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.... The emerging question is; what makes a name, a brand of proprietary value? The issues are; why should brands be offered protection and how? How to assess brand status? Incidental questions are; what are the implications of cross-category and cross-national imitations? How to curb name tweaking?

 

  9 August 2007

  Your brand. Their Underwear!!

Brand owners, beware! There isn’t a caveat yet to restrict that from happening. If some wise entrepreneurs and marketing guys think your brand name is good enough to sell their underwear range there is hardly any help you can expect. It can become anything, a hair dye, a pickle or even a toilet cleaner. In India underwear makers have been particularly successful in hijacking brands. Amul (buttered?) and Lux (soapy?) underwear brands have survived legal course for years now. The risk of a hijack is directly related with the popularity of the brand. With the hugely popular brand name – Infosys, being fearlessly used as part of quite a few silly to serious brand names, I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up to the launch of Infosys Underwear some day. The name sounds interesting. IT enabled! Fuzzy logic!! ………!!! Not at all a bad idea, if one can, without hesitation, copy-and-paste some brand equity like that, right at the launch. So beware, your brand could be re-positioned just like that any day.

 

To win at the courts one needs to cook legal-hooks that can sink the obvious truth. As ever, it is the offender who wins in the game. Brand-snatchers have made one out of the product category sections in the law. Cavinkare did just that tackling Tatas, arguing their Indica hair dye is under different product category. An executive of the company decreed: nothing’s wrong, Hair Dye and Car are listed in sections wide away and pinned it citing Amul & Lux. I wonder, how would they react should some body launch bleaching powder calling it Fairever. Toilet care and personal care products can’t be in the same section.

 

Hopelessly, the malpractice is gaining credence. About 3 years back, a couple of half-politicians called me for advice on naming a range of mattresses. After talking about their expertise in business they shot an objective brief at me - - choose the most appropriate - Onida or Philips. Sunk in an awkward spot I wished I knew the vanishing trick we see in the films. That isn’t a lie. It is turning scary, enough to cry for curbs. But the real surprise comes from GlaxoSmithkline which did a suicidal act by launching another Crocin (pain relief). One more Crocin can possibly cause incurable fever to the brand.

 

I feel, in India, the will to kill such nuisance is low. Lack of good understanding about branding imperatives seems to be the handicap more than legal loopholes. If Yahoo can stop Sarda industries from making tea out of Yahoo and Playboy of the US stop Advance Cosmetics from selling perfumes in their name, here in India, it is loud and clear that something is amiss in our understanding on the very purpose of branding. I believe, Amul should try the yahoo trick to push the court to act - - talking of an intent to launch an edible (chocolaty) underwear sometime in the future. As I said, it is all about framing arguments that make surface sense. Intrinsic intentions, however obvious, seem to be out of reckoning.

 

Let us check, if anything is gained by the clever promoters and lost by the helpless brand owners. It is similar to brand extension. When a brand is extended for a different business it is expected that the brand values would stick and thus help quickly grow the new business. If the new business is not in tune with the brand image or under-performs uncharacteristically it would erode some brand equity off the brand. Same thing happens in a brand-snatch too. While the brand-snatcher gets the benefit of instant awareness, the original owner suffers an image loss owing to inconsistent deeds and misrepresentation till the dissociation is convincingly established. That never really happens. Clearly, the brand snatcher gains at the cost of brand owner. As long as the duplicate brand exists, irrespective of the category, the risk of damage remains. I think the courts should appreciate this line of argument. In good many cases duplication may be harmless or even beneficial in generating mutual recall. Indica hair dye can never trouble its namesake Car or even other way round. Nonetheless, I believe, the owner, of a name that has evolved into a brand, should have the right to refuse or franchise the name at his terms.

 

The emerging question is; what makes a name, a brand of proprietary value? The issues are; why should brands be offered protection and how? How to assess brand status? Incidental questions are; what are the implications of cross-category and cross-national imitations? How to curb name tweaking? What should be the guidelines for trading brands? I think the responsibility on this extends across industry bodies and marketing service firms. Some might needs to be aggregated to work out the logic and to educate and influence the authorities towards stitching up the rules.

 

Till that happens, one way to force justice is by pushing things to extremes. The aggrieved may create precedence by willfully snatching some powerful brands and await decree from the courts. Like; Horlicks phenyle? Or Cadbury condoms?? That should tell something to brand-snatchers. This piece would be worth something if it can at least discourage branders from launching duplicate brands.

 

Adve Srinivasa Bhat

Management Consultant

 
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