Guidelines on Proper Trademark Use

It all started here, nearly ten years ago now, with our inaugural DuetsBlog post called Dr. No and the Parade of Horribles. We used a Seth Godin post called Looking for Yes as our launchpad.

The rest is history. Seth revealed himself a fan of the blog on our 4th birthday, what a surprise. He generously has engaged with us since then, weighing in on topics ranging from branding to trademark bullying to Velcro’s fear of trademark genericide, with so much more in between.

Recently, Seth generously agreed to answer the 12 questions below. What should we ask next?


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The Grand Marshal in the Parade of Horribles, at least for some trademark types, is the one who forbids any deviation from the absolute "rule" against using brand names and trademarks as nouns or verbs, a standard "rule" commonly found in trademark use guidelines (only permitting the use of trademarks as adjectives). As I have written

La Mer The Body Creme

Millimeters apart on the label, miles apart in meaning. Yes, a few extra millimeters of blank space can make all the difference in the world for some brands. Especially when the brand name consists of two words, and the typical visual treatment has all letters appearing in identical size and style (all caps), and when compressing the words yields an unintended, unfavorable meaning. Take the above luxury skin care brand owned by La Mer Technology, one of the Estee Lauder companies.

Honestly, I’m not sure how, but a few weeks ago, I came across Felicia Sullivan’s blog post "Covet Fall’s Top 10 Beauty Indulgences" on The Huffington Post, featuring the above product image. I took a double take at the brand name, laughed out loud (initially thinking it was a spoof product), and after realizing it wasn’t, I knew I couldn’t resist writing about it.

Part of my due diligence involved questioning my wife about it, she being far more experienced in these kinds of matters. I was "kindly" informed that "anybody who is anyone" knows La Mer is a coveted luxury skin care brand. Since being educated, I now introduce my wife as anyone, and myself as no one. Ironically, you might say I fit at least one slang definition of "lamer" — "a person who is out of touch with modern fads or trends, esp. one who is unsophisticated." There are other meanings too, that I suspect don’t implicate the target market for $130 an ounce skin care products, or value-priced 16.5 ounce containers at $1,390. Just so you know, I also have come to know that anyone who knows anything about the French language knows La Mer means "the sea".


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It is probably fair to say from my initial Just Verb It? post, the many articles referenced in that post, the substantial panel of commentary to the post, and additional interest in the topic, that at least two truths about “brandverbing” are beyond much, if any, debate: (1) Lawyers (including the International Trademark Association’s guidelines

There is a growing interest and, quite frankly, a dogged persistence among branding professionals to select brand names that have the ability and potential to be “verbed.” This makes trademark attorney types nervous and those of the “Dr. No” variety actually become unglued.

So, why the emphasis or fascination with verbs anyway? The answer apparently can be found in the definition of a verb: “A verb is a doing word (helping, grabbing).” This feature is appealing to marketers. In addition, some argue that “verbing” a brand extends its reach through effective “word of mouth branding.” Some feel so strongly about the marketing benefit they argue that “having the public utter your company name as a verb is like going to heaven without the inconvenience of dying. Getting ‘verbed’ is the ultimate accomplishment for any brand — the marketer’s Shangri-la.”

As marketing maven Seth Godin argued as early as 2005: “Nouns just sit there, inanimate lumps. Verbs are about wants and desires and wishes.” Given that limited binary choice, David Cameron’s recent and thoughtful “Brandverbing Brands” post on his OnBrands Blog, asks a reasonable question: “Wouldn’t you rather have your brand in the latter category?”

I’m wondering and you might be wondering too, what happened to door number three? We’ll get to that, patience.


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