The lucky few attain the hallowed ground of being instantly recognisable. Nike hardly uses its name anymore – the swoosh will suffice. Apple has become so iconic it doesn’t use its name at all. Both own ’cool’ within their sectors – the hardest of all brand values to grab hold of.
Others have to ’make do’ with ownership of individual elements within their sectors. Virgin ’owns’ the cheeky upstart attitude among airlines. Volkswagen ’owns’ durability and build quality within the automotive mid-sector.
Easy Group pretty well ’owns’ bright orange across all the sectors it operates in. Its ownership of the colour comes from a long-term approach of consistent brand engagement. This relentless strategy has paid huge dividends as bright orange is now Easy Group in many people’s minds, whether it operates within a sector or not. But, of course, Easy Group doesn’t actually own bright orange – the rest of us can all use it too, if we so wish. Colour is universal.
And so, you would think, are words. The building blocks of language are also universal and we can all use them freely. Or can we?
As Easy Group sues Easy Date over using ’easy’ and Facebook sues Teachbook over using ’book’, the freedom of language comes into question. Or, to put it more accurately, the democracy of language versus the power of brand equity. I can see both sides of the argument. A word is (just) a word, but Easy Group has truck loads of brand equity in its ’easy’ moniker and it’s easy (groan!) to argue Easy Date is simply cashing in on someone else’s hard work and expenditure. But it’s just a word, isn’t it? Easy Date makes dating easy. It’s called Easy Date. But, it could have been called ’Date Easy’. ’Easy Dating’ might have separated it sufficiently to appease Stelios Haji-Ioannou as his group uses nouns rather than verbs. Then again, would most people notice such a linguistic subtlety? I think not.Claiming a word as your exclusive property (at least in a specific usage) is tricky ground, but as brands become bigger and more pervasive the argument becomes much more persuasive.
Perhaps the solution is a return to the practice of (often meaningless) made-up words. Take Accenture, Corus and the debacle of Consignia. Then, at least, ownership is crystal clear and is unlikely to ever be infringed. The downside, of course, is a world full of ridiculousness and nonsense that communicates nothing about a company, its brand or its values.
Maybe Design Week should lay claim to ’week’ before some cheeky upstart gets there first and we all end up looking forward to reading our copy of Hebdomas [the Ancient Greek word for seven days] every Thursday.
Andi Rusyn, Owner, Space and Room, by e-mail