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?

Love the simplicity and honesty of this sign, captured on vacation, in a cozy crepe spot (had to get out of my chair and walk across the dining room to read the smaller print, well worth the steps):

LessisMore

As Seth recently noted, there can be room for improvement when it comes to making signs (we have too), and he further notes, depending on your approach, it is possible and can be best to have more and less (although not of the same things).

As a late and gentle kick-off for the New Year, and after a long weekend of some pretty amazing NFL football games, here are a few additional thoughts about more and less (no particular order):

Less Single Letter Brands, Especially When it Comes to Equis:

MaxDosEquis

(Photo Credit and Hat Tip to Maxwell)

More Showing, Less Telling:

Especially With Effective Non-Verbal Brand Signals:

StarbucksSirenLogo

“Show, don’t tell . . . . the value of design.”

More Naming of Distinctive Product Design Features:

LexusSpindleGrille

Less Unnecessary Touting of Function Over Form

 More Creative Signs That Move Us to Be Better and Engage More

Less Pavlov in Your Hands, Especially During Meals:

Calypso

More Creative Wifi Passwords:

CalypsoWifi

(Calypso Grill Photo Credits and Hat Tip to Maxwell)

Here’s to all of us having more amazing collaborations, connections, and relationships in 2017.

Brand signals have been described as meaning vessels before, and vessels of trust too. Does that make a branded product package, container, or configuration a vessel within vessel?

The tin cans below that have been recycled and transformed (as seen in the image I captured at the Minnesota State Fair), were most likely once brand vessels within vessels, but now, there is no trace left to the variety of brands that once adorned these physical vessels:

RecycledTinCans

No one of sane mind would question this vendor’s legal right to strip all brand recognition from these physical vessels and give them new life as creative hanging planters.

And, it also seems unlikely anyone would question Coca-Cola’s legal right to stop a vendor who refills a branded Coke bottle with something other than Coke, passing it off as genuine Coke.

But, the recognition of truth at these two extremes, brings me back to my post that rode the holiday weekend, questioning the level of control a brand owner has in controlling its branded packaging and containers downstream:

FireballCandle

RollingRockNightLight

What do you think, are the branded candles and nightlights closer to the Coke example than the tin can example? I think very much so, notwithstanding the reference on Candles by Brandles website to “recycled bottles.

What do you think, where do you draw the line of where the brand owner loses control, if ever?

Does your answer to the question hinge on the difficulty the brand owner has created in another removing all traces of the brand from the container, i.e., removing a paper label from a tin can, or grinding a glass bottle to remove the Coca-Cola logo?

Actually, the Coca-Cola bottle is a bad example, or perhaps a great example to illustrate another point, the contour of the Coke bottle, is a trademark itself, and it cannot be ground out or removed without destroying the bottle.

There is no point to spending money on advertising if those experiencing it don’t understand who’s communicating about what brand, right?

So, as drivers quickly pass by this attractive roadside billboard sign, how do they know who put out the ad? There must be a brand signature, right?

Certainly there can be no signature or source-identifying quality in the largest and most visible word, especially since it is entirely lower case, laudatory, and purely descriptive: delicious.

One has to strain while studying or staring at the sign to notice the smallest and most complete depiction of the brand that is responsible for this elegant ad: Coca-Cola.

Assuming typical passers by don’t study this billboard as if it were a work of art displayed in a gallery (like I do), and further assuming they don’t notice the miniature Coca-Cola reference in barely legible script, do they know the famous Coca-Cola brand is behind the ad because of: (1) the particular shade of red dominating the ad, (2) the three and a half incomplete letters in white script on a red beverage label, (3) the contour of the beverage container chilling on ice, or (4) some or all of the above?

Another page from the well-executed chapter called “Bits and Pieces of Brands = Trademarks?”

In answer to my question about the brand psychology behind using bits and pieces of brands to communicate, one of the designers who I trust a lot explained it is more evocative and romantic, but what do others think?

OfficeMax has been sporting its friendly and colorful rubber band ball brand signal on billboard advertising and delivery trucks for some time, but yesterday is the first time I’ve noticed prominent static use of the bouncy rubber band ball as a non-verbal logo on storefront signage positioned next to the OfficeMax brand name (like the Bullseye to the left of the Target name):

OfficeMax has registered a colorless version of the rubber band ball symbol that appears to match the exact layering of the rubber bands appearing in the static logo, and the description of the mark appears to enjoy enormous breadth (“the mark consists of a ball formed of a plurality of rubber bands”):

So, it appears that third parties who might adopt a different layering pattern and/or color scheme would still have a significant problem.

While the breadth associated with a colorless registration is attractive, if it were coupled with an additional registration capturing the color scheme embodied in the logo, both goals of breadth and specificity would be served to an even greater competitive advantage.

Yet, this leaves me with more than a few questions for our beloved and dear readers.

Marketing Types: Will, could, or should the rubber band ball ever stand alone as a non-verbal brand?

Trademark Types: Is the exact layering of the rubber bands forming the ball critical to maintain use of the mark as registered, or do the different versions appearing on delivery trucks support use of the registered mark too? Might this be another example of a “fluid” trademark? If so, we may want to re-name the category “elastic” trademarks. And, why wouldn’t it be considered a “phantom” mark?

Never heard of a “fluid” trademark before? Then check out Rob Litowitz’s account on Kelly IP’s brand new law firm blog, here.

In this edition of AlphaWatch, it appears another major brand owner is flirting with truncation and wants to be g too (of course, not to be confused with G2 or even G for that matter), despite the fact that the products associated with each brand might be considered complementary (assuming you’re looking to break a sweat):

So, guess who appears to be working on developing their own family or series of lil’ g marks (of course, not to be confused with another’s G Series)? Visual answer below the jump:

Continue Reading GeeWhiz: Another Edition of Trademark AlphaWatch

Brands communicate with the world through a series of message delivery systems such as broadcast advertising, web sites, company representatives and product interaction. These systems utilize brand signals to communicate. While these signals commonly take the form of brand names and logos, they can also extend into sight, sound, touch, taste, smell or even action such as a brand ritual.

Brand signals are far more than an aesthetic veneer. They turn abstract meaning into tangible cues, allowing consumers to better navigate the marketplace. Functioning as vessels, these signals carry learned and associative meaning. That meaning is often instilled by the brand owner and further enhanced by the audience. The connotation of a brand signal evolves over time, as either the brand owner or its audience fills the vessel with new meaning that displaces the original. Take for example, two well know brand signals that once represented something very different than they do today, the ENRON name and logo. The original meaning was displaced by consumers’ new understanding of “ENRON.”

The most effective brands use a wide array of signals to manage consumers’ expectations. Many of these are co-authored by the brand owner and its audience. These signals communicate on multiple levels: Specifically and Categorically, Individually and Collectively.

Specifically and Categorically
When a signal is specific to a given brand, it directly equates to that brand: The names McDonald’s and Big Mac directly equate to the McDonald’s brand as do the golden arches and Ronald McDonald. Yet, we also recognize brand signals by category. These signals indicate brands by type. We relate the yellow and red color scheme to the fast food/burger category. Have you ever noticed how McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s all share the same color scheme? Coincidence? McDonald’s (first to market) established the color scheme that has defined the fast food burger joint category for generations.

Individually and Collectively
Some brand signals carry enough meaning to hold up individually such as a company’s name, its logo or even an iconic shape. Such is the case with Coca-Cola’s “contour bottle.” With its distinctive curves, it is one of the most recognized icons in the world. Designed so it could be identified in the dark and shaped so that, even if broken, it is identifiable at a glance; the unique bottle design ensures that Coca-Cola is never confused with competitors.

Other brand signals work collectively. A slice of lime on its own says nothing. However, when it adorns the neck of a clear beer bottle, the lime says Corona! Add a tropical beach and it screams!

Of course, individual signals can contribute to the collective, and categorical signals can contribute to the specific. Be they specific or categorical, individual or collective, not all brand signals are created intentionally. Many are associated with or equated to the brand over time. These signals are of no less value than those which are developed intentionally by the brand owner. The Corona lime ritual was not created by Corona, but rather a California bartender who, in 1981, made a bet with his buddy that he could start a trend. Corona might not have started the lime ritual, they may not own it legally, but they benefit from this well know brand signal.

Your own brand likely has signals that extend beyond its name and logo. By identifying and refining these signals, your brand can begin to own these mental cues to build a more engaging brand experience with your audience.

Mark Gallagher, Brand Expressionist® at Blackcoffee®.