Some trademarks are the same everywhere: Pizza Hut® is Pizza Hut from Armenia to Vietnam. (Seriously disappointed there’s no Pizza Hut in Zambia.)
But, sometimes, the trademark used for a product changes depending on where it’s sold. There are a variety of reasons for this decision:
- There’s already a product using the usual trademark;
- The product name has negative connotations in the new market;
- The company selling the product wants to make it feel more local and familiar;
- The wholesale prices vary by market and the company wants to make it harder to sell across borders.
Proctor & Gamble’s MR. CLEAN® travels under many names for most of those reasons.
Mr. Clean in Luxembourg
He’s MR. PROPER in most of Europe. That trademark was registered in the European Union Intellectual Property Office in 1998. “Proper” is an approximation of “clean” in French (“propre”) and Luxembourgish (“propper”).
When in Germany, Mr. Clean snaps his fingers and becomes MEISTER PROPER.
He’s DON LIMPIO in Spain (after an earlier introduction as Mr. Proper). In Mexico, he has gone by MAESTRO LIMPIO since 1981, when he was first registered with the Instituto Mexicano de la Propiedad Industrial.
When in Rome, he becomes MASTRO LINDO. His appearance under that name dates back to 1998 in the Ufficio Italiano Brevetti e Marchi.
The same product is sold as FLASH® in the U.K. I presume that’s because there was already a product called MR. CLEEN, a cleaning and polishing preparation sold by Reckitt Benckiser. Or maybe Mr. Clean just wearied of the banal translations and wanted to reinvent himself.
Thanks to Max F. for opening this can of worms by sending me the photo of Mr. Proper (that’s his thumb in the photo) and also for the suggestion to use the phrase “International Man of Mystery.”
Procter and Gamble Company has applied to register some interesting trademarks:
Does that mean people can’t use those acronyms anymore?
Common sense tells you it doesn’t mean that.
First, trademark applications and registrations are for particular goods and/or services: Beeline® is a registered trademark for legal services. The P&G applications cover things like soaps, detergents, air fresheners, and fabric softeners.
If P&G has a trademark registration for WTF for detergents it means only that you wouldn’t be allowed to use WTF as a trademark to sell detergent and similar products:
- You can still say WTF;
- You can still use WTF in advertising and on packaging for dissimilar products;
- You can still write an email to your friend saying “WTF is wrong with you? You know I use only Woolite® to wash my sweaters. You ruined my twin set.”
It’s also worth noting that P&G hasn’t received these registrations yet. So far, P&G has only applied. The applications are all based on “intent-to-use.” That means that P&G still has to use each of the acronyms in connection with the goods before they can complete the registrations. In other words, the existence of the applications means only that P&G was willing to pay to create placeholders because it intends to use each of the acronyms to sell stuff. Sometimes, companies don’t follow through on their intentions.
So, DWAI. IMHO P&G’s applications are NP and worrying about this is a CWOT.
 As of August 2018, Procter and Gamble Company owns 1,498 live trademark registrations. Amusingly there are also some live registrations where “Procter” is misspelled as “Proctor.” Not sure what to make of that.
Assuming you aren’t named Tiffany or McDonald, is it a good idea to sell widgets using your name as a trademark?
If you do, enforcing your rights is going to be hard. Kicking people out of their own names is a game for the big guys, but even if you have the resources of McDonalds Corporation and the fame of Tiffany & Co., it’s risky to tie a brand to a person. Just ask the people at The Weinstein Company, who are now considering a branding change in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein. Ditto Mario Batali.
Even using the name of a fictional character can be problematic due to changing social mores. For example, Quaker Oats® has had to update the image of Aunt Jemima® over the years. On the left is the Aunt Jemima trademark circa 1905. On the right, 1992.
Even with the update, the mark (word or image) is problematic and likely to become more so. Ditto Uncle Ben’s®.
Names and images are more likely to become dated. When was the last time you met someone named Manny or Moe? And look at these guys? Is this who you want to trust with your new hybrid car? Ditto Mr. Clean.®
Every trademark has unforeseeable risks. No one could have predicted that sales of a diet product that had been on the market for 47 years would fall by 50% because its trademark sounds like a deadly disease, but names and images of people are more likely to cause problems. There are so many great ways to brand, why pick something with so much potential for problems?