As I’ve been known to do long before now, this past weekend I found myself gazing intently, this time, into the front label and back copy on this S. Pellegrino sparkling natural mineral water bottle:

Putting aside the question of the shiny red star logo, which we already have bloviated about, here, a few years back — my focus is centered on the surrounding Enhance Your Moments tagline.

No gold star for the brand’s failure to capture federally-registered protection for it, despite the obvious association with SanPellegrino, as shown in results of a simple Google search, here.

Another “no gold star” moment that needs a modicum of enhancement would be the back copy:

Why? As you can see, SanPellegrino has taken a perfectly fine, inherently distinctive, and suggestive trademark, and used it in a sentence (without brand emphasis) in a descriptive sense.

Make sense?

– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Summer is in full swing and that means baseball is top of mind for many of us. As a professional name developer, I continue to get a charge from the names of minor league baseball teams. Following up on my previous post on minor league baseball team names here are some controversial team names:

All of these names were controversial when they were introduced. Think about it…who wants to support the El Paso Chihuahuas? However, according to the brand name developer, Jason Klein of Brandiose, being controversial was the intent.

Today these franchises are successful examples of branding with great ticket sales and high merchandise sales.

Obviously, these are fun names and minor league baseball is all about fun. However, the genius in these names is not that they are just fun…the names leverage a bit of history and are familiar to the target audience.

Take the El Paso, TX Chihuahuas as an example. When the name was introduced there was an uproar in the local community about the derogatory nature of the name. Shortly thereafter, articles of support started appearing (such as this one) and the name became a rallying point.

The same thing was true with the Hartford, CT Yard Goats. Yard Goat is a relevant name in Hartford as “yard goat” is railyard slang for the switch engines or terminal tractors that shuttle train cars between different locomotives, and Hartford has a strong rail presence.

In the 19th century the leading industry in the Lehigh Valley was iron production, and therefore the IronPig name makes sense (“pig iron” is the term for the raw iron that gets melted down to make steel).

Using a “safe” name might seem like a good idea, but safe names are generally mainstream names that don’t stand out.

Finally, please recognize that I’m not advocating “alphabet soup” names that seem to be in vogue with startups. If a name has some relevance, but is different enough to be noticed, then it might be worth the risk in the long run!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

When you finally identify a name for your business, product or service, you must conduct proper due diligence to ensure that you have a legal right to use the name. Trademark searches are mandatory and I’d strongly recommend talking to a great trademark attorney. A little upfront time and money can save you a ton of heartache and cash at a later point (if, for example, the name you decide to use is challenged by someone who is already using a similar name).

One of the other things you should do is conduct foreign language checks using native speakers to identify if the name has unfavorable meaning in a foreign language. Even if you do not plan to market in a foreign country, you do not want your name associated with unfavorable meanings. Here are some examples that prove the point:

  • Barf Detergent – In Persian apparently Barf means snow. But can you imagine the conflict in the mind of an English speaker when seeing a detergent called Barf?

  • Vicks – When Vicks was introduced in Germany, somebody forgot that the German pronunciation of “v” is “f” which made their “Vicks” brand name sound like slang for sexual intercourse (the name in German speaking countries is now Wick which translates correctly).
  • Scat Airlines – An airline based in Kazakhstan. Not sure if an English speaker would fly them.

  • Emerdata – This is the reincarnation of Cambridge Analytica. I find great irony in the fact that the name translations in Portuguese and Italian refer to the act of defecation.
  • IKEA – IKEA has a unique naming convention that often leads to translation errors. For example, some product names sounded like sex acts. And in many cases, IKEA names just sound amusing to English speakers:

Perhaps there is an alternative strategy to conducting a disaster check on international translation. What if you actively looked for names that translate well across the major languages of the world? As an example, one of the reasons that Kit Kat is so successful in Japan is the name “Kit Kat” famously translates to “You will surely win.”

“Good Translation” might be an excellent naming strategy!

A couple of years ago, our friend John Welch over at the TTABlog reported about a white color trademark that had acquired distinctiveness, according to a rare precedential TTAB decision:

No, that’s not a roll of toilet paper, it’s a preformed gunpowder charge for use in muzzleloading rifles. And the applied-for mark was described as “the color white applied to gunpowder.”

The application was filed almost five years ago. And after multiple responses over the years to various USPTO refusals, in 2015 the Applicant appealed the lack of acquired distinctiveness.

And, as John reported, the TTAB reversed the lack of distinctiveness refusal, instead being persuaded that Applicant’s look-for advertising and other evidence established distinctiveness:

But, that’s not the end of the story. Turns out there is a relevant utility patent, called White Propellant Compositions, which led to the filing of a weighty 50-page Notice of Opposition.

It spells out in dramatic detail the functionality of the color white for the gunpowder charges, among other grounds for registration refusal, and judgment has been entered against Applicant.

In case you’re wondering, yes, we were privileged to light the match on this one. Word to the wise, never forget the timeless ticking time bomb of functionality. It kills trademarks in its tracks.

Kaboom, but judge for yourself whether the claimed mark is looking more like toilet paper now.

Suspended high above Chelsea Market in New York City are these eye-catching ads for OWYN:

That’s a new brand for me, I’m unsure how to pronounce it (Own, Owen or Oh Win), but OWYN apparently stands for Only What You Need — for dietary supplement protein products that “use nutritious, plant-based ingredients and leave out inflammatory animal products and allergens.”

Meanwhile, another kind of suspension has occured deep within the bowels of the USPTO, where the OWYN federal trademark application is presently suspended, because of a prior-filed pending intent-to-use application for EWYN, covering overlapping goods, including dietary supplements.

Fortunately for OWYN, it had filed an even earlier intent-to-use application for the spelled-out mark OWYN ONLY WHAT YOU NEED, beating the EWYN filing date by six months, giving OWYN the ability/leverage to file a Notice of Opposition against registration of the blocking EWYN application.

Actually though, had the OWYN application been filed when the earlier OWYN ONLY WHAT YOU NEED application was, the suspension and ITU log jam at the USPTO could have been avoided.

As it stands now, the OWYN application is suspended pending the outcome of the prior-filed EWYN application, which in turn is suspended pending the outcome of the opposition against it, which is suspended while the parties attempt to settle the conflict and discuss likelihood of confusion.

In the Opposition, OWYN contends there is likelihood of confusion between EWYN and OWYN ONLY WHAT YOU NEED, which is a bit dangerous to allege. If it loses that argument, it won’t be able to knock out the blocking EWYN application, making it difficult to then convincingly say there is no likelihood of confusion between the more similar OWYN and EWYN marks, for the same goods.

Working backwards, and as a practical matter, unless the parties are able to reach an agreement as to peaceful coexistence, the OWYN application likely will remain suspended unless and until the prior-filed EWYN application is knocked out of the way or otherwise abandoned.

This train of suspensions is a good reminder to file all pertinent intent-to-use applications sooner than later, once a bona fide intention exists to make commercial use of the mark in commerce.

It also illustrates how important intent-to-use application filing dates can be in determining priority, especially when there is a long period of time that elapses before actual use is made.

On a lighter and less technical note, and for any Lord of the Rings fans out there, do any of the marks in this discussion remind you of EOWYN (pronounced A-O-WIN)?

How, if at all, might you rely on the existence of EOWYN to argue either side of the likelihood of confusion argument between EWYN and OWYN?

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Recently, I came across a snappy-looking website with unconventional design for a small consulting company. It’s cleverly done, easy to navigate, and appears to have good information.

I say “appears to have” because there’s one slight problem: it’s challenging to read it. The design motif has small white type on large circles that are color-coded for the different sections. You have to be very motivated to read more than a few paragraphs on some of those circles.

It reminded me of an anecdote related by a writer colleague that occurred at a design staff meeting. The creative head held up a print piece the group had recently produced, and asked, “What’s wrong with this?”

Lots of designers chimed in with thoughts, each of which she dismissed with a “Nope.”

My colleague, who was the only writer in the room and had known right away what the problem was, finally spoke: “You can’t read it.”

“Right!” said the design chief.

Like the website, it was an interesting design and looked good. But as often happens, the designer(s) saw text as simply a design element and failed to remember that the copy needs to be readable, too.

Vampire video falls into a similar trap. It starts out as a good idea for communicating marketing information. But somewhere along the line, both the creative team and the marketers get seduced by the idea itself, and lose sight of the communications objective.

You usually wind up with a really well-produced video that’s interesting and even fun to watch—so much so that the original marketing objective has inadvertently taken a distant second place to the idea.

So how does this happen? Whether we’re predominantly on the visual or the writing side, even the most pragmatic among us chose this career because we love the creative part of the business.

Most marketers do, too. As one once told me, “You guys get to do all the fun stuff.” (Hard to remember that when it’s midnight and you’re still banging away to meet an 8 a.m. deadline.)

When solving communications problems with creative ideas is your stock in trade, it’s no surprise that some of those ideas will sweep you down a very different pathway than the one you set out for. It’s a seduction that we need to be continually on guard against.

Of course, neither showcase design nor vampire video has ever occurred in any of my projects. (Cue the trombones.)

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Awhile ago, I wrote about how casting decisions almost always make someone cranky. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of commercials that speak to the flip side of the crankiness factor.

Creative teams are always on the lookout for ways to connect with the zeitgeist. Most of the time, if you see a “hip” reference in an ad, it’s already gone mainstream and it ain’t hip anymore.

But advertising can move the social needle and get more people to migrate their views from the fringe of the bell curve into the big bulge of it. The more we’re exposed to an idea, circumstances or conditions, the more we tend to accept them as within the norm.

Case in point is the increasing portrayal in advertising of nonconventional families and pairings.

The first time or two some people see this, it can be jarring for them. But for the majority of people, I venture, this reaction fades over time as the imagery becomes part of the mainstream. I think one result is that while an individual’s feeling about, say, mixed-race couples might not change, regularly seeing nonconventional portrayals helps move people closer toward at least tolerance, if not acceptance.

Incidentally, despite the popularity of nonconventional casting in ads, there isn’t some vast coordinated conspiracy at work here, though some may suspect that. The advertising/communications community isn’t monolithic, except in its desire to connect with target audiences and to appear tuned in. That means independently latching on to the latest nifty trend.

So how do you “authentically” ride a social trend? In a word, subtly.

Here’s an example:

Years ago, we did a marketing video that included a planning session in a typical conference room and featured a half-dozen people representing various departments and responsibilities.

One of the actors we cast was a young woman in a wheelchair. The crew made two shots of her delivering her lines; one where the wheelchair was obvious, and the other, where only elements of the chair were visible and not immediately noticeable.

I told the editor to use the second shot.

“But don’t you want people to see that she’s in a wheelchair?” the producer asked.

“Not obviously so,” I replied. “The idea here is for the audience to focus on her and what she’s saying. The power of the wheelchair is that you don’t see it right away, if at all, and that it’s irrelevant to a person’s ability to contribute and be good at the job.”

The point? When nonconventional casting is not the star of the show, advertising can influence attitudes as well as sell product. When you make it the star—”look how hip we are”—you’re more likely to irritate people rather than influence them.

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

A lot of entrepreneurs launch businesses behind a name they developed on their own. I get the fact that the name of the startup is intensely personal for the founders. Also money is tight in a startup and spending money to develop a name and do trademark research on it seems like a “nice to have” versus a “must do.”

But when you think about it, the company/product/service name is the first point of contact for a potential consumer and what could be more important than that?

I won’t suggest that founders abandon any hope of developing the name on their own. I will suggest that at a minimum founders need to get a “second opinion” on the names they develop.

Why is this important? Founders tend to have a very narrow view of the world that revolves around their particular product or service. Most entrepreneurs suffer from the “curse of knowledge” where they know a lot about their topic area and blindly assume that everyone else has a high level of understanding about their product or service.

My favorite example of this is Xobni (pronounced “zob-nee”). The company was founded in 2006 and made software for mobile and email applications. It raised millions of dollars from venture capitalists and was acquired by Yahoo in 2013. After incorporating some of its features into Yahoo Mail, Xobni was shut down. While Xobni disappeared, it remained famous as a prime example of the “curse of insider knowledge.” In other words, the founders developed the name and lived with it on a daily basis, but failed to take into account the fact that most consumers could not relate to the name in any way. The founders of Xobni loved the name because it was inbox spelled backwards. They also assumed that people would fall in love with the name in the same way that they did.

If you are interested in the science behind the “curse of knowledge” you will find more details in my book The Science of Branding which is available on Amazon.com.

There is another reason why founders should get a second opinion on their branding and that is because Google makes you stupid. OK, technically Google doesn’t make you stupid, but it does shield you from diversity. And a lack of diversity in branding will limit the appeal of your product or service.

This phenomenon is described in the book The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think.” The internet was developed as a means for humans to gain a broader view of the world. However, the use of AI by companies such as Google and Facebook is doing exactly the opposite. Because Google and Facebook are driven by advertising revenue, they intentionally provide you with a narrow view of the world because they think that will enhance their revenues. In most cases, people will enjoy their web browsing experience if they are presented with web pages that agree with their view of the world. Over time, you are exposed to highly filtered results that tend to sound familiar because your viewing horizon is limited by your web browsing experience. You will see fewer contrary points of view because Google serves up a world that aligns with your browsing history.

That is precisely why a “second branding opinion” is necessary. When I conduct a name development project I always ensure that I have a diverse panel of freelancers working on a project. I might have an artist, a scientist, a musician, a professional name developer, a pharmacist, and a NY Times best-selling author working on a project. Sometimes the best names come from the most unexpected places!

Entrepreneurs should expand their horizons for branding and at a minimum make sure they get a second opinion on the names for their company/product/service!

Ron, you’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you, don’t you, don’t you — actually, it is, or, let’s say, more about your recent in-actions — still, I hope you enjoy this cute little melody.

By the way, before fully discussing how you walk into a party or onto a yacht, do I detect a hint of apricot in the color of your stylish Likelihood of Confusion garb, might there be a matching scarf?

The week before last, walking through the Minneapolis skyway system, while reading our good friend Ron Coleman’s explanation of “why I let my trademark registration lapse,” I kid you not, a second and more physical spectacle emerged right before my eyes when crossing over 5th Street:

Ron, do I need to connect the dots for you on the striking parallels of the mysterious energy that you generated when you gave away the thing you (once) loved? Like the total eclipse of the sun?

Yes Ron, love you like my own brother, but if you were Dave, I’d help him back on the tracks, and remind him of what less than 12 cents a day buys, for those incontestable and powerful standard-character federally-registered rights over a second ten-year term. Remember, sword and shield.

The decisive inaction in allowing the lapse, reminds me of the forgotten and invisible value of deterrence. And, while I’m on board with much of the irreverent tone you can display from time to time, are you now suggesting that other brand owners turn their circle ®s upside down too?

I won’t put words in your mouth, but are you advocating for unilateral registration disarmament? Even if not, I’m left wondering, are the children or watchful brand owners likely to be confused?

After all, chalking up the original ten year old decision to federally-register your blog’s namesake as a senseless and unnecessary goof, today, because you haven’t (yet) found an occasion to enforce it, requires the omnipresent convergence of 20/20 hindsight and a flawless crystal ball for the future, all in one moment. Again, deterrence my friend, it’s beautiful and invisible.

And, as to the question of vanity, far be it for me to question yours, but isn’t tossing your circle ® in the trash, a little like saying to the world, “look mom, no hands,” after learning to ride a bike, and then daring unwise children, to knock you off? Pun and double-meaning, fully intended.

Now Ron, I know you relish a formidable challenge, like when you went (not to Saratoga), but to Washington, D.C., and your client (not horse), naturally won, the trademark case of the year. But, before leaving the question of vanity though, just wondering, after reading the favorable Tam decision, tell me, did you have one eye in the mirror, as you watched yourself gavotte?

Still Ron, don’t you think the modest investment of less than 12 cents a day is worth putting the USPTO in the position to, and give it, the statutory charge to do your enforcement bidding for you? Don’t you? Even if someone, as you seem to invite, tries something? Don’t you, don’t you?

And here’s an underworld spy question for you Ron, is there no room for the Easy Button, in your commercial litigator’s toolbox, just in case you need it, let’s say, down the road in a few?

Ron, please don’t look at me that way! When you have your hat strategically dipped below one eye, I’m left with the feeling you think I’m either still quite naïve, or full of it, nothing in between.

By the way, have you actually verified that your Likelihood of Confusion® registration never formed a bar to others at the USPTO? There are tools for that, courtesy of Towergate Software.

What we do know for certain is, it will no more, if it ever did. And, if you ever want to avoid the need for a formal opposition at some distant point in the future, if the USPTO doesn’t agree with your assessment that someone had their sights on messing with you, without your ®, you can kiss the Letter of Protest tool goodbye, as this little guy — ™ — doesn’t cut it.

Please let’s be honest Ron, it’s always easier to hang on to something and hold it in your hands than discard it and try to get it back later. I realize you’re feeling confidence in letting it go in this moment, but what if the facts or your mind change down the road?

Dumpster diving is a messy proposition. What the USPTO granted yesterday doesn’t always come as easy, if at all, tomorrow or the next day. As we all know, the USPTO is not impervious to changing its mind on how it views certain things, especially when it comes to judging the line between trademark suggestiveness and descriptiveness.

Who am I to judge your calculation of value? But let’s not forget, Ron we’ve all seen your fancy Likelihood of Confusion branded apparel. By the way, will we see those fancy threads in Seattle? Or, are they about to become a collectors item on eBay?

Let me just say, had you presented your apricot hat in hand in Orlando, and passed it around the room, I’m thinking you’d have collected more than the price of another ten year term, given the enormous and generous contributions you’ve made to our guild over the last few decades.

Ron, don’t get me wrong, I fully realize that you’re where you should be all the time, and I completely admire your sensitivity to the evil constructs of vanity, but I fear that the little voice whispering in your ear has spilled some clouds in your coffee on this one. What about the children who may be watching? Aren’t you concerned about the implication of what you seem to be saying, simply just TM it instead?

Ron, having said all that, I hope we can still be friends, as I have no doubt, there a plenty of others still dreaming that they’d be your partner:

Last, but not least, Ron, will you need reminding that yet another price of purging your vanity is that you’ll need to remove all those fancy trademark registration symbols from your blog?

The parent company of fashion giant Coach found out that there is a lot to a brand name.

Coach’s strategic plan was to expand into a specialty retailer that would branch out beyond the COACH® brand.  To accomplish this strategy, Coach acquired both snazzy shoe company Stuart Weitzman and trendy Kate Spade & Co.

In doing so, Coach wanted to rebrand its parent company to reflect the three distinct brands under the corporate umbrella.  Coach chose the name Tapestry for its parent company.

The public backlash and slight drop in Coach (now Tapestry) stock price was unexpected.  Consumer’s felt that Tapestry sounded “musty” or “old.”  Others were reminded of the Carole King song and were not happy.

Consumers felt better when they were told they would still be able to buy their beloved COACH® bags.

The parent company Tapestry has more impact on the Wall Street shareholders than the individual consumers.  The company explained the origin of the name.  The Tapestry name reflects the long history back to its start in Manhattan in 1941 following the Great Depression and the creativity, craftsmanship, authenticity and inclusivity that the company was founded on.

Coach is not alone in branding a parent company.  Mondelez (formerly known as KRAFT) that owns the Oreos® and Nabisco® brands also received backlash when it unveiled its new name.  Consumers complained that the name Mondelez sounded like a dreadful disease.

With all the acquisitions occurring in the business world, the renaming of parent companies will be a fertile ground for creative agencies to obtain business.

What names do you think would have been less controversial for Coach to have adopted?