated with production and retailer margin.”

But isn’t Brandless doing arguably the opposite of its name and establishing its own brand?  You can see their smart attempts to cultivate their own brand by the consistent use of a bordered, white, label-like background with a TM next to it.  In addition to filings for their BRANDLESS mark and even BRANDTAX, they also filed an application last month for the following  “white rectangle with rounded edges” mark.

This label-like mark seems like the Gene Simmons “devil horns” trademark equivalent to the packaged good industry.

In a crowded field of online retailers chasing Amazon dreams, can a brand like Brandless break away from the bunch with de-branded products?  Unlike Target’s Up & Up line of private labeled products, consumers have little to no experience or knowledge of the source of these products to confirm their quality.  Will this be a hard sell?  Maybe not if the price of $3 and the consumer engagement is right.