Keeping your brand safe from impostors is important almost as important as your brand itself, it’s why trademarks and copyrights exist today. The whole system helps create a safety net knowing that if someone wants to undermine your brand or steal your customers through similar messaging or imaging, then they can’t do it easily or if they do you can protect your reputation.
However, a lot of the larger brands in the world seem to be using trademarks to stifle competition (see McDonald’s and the Big Mac case). This, in my opinion, undermines the use of the trademark and copyright system.
T-Mobile hit the news recently for forcing a small bank in Germany to stop using the colour Magenta, saying that it caused confusion with their brand. Even though the colours aren’t that similar and the bank isn’t involved in telecoms and T-Mobile is widely known as not a bank.
I get the importance of protecting assets but forcing a colour trademark on someone who isn’t in the same industry as you? I think that is definitely looking at brand over-reach. I would change my mind if T-Mobile had evidence that they were using the colour to take customers away, or that the bank were looking to go into the telecoms arena.
Although owning a colour is possible, I don’t think it’s correct to enforce it all the time. Especially if there is a string thin relation between two companies.
The recent case about trademarking the colour magenta is new, in a long line of trademark idiocy. It is important for us to talk about naming rights, who owns what and why. The most interesting of these stories is Facebook, who last I checked owned the word “Face” in the US and was following with trying to grab the word “Book”.
This is another over-reach from a brand thinking they are big enough to run the world. Facebook as a singular compound noun is a thing, but when they are apart as singular words they mean nothing and would likely do little to no damage. So why do you need to trademark them?
I think this is where larger companies are heading, they are becoming less sensible with where the trademarks are being enforced or applied for and it’s ruining the reputation of a trademark.
This question I originally thought was incredibly clear cut, but after I thought about it longer for this post I started to question myself. Originally I was firmly in a position of key branding assets are off-limits.
However, I think its important for a brand to allow some room for originality and creativity. My thinking doesn’t enable that room and having another think about it, when copyrighted or trademarked material comes down to it there should be two stances:
If someone is poking fun at a brand, like the below examples of the Starbucks logo, mostly we are okay. They are a lot of fun and make people laugh and they are in some way promoting the growth and recognition of the brand itself.
When it comes down to the difference between parody and not, I think the most important thing to consider is profits. If the person is intended to create something that makes a profit off a well-known brand, then a copyright claim should be made.
Should the owner be told to stop? No, the owner should be sharing the profit. As we head into a more modern world where creating and publishing work online and selling is becoming easier, we need to rethink how we protect copyright and trademarks.
The questions any marketing/legal/brand team need to ask is: does this harm or help our brand and is this person profiteering from the success of something that doesn’t belong to them?
These clear cut questions will help diagnose any harmful brand activity, whilst enabling other creators to show their creativity and promote the brand.
As the digital age becomes more and more important to everyone, a brands common sense becomes even more important. Looking at what is damaging vs what isn’t will help build relationships and build brands.
In a digital world, your brand becomes more of a community and becomes less one way so laying the groundwork for that now will help in the long run.