For a few months now, the Minneapolis skyway system has been flooded with a variety of fresh, creative, eye-popping advertising to promote Pepsi’s new bubly sparkling water collection:

Although not a lie (the bottles I’ve seen clearly reference Pepsi), you’d never know from this ad or the trademark registration that Pepsi is behind bubly, since an Irish entity located in Bermuda owns the mark.

Thoughts about Pepsi’s line of reasoning for having ownership rest with an Irish entity located in Bermuda? Taxes maybe?

Yet, it is clear the market knows this is a Pepsi launch, wonder what Coke, owner of Tab, thinks?

Sipping a bubbly drink, like sparkling water, necessarily has bubbles, explaining why the USPTO required a disclaimer of the word “bubbly,” even though the mark includes bubly, not bubbly.

Although it might be nice to own a standard character registration for the misspelled and un-disclaimed wording bubly, that hasn’t been attempted, as the misspelling is likely not distinctive.

Holding a word only registration for bubly doesn’t appear possible any time soon, since the double entendre is only apparent from the stylized bubly sparkling water mark, not bubly standing alone.

Double entendre? Yes, the description of the stylized mark notes the “u” in “bubly” is “depicted as a smile,” which ties into the additional meaning of “bubbly” — lively, cheerful and talks a lot.

If the words “bubbly” and “bubly” can’t be owned here, may that inspire a truncation to bub, especially given this pending intent-to-use trademark applications for bub and Bub Sparkling Water?

A recent advertisement caught my ear because it involved financial services offered by a guy named Charles Hughes a/k/a Chuck Hughes and the catchy marketing phrase Trade Like Chuck:

It instantly reminded me of a piece I wrote in 2010 called: Exposing Two-Face Brands. One of the branding truncation examples I wrote about there noted how Charles Schwab exposed a much less formal and more personal and engaging face with the popular Talk to Chuck advertising campaign.

The folks liked it, so Susan Perera and I responded by writing a more in-depth version for Minnesota Business, providing other examples of the trend toward truncation and informality in branding — then, I wrote about Talk to Chuck in yet another version for World Trademark Review:

Apparently the Talk to Chuck campaign was quite successful too. But all good things come to an end, as the campaign was dropped in 2013, in favor of its current tagline: Own Your Tomorrow:

What I wondered was whether Charles Schwab had continued some (even modest) use of the Talk to Chuck tagline — to retain enforceable rights — or whether it simply chucked them out, since Mr. Hughes didn’t seem at all deterred with his apparent introduction of in 2016.

Although there still may be valid use of Talk to Chuck that I’m unaware of, the visible signs all seem to point toward abandonment. The domain name was originally registered back in 2005, yet today, it only redirects to the main Charles Schwab website with no visual Talk to Chuck reinforcement, so that mere redirection, shouldn’t constitute bona fide trademark use.

Perhaps even more importantly, searches for “Talk to Chuck” on the Charles Schwab website yield no results: “There are no results for ‘talk to chuck’.” And, each Talk to Chuck federal registration and application was allowed to expire or become abandoned (here, here, and here).

Why didn’t Schwab see some value in taking steps — even modest ones — to avoid abandonment of its federally-registered rights? Do you suppose Mr. Hughes has Schwab regretting that decision?

What if the web traffic to the Charles Schwab financial services site still had meaningful redirection coming from the domain name, would that help establish lingering goodwill?

In the end, to “own your tomorrow” — from a trademark perspective — even when you’ve moved on to a new tagline, it might pay dividends to develop an intentional plan to avoid abandonment.

Otherwise you might as well roll up those rights into a round little wad of paper, and hurl them to your doggie with one of these federally-registered Chuckit! babies (here, here, and here):

A recent stroll through a big box store opened my eyes to a brand of steel toe boots I hadn’t encountered before, take a look at the CAT that will be protecting my son’s toes this Summer:


CAT is an excellent example of successful trademark truncation, a single-syllable truncated brand name for the four-syllable CATERPILLAR version (originally for heavy excavation equipment):


By the way, I love how the brand intelligently employs both versions (full and truncated) of the brand name on the goods and packaging for the goods. It permits Caterpillar Inc. to own trademark rights in both versions without risking a loss of trademark rights through abandonment when a truncation might otherwise lead to a complete phase out of the longer version.

Caterpillar Inc. also has built an impressive mountain of trademark protection for both word mark and stylized versions in many different classes of goods and services; the brand recently has asserted an impressive scope of rights. It also clearly thought about and began executing a truncation strategy nearly seventy years ago, with this very early CAT registration. Sad we won’t be seeing (again) bikes, trikes, or wagons, at least in the near future, it appears.

To be clear, brand owners should know there is no legal right for a business to be able to truncate a longer brand name, nor can one assume all brand extensions are legally viable.

As we have discussed before, a truncation strategy can make enormous sense, in part, because truncation yields a broader right (if allowed). However, it also can lead to more third party objections since there is necessarily less other matter available to help differentiate from others.

For these reasons and others, it is important for brand owners to jump in with both boots and move on the appropriate level of due diligence, not assume that the path for truncation and/or brand extension is a clear one (without the need for heavy excavation of the existing trademark landscape).

It has been a while since a billboard campaign has caught my interest and attention, but the currently running Absolut Goes Dark ads are an exception worth noting:




Isn’t it interesting — at least in this context — how the simple references to Jack, Johnnie, and Jim, draw an obvious comparison to the distilled spirits brands Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, and Jim Beam? We’ve discussed here before similar fair comparative advertisements — in the context of Vodka brands no less — and brand leader references.

Although the JIM BEAM brand has been federally-registered a very long time, it doesn’t appear the brand has sought protection for the truncated version of its name, JIM.

Same story with JOHNNIE, but not so with Mr. Daniel — he seems to know more than Jack about protecting trademark truncations, having obtained a federal registration for JACK standing alone, more than a decade ago, and he recently used this specimen to keep it active:


Swedish Absolut is not only on a first name basis with these well-known distilled spirit brands, but it also appears to know how to own federally-registered rights in the shape of its bottle:

AbsolutBottleNow, if Absolut were to truncate its name, should it target a low calorie version that allows drinkers to target their Abs? Look what one finds when searching for Abs Vodka . . . .

Ernst & Young, here is to hoping you can take a little joke about your new truncated name, EY:

We’ve written a lot about the potential hazards of brand truncation here, and when one of our talented guest bloggers brings this unfortunate story to our attention, we simply couldn’t resist spilling a little digital ink from our perspective.

According to Wikipedia: “‘Eh (/ˈ/ or /ˈɛ/) is a spoken interjection in English that is similar in meaning to ‘Excuse me,’ ‘Please repeat that’ or ‘huh?'”

EY, I think you catch my drift, eh?

As, Wikipedia also goes on to say: “It is also commonly used as a question tag, i.e., method for inciting a reply, as in ‘It’s nice here, eh?'”

The stated goal of the brand truncation is to “simplify” the Ernst & Young name: “Shortening our name will provide consistency and ease of use for EY practices and clients around the world.”

One of the common problems associated with truncation is the challenge of clearing a smaller version of the name and mark. So, it remains to be seen if moving from the two words, ten letters, and an ampersand in Ernst & Young, to two letters (that happen to be found at the end of lots of words, for example: blarney, baloney, malarkey, hokey, hooey, gooey, dicey, hey, they, obey, prey, money, honey, disobey, and attorney) will result in any trademark conflicts around the globe.

Ernst & Young has a fairly expansive intent-to-use federal trademark and service mark application for EY in multiple classes of goods and services, filed back in May 2013, so it hasn’t been examined yet. As it turns out though, further examination of the USPTO database reveals that Ernst & Young has been flirting with the EY truncation for some time, as evidenced by these prior federal registrations: (1) EY/GEMS, (2) EY/PASSPORT, (3) EY/AWS, (4) EY FINANCIAL PLANNER LINE, and (5) EY FINANCIAL PLANNING CENTER.

Perhaps these prior composite registered marks give Ernst & Young some added comfort that the path is clear for the truncation to EY. It will be interesting to see what dates of first use begin to populate the various classes of services in the pending intent-to-use application, as here in the U.S., it is permitted to submit dates of first use that end up pre-dating the filing date of an intent-to-use application.

Dear readers, any predictions on what will become of the more than two decade old logo, apparently a stylized EY, no less?

Will EY find a way to avoid trademark abandonment of this registered mark, or will it be comfortable relinquishing it to the public domain?

To the extent Ernst & Young has made a practice of branding gold watches or other jewelry as client gifts or retirement bling in the past, now it might need to reconsider.

Here’s a final question to ponder, would Ernst & Young have truncated to EY if .ey was, in fact, the real internet country code top level domain (ccTLD) for “Ekraysia” — or, does Goo.ey know something we don’t?

The letter "W" is an interesting one. Besides being the twenty-third letter in the alphabet, it is the only one having more than one syllable; it has three — unless it is pronounced with two: dub-yah.

It is more than a bit ironic that — as a truncated single-letter brand — W, in most cases, has three times the syllables when spoken, as compared to any other single-letter brand. So, while it may be more visually efficient, it clearly lacks auditory efficiency. 

As to the question posed by the title of this blog post, here are some possible answers:

To the extent any are unfamiliar to you, clicking on the image will reveal the source of the particular W logo.

Notwithstanding the existence of this multitude, Wendy’s would have us believe that adding the word "the" — definite article in the English language — yields the only true W (albeit unregistered):

Apparently I’m not the only skeptic to wonder about the scope of rights associated with single-letter "W" marks, only a week ago Gallagher Blogs wrote on the subject, apparently inspired by University of Washington’s "W Day" celebration of the University’s 150th anniversary.

By the way, when do you suppose the world’s largest retailer will truncate to W?

UPDATE: Thanks, Leslie, Wegman’s is a little outside of my shopping area, but you must be speaking of this:

We have been following the truncation trend to single-letter branding symbols for some time now.

Visa appears to be heading in this direction with the relatively new V logo:


Based on trademark filings at the USPTO, it appears Visa began using this single-letter V logo by itself back in 2008 with the launch of a mobile app, but it also appears now that "Visa will no longer support the Visa Mobile Application as of September 23, 2011."

Another bit of interesting news, Visa was able to federally register the single-letter V logo, claiming an even earlier first use date, going back to 2006, two years before it appears to have begun using the V logo standing alone or separate and apart from this entire Visa logo:

Yes, that’s right, the specimen of use submitted with the Statement of Use supporting U.S. Reg. No. 3,446,502 shows no use of the V logo other than as part of the VISA logo shown above, so the Examining Attorney must have been persuaded that the yellow/gold accent on the leading V in the VISA logo was sufficient for the stylized letter V to create a separate and distinct commercial impression from the word VISA.

But that’s not all, now that Visa has fully embraced the truncation from VISA to V, it appears to be flirting with the brandverb trend as well with the new branded digital wallet service to compete with PayPal, as noted by William Lozito over at Name Wire, the product naming blog.

Trademark types, do you agree that the single stylized letter V in VISA stands on its own?

Marketing types, do you think the branding will become a successful form of brandverbing?

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 — perhaps, identified by a nickname or some other form of truncation. Meet Steve.

A couple of months ago I blogged about the clear trend toward truncation and informality in branding (Coca-Cola and Coke, Gatorade and G, Bubblicious and B, Stride and SFederal Express and Fedex, Radio Shack and The Shack, Pizza Hut and The Hut, Vanderbilt and Vandy, Villanova and Nova), with at least one exception being General Motors, ahem, GM and its apparent interest in bucking that trend by moving away from the less formal two-syllable Chevy name and brand in favor of the more formal three-syllable Chevrolet name and brand.

Similarly, McDonalds’ current billboard ad campaign confirms that the fast food giant prefers formality, i.e., Joseph over Joe, at least when it comes to selling its premium roast coffee in competition with the likes of Starbucks and Caribou Coffee:


And, while I can’t specifically recall the name of the advertiser and educational institution, moving in a similar direction, I do recall a recent billboard ad campaign in the Twin Cities metro area, where the college or university in question seemed to suggest that an entering student named Kate will acquire the tools to transform herself into Katherine upon graduation. So, I guess that’s an improvement and worth the investment of time and money?

Meanwhile, Charles Schwab is now a.k.a Chuck:

Just wondering, had Charles Schwab started business as Chuck Schwab, would the financial giant be what it is today? Seems to me, at least in the financial services sector, starting formal and moving informal is an easier branding path than traveling in the opposite direction.

As I recall, and on a somewhat related note, earlier this year, Guest Blogger Anthony Shore of Operative Words, wrote about the naming pendulum swinging away from arbitrary names and back toward brand names having an honest, straightforward, and even humble quality, in Truth is Stronger Than Fiction. Might those principles be at work here too?

In the end, I suppose that brands, like people, may exhibit either or both faces, formal and informal, depending on their surroundings and the circumstances they encounter at any given point in time. It seems to me, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive faces, as evidenced by the fact that nearly all of the branding truncation examples above did not completely replace the more formal brand name from use, they simply introduced a fresh new second face of the brand. 

My guess, as a trademark type, is that the less formal face of a brand creates an opportunity for creating a stronger emotional connection with consumers, but I’m happy to be corrected by someone who thinks about such things for a living.

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 GM’s Chevy veering toward the levee.

These sorts of announcements can be hazardous because, in my experience, many brand owners fail to appreciate that trademark rights are immediately abandoned when use is stopped with no intention to resume use. Moreover, many marketers fail to appreciate that token use won’t save trademark rights from becoming abandoned.

Putting aside the somewhat complicated issue of "lingering goodwill," once abandonment has occurred, the mark enters the public domain, free for anyone else to adopt, use, and own. For more on trademark abandonment, you might want to check out my prior post entitled Dialing in on Trademark Abandonment.

Having said all that, GM, trademark types, and others can rest easy, with the Chevy "pink slip" debacle, since GM had not even come close to ceasing use of the Chevy trademark when it announced the plan for a brand name overhaul. In addition, it appears that the planned brand name overhaul has now been recalled. Fortunately for GM, an expressed intention to stop using a brand only triggers abandonment once all bona fide use has ceased. GM is so deeply invested in use of the Chevy brand and trademark, it is hard to imagine how long it might take to cease all use, even if it really tried.

So, why the announcement? What’s the point? Why even toy with voluntarily discarding such valuable intellectual property rights? Was it a test to see if anyone cared? If not, why favor three syllables over two anyway?

In a world where there is a clear trend toward truncation and informality (Coca-Cola and Coke, Gatorade and G, Bubblicious and B, Stride and SFederal Express and Fedex, Radio Shack and The Shack, Pizza Hut and The Hut, Vanderbilt and Vandy, Villanova and Nova), one must wonder whether "the good ‘ole boys were drinkin whiskey and rye," when they issued this ill-conceived memo to "Chevy" employees:

Chevrolet Team,

We wanted to write you a quick note requesting your support of our Chevrolet Brand. When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding. Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer. This is a big opportunity for us
moving forward.

As you know, we are investing substantially to improve the consistency of our retail facilities through the EBE process. Aside from the facilities aspect of our branding, there are many other ways in which we can demonstrate this consistency. One way to achieve this is with the use of Chevrolet vs. Chevy. We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward.

We have a proud heritage behind us and a fantastic future ahead of us … speaking to the success of this brand in one consistent manner will ensure Chevrolet becomes even more prominent and recognizable than it already is.

Thank you for your support of this effort!

Alan and Jim

P.S. We put a plastic “Chevy” can down the hall that will accept a quarter every time someone uses “Chevy” rather than Chevrolet! We’ll use the money for a team building activity.

Putting aside the hailstorm of criticism that already has pummeled the memo, to me, brand consistency means GM always spells the Chevrolet brand name the same way, not alternating, for example with this mispelling: Chevrolay. In addition, it means, GM always spells the Chevy brand name the same way, not alternating, for example with these mispellings: Shevy or Chevee. It doesn’t mean a choice is required between Chevrolet and Chevy, they are not mutually exclusive brand names, both can live together, in fact, they can and do complement one another, in my humble opinion, as a multiple Chevy owner and trademark type.

So, while GM’s CHEVY trademark registrations covering goods in Int’l Classes 16, 25, and 28, and the CHEVY TRUCKS registrations covering goods in Int’l Classes 1420, 21, 25, appear undamaged by the memo debacle, what about GM’s intent-to-use trademark application for the CHEVY mark covering goods in Int’l Classes 7, 8, and 9, wherein an extension of time to file a Statement of Use was filed on June 7, 2010, just a few days before the Chevy memo published? Let’s just say that if there was no bona fide intent to use the CHEVY mark on the goods listed in the extension request on June 7, this application and any resulting registration, is vulnerable to attack, even if use on other goods has not ceased.

Briefly back to the reason for the memo, perhaps GM was really concerned about Chevy Chase Bank truncating to Chevy, and diluting GM’s Chevy rights, or perhaps, conflicting with GM plans to open a Chevy bank, since Chase, the other possible truncation of Chevy Chase Bank, is already taken. Who knows?

More seriously, do you buy GM’s international explanation for the memo?