The write way for brand names

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. Brand names create business impact, fire consumer passion and generate income for their owners.

They are valuable business assets yet do not actually exist in a physical sense, like a building or piece of machinery. In essence, a brand is the promise of a certain experience, an assurance that you will receive a level of service or type of product.

The amounts involved are huge. Consultants Interbrand places Apple top (brand value $98 billion) in its list of brand values with Google second ($93 billion), followed by Coca Cola ($79 billion), IBM ($78 billion) and Microsoft ($59 billion).

To appreciate what this means you only have to look at the success of Apple and everything it stands for in terms of products and service. People will pay more for a premium experience.

indexed papers cropThat is why brand names are fiercely protected. Back in the 1980s, brand owners started to put monetary values on their intangible assets and included brand names in these calculations. It was seen as a way for companies to protect themselves against takeovers or receive a fair purchase price by ensuring the true value of their business and brands was calculated. In broad terms, the difference between the balance sheet value of a company and the actual price paid by a purchaser is deemed to be the goodwill element and that includes the value of brand names.

This triggered a change in the way the financial world dealt with intangible business assets and new accounting rules were drawn up to reflect this.

Intellectual property rights and trade marks protect brands and companies take exception to the incorrect use of names. A challenge for copywriters is when a name becomes a generic term, such as Hoover, to describe all types of vacuum cleaner or even a verb: hoovering. Portakabin was famous for sending a sternly worded letter from its trade marks officer to editors who failed to use a capital P, pointing out the error of their ways and suggesting they use generic alternatives instead.

Some trade marks are only protected in certain jurisdictions around the world, so it isn’t always clear how the brand name should appear in copy. It is always worth checking what the trade mark owner considers the correct format.

Question: which of the following are trade marked brand names? AstroTurf, Biro, Bubble Wrap, Dictaphone, Filofax, Frisbee, Jacuzzi, Jiffy bag, Muzak, Onesies, Ping Pong, Portakabin, Sellotape, Super Glue, Xerox.

Answer: (the clue is in the use of initial capitals) all of them. If you are not sure then find a generic description – an artificial grass playing surface, a ball point pen, a personal organiser and (for Blue Peter fans out there) sticky backed plastic.

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