One of my passions is to find common and favorable ground between legal and marketing types.

One of the readings during week three of Seth Godin’s intensive altMBA workshop reminded me of a great example to illustrate how a valid marketing goal can align with strong legal protection.

An excerpt from Seth’s All Marketers are Liars book was part of the reading material for a project on How Organizations Change, and this portion of that excerpt made me think of trademark types:

Great stories are subtle. Surprisingly, the less a marketer spells out, the more powerful the story becomes. Talented marketers understand that the prospect is ultimately telling himself the lie, so allowing him (and the rest of the target audience) to draw his own conclusions is far more effective than just announcing the punchline.”

Trademark types can learn a valuable lesson here about the protection of traditional trademarks: Subtlety can yield immediately protectable, inherently distinctive and inherently strong marks.

We’re talking about the difference between suggestive marks on the one hand, the favored hand, and descriptive marks or generic terms on the other hand, the less favored trademark hand.

Let’s keep in mind though, when we’re operating in the realm of non-traditional marks, subtlety may not be your friend, as the story told there needs to be far more blunt, direct and obvious to build and enjoy trademark rights.

In searching our vast content on DuetsBlog, I’m reminded of something similar I wrote more than seven years ago now, and I’m not sure I can say it any better now, so here it is, again:

“We have spoken and written about not “hitting the consumer over the head” in the context of naming and placement on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness, instead, encouraging the use of suggestive as opposed to descriptive names and marks, but, let us not forget, there is a trademark paradox that does appear to reward use of a blunt instrument, called look-for advertising, at least when it comes to developing trademark rights in certain non-traditional marks.”

So, some subtle stories told in a name can make powerful trademarks with a broad scope of immediate protection. And, some will still require the help of an obvious and blunt instrument.

The key is knowing the difference and when each approach is required. My fear is that the USPTO’s growing obsession with failure to function refusals (here, here, and here) and mere information refusals will begin to spill more prominently into traditional trademarks?

Does anyone else see this happening before their very eyes?

In other words, to please the USPTO, are we needing to move toward being more blunt about whether even a traditional word mark is actually designed to perform as a trademark?

Let’s hope not.

Oh, and by the way, I was speaking above with subtlety about being past the half-way point (the dip) in Seth’s altMBA workshop, so I’ll be blunt now, it is amazing, it is transformative, do it!

For those of you who have been with us since the beginning of this wonderful collaboration of legal and marketing types, known as DuetsBlog, you also know we have a mascot dubbed Duey — he’s depicted in the squirrel graphic at the top of this page. Here is his story, as told by Aaron Keller on behalf of his creative team at Capsule, who brought Duey to life.

Unsurprisingly, Duey is all about protecting his nuts and the nuts of those he cares deeply about, especially those of the clients he steadfastly protects. We have embraced the graphic as a nice metaphor of what we’re best at, but we’ve only told the complete story once before, as Duey is a relatively shy little guy, and actually we prefer to see the subtlety of the graphic communicate a metaphor instead of hitting our gifted readers over the head with a coarse tagline.

More to that delicate point, spending the week in Las Vegas — the city that knows no such thing as subtlety and proud home of the SHOT Show 2015 — has unearthed lots of blog fodder, so here’s the first we’ll share:

The harshly worded tagline reminds me of a topic we have talked about more than a few times here: The art of subtlety as compared to “hitting the consumer over the head” with an idea.

Subtlety is more often rewarded in the world of predicting the existence and scope of trademark rights, that’s one reason we favor suggestive over descriptive trademarks, and we have reminded marketing types to avoid the D-word at all cost.

Perhaps the one time when subtlety should be discarded is when you’re operating in the world of non-traditional trademarks, given the benefits of using overt “look-for” advertising.

By the way Duey, is coming up on his sixth birthday March 5th, right on the heels of his golden birthday celebration last year, any ideas on what he might enjoy doing this year?

Seth Godin seems to suggest the most important element of a slogan is living up to the inherent promise in it — the underlying story of the brand.

I suppose that is hard to dispute; a catchy set of words that isn’t true to the brand doesn’t help, instead the noticeable disconnect probably hurts the brand.

At the same time, I wouldn’t want to underestimate how much value a truly creative slogan adds to a brand, assuming it speaks the truth.

Nick Olson demonstrated this so nicely when he assessed the poetic devices used by Apple and others in successful slogans.

So, what is your favorite slogan of all time, and why?

And from the perspective of a trademark type, don’t forget, the law tends to reward creativity and subtlety more than it does clear and direct descriptions, with a few exceptions. In other words, better to show than tell, in most cases.

As for me, Nike’s “Just Do It” call to action, is hard to beat, or is that more of a tagline, or can it be both tagline and slogan at the same time?

Marketing types, help wanted here please.

Seth Godin’s recent post entitled Subtlety, deconstructed, struck a chord with me, and should strike a chord with all trademark types and the brand owners they represent. Here is my favorite excerpt:

Subtle design and messaging challenge the user to make her own connections instead of spelling out every detail. Connections we make are more powerful than connections made for us. If Amazon and Zappos had been called "reallybigbookstore.com" and "tonsofshoes.com" it might have made some early investors happy, but they would have built little of value.

As you may recall, I have been tough on Seth Godin’s trademark advice in the past, but I couldn’t agree more with his view set forth above on naming and building powerful consumer connections and a resulting asset of significant value, by utilizing subtle design and messaging.

We have spoken and written about not "hitting the consumer over the head" in the context of naming and placement on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness, instead, encouraging the use of suggestive as opposed to descriptive names and marks, but, let us not forget, there is a trademark paradox that does appear to reward use of a blunt instrument, called look-for advertising, at least when it comes to developing trademark rights in certain non-traditional marks.