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December 27, 2005

Product Naming: "Wal" For Walgreens or Wal-Mart?

Walgreens-Store.gifWhat retailer first comes to mind when you read the three letters "Wal?" Even though most of us think of , is the second largest retail pharmacy in the U.S. with over 4,200 stores, and, they first registered their eponymous mark in 1951, more than 30 years before the coined Wal-Mart mark was published.

From a trademarking perspective, I've always found it puzzling that two major retailers, both of which carry similar product lines, can operate in the same class code without creating consumer confusion, which, according to patent law, is the ultimate test of trademark infringement. But back in the 1980's chances are that Walgreens never saw the little Arkansas retailer as a threat, and thus didn't challenge the filing.

wal4.gif waldryl.gifNow, however, Walgreens is taking aggressive trademark action of another sort - at the expense of its OTC drug suppliers. And once again, even though their actions may be confusing to consumers, the marks may be overlooked by marketers who value Walgreens' business more than the idea of protecting their brands.

walzan.gif walphed.gifOn the same Walgreens' shelf where you find Sudafed and Benedryl, there sits the Walgreens' private label Wal-Dryl and Wal-Phed. Next to the NutraSweet you'll find Wal-Sweet. Not to mention Wal-Four (as in Bristol Myers 4-Way Nasal Decongestant), Wal-Tussin (as in Robitussin) and Wal-Zan (Zantac).

walsweet.gif waltussin.gifThanks mostly to trade practices such as private label manufacturing and slotting (trading shelf-space for looking the other way) this practice is thriving at Walgreens.

The acid test, however, is the consumer. Are they confused about where to get Wal-Phed? Will they find it at Wal-Mart or Walgreens? Or should they just switch to another brand and avoid overburdening their decision making process?

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Posted by William Lozito at December 27, 2005 11:40 AM
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You are right that this does depend somewhat on the connection an audience member would form between the Wal- prefix and the presence of the Walgreen’s logo, which does not seem prominent enough to me. However, Walgreen’s has survived based on a gradual-expansion strategy over decades, rather than anything adventurous. It will put in the right amount of marketing—not too much to necessitate changing its budget, but not too little that the product fizzles out—and grow the line over another few decades. I say: stick with the Wal-line, though I personally would omit the hyphen, which leans heavily toward Wal-mart versus the hyphenless Walgreen’s.

I have to say "Wal", for me, is somewhat associated with Wal-Mart, more than Walgreens.

The hypen in Wal-Mart put more emphasis on the two words as potentially being separate concepts.

Well, everything at Wal-Mart is Sam's choice, so I don't really find it that confusing. Though Walgreens just started to expand over the last year or so (first there were commercials for a store I hadn't even heard of, then two stores show up in my area in about this time). Plus everyone knows the story about Sam Walton...I think.

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