— Aaron Keller, co-author, The Physics of Brand, co-founder Capsule.us and Columnist at Twin Cities Business magazine.

There are so many hidden dangers in the process of naming any new offering — many of which can sneak up on you. We all like to believe we’ll see the danger before it meets us squarely in the forehead like a baseball bat, but the number of horror stories would indicate otherwise.

We’ve illustrated the Jimmy’s Johnnys in past blog posts, which certainly doesn’t create a good brand image for Jimmy John’s. But, really that’s a trademark issue, not a meaning issue. The meaning issues happen because there’s existing cultural meaning around a word that really isn’t good for your brand.

Rusty Taco dealt with it by moving to R Taco — not something this writer agreed with, but it happened. If you’re wondering what meaning existed with that name, try using your imagination before you search it on a work computer.

Fairview University, in their previous partnership had a minor issue when they turned the name into an acronym and stenciled it on hospital equipment. Do it yourself by writing those two letters in your whiteboard.

Or, the classic, Federal Express before they became FedEx, because in most countries “Federal” means government and slow, very, very slow. FedEx needs to be on time and certainly not slow — seeing the hidden meaning was essential.

Now, my own personal favorite today, the brand Sheetz, which is best consumed via this link, which tells me they know the brand name is amusing. Though, it does have a gastronomic implication that likely doesn’t create a smile in your mind after eating their foot long sub sandwich.

So, how do you avoid this?

Test the meaning with your audiences and there are simple rather inexpensive ways to get a clear picture of what your brand name means in culture. Even if you’ve got an existing brand name and culture has changed around it — like Tsunami Herbicide — a test might identify a need to change or refine your brand name.

Test your meaning before you test your job security. If you run into an amusing brand name story you think needs to be told, please pass it along to AaronKeller@capsule.us.

Last Friday Twin Cities Business and the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on 3M’s recent trademark infringement case filed against online retailer Shoplet.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is a pdf of the complaint.

It asserts a variety of violations of 3M’s exclusive rights in the federally-registered POST-IT trademark, including federal trademark infringement, false designation of origin, federal dilution of a famous mark, dilution under Minnesota law, deceptive trade practices under Minnesota law, unfair trade practices under Minnesota law, various common law claims, and unjust enrichment.

According to the complaint:

"Shoplet operates a website, www.Shoplet.com, offering for sale office supplies made by a variety of manufacturers. This website has a search function allowing consumers to search for products."

"Searches of the Shoplet.com website for the mark "Post-it" consistently return repositionable notes manufactured by Universal, a 3M competitor, as the first results, labeled "featured" products . . . ."

"These competing products are displayed under the POST-IT Mark, which appears near the top of the page in large red type. 3M’s POST-IT products often are not included anywhere on the first page of results under the POST-IT Mark although the default search results are represented as sorted according to relevance."

"On information and belief, Shoplet asks manufacturers to pay for ‘featured’ and/or otherwise prominent placement of its products in results for searches for the manufacturers’ trademarks, but does not inform consumers that results of searches of its site include paid advertisements."

One might wonder, a week later now, if Shoplet would have stopped having Universal brand notes appear more prominently than the obviously more relevant 3M POST-IT notes upon a search for "Post-it" — but, not so.

It makes me wonder whether Shoplet is positioning itself to stick it out and defend Google-style, or whether it will decide to reposition its website search results upon further reflection.

What do you think about 3M’s lawsuit?