December 27, 2005
Product Naming: "Wal" For Walgreens or Wal-Mart?
What retailer first comes to mind when you read the three letters "Wal?" Even though most of us think of Wal-Mart, Walgreens 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.
Now, 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.
On 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).
Thanks 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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