By Vincent Teh
WARNING: The following article contains pervasive language and trademarks that are highly inappropriate. Reader discretion is advised.
Sex sells. Who could forget Brook Shields’ “Do you want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing!” referring to the (rather unhygienic) lack of barrier between her Calvin Klein jeans and herself. The ladies are unlikely to have missed the Guy Ritchie directed video of David “Goldenballs” Beckham running around the suburbs of LA in nothing but his H&M undies. If they did, they would definitely not have missed the Super Bowl advert of David lighting up the New York skyline in nothing but his H&M undies before he snagged them on a door frame and was thus conveniently and gratuitously liberated, showing us the inspiration behind his nom de guerre.
It is not only our adverts that are getting progressively more “suggestive”. Not wanting to miss out on the easy publicity, trademarks have joined in the fray, leading to trademarks that are evermore inappropriate and downright naughty. The other day when I was conducting a search, I found a rather interesting trademark. The mark contains a caricature of a bed which was broken in half and the words “CAP KATIL PATAH” (or “Broken Bed Brand” in English). Unsurprisingly, the trademark is for instant coffee, perhaps containing certain herbal extracts believed to be beneficial to the male health.
While the aforementioned trademark may elicit a snigger or two from the more knowing consumers, some trademarks are designed with extreme shock value in mind. The unabashedly controversial trademark of French Connection United Kingdom, or better known as “FCUK” was once described by an English Judge as “tasteless and obnoxious” and “just a euphemism” for an obscene expletive [i]. However, the tongue-in-cheek trademark and branding campaign struck a chord with young people and sales skyrocketed. In fact the Judge did FCUK a favour, what’s cooler than wearing a brand that is loathed and despised by Judges who are normally seen by deviant youths as “fat, balding, Tory, Home Counties, upper-middle-class twits” (thank you Bridget Jones for putting it so succinctly).
Of course, for the rest us who unfortunately (or fortunately) cannot in good conscience refer to ourselves as youths anymore, and like vintage wine or aged wood perhaps we have acquired a patina of sophistication and a taste for subtle wry humour, an in-your-face trademark or branding campaign may not do it for us. Targeting this market, some companies would choose a more humorous approach to branding rather than opting for an overtly sexual trademark.
Lush, an independent cosmetics company in the UK, had applied to register the name of the UK boss of online retail group, Amazon, as a trademark for its new range of toiletries. This peculiar branding strategy is a result of a three year long feud between the two companies over the misuse of Lush’s trademark by Amazon. Lush had complained about latter’s use of the word “lush” to sell third party products that are similar to Lush’s. Lush claimed that consumers will be misled into thinking they were buying genuine Lush products when in fact they are not. After Amazon rebuffed numerous attempts by Lush to resolve the dispute amicably, Lush decided that as a joke, they would register “Christopher North” as a trademark. The dispute eventually went to the court and the case was recently won by Lush. However, Amazon, unwilling to admit any wrongdoing, is planning to appeal against the High Court ruling. Enraged by Amazon’s insolence, Lush decided to go ahead and sell a host of toiletries named after Christopher North, including shower gels, deodorants, toothpaste, hair removal wax and other non-medicated toilet preparations. Choosing to add salt and a touch of Tabasco to injury, Lush decided to add the tagline “rich, thick and full of it” to its shower gel within the Christopher North range.
Across the pond, from the country that gave us movies like Airplane (I and II), the Naked Gun (I, 2 ½ and 33 ⅓), Spaceballs, the Austin Powers trilogy, Scary Movie (1 to 5), Date Movie, Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, etc., perhaps it’s not surprising that the humour in their Trademarks tended also to take the form of parodies [ii]. A company in Nevada made various pet chew toys and beds with names like Chewy Vuiton, Chewnel No.5, Furcedes, Jimmy Chew, Dog Perignnonn, Snifanny & Co. and Dogior. Another company from New Hampshire is selling a blend of unusually dark roasted coffee named “Charbucks”. The coffee roaster had chosen the term “Charbucks” because they felt that Starbucks over-roasted all of their coffee beans and were indignant that their own customers would want the same carbonised coffee.
Speaking of coffee, I never knew drinking coffee while reading the morning news could lead to third degree burns on my thighs. The headline which caused my severe convulsions which in turn led to the explosive expulsion of coffee from my mouth was “Pope Drops the F-bomb”. In a slip of tongue that’s apparently common when Spanish speakers speak Italian, the People’s Pope from Argentina accidentally pronounced the word “caso” as “cazzo” which in Italian means the F-word. Similarly, a trademark can sometimes be lost in translation too [iii]. For example, the name for Ford’s sub-compact car “PINTO” is a reference to a gentleman’s bits (of mediocre stature) in Brazil. Eager to avoid similar gaffes, four years before the opening of their first store in Thailand, IKEA employed language experts to analyse their numerous trademarks and product names to ensure that they do not offend the locals. The results of the extensive exercise saw the removal of the name “Jättebra” (which is the equivalent of the Pope’s slip-up), and the name “Redalen” (meaning getting to third-base) from IKEA’s range of products.
At the end of a day, a trademark can be prudish or salacious, reverent or irreverent, humorous or straight laced, it all depends on your target market and your marketing strategy. For those businesses or ad men with a devious disposition, it is almost always wiser to err on the side of caution and check with your friendly neighbourhood IP attorney.
Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and need not reflect the views of KASS nor of its clients.