Radios were once all the rage. Shacks were once a cool place to shop, but in the 21st century no one wants to shop at RADIO SHACK®.
Meet the “Radio Shack Problem“: A descriptive trademark that holds you back when markets and social trends move on.
This ad campaign by DRESS BARN® attempted to overcome a self-inflicted marketing wound by claiming that it’s really the customers who are too dense to get it.
OVERSTOCK.COM® is spending tons on advertising to convince customers that the word “overstock” in their name is just a great big misunderstanding and customers certainly shouldn’t think of them as an “overstock” company.
2-pound Rice Krispie Treat®
A recent trip to my local IT’SUGAR® showed they’re on track to become a Radio Shack Problem. IT’SUGAR sells candy bars the size of coffee tables. They also sell tchotchkes that aren’t made of sugar. Pretty soon they’ll be running ads to let everyone know they sell both edible and non-edible chazerei.
Don’t be a Radio Shack Problem. Pick a trademark that’s suggestive so it will stand the test of time: NEST®, ROOMBA®, APPLE®, GOOGLE®, AMAZON®. Those brands will go anywhere, anytime and do anything you need them to do.
The owners of those trademarks never have to berate customers for not understanding their brand because those companies didn’t mislead their customers in the first place.
Thanks to Liz B. and Max F. for sending stuff that suggested this post.
Pick a great trademark. Register it.
Sounds easy but people get it wrong all the time. Today, we’ll focus on mistakes people make when they pick a trademark. The next post will focus on mistakes people make when they try to register their trademark.
I’m picking a trademark so that everyone will know what we sell right away.
There are so many problems with this:
- At best your trademark will be incredibly weak and virtually indefensible. At worst, it won’t have any rights at all. Like FLAT FIX.
- Everyone will confuse you with everyone else. Which of these is the most memorable: Staples® OfficeMax® or Office Depot®?
- You’ll be locking yourself into whatever you describe so that your brand can’t grow and change as your business does.
I’m naming it after myself.
Trademarks that are proper names are weak, both legally and from a marketing perspective. They also involve risks that other trademarks don’t have:
If those ideas are bad, what should you do?
Pick a trademark that tells your customers how they’ll feel or what they’ll experience when they use your product or service: Nest®; Sir Kensington’s®; Roomba®. A suggestive trademark is easy to defend and a marketer’s dream. Go suggestive. You’ll never regret it.
Big shout out to the members of Pilotworks in Brooklyn, for suggesting this topic! What do you want to know about?
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®
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.
*Trademark Manual of Examination Procedure Section 1209.01(a)
What business doesn’t want its assets to grow over time?
The choice you make at the start can have a huge impact on whether the value of your trademark will grow or wither.
If you start with a wonderful trademark like Nest®, Staples®, Google® or Moo®, the sky is the limit for trademark value. Whether the mark actually attains that value depends on lots of things, but at least there’s nothing about the trademark itself that will hold you back.
If you start with a trademark that:
- Consists of words that everyone and her brother are using, like Office Depot® or United®; or
- Merely describes what you sell, like Radio Shack® or Century Theatres®; or
- Is already owned by someone else;
then you’re starting with two strikes against you. Your trademark will be at best neutral and at worst a liability.
Coming up with a clever trademark is hard. Coming up with a trademark that is clever and that no one else is using is even harder but, isn’t it worth it so you don’t have to worry about its holding you back? Isn’t it worth the effort and the cost to get this one thing right at the beginning?