In search of old marques

Reviving dormant trademarks can make good financial sense – as long as there aren’t any controversial connotations. Tom Banks investigates

The exhumation of any branding with a Third Reich association is bound to cause controversy. But this possibility may become reality as a likely merger between car giants Volkswagen and Porsche has left the name Auto Union mooted as an umbrella brand.

Auto Union was founded in 1932 after the merger of Audi, Horch, DKW and Wanderer, and saw Grand Prix success with its Silver Arrows racing cars, which became a symbol of Nazi propaganda.

In the 1960s, the Auto Union brand morphed into Audi, which retained the marque’s four rings in its logo. According to the Intellectual Property Office, Audi registered the marque in 2007 with the Office of Harmonisation for the Internal Market – the trademark and design office of the European Union.

Ferdinand Piech, the supervisory board chairman of Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft and Porsche Automobil Holding SE, suggested Auto Union as a possible name when he gave interviews to journalists at the launch of a new Volkswagen Polo last month.

Piech was not available for comment, but Peik von Bestenbostel, head of corporate and business at Volkswagen, confirms that ‘an integration is still the objective of both families’.

Speaking about Piech’s Auto Union comments, von Bestenbostel says, ‘It is not a clear direction and his comments were part of a broader discussion.’

The name chosen, he says, ‘will be for one common leadership’ encompassing ‘ten brands’.

Jez Frampton, global chief executive at Interbrand, believes that if Auto Union was selected, ‘such a long time will have passed since it was last used that it’s a relatively empty vessel – it’s not a bad compromise, but it’s not exciting either.’

Frampton says that Interbrand will, as a matter of course, always check whether a client has any inactive brand names when it is appointed to create a new brand.

This, says Frampton, makes economic sense. ‘It’s difficult to come up with a brand name you can register. Costs involved can be astronomical.

If a company asks us to invent a new brand, the first thing we ask for is the list of marques they already own, as URLs alone cost millions of dollars,’ he says.

He adds, ‘Many car companies are sitting on registers for thousands of names that they are not trading under. Once you have fundamentals like brand proposition, target audience and brand promise – that’s the time to look at registers.’

Rights to any defunct brand name are subject to strict regulations. The IPO states that any trademark not used will remain on the OHIM

Three familiar high street names will soon be dormant on the OHIM register, awaiting potential revival. Following an announcement by the Spanish banking corporation Santander last week, all Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley branches will take the Santander name by 2010.

Harry Pearce, a partner at Pentagram, revived The Co-operative brand marque when the chain reverted to its original name, in place of The Co-op. He says the decision was taken in a bid to unite the 35 brands which now come under the Cooperative banner.

‘They’ve got five types of operation: food, pharmacy, travel, bank and funeralcare. Gathering under one flag and using the original name gives a sense of presence,’ says Pearce. Each of these functions becomes a sub-brand under the new identity.

Many other retro or sentimental brands have returned to our shelves in recent years – most notably Cadbury’s Wispa, which made a return in 2007, having last been seen in 2003.

Jon Guy, senior account manager at 4 Brand, Cadbury’s in-house branding group, says the design implementation had to be carefully executed.

‘In the 1980s, the Wispa background was always a dark blue, before its 1990s incarnation, when it had a more rounded aerated logo and a reflex blue background.

We maintained the latter typeface [for the new design] adding a gold outline, but keeping the dark blue background from the original pack,’ says Guy.


  • – The Intellectual Property Office states that any trademark not used will remain on the Europe-wide OHIM register until it is either removed by a third party on the grounds of non-use, or it comes up for renewal and the fee is not paid
  • If no one owns the rights to a trademark, then anyone can apply to use the marque – but their rights will only commence from the date of application register until either it is removed by a third party, on the grounds of non-use, or it comes up for renewal and the fee is not paid.
  • If the trademark is no longer used and no one owns the rights to it, then any third party can apply for the marque, but their rights would only commence from the date of the application.


Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • Glenn Platt November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Isn’t this repurposing of old stock akin further proof of a lack of creativity in business generally? Hollywood are desperately churning out re-imaginings, like Plant of the Apes, and The Day The Earth Stood Still, and worryingly in spite of huge resources no one sees that the outcome will be inferior to the original?
    Using the word ‘Auto’ to label this integration also suggests that it’s going to be business as usual for these ‘car’ companies when consumers are looking for more responsible transport solutions – and yet it China (surprisingly) is taking the lead.
    Where is any evidence that the strategic leadership that so many integrated design agencies speak of is gaining traction?
    What attraction is there for anyone to hire a creative agency when everyone seems so preoccupied with ploughing ever-deeper in the same-old same-old furrow?

  • Barry Seelig November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Glenn’s comments are right on target. Reshaping the historical context of a brand has limited value in meeting the challenges of today’s consumer. Putting new shades of lipstick
    on dead brands has too often become the
    answer. Let the dead RIP.

  • Post a comment

Latest articles