We’ve written quite a bit over the years about the Spectrum of Distinctiveness for trademarks, and the all-important difference between suggestive marks and merely descriptive ones, with only the former being allowed immediate rights based on first use.

Creativity is what separates the power of suggestion from the weakness and limbo of descriptiveness. Remember the floating feather example and all the silly guesses as to what it might suggest? And, those who persist in smashing an otherwise suggestive brand?

One of my favorite local examples of a great suggestive mark is Murray’s famous Silver Butter Knife trademark for steak. With all the long lines for salad places in the skyway system here in Minneapolis, Murray’s appears to have stepped up its advertising campaign.

But, I’m left wondering, is Silver Butter Knife only a trademark? Or, does it not also function as a service mark too? After all, the steak is prepared in the kitchen and then carved at table-side, Murray’s certainly touts the “experience,” which seems to point to the service.

What’s more, in terms of scope of rights, if Silver Butter Knife had also been registered for restaurant services, do you suppose the USPTO might have done some heavy lifting for Murray’s and refused registration of BUTTERKNIFE WINES for wine?

Oh well, either way, it looks like BUTTER brand wine is going to stand in the way of BUTTERKNIFE WINES instead of the USPTO, and perhaps do Murray’s bidding for them.

By the way, would anyone like a serrated knife to cut through all this trademark clutter?

—Aaron Keller, Capsule

How do you feel when you’re being a bit indulgent? Guilty, perhaps. Sometimes it’s just something small, something you can enjoy without too much of an afterthought. The whipped cream atop your favorite coffee house (low fat) drink might be one of those treats. It is for me.

But recently I’ve noticed a few of my frequent locations have started to ask me “with whip?” How do you feel when someone calls out your small guilty pleasure? And then the place that asks four times before you actually get your drink, and then announces it to the entire coffee house when it actually arrives on the counter.

At Capsule, we design experiences. This is an experience I’d like to suggest some fixes for. One: when I don’t order my mocha low fat, always assume I want whip. That’s easy. Two: for my low fat ironic orders, repeat my order back to me and add the whip if I don’t specify it, so all I have to do is say yes. Then, when announcing that my steamy, delicious drink is ready, use my name if you wish, but keep the drink shout out as simple as possible. I’ll feel less guilty, and you’ll have a more loyal consumer: even trade.

There are many moments for a brand to make a memorable impression. The coffee houses who let customers indulge (in small ways) without making us feel guilty will get more visits.

So, whip me please, and make it a good one. Don’t ask me twice.


Dear Coke:

I love you. You are an incredible product. You are the Babe Ruth of soft drinks, the proprietor of the word “cola,” and most of all, the brand of all brands. Your brand is not just bulletproof; it’s indestructible—even from self-inflicted damage.

Interbrand, the global branding giant, recently valued you at 63.3 billion dollars. We’re not talking stimulus money here, but that’s huge. Most brands would be happy with .3 billion dollars.

About a million times a day someone orders a Coke in a restaurant that serves the number two cola and is immediately given an apology, “I’m sorry, is Pepsi OK?” You have your closest competitor, a major brand in its own right, constantly admitting that they are not you. Have you ever heard somebody order a “Rum and Pepsi?” I haven’t.

You guys redesigned Santa Claus, for crying out loud.


Years ago, your name became slang for a dangerous drug. But who cares? Heck, you once had a bit of it in your formula, right? For some brands it would be a death sentence; for you, it’s a cool factoid of your heritage.

And that secret formula story is downright mythic. Created by Dr. Pemberton in 1886–only two people have it and each knows only half. One guy has it committed to memory and the other spent the last eight years in an undisclosed location with Dick Cheney shooting Pepsi cans off fence posts. Ok, that’s a stretch.

You are so beloved by your customers that you have survived 100 years of changing tastes, cultural upheaval, and most famously, shooting yourself in both feet by introducing New Coke and dumping your flagship product. Did customers go running to a competitor and tank your sales, as happened to Tropicana this year for nothing more than a package change? No, they simply demanded in various levels of outrage that you bring it back. And you did.

Now that’s brand LOYALTY.

(A brand tangent: Which was worse: Vista or New Coke? Hard to say, but Coke just said, “Oops, my bad!” and moved on. Microsoft refused to back down and helped Apple grow.)

Branding briefs have leaked out from Coca Cola’s global headquarters in Atlanta (the city where the very first Coke was sold) stating that Coke should be positioned as the essence of life, an indivisible part of living fabulously. (Current slogan: “Open Happiness”) Coke is a global symbol of America, the most exported element of our culture, a fixture in hundreds of countries around the world.


And yet… And yet, as a brand you are terrifically hard to learn from. Mere mortal brands must worry constantly about their customers’ changing tastes and fickle loyalties. Coke? Not so much. I’m not saying you don’t market your cans off, but you’re so ubiquitous, so everywhere and everything, that it’s pretty hard to emulate your success. Sometimes it seems like you can afford to sponsor every sporting event on earth. Where’s the lesson in that?

Here’s what marketers can take home along with an ice cold six pack of cola heaven:

Coke is remarkably consistent. They haven’t meaningfully changed their Coca Cola name or logo in well over 100 years. (The original design was handwritten by Dr. Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, in 1886. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.) They own the colors red and white and stick with them. (They recast Santa in their colors for a promotion in the 1930s that became the standard vision of the jolly old elf.) Coke owns and leverages the most famous package trademark ever—the Coke bottle. What does a Pepsi bottle look like?

Coke is a leader and acts like one. They execute a lot of marketing elements very well, from aggressive advertising and promotion, to highly effective distribution, to pairing themselves with other wholesome leading brands like McDonalds, NASCAR, American Idol and the Olympics. And Coke knows its brand story. Visit their web site and they’ll tell you. Click on a link and they’ll have their customers tell you. They keep their brand story alive and well and linked to American life in good times or bad. Coke keeps us going. It’s always the right time for a Coke.


Yes, Coke, I brand-love you. You have elevated your brand of sugar water to the status of cultural icon, yet I can fill up anytime I want for less than a buck. You are the amazing, infallible super-brand. In fact, you said it best with your slogan from many years ago, and it’s still true today: Coke is it.

—Dave Taylor, Taylor Brand Group



Every Sunday I go through the circulars in the paper looking for new products. I usually spend a lot of time with the ads from the national drug store chains (Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid). Recently, I observed that each chain seems to have a radically different philosophy on store brand naming. And while this observation isn’t earth shattering, it exposes the marketing strategies (or lack thereof) of each chain.

For example, check out the allergy section. The big brand names like Benadryl®, Claritin® and Zyrtec® all have store brand/private label competition. Walgreens naming protocol for its store brand is pretty straightforward and seems to be designed to help a consumer find the Walgreens knockoff of the branded product. You can buy Wal-dryl, Wal-itin, and Wal-zyr, and the packaging is color coded to make it easier.  This is a very consistent strategy that is designed to make life easier for the consumer and also designed to build the “Wal-“ prefix as a brand.

          Non-Drowsy 24 Hour Allergy,Tablets          


At CVS, you have to be a well-informed consumer or a doctor to get it right because CVS attempts to align symptoms with branding. For example, the CVS version of Benadryl is called Allergy, while the CVS version of Claritin is called Non-Drowsy Allergy Relief (non-drowsy being a key benefit of the active ingredient in Claritin), and the Zyrtec knockoff product is called Indoor/Outdoor Allergy Relief (Zyrtec is the only brand with indoor/outdoor allergy claims).


Continue Reading Naming the Store Brand

Hopefully you enjoy riddles. It is late Sunday afternoon, 4:30 pm to be exact. Too early for valet parking at Fogo de Chao, a wonderful Brazilian steakhouse, so you drive two blocks and enter a parking lot with the following sign:

You had a very nice dinner and now you’re ready to leave the parking lot at 6:15 pm. Based on the above sign (and contract, by the way), how much do you owe the parking attendant? Instead of humming the Jeopardy thinking music theme song, might I suggest you consider humming the 1970 Five Man Electrical Band tune “Signs” during your calculation. And for any ’70s challenged folk, I’ll prime the pump for you: “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind, do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

Continue Reading Are Your Business Signs and Brand on the Same Page?