While filling up my gas tank at our local Costco last week I coudn’t resist capturing this photo of pump signage to ask our dear readers a few pointed questions:

Is there any doubt that the automobile depicted in the Costco advertisement is a Corvette Stingray? If so, HiConsumption should resolve any lingering questions.

How

Absorbing all the television commercials in between football action on the field can be as much fun on Super Bowl Sunday as the actual game itself, at least for trademark and marketing types, especially when your favorite team isn’t even on the field.

One of my personal favorites from this past weekend’s Super

John Reinan, Senior Director at Fast Horse, a Minneapolis marketing agency

I love “orphan” cars — the marques that have gone out of business. Most of them are barely remembered by Baby Boomers, much less anyone younger. Packard, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Willys – these and other automakers often were stylistically and technically more

—Dave Taylor, Taylor Brand Group

In this age of fiercely defended intellectual property, it’s tough developing even a single new product name.  Registered trademarks guard their brand territory in every industry and fence out their competitors. Launching a new product name can take months or years of name generating, testing, and legal process.

Done well, a sound naming strategy can help establish your brand as the high ground in the marketplace battlefield, where it will be aspired to, imitated and competed against by lesser brands struggling to reach the top.

Done poorly, product names can have awkward connotations, comprehension issues, or nagging legal problems that will cause confusion among your prospects and customers, and pay for new furniture in your attorney’s beach house.

Yet amid the difficulty of getting even one product name right, Honda Motors has gracefully created a whole family of product brands that couldn’t have been better if not a single circle R stood in their way. Consider their two most popular models, the Civic and the Accord. Link them together with other successful models, the Prelude, or the Pilot. Ahhh, do you feel it? There is a reassuring promise of peace and harmony that comes from not just one of those names, but all four of them. The Insight, the Fit and even the quirky Element are equally well integrated into the Honda family of pleasant, calming automobile trademarks. Each name has meaning we instantly understand, but in addition they work seamlessly together as a family of brands.


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I’m not talking about brands that say one thing and do another. I’m not talking about brands that don’t live up to their promise. I’m literally talking about brands with two faces. One face may be confident, complicated, technical, professional, and/or formal. Let’s call him, Stephen. The other face might be friendly, simple, approachable, engaging, and/or informal

My trademark antennas automatically rise when I hear about a brand owner announcing plans to trade in one brand for another, as GM recently and surprisingly did with the Chevy nickname (brand and trademark), in favor of the longer and more formal Chevrolet brand name (and trademark). Hat tip to Nils Montan of IPAlly, for spotting

Airbrushing is a familiar technique among advertisers looking to avoid the risk of trademark infringement or dilution liability when branded props of others appear and would otherwise be recognizable. It can work well when removing a traditional visual trademark, i.e., a logo or word mark, because there can be no likelihood of confusion with (or dilution of) a visual mark when the claimed mark cannot be seen.

But what about when a branded prop dominates the ad or the identifiable trademark is another’s product container or package, a single color, trade dress, or perhaps the shape or configuration of the product or prop itself? What is critical for advertisers to appreciate is that when non-traditional trademarks are the subject of the ad and concern, the airbrush and any digital manipulation are less helpful and may be entirely ineffective in erasing trademark liability.

By way of a hypothetical example in the non-alcoholic beverage world, airbrushing the Coca-Cola word mark may not be sufficient to avoid liability, so long as the distinctive Coca-Cola bottle is left intact, say, in a Chevrolet ad. Likewise, by way of another hypothetical example, this time in the alcoholic beverage world, presumably the current owner of the Schlitz brand would object to another’s commercial use of its distinctive Schlitz label even if the Schlitz word mark was airbrushed or otherwise removed.

Now, for a not so hypothetical example concerning Schlitz’ ads, continue reading after the jump.


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