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Posts Tagged ‘Marc Hershon’

Big Brother Brands

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Food & Beverage, Naming on July 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

George Orwell pegged 1984 as the year that an authoritarian superstate – personified in a political candidate known only as “Big Brother” – would come to power in his fictional work about a dystopian future. The book was first conceived 40 years before the title year (although published five years later, in 1949.)

Now, 30 years after the events of Nineteen Eighty-Four, could it be that Big Brother is finally manifesting? Not as a political entity designed to control the populace, but as a commercial confederation that owns and controls the majority of brands – and the influence that goes with them.

Holding companies with a fleet of products under their ownership are nothing new. Various bits of legislation have cropped up over the years in attempt to control just how much sway one company might wield over a market. (Energy companies have often been the culprits in such attempts – so early on that in 1935 the U.S. passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act to force companies to divest their interests. In 20 years, the number of holding companies declined, from 216 to just 18 entities.)

Such companies exist in every industry, from electronics to financial institutions, high tech to home improvement, and any other business you can imagine. But what factors – besides their seeming unquenchable desire to acquire other companies – make us think that they are exhibiting Big Brother-ish behavior?

We looked at a graphic that had been made available on the Sploid blog, which is part of Gizmodo.com. As they put it, when it came to the inside of the grocery store, “as you can see (these 10 companies) own everything.”

The ten companies mentioned are Mondelez, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Unilever. And each of those companies has controlling interest in anywhere between two dozen to almost a hundred other companies in the case of Nestlé.

Do you choose Nestlés’ Dreyer’s ice cream or Breyer’s from Unilever? General Mills’ Chex cereal or Crispix from Kellogg’s? Many such products are at parity when it comes to such things as taste and quality, meaning it often boils down to how the brands make consumers feel at decision-making time.

Frankly, the more interesting story is not about when these giants go head-to-head in the grocery store. Instead, imagine being a smaller cereal manufacturer getting caught up in the marketing and shelf placement elements that come into play with products like these.

It’s a daunting task: Where do the marketing dollars come from to start to build awareness when the playing field is already dominated by gargantuan powerhouse brands?

Lest you think we’re dissing the Big Brother Brands, far from it. We have worked to create brand names with a large number of holding companies, as well as many of the companies within their portfolios. Their naming choices can tend to seem more on the conservative side versus those made by start-ups and smaller companies but when you’re in business around the world, it often pays to play it safe.

Start A Revolution

Fortunately, there are ways to be a nimble David when competing against one or more of these Goliaths in the supermarket aisle. (And the same rule generally holds true in other industries as well.)

• Be different. The Big Brother companies have vast resources but can be slow to innovate – why create something new when something old is still selling like hotcakes? If whatever you’re making or doing is different from what’s gone before – and you can make it known – you’re bound to be noticed.

• Say something different. Starting with a brand name that stakes out some new territory in the landscape, and on through your brand promise and the story of what your product is about, you’ve got to be the brand that gets attention as opposed to the legions that get ignored.

• Reposition the competition. When competing against brands that are well-established in the marketplace, find a hook that’s different yet welcome. Force those other guys to figure out that you’ve changed the game and now they’re the ones playing catch up.

• Take the high road. Sure, they’re the competition and you’re the hero, but keep the conversation about how good your product is and stay away from comparing yourself to your predecessors. No sense tripping over someone else’s goodwill.

Big Brother Is Watching

Ironically, the more successful a smaller company is with their brand, the more attention they’re likely to get from a Big Brother brand. Those bigger companies typically used to work to create their own similar product, often with disappointing results. More often than not nowadays, they’ll use their resources more wisely — and just buy what they like. Innovative beverages like Odwalla, Vitamin Water, and Fuze were all gobbled up by Coca-Cola. Nestlé has bought up chip, candy and even restaurant brands like they’re going out of style.

Sometimes, however, success is its own reward. For every Odwalla that gets snapped up, an Jones Soda remains cheerfully independent. Three Twins ice cream keeps it simple rather than follow the example of Dreyer’s, which became part of the Nestlé family in 2002.

A compelling brand name is a way to start a conversation with consumers that is effective, regardless of whether the product is owned by a multinational corporation, a hot company on the rise, or a struggling startup. That winning name is also the intellectual property that could be the most coveted weapon in your marketing arsenal.

— Lexicon Branding

Taking New Car Names for a Spin

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Cars, Naming, Trademarks on March 24, 2014 at 3:00 am

The 2014 Geneva Motor Show recently wrapped up in Switzerland, having rolled out a spectacle of both new car models and speculative concept cars as well. One of the more interesting features that ride shotgun with the unveiling of new car ideas is the fleet of new car names to go along with them.

How Important are Concept Names?

Often times, those names – which can tend to be quite exotic, unusual, or just plain bad – stand about the same chance as getting into the hands of consumers as the cars themselves. One thing that most concept names provide for the vehicles they appear on is signal to the industry and car-curious public that there is something different going on.

We thought looking at a few of the categories of new vehicles would be illuminating from the perspective of automobile brand names.

Sports Cars/Performance Cars

Slide1Names for cars in these categories are expected to have the kind of names that evoke power and performance, a responsibility shared by the parent brand as well. Lamborghini, for example, unveiled their new Huracan (the transparently Spanish equivalent of hurricane). Ferrari brought out the California T, conjuring images of cruising down the Pacific Coast, while McLaren offered the 650S Spider. Throwing even more intrigue in the mix is Infiniti with their concept car Eau Rouge (“red water” in French). Lexus sticks to their tried and true brand architecture with the RC 350F, while Maserati introduced their concept car Alfieri which, in Italian, can mean “bishop”, “ensign” or, most likely the case here, “standard bearer” — almost as if this new idea could become the flagship model for Maserati.

Crossovers/SUVs

Slide2These bigger passenger vehicles continue to get more streamlined as the years pass, with the concept vehicles showing off sportier and sleeker lines and details. The concept names are tending to match the styling cues, with Subaru’s fascinating Viziv and the Intrado from Hyundai bearing names with no inherent meaning (although the Hyundai comes close to the Spanish word entrada, meaning “entrance”). The Volvo Estate, on the other hand, is a concept car name loaded with meaning and brings an almost regal tone to the proceedings. Jeep’s Renegade is a very expected name in this category. While most car names these days tend to be short, alá Citroen’s rugged Cactus entry, one big – and we do mean big – exception is the Range Rover Autobiography, a name so long it would only fit on a larger vehicle.

Compacts/Subcompacts

Slide3Two of the concept models are competing not just in the category but in the name department as well: Volkswagen reveals their T-Roc idea while the Opel Adam Rocks small crossover concept also rolled out on the floor. Hazumi is an intriguing-sounding word to go along with Mazda’s new little car, regardless of whether you speak Japanese (where the meanings range from “bound” and “rebound” to “inertia” and “momentum”). Finally, clinging to their traditional naming strategy, Jaguar brought out their tight little roadster, the XE, to go along with the XF, XJ, and XK. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

At Lexicon we think concept names in the auto industry are as important as the final name. Names like Cactus, Autobiography, and Adams Rocks fall far short of sparking our imagination or stimulating interest. Instead, the ideal concept names should strive to do three things: Communicate direction (to both internal designers and engineers as well as to consumers), provoke interest, and begin to tell the story of a new vehicle.

Defy Description

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Food & Beverage, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on March 10, 2014 at 3:05 am

Your brand name should be the one thing competitors can’t take away from you. That’s not the case if your name is too descriptive. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the crime and punishment division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), doled out an important lesson last month.

Two lessons, really.

pretzel_crispsThe first was that, even though you may have a trademark for a number of years, as in the case of Pretzel Crisps, a brand of “flat pretzel cracker”, introduced in 2008 by the Snack Factory of New Jersey – you can still end up losing it, regardless of how well business is doing.

The second, and more important lesson, is that being too descriptive with your trademark can set you up for trouble…which is why Warren and Sara Wilson, the inventors of Pretzel Crisps are now likely scrambling to figure out what to do where the name of their popular snack is concerned.

The Pretzel Crisps name had already been relegated to the Secondary Register, which is a kind of trademark purgatory reserved for brand names deemed descriptive enough that only minimal protection can be offered. In this case, both the words Pretzel and Crisps are widely regarded as being generic and only the instance of the two words appearing together is considered to constitute a trademark.

But then snack food giant Frito-Lay, owned by Pepsico, decided to oppose the mark, arguing that Pretzel Crisps cannot be registered as a trademark because the phrase itself constitutes a generic term. “Like ‘milk chocolate bar’, the combination of ‘pretzel’ and ‘crisp’ gains no meaning as a phrase over and above the generic meaning of its constituent terms”, the company wrote in a motion to the USPTO back in 2010.

According to the New York Times, Princeton Vanguard, the LLC that owns Pretzel Crisp and Snack Factory, and filed for the trademark, has spent $1 million in legal fees. Not much, considering Pretzel Crisps has grown quickly, with over $100 million in sales in 2011. But it was a million bucks spent to find out that they no longer hold a trademark on their own name.

What the makers of Pretzel Crisps do next is anyone’s guess, but an expensive name change is one likely scenario. A scenario that could have been avoided by considering names that could have effectively supported the snack chips’ attributes and taste profiles, while steering clear of simply describing what they are.

— Lexicon Branding

Burning Candy

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, High Technology, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on February 20, 2014 at 3:00 am

A little over a month ago, the Skittles hit the fan when the Internet discovered that King.com Limited had trademarked the word CANDY. Reaction ranged from “all other games with candy in their titles were in trouble” to “no one on Earth could ever utter the word candy again.”

candy-crush-logoThis action was to protect the game developer’s white-hot title Candy Crush Saga, a game downloaded by more than 500 million people since its release in 2012.

One of the first to break the news was inc.com, in a short piece by Jeremy Quittner, on January 15th – the very day that King won trademark approval from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. “You already know how ridiculously litigious the entire area around intellectual property rights is right now, but this brings things to a whole new level. And small business owners should be wary, as the potential to run up against a law suit seems all-too-likely these days,” wrote Quittner.

The fuse was lit…and the news soon exploded all over Twitter, the sounding board where people often display more passion than knowledge. @feliciaday, actress and creator of the popular web series The Guild tweeted: “I’m confused, how is it legal to trademark ENGLISH WORDS and then harass small game companies about it?!” And @BasicallyIDoWrk followed with “Who is the idiot that let Candy Crush trademark the word candy?!”

To address Ms. Day’s point, most registered trademarks in the USPTO are made up of English words or are names created by putting one or more English words together to form a new word (like PowerBook or OnStar, two names developed by Lexicon and subsequently registered for trademarks by our clients). As for the second comment, the idiot in question is the aforementioned USPTO, the governmental body tasked with issuing patents and trademarks dating back to 1871.

On its surface, the registration makes all kinds of sense, particularly to protect King’s intellectual property from infringement by the legion of me-too type games that have sprung up in the wake of the success of Candy Crush, trading on either its name, its play style, or both – such as Candy Crash and Super Candy Cruncher.

Fortunately, for those who are outraged at the gumption shown by King in registering CANDY, there are checks and balances in place in an effort to keep things fair and equitable.

Upon issuance, trademarks are published for opposition in the USPTO’s Official Gazette. Anyone opposing a trademark in the belief that they may be damaged by its issuance has 30 days to either file an opposition to the mark or a request to extend the time to oppose.

And there is, potentially, a lot to oppose in the case of King’s trademark application since they’ve tried to more than cover their bases. Not only have they registered CANDY in three of the 44 international classes of trademarks, but what the name covers – the Goods and Services – within those three classes seems overly extensive. Ranging from blank usb flash drives and exposed photographic film to beach shoes and baby monitors, this is an application just begging to be opposed by those with trademarks that use the word candy and that pre-date King’s registration.

That’s not to say that opponents won’t have a pitched battle on their hands.

One recent example shows that King is playing for keeps.

CandySwipe is a game developed by Albert Ransom in 2010, two years before King’s Candy Crush hit the scene. Ransom trademarked his CandySwipe name and, when he saw elements of similarity between the two games, he opposed King’s initial trademark application of Candy Crush Saga. Ransom was trumped when King subsequently purchased a trademark for CandyCrusher that had been issued for game software and mobile apps way back in 2004 and used it, in turn, to counter-oppose the CandySwipe trademark.

Ransom just recently published an open letter online to King, sarcastically congratulating the company on successfully crushing any chance he had of making CandySwipe a success (the Internet is full of people ignorantly calling Ransom’s game a “ripoff” of Candy Crush), as well as now cease-and-desisting him from being able to use the CandySwipe name.

Protecting oneself against trademark infringement is one thing. Intellectual property is often the most valuable asset a company has in its coffers. More difficult to defend are the actions of an entity that follows the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. One could argue that King’s actions might be construed as a restraint of trade for other game developers. And who knows — what would happen if Hasbro, Inc., which took over Milton Bradley’s Candy Land trademark first issued in 1951, were to step forward and argue that King’s trademark is precluding them from issuing an electronic version of the popular board game?

The outrage against King continues, with opponents asking folks to delete the game from their devices, and tweets continuing to be posted about the trademark filing. (From @jgasteiz: “If only I had the guts to uninstall an app every time its company is evil. I’ll do it this time. Bye bye #candycrush”)

Undaunted, King continues to attempt to crush both opposition and competition. And on February 18th, they filed for an Initial Public Offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reportedly, they are attempting to raise $500 million.

That’s a lot of candy.

— Lexicon Branding

How Far Will Your Brand Stretch?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on July 14, 2011 at 5:05 am

Four simple rules to make sure your trademark is limber enough to play in the big leagues.

Clients looking for a new brand name often warn that it must be easy to spell (among a host of other concerns) when, in reality, that’s a consideration that can have little bearing on a brand’s ability to be embraced. Many brands these days are primarily encountered visually – be it on the web or through advertising – and when all a potential customer has to do is click a link to find out more, they don’t need to know how something is spelled. They just need to know how to get to the brand…wherever it may exist.

That said, not just any word will do.  There’s no substitute for thinking through the creation of your trademark, the strategy behind its launch and maintenance, and the many places where it might (and should) appear.

Getting In The Game

There are Four Simple Rules to follow that can help assure that your trademark can at least get in the game. (Caveat: Just because the Rules are simple to understand doesn’t make them easy to execute.)

Rule #1: The brand name must be distinctive.

Clearly, in today’s crowded marketplace, a new trademark has to have the power to be noticed. The only way to be effective is to gain the attention of consumers who are being avalanched in a glut of information. Whether it’s a real word seen in a new context, an invented brand name with no inherent meaning, or a word that’s been misspelled on purpose, distinctiveness in your category is key.

Rule #2: The brand name must be easy to search.

Once again, how important is spelling? Even when we’re saying that a trademark has to be easily searchable, you’ve got some latitude. Internet search engines such as as Google and Bing will return searches on misspelled words even while asking if you didn’t mean to look for the correct spelled version. Take out a letter here (such as in flickr) or substitute one letter for another (as with birst), and the world can still beat a path to your brand’s door.

Rule #3: The brand name must work across multiple media and web platforms.

Today you need to be reasonably certain that the name you’re creating will have to fit just as comfortably on the edge of a new handheld device as it would rolling up the side of the Goodyear blimp. One place today’s brands are likely to appear is on an app on an iPhone, Droid or other smartphone device. Keep in mind that the average “acreage” of an app button, for instance, measures 57×57 pixels.

That’s about the size of your pinky fingernail. What message can you get across on a billboard that size?

Coca-Cola is the best-selling soft drink in the world but the app that carries its name has little to do with the beverage. Instead, it’s the electronic equivalent of the old Magic 8 Ball – answering questions with a randomized selection of smug answers. One wonders why the company didn’t use their much shorter yet equally well-recognized brand name: Coke. By comparison, Vree is an app specifically designed for diabetes management by Merck pharmaceuticals. Created by Lexicon Branding, the Vree name is short and quick, while supporting the idea of being free from worry and free in general (the app doesn’t cost anything). The size of the name alone allows Merck to place it in advertising and other merchandising very easily, where it can begin to tell its own story.

Rule #4: The brand name must work well across many languages.

This may be the trickiest rule in the bunch. If you’re marketing on the internet — even if your product or service is locally-based — you are now reaching an international marketplace. And if the name for your offering means something offensive or even off-putting in another language, you could end up not only icing yourself out of that market, but others as well if the offensive translation becomes widely known.

Names that share familiar common roots, such as Latin, Greek or Sanskrit, tend to work well in many parts of the world. Even if the word isn’t clearly understood, there can be enough of the meaning coming through that the audience “gets” what your brand is about.

Where semantics (the meanings of words) falls down, other factors such as sound symbolism (a principle discussed previously in this blog) can help invented solutions such as Pentium, Febreze or Venza gain acceptance and take on the unique meaning that is your product or service no matter what country or web page in which it is encountered.

Can following the Four Simple Rules guaranteed success for your brand name? Of course not. There are many factors involved in bringing a successful new trademark to market, starting with whether the product or service you’re offering is something that people want to buy. But without a name that’s been built to be strong and flexible enough to deliver your message by means of whatever avenues are available, you’ll never get off the ground.

Lexicon Branding

Brands Just Want To Be Friends

In Branding, Business, Naming, Trademarks on February 7, 2011 at 3:00 am

Creating your new brand for an expansive experience as opposed to a particular product will inevitably serve you well.

There used to be a time that most brands had a first and last name. Pepsi Cola. Kodak Film. Eveready Batteries. It wasn’t that the last name was always a part of the registered trademark — like Coca-Cola — it was just that the descriptor had to be there to distinguish the mark and tell people what they were getting. Then consumers would take the descriptor along for the ride so that they have less of a chance of having to explain the name to someone unfamiliar to it.

As society continues to move swiftly forward and peoples’ attention spans grow ever shorter, so do their consideration of trademarks. Thanks to the Internet, we’re getting used to being on a first name basis with brands like Google, Amazon and Facebook. These types of brands are not products, services, or even companies as much as they are experiences. And most experiences, by their very nature, defy being described by a single word or even phrase.

Amazon started out being billed as “the world’s largest bookstore.” While they still hold comfortably to that claim, they now also offer everything from automotive merchandise to watches. Simply by telling someone “Look for it on Amazon,” it’s an indication that the name itself literally says it all.

To illustrate further how the experience of the brand continues to shift, Lexicon created the BlackBerry name for Research In Motion back when the initial product was a two-way pager. Over time, with a robust line of smartphones and now a tablet coming online, BlackBerry stretches to cover a lot of tech and without having to say more about itself — the products speak for themselves. In the first world, certainly, if you tell someone you’ve got a BlackBerry in your pocket, they’re unlikely to think you’re speaking of the fruit.

The tendency in our society is take something short and shrink it even more. That’s why we like nicknames. It’s why we can’t help turning longer names like Theodore into Ted, Maddie becomes short for Madeline and even the two-syllable Joseph turns into Joe.

In the branding world, a classic case-in-point of this same phenomenon is FedEx, which began as Federal Express back in 1973 but, in 2000, the company decided to go with the flow and change their brand over to the shorter nickname. (Linguistically speaking, FedEx is a syllabic abbreviation of the original name.) It doesn’t seem to have been a capricious choice. By using Google’s Ngram Viewer to chart the occurrences of Federal Express versus FedEx in printed material, one can actually see the use of the longer name start to dip as the FedEx nickname continues to rise — a trend that sharpened once the name change became official.

Contrast of the use of the terms “Federal Express” vs. “FedEx”

This move toward informality will likely continue. In a social media world of tweets, where you have to get your message across in just 140 characters, brevity is becoming the soul of marketing. FedEx was a shorthand that everyone was using, so it came pretty naturally. Conversely, like a kid trying to foist a self-created nickname on people, it comes off as a little sad when a company tries to force the issue and create a shortened version of their brand on their own. Last fall, FedEx competitor United Parcel Service finally abandoned their ad campaign to try to become known as “Brown”. Makes sense — why would people adopt a longer name instead of the already short and familiar UPS?

The strategy can work, if the company is willing to make the commitment. An example is Eveready, which changed its moniker, in 2000, to Energizer, represented by that ridiculous drum-beating pink bunny.

The more that consumers interact with your offering — the friendlier they get with it — the more they come to feel a sense of ownership of it as well. As that happens, they’ll begin find new ways to use it. So, rather than your nascent brand being a product, service, or company, think of it, instead, as an unfolding experience. One of vast scope and limitless potential. With that in mind, it’s good business to consider just how expansive your brand may become, and to do so before you even hit the market.

For any company to be a good steward of their brand requires that they manage this business of shifting perception. Fighting too hard against consumers’ desire to cut your name short might result in a backlash. But pandering to it rarely pays off as well. Just as protecting one’s good brand name requires attention, companies need to also be aware of how their name is being used and recognize when it may be time to get a little friendlier.

Lexicon Branding

How iPad is Naming the Game

In Branding, Business, High Technology, Naming, Trademarks on January 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Lots of pundits took their potshots at the iPad as it was first coming to market in early last year, with even video sketches on YouTube mocking the name as some kind of hightech version of a feminine hygiene product. Now, a year later, with Apple reportedly having sold 15 million of the devices, no one’s laughing — at either the product or the name. The high technology industry as a whole, instead, is realizing that Apple’s not just changing the game of what was perceived as pretty much a niche market, but they’re in the process of renaming the game.

For the past few years, since tech companies have been R&D’ing the future of the computer, there’s been a lot of focus on tablets. Microsoft’s been yapping about one for years. As has HP, Samsung, Dell and anyone else with a dog in the fight. Everyone’s been gearing up but — as is often the case with emerging technologies — none of the big leaguers wanted to be the first to go all in. But one thing was “for sure”: The new form factor was going to be called, generically, a tablet.

Then came Apple.

And they were not just making a leap in technology, but one in category as well.

They’d already established a readily i-dentified beachhead, brandwise, with the iMac, iPod and iPhone lines. These device brands traded on a couple of equities. The first was Apple’s successful transmogrification of the baseline devices — PCs became Macs (by way of Macintosh), MP3 players were now pods, and the cellular telephone smartened into simply phones. The second, subtler point was the practice of tagging that initial — and lower case — i to the front end of a single syllable word.

It doesn’t take an experienced branding person to figure out that the hypothetical iTablet name that was floating around pre-announcement would not be the name of the new device. Given Apple’s naming heritage, they would either pioneer something new — as they did with pod — or else co-opt something relevant yet unexpected. The only thing keeping anyone brand-savvy from laying down even odds on pad being the way they were going to go was not its association to menstrual pads but its similarity to their already popular iPod line.

Confusion in the marketplace is what you want to avoid, and that one was clear to see. On the other hand, while certainly humorous, no one was going to confuse a product from the tech category with a generic descriptor for feminine hygiene products relegated to a very specific aisle at the supermarket or drug store.

From a head-to-head standpoint, as it turns out, pad has it all over tablet in terms of public usage. According to Google’s (relatively) new Ngram Viewer, the usage frequency of “tablet” has been somewhat stable over the past 200 years (with a surge from roughly 1870 to 1930), whereas “pad” has been on a more or less steady rise since around 1840. “Pad” overtook “tablet” in the late 1930s. (Of course, since “pad” and “tablet” each have a variety of meanings, it’s difficult to determine exactly which meanings were used more frequently when.)

Google’s Ngram shows “pad” vs “tablet” frequency of usage

Then there’s always Apple casual vs. Microsoft formal. Calling the products in question “pads” conveys a much more casual, friendly, and even playful tone. A “tablet”, on the other hand, comes across as a bit more formal, technical, or more refined.

The war of words isn’t over yet, with most major high-tech heavyweights still gearing up to come to what is obviously a much more robust market than anticipated. (In a recent TechCrunch article it was revealed that even Apple fanboy bloggers undershot the mark by at least half when it came to predicting iPad sales.) “Tablet”, though unlikely, may yet win the day. Even if it does, usage will surely affect the reactions we have to the word — “tablet” may soon sound just as casual and friendly as does “pad”.

— Lexicon Branding