A World Without Trademarks

We almost never personally know the person who makes the things we buy and, yet, we blithely go into the world and buy stuff.

That would be insanely more difficult without trademarks.

Imagine a trip to the grocery store where the packages identify the contents with generic names but nothing else.

You liked the IPA you bought last week. Is the bottle that says “IPA” from the same brewery? That TP was soft and yet strong. I wonder if this package labeled “toilet paper” is the same stuff?

Maybe you fall back on knowing the grocer personally and that she stocks stuff only from reputable suppliers, but last week you bought three cans of tomato soup. They were all good, but one was creamier, just the way you like it. Here you are facing a shelf of cans marked “tomato soup.” Which have the soup you like?

It’s hard enough to imagine traditional commerce existing without trademarks, but how would e-commerce ever work? What good is a product review without branding? How much confidence would you have in the goods you’d receive from Amazon® or PeaPod® without being able to order by brand?

We sort of know how it would be. Not many people are comfortable ordering produce online because the brand doesn’t really tell you whether the item is overripe or has been mishandled.

Now imagine that every purchase was as involved as finding that perfect peach.

Trademarks are awesome.

 

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Insomnia Cookies® and Momspit®

Some companies just nail the trademark choice.

They hit that sweet spot between coming right out and saying what they are (think Pizza Hut®) and having a trademark that tells you nothing at all (think Starbucks®).

In the trademark world, that sweet spot is called a “suggestive” trademark.

Suggestive trademarks are unlike any other kind of trademark. They “require imagination, thought, or perception . . ..” unlike a descriptive trademark “which immediately tells something about the goods or services.”*

Here are some of my favorite suggestive trademarks:

  • Insomnia Cookies®
  • Momspit™
  • Soylent®
  • Nest®
  • Roomba®
  • Smartmouth®

Each one gives you just a faint idea of what it is and what it stands for. Each pops up in the corner of the customer’s eye and reels her in. Great suggestive marks contain some or all of these elements:

  • Incongruity – The trademark contrasts with the product or service in some way.
  • Humor – The trademark makes you laugh because of the incongruity or surprising connotation.
  • Stickiness – The incongruity, humor, or another element of the trademark makes the trademark easy to remember and distinguishes it from the trademarks of competitors.
  • Relatability – The trademark reaches your memories or feelings in a direct way.
  • Imagination or mental pause – There may be a moment between hearing or seeing the trademark and fully grasping all of the connotations and hidden meanings.

It’s crazy hard to think up a suggestive trademark, but it’s worth its weight in gold.

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*Trademark Manual of Examination Procedure Section 1209.01(a)