Size and prominence of wording on business signs, product labels and hangtags will often emphasize brand signals. Yet, sometimes decisions are made to scream generic names instead.

Never having seen the above shown wacky fresh fruit until recently, my assumption was that Buddha’s Hand represented a clever brand name for a certain type of citron fruit. Nope, generic.

The source-indicating information on the above shown Buddha’s Hand hangtag — the trademark — is barely legible, so I’ll help readers out: Ripe to You represents the above shown brand name.

So, what are the best practices when it comes to marketing commodities over brands and vice versa? The Branding Strategy Insider had an informative take on this topic just yesterday, here.

From my perspective, since brands manifest reputation, relationships and experiences, there must be accountability, and sometimes apologies are needed. Commodities, nope, not so much.

I’m thinking that while Ripe to You apparently is working to create market demand and interest in the unusual Buddha’s Hand fruit, more emphasis on the fruit’s generic name may take priority.

It also stands to reason that as Buddha’s Hand citron fruit becomes as understood as cherry tomatoes, tangelos, and bananas, the thing will speak for itself, and the brand will be paramount.

It’s also important to remember that when work is needed to create demand for a new category of products, attention on a memorable generic name can be as important as the brand name.

Otherwise, a brand owner launching a new category might find itself forever working to avoid the slippery slope of genericide, can you say, Rollerblade, Velcro, Band-Aid, and Peppadew?

Thankfully for Ripe to You, the clever and memorable Budda’s Hand generic name was handed to it on a silver platter, leaving the field wide open to focus on and emphasize its brand name.

I’d love to hear more insights from our extraordinary marketers and designers about when and how to balance the marketing of commodities/brands — when do you lead with Buddha’s Hand?

VirginiaBrandHam

Every once in a while, the word “brand” appearing on product packaging surprises me, because my earlier understanding of the word preceding it spells generic, not brand. Just like the above.

Shopping in Whole Foods this past weekend, the above shown VIRGINIA BRAND designation called out like a neon sign from behind the glass of the meat counter, so I had to capture the image.

When speaking about the risk of trademark genericide, I’ll often refer to nervous trademark types behind the scenes influencing packaging to help educate consumers against a generic meaning.

Some of my favorite examples are Band-Aid® Brand Adhesive Bandages, Kleenex® Brand Tissue, and Jell-O® Brand Gelatin Dessert. We’ve referenced many others in our Genericide Watch.

Yet, there was something different about the VIRGINIA BRAND designation. First, the typical ® federal registration symbol is missing, as most brands worried about becoming generic are federally-registered. What’s more, as much as I love VIRGINIA, the name of a State simply lacks the inherent distinctiveness of the previously mentioned coined words that were made up to serve the specific purpose of serving as trademarks. Coined marks are uniquely susceptible to degeneration through genericide, but inherently generic wording begins and ends there.

To me, Virginia was a type or category of ham, either coming from Virginia or perhaps employing a common type of smoking or curing that originated in Virginia, either way generic, not a brand.

Turns out, VIRGINIA BRAND is a federally-registered trademark for packaged prepared meats, but it appears to be owned by White Packing Co., Inc. of Fredericksburg, Virginia, not Wellshire Farms West of Palm Coast, Florida, the latter trademark owner having used this label specimen to federally-register the WELLSHIRE logo (note the small print indicating MADE IN MARYLAND):

VirginiaBrandLabel

When lots of different and unrelated brands of ham offer Virginia and/or Virginia Brand ham, say Boar’s Head, Sara Lee, Black Bear, Eckrich, can Virginia and/or Virginia Brand really be a brand?

VirginiaBrandHamSpecimen

In other words, if anyone can sell their version of “Virginia Brand” ham, doesn’t that turn the notion of “brand” on its head, or at least on a boar’s head?

Just because someone calls a duck a goose, doesn’t make it a goose, right?

And, in terms of geography, just because someone calls its ham Virginia, doesn’t make it a brand either (especially when it’s made in Maryland or North Carolina).

Let’s just say, I’m more than likely to be confused here. Anyone able to make sense of this brand conundrum? Perhaps an easy job for Dr. Seuss and his famous character Sam-I-Am?

In terms of consequences, might the Virginia Brand federal trademark registration fairly be considered deadwood, suitable for smoking your next Easter Dinner ham?

If you were a Band-Aid brand adhesive bandage, and you were cut, would you protect yourself?

Brent, sorry I couldn’t help myself, I’m still enjoying your Louis Vuitton waffle-maker post.

With that intro, let’s turn another page to the Genericide Watch category, here at DuetsBlog:

In focusing attention on the first item in the list shown above, to the extent Johnson & Johnson were to promote “protective surgical dressing in the form of a bandage” as the generic product name or category of the goods (the generic name listed in the USPTO record), it might be understandable that others generically and mistakenly call them “Band-Aids”  — for example, as captured most recently on this hotel’s listing of complementary commodities.

It would be kind of like using the phrase “boots equipped with longitudinally aligned rollers used for skating and skiing,” instead of the more consumer-friendly and truncated “inline skates.” Yes, we’re talking again about how the Rollerblade brand may have found itself on the watch list too.

But what if you do things right, the brand does the best it can to protect itself from the small, gradual and persistent cuts that can lead to a complete loss of exclusive trademark rights? It appears Johnson & Johnson is focused on the risk, attempting to influence consumer understanding of the brand name by even placing the all-important word “brand” into the generic product description on packaging for Band-Aid branded products and elsewhere:

The brand also promotes use of the even more truncated generic reference “bandages” when touting itself as America’s #1 Bandage Brand.

Now, for all I know, the front desk at the hotel where I recently stayed might have sent up a few Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages, had I cut myself shaving, but I didn’t test the theory. And I’m not sure it would matter in the end, at least for the purposes of our discussion here, since widespread examples like the one depicted above tend to influence the meaning of the word to consumers and probably don’t bode well for the outcome of a Teflon-style trademark genericness survey.

In the end, the majority of relevant consumers’ understanding decides the question of whether a word functions primarily as a brand or primarily as a generic designation, remember my prior discussion about the Kleenex brand?

To our marketing colleagues who might find flattery and branding success in “owning or becoming the category name,” know that there is no ownership possible once this happens. Imagine a day when 3M could label its competing products “NEXCARE Brand Band-Aids” or Medline uses labeling reading: “CURAD Brand Band-Aids.” Would you really want to be the brand manager explaining — at the brand’s funeral — how this death to commodity status helps the brand at that point?

Perhaps this is the most vivid and compelling illustration of why some trademark types refer to the trademark genericide problem as “death by a thousand cuts.”