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Choosing Your Brand: What’s in a Name?

Have you ever heard of American Family Life Assurance Company?  Admittedly, it’s a pretty lousy name from a branding point of view – it’s boring, institutional and cold.  Equally unimpressive in the world of trademarks as well.

We normally think of trademarks on a spectrum, from least likely to obtain registration (i.e., least distinctive) to most likely (inherently distinctive).  It goes something like this:

Generic – common names for products, virtually unprotectable from a registration standpoint.  Think “Bread” for bread.  No, really.  It’s that bad.

Descriptive – established meaning used to describe goods and services within that meaning, no imagination required to know what they mean, not protectable.  Think “Fast Car” for the new Ferrari.

Suggestive – crossing over into distinctive, require imagination to connect to goods or services.  Think “Greyhound”.

Arbitrary – think “Apple” for computers – no relation to the product/goods and services

Fanciful – invented or coined as a mark, never existed before.  Think “XEROX”

What we often encounter is emotional attachment to marks and branding at early stages of development, without thinking it all the way through.  By not thinking it through, I mean not consulting a professional to do some diligence before all the inertia is thrown at a new product, service, or brand.  Establishing a mark means layers of evaluation – where does it fit on the spectrum?  Who else is in the market?  How far do we need to look?  Obtaining federal trademark registration is a big deal and it carries with it a host of big remedies and powers.  Registration alone doesn’t mean you have a great mark, nor that it enjoys its own real space in the market and can be enforced with conviction.  Take the time to investigate the marketplace before you launch, brand, market, or even circulate a business plan.   Find a qualified professional to help you navigate the maze.

American Family Life Assurance Company rebranded as……yes, AFLAC.  AFLAC gave birth to the duck that we all know.  Quite a difference.