Marketing: September 2009 Archives

Pepsi and Coke in Brand Name Trademark Battle

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The natural sweetener stevia has increased in popularity in proportion to concerns over the safety of sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose - not to mention the increasing demand for natural, organic food. Though the FDA initially objected to natural stevia, its December 2008 promotion of the rebiana extract of stevia used in Cargill's Truvia (developed with Coca-Cola) and PepsiCo's PureVia into the "Generally Recognized as Safe" category opened the floodgates to smaller manufacturers.

It's also led to trademark wars that amount to internecine genericide.

truvia.jpgCoca-Cola was first to file, claiming Truvia in September 2007. PepsiCo didn't get its application for PureVia in until January 2008. When PureVia was published for opposition, Coca-Cola opposed it on the basis of a prior application and likelihood of confusion with their own trademark.

I can't blame Coca-Cola. "Pure" and "True" have similar meanings, after all, and the two names have similar sounds. It would be easy to get confused about which sweetener went with which soft drink.

And PepsiCo isn't the only company that Coca-Cola is likely to have to pursue, either, because there are more than a dozen other companies filing trademarks for stevia products, and many of those names end in "-via."

  • Bestevia
  • Imovia
  • Nativia Guarani
  • Sweetvia
  • Zevia

And if that weren't bad enough, there are the ones that use the "stev" root as well: Steviana, Stevita, Steviva. And the products that use the entire word "stevia" in their names, like NuStevia and SteviaSweet.

What's going on here? We didn't have this naming problem with earlier zero-calorie sweeteners. Competing companies chose distinctive names. No one would mistake the name "Equal" for the name "NutraSweet." Whether or not these are good products (and that's not the proper subject of this blog), they're good names.

purevia.jpgNames like "Sweet 'N Low," "Sugar Twin," "NutraSweet," and "Equal" all highlight the product's taste, conveying the idea that it's just as good as sugar, but better for you. "Splenda" suggests a glorious new discovery, superior to all its predecessors. These names don't focus on the ingredients, because the ingredients are chemicals that you probably don't want to think about too much.

Because these products are artificial, there was no way to use them in food products without FDA approval, so it didn't matter how much time had elapsed between the discovery of the substance and the trademark filing. All that mattered was that you filed as soon as the product was approved.

Natural, un-patentable, un-trademarkable stevia has been used as a sweetener for centuries, and available in health-food stores in the United States as a dietary supplement for decades, despite the 1991 FDA import ban that restricted its use as a food additive.

That means many companies want to cash in on the "stevia" name. But their desire to do so may cause the US Patent and Trademark office to dismiss their applications because their product names are not only too similar to one another but too generic.

The real winner in this competition is likely to be the company that picks a truly distinctive name and markets it intelligently. The template is there, after all: it's worked for every previous low-calorie sweetener.

What would your top choice for a stevia product name be?

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Naming and Branding Lessons from the Ivy League

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With universities auctioning off the names of everything from courses to swimming lanes in order to raise money, we began to wonder. Given the long tradition of naming campus buildings, fellowships, chairs, and entire schools after donors, why do some of these names, particularly those of the Ivy League, carry such a weight of prestige? Is it something in the names themselves, or just that those eight schools have had such a long time to build up their brand s?

ivyleaguelogo.pngContrary to popular belief, the Ivy League is not derived from the Roman numeral IV.

Naming all eight (yes, there are only eight) universities in the Ivy League is a bit like naming the Ten Commandments: after Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, people begin to fumble, and the true list is always a bit surprising for the schools it consists of and the schools it leaves out.

More surprising, however, is the fact that most of the Ivies started their lives with different names.

Modern Name vs. Original Name

Modern Name: Brown University
Original Name: The College of Rhode Island

Modern Name: Columbia University
Original Name: King's College

Modern Name: Harvard University
Original Name: New College

Modern Name: Princeton University
Original Name: The College of New Jersey

Modern Name: University of Pennsylvania
Original Name: The College of Philadelphia

Modern Name: Yale University
Original Name: The Collegiate School

Because state schools, in general, have less prestige than private schools, it's difficult for us to imagine that Princeton could have attained the status it has today if it had remained "The College of New Jersey." It just doesn't have the same ring to it. In terms of names, the University of Pennsylvania is the odd school out in the list of Ivies--and it turns out there was considerable controversy even in the 18th century about the newly-formed state taking control of the university Benjamin Franklin created.

Although many state universities are highly-regarded academically (think of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of California at Berkeley), Penn's name may be one reason some people forget it when trying to list the Ivy League schools from memory.

The modern names of Ivy League schools--Penn included--come from two sources: locations (toponymous schools) and benefactors (eponymous schools). (Well, Columbia might be said to be a special case, as Christopher Columbus was not precisely a benefactor of the university, but it was certainly not politic to continue to use the name "King's College" after the Revolutionary War.)

Eponymous Universities

Toponymous Universities

What naming lessons can we take away from the history of the Ivy League universities?

  1. First, antiquity does help: there's nothing inherently prestigious in the name "Brown," for instance.

  2. Second, avoid "City of" and "State of" names.

  3. Third, pick something that sounds Anglo-Saxon ("Dartmouth," "Princeton") or Latinate ("Columbia," "Pennsylvania").

  4. And fourth, use the name of an individual rather than a corporation. Not only do individuals change name less often than corporations, but it appears that no one in the 18th century went around naming schools "The British East India Company University," even if that was where the money came from. But, just to be safe, it might make sense to use the name of the company's retired founder, rather than a current CEO who might be the subject of scandal or get head-hunted by a competitor. Particularly if the founder's name is part of the company name. That way it's still clear where credit for that massive charitable donation is due.

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Today Starbucks will start offering its instant coffee brand called VIA Ready Brew to customers across the United States and Canada.

I noted the appearance of VIA earlier this year in their Seattle and Chicago shops and I was extremely skeptical. I remain so.

starbucks-via-varieties.gifAlthough, I would like to somewhat water down (excuse the pun) my earlier skepticism now that I have had some time to think about this development.

At first glance, Starbucks selling instant coffee is a marketing blunder - Starbucks is about high end coffee, not the mix stuff.

However, Starbucks might actually pull this off if they can overcome two challenges.

The first is, of course, a naming issue.

"Via" means "to go" or "the way," which is in fact a strong product name.

The problem is the category name "instant coffee." While Europeans like the stuff, Americans see it as cheap and bad-tasting.

Starbucks has tried to move away from the "instant coffee" label by referring to VIA, which comes in single serving cylindrical packages, as "Ready Brew."

The problem is not the coffee, people. It's the negative associations attached to the instant coffee category name. And if anyone else but Starbucks were attempting this, I'd say that getting around it is pretty much impossible.

The thing is, Starbucks is, for most people, the group that got us to drink things like Ventis and Frappuccinos, and made us feel privileged to fork over big bucks for it. Getting us to call instant coffee Ready Brew should be pretty easy for them (at least you can pronounce it).

They are not selling instant coffee, they are selling a portable Starbucks experience.

The second problem should be a bit easier to solve. The blogosphere is filled with snarky comments about the price of the stuff (a buck a cup). One reviewer says primly that that is "over 10 times the price of other instants, which come in at closer to 8 cents a cup."

Well, I can recall when drip coffee in a restaurant was less than a buck. Starbucks was the one who changed that. They've been happily charging us a fortune for coffee that we can make at home for a fraction of the price for over a decade.

A buck a cup? Heck, for Starbucks fans, that's a bargain.

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Visual and Verbal Cue to the Art of Brand Naming

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dual-coding.jpgAl Ries never fails to be insightful. He has a new blog post on Branding Strategy Insider that discusses, in some depth, the relationship between the Visual and the Verbal in advertising.

As a brand naming consultant, I obviously find this of great interest. Ries suggests that imagery and "the right choice of words" (including a good brand name) act like a "hammer and a nail" to bring home the emotional effect of the brand.

I'm not going to disagree. I think that the old adage that a "picture is worth 1000 words" is correct, but a good brand name is worth just about as much. If you doubt me, ask people what the name Apple brings to mind, or Nike or Coke. You'll get a mouthful because these brand names are loaded with meaning.

Most research supports this, of course. The Branding Strategy Insider, in fact, has posted articles about this before, discussing how people in this business suffer from "wordophobia, a morbid fear of words" but noting that in fact the words behind the imagery carry the ultimate message to the consumer.

It is tempting to believe that visual cues are all important, but I of course do not subscribe to this.

At least one study discovered that "when visuals are associated with the target information, such as a brand name, then memory for the brand is enhanced." Well, of course.

I might also note that brand naming, the creation of slogans and copy all have become even more important as consumers begin to interact with brands via mobile apps that are information heavy.

The text and naming you use to communicate the brand message, I believe, have never been more important.

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The big question on my mind this morning is whether or not an ultra high-end jewelry brand name can survive as an online entity. In order to sell trinkets that start at $58,000 and run up to $10 million, it would have to have a really big, recognizable name, because we're not talking about diamond earrings here.

Faberge-logo.gifWelcome to Fabergé 2.0.

Here is a luxury retailer that is opening its doors (well, so to speak), during a recession, using nothing but a web site and a store in Geneva.

The kicker here is that those willing to spend thirty grand on a brooch already know the Fabergé brand name. And Fabergé is banking on the belief that high-net-worth people will be comfortable making expensive purchases online.

Their new launch is the first since 1917, when the communists nationalized the creations of Peter Carl Fabergé, the guy who brought us the big eggs (Imperial Easter Eggs).

Madonna_Lily_Egg.gifThe family lost the rights to the name in 1951 and it has since been tacked on to low-end jewelry and cosmetics.

But in 2007, an investment firm "acquired the trademarks and Peter Carl Fabergé`s two surviving great granddaughters were brought back into the company and the Fabergé Heritage Council was formed to safeguard the legacy of the family name".

They even might start making eggs again (these would cost about $18 million).

Now this is all very interesting, but will it really work?

It is utterly dependent upon whether or not the Fabergé name can get the ultra-rich to surf the web and put down serious some cash for some expensive trinkets. If it does work, it will be proof positive that the Internet actually does reach the well-heeled.

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AMD is trying to de-emphasize its company brand and instead is focusing on what customers can do with computers.

This is part of their "Vision" marketing plan that offers users "Premium," "Black" and "Ultimate" Vision. These will be on permanent labels that will sooner or later morph into removable stickers. Customers will also be exposed to labels like "See," "Create" and "Share" that tell you pretty much what the computer is good for.

amd-vision.pngAs one exec said, "I don't care if a mainstream consumer remembers the AMD brand. What I care about is if they buy an AMD-based platform in a retail setting." CRN adds that "PC users don't give a hoot about what kind of chip runs their systems and on."

I strongly disagree, Intel is the classic case of an extremely ingredient brand that has created a strong preference among millions of consumers.

It's a "rather wordy" new approach that breaks down a possible computer buy into checklists. This will be more helpful to the newbie than to advanced users looking for specific capabilities.

But it does do away with all kind of extraneous branding. This pushes the company into being what Crunchgear calls the "Mac of PC hardware," a brand that is all about user experience over parts.

This is probably a good idea. There are currently 221 different AMD stickers out there. That's just confusing. This drops it down to three.

Simplicity should be a key objective in any brand architecture.

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Google has created some interesting buzz around their brand by having an "o" in their name abducted by aliens in one of their home page doodles.

Google-UFO.gifThe drawing has led to much speculation on the Internet. Did the doodle celebrate the 20th birthday of the video game Zero Wing? Is it tacit support for the O Campaign?

Offering a mysterious message on their Twitter account, Google has run with this by writing "1.12.12 25.15.21.18 15 1.18.5 2.5.12.15.14.7 20.15 21.19", which, decoded, means "All your O are belong to us" which seems to come from the Zero Wing game.

Google, meanwhile, has also released a more formal statement:

We consider the second 'o' critical to user recognition of our brand and pronunciation of our name. We are actively looking into the mysterious tweet that has appeared on the Google twitter stream and the disappearance of the "o" on the Google homepage. We hope to have an update in the coming weeks.
And now a mysterious post on Google's South Korean blog suggests that more mysterious doodles are on the way.

google-super-heros.gifGoogle uses the home page doodle to celebrate some fairly arcane dates, but this is really obscure. And despite the multiple meanings or explanations, Tech Crunch tells us that "the truth is out there" and seems to support the O Campaign idea.

I think this is an excellent way to generate buzz around Google's already well-known brand name. By simply suggesting that one of the world's biggest brands might lose a letter even more people will be made aware of the Google name and pay closer attention to their logo doodles.

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Absolut Facing An Absolut Brand Naming Dilemma

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Absolut vodka sales are way down in the U.S., and since we represent half of the vodka's market, this is an Absolut Catastrophe. The reign of Absolut as the coolest and one of the most pricey vodkas is one of the best tales of advertising lore: Absolut took a blah product and made it cool.

Now, less expensive upstarts like Skyy and Svedka have been stealing their market share, essentially by using their own tactics against them.

absolut_vodka.pngLet's give Skyy and Svedka their due: the names are interesting and, most importantly, Nordic sounding. The packaging is just as attractive as Absolut's.

Svedka gets a great deal of leverage off its "cheap chic" bottle design and prominent brand naming but has bombed younger drinkers with its "fembot" ads and of course its Swedish heritage. The bottle is meant to look "equally attractive lit up on the back-bar of a hip club as well as lining a club store's shelf."

Skyy's deep cobalt blue bottle and Absolut-inspired typography is equally as attractive, as is their Twitter page.

Absolut, meanwhile, seems to be going for staid naming and branding, including a city range including a new Absolut Boston flavor that tastes like "black tea" (think Boston Tea Party) with green coloring (thing Fenway park).

I'm not trying to be critical but Boston just does not make me think of vodka. Are they trying to create a niche within a niche?

Absolut owns the premium-cool vodka category, mostly because they have the advantage of essentially creating it. Absolut can take heart that alternative, non-Russian naming is still on the upswing (much to Smirnoff's chagrin). But they need to aim at a more youthful market and stay achingly relevant.

In my opinion, the biggest disaster the company could face would be a move on the part of consumers back to Mother Russian (Stoli) or to Polish naming.

Get back to what you know best, Absolut.

Customers like shabby-chic? What about an Absolut Funky campaign? Absolut Cool?

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I was amused to read that Ben & Jerry's has (briefly) renamed their Chubby Hubby ice cream to Hubby Hubby in a nod to Vermont's new gay-friendly marriage laws.

The change only affects ice cream sold in Vermont but they have advertised their support of the Freedom to Marry group worldwide on various social media platforms. They have also publicly championed the cause to the Vermont legislature as well.

hubby-hubby.pngIt's a bold step. The tagline on one of the ads is "Now more than ever, Vermont is for lovers... & for lovers of marriage equality."

One branding expert thinks that despite the fact that only 44% of Americans support same sex marriage, the brand name will benefit mainly because the kind of people who like their particular ice cream understand their avowed liberal leanings.

The company is owned by the staid Unilever, which long ago decided to give Ben and Jerry's pretty much free rein to sell their products with quirky brand name.

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The new controversial tech term is "smartbook," which is a device that falls between a netbook and a smartphone. According to one exec from US-based Qualcomm, it offers "the smartphone experience in a larger form factor" and the idea has gained traction with some major computer players despite the fact that no one company has really cracked the market on this type of gizmo yet.

netbook2.pngNow, a German company called Smartbook AG has waded into the fray, claiming that the smartbook name is theirs. There is even a restraining order against Qualcomm from using the term in Germany. Beyond that, they even smacked a blogger around for using the name.

Qualcomm has already been sued over their appropriation of the term "netbook" and the blogosphere seems undecided as to whether Smartbook AG can hold on to the name.

Things may get so sticky that some say Qualcomm might be advised to look for another nifty name, like, say, ARMbook (after its ARM-based processor). I'm pretty sure that ARMbook is a nonstarter--it makes me think that you'd get a sore ARM carrying it around.

Smartbook seems generic to me, just like smartphones.

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