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January 20, 2004


Marc Orchant

Earl: Excellent analysis. My company spent a year (just prior to my coming on board) thrashing about its "brand" and even commissioning a "brand architecture" study. Fortunately, it's a really smart group of people and sensibility won over styling. We recognize that every interaction we have in which we (not just meet but) exceed the need or desire of our customer contributes to our brand. If we drop the ball and fail to deliver, we chip away at what we're building (I choose tense carefully here). And, like your Maori lesson, we know the price of "spending" our brand equity.


As a point of correction: it is now recognized in law that a particular color can be trademarked if it is distinctive. However, the color (or word, for that matter) can only restrict usage on those products or services that may cause confusion with the product or services offered by the trademark owner.

I think you weaken your argument with the example of livestock branding, though I understand the connection you're making.

Trademarks were initially a way for producers to tell consumers that they were getting the real deal and not a shoddy knock-off. In other words, trademarks were used to signify quality. Branding is using a trademark to transfer credibility to other products which have not established a reputation. If ABC makes good widgets, then they must make good foobars.

The examples you site are not a loss of branding, they are a loss of a trademark to the public domain. It could be argued that the branding effort is increased, because no matter what brand of tissue you buy, you're buying Kleenex.

Earl Mardle

Amos, good points all.

The licensing of a colour and the extent of confusion created still strikes me as daft and leads to exactly the kind of silliness between MS and Mike Rowe. The possibility of confusion is hijacked for illegitimate purposes and loses its own credibility.

Again, the widgets to foobars brand transfer might have worked when the information assymetry was very high, it also created a moral hazard, (see the opposite of Schmology above). As the search and aggregation costs fall and as customer loyalty falls away, I think the whole concept needs to be rethought. Once again, its misuse to encourage consumer confidence in shoddy products or services perpetrated on their customers by greedy companies is undermining the process. Like so many other concepts, it feels broken by the changes in the information environment.

Loss of trademark/ branding, I disagree insofar as the brand/ trademark is assumed to benefit its "owner" and if every paper tissue I buy is a "kleenex", then kleenex no longer gains a benefit from being Kleenex and has also lost the ability to brand anything with that name or any idea of its value. Lets see them, for example, transfer the brand value to a line of batteries.

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