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Etymology: The secret of successful (name) sharing

Posted by: Caitlin Barrett on September 18, 2013

Message in a Bottle

The secret of successful (name) sharing

Some things, you just don't want to share: your toothbrush, single-serve ice cream, the last piece of bacon. You might think your brand's name would fall on that list too. After all, it's "yours": you filed an application for it; gave it its own logo and story; built value into it. How could it be okay for another brand to use your name to sell its own goods or services?

While every brands seeks to be unique, there are plenty of cases where the same name is successfully owned by two (or more) brands—and if they appear in distinct trademark classes and there’s minimal risk of confusion, it gets the greenlight from a trademark standpoint. So Delta Air Lines can be successful in Class 39 (Transportation and Storage Services), Delta Faucet Company can thrive in Class 21 (Houseware and Glass Products), and Delta Dental can spread smiles through Class 36 (Insurance and Financial Services).

With each brand in its own category—or categories—there’s plenty of space for each to grow into its own identity and build unique relationships with customers. Trouble only starts when one brand creeps into another brand’s turf. Brands can take action if their offerings overlap, their services are sold through similar channels, or their commercial impressions (their look and feel) are confusingly similar. For example, if Delta Air Lines wanted to sell its own line of faucets, they might find themselves in hot water.

The challenge with adopting the latest tech trends in your naming approach is the speed of tech adoption. In a year or two, innovation will more than likely be recast as tablestakes—and your name might not hold up to changing expectations.

Then Then Again Now

Beyond trademarks, it's just as important to consider mindshare. If both brands are highly visible to the same broad audience, each has to work hard to carve out a special place in customers’ minds. Consider Dove chocolate and Dove soap. In the absence of differentiated naming, each has a distinct visual system (and a clear communication architecture that leaves no room for confusion—neither brand would benefit from consumers mixing up their chocolate and their soap).

There are countless examples: Penguin Group publishing and Penguin menswear, Lincoln Financial Group and The Lincoln Motor Company, Getty petroleum and Getty Images. As long as each brand is happy within its own terrain, and committed to managing any potential confusion, there’s no reason not to share. After all, there are only around 600,000 words in the English language, arguably, and close to 30 million trademarks. When you do the math, it makes sharing practical.

This week's guest author, Caitlin Barrett, is Associate Director of Verbal Identity for Interbrand and the creative lead for Naming.

Category: Etymology

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